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Monday, August 31, 2015

Brett Higgins - Atlas Revolt (Tzadik, 2015) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

According to Tzadik's description, Brett Higgins' Atlas Revolt "blends latin, r&b, soul, film soundtracks, jazz and more into moody and infectious grooves." That just about wraps it up neatly - by mixing attractive klezmer modes with a strong rock backbone, Atlas Revolt fits in well with many of its label-mates, nestled somewhere between Electric Masada, the Dreamers, and Marc Ribot's Asmodeus.

The opening track is a rousing workout that readily showcases the talents of this Toronto based band. First we hear drummer Joshua Van Tassel who creates a pretty straight ahead groove for bassist Higgins and violinist Aleksandar Gajic to fill with an inspired folk melody. Keyboardist Robbie Grunwald adds a minimalist solo that provided just enough Fender Rhodes shimmer to the song. Guitarist Tom Juhas plays with a clean, dry tone that distorts tastefully around the edges. The song is a group effort, it eschews virtuosic solos in favor of a developing a inspired group sound.  The follow up 'El Metate' works in a similar vein, delivered as a highly approachable song whose timeless melody is cast in a lightly muscular setting. Another track, 'All About that Starry Dark' begins with heavy atmosphere, its theme unfolding broodingly. 'Zagazig' is a delightful track, sporting an ebullient beat that meets a coy melody that opens up with a most unusual sawtoothed solo from the guitar (a sound reminiscent of Mclaughlin on 'Go Ahead, John' from Miles Davis' Big Fun). 'Electric Sinner' is the centerpiece of the album to my ears and the tracks relaxed groove gives the musicians a lush underlayment to build upon.

Overall Atlas Revolt is something somewhat familiar, but re-assembled here in a refreshing and enjoyable manner that will no doubt deservedly pick-up a number of fans. Highly enjoyable and worth checking out!



Available at Downtown Music Gallery

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR - Infanticide (Auand Records, 2015) ****

By Antonio Poscic

Every once in a while, a band comes along that revisits and refreshes genres that might seem stagnant and lacking any innovation. In the case of SudoKu KilleR, the quartet led by Italian double bass player and composer Caterina Palazzi, we’re offered a twist on the often stale, old paradigms of jazz-rock. However, while jazz-rock really is a prominent element in the foundation of their sound, an idea fleshed out in the contrast between the guitar and the saxophone, their sophomore release Infanticide actually presents a delicate blend of different approaches and styles.

The adopted sound and employed idioms feel more like a symptom of Palazzi’s and her cohorts’ concepts that revolve around a certain loss of naivety and innocence in perceiving the world, a dedication to Nirvana and Cobain’s demons that extends beyond the record title. It’s from these thoughts that ambience and atmosphere emanate, accompanied by a predominantly noirish, brooding, and melancholic vision resembling film music. The band thus often resorts to slow, patient buildups during which the instruments move sinuously to each other, leaving behind a taste of carefully constructed, fragile structures and sparse yet lush notes within a negative space left by the lingering music. With all the looseness and sparseness in the playing, a false sense of lack of compositional maturity comes to mind. False, because even when they’re visiting and drawing from the worlds of surf rock, psychedelia, and post-rock, each composition on this record is nothing but carefully thought out. The only real criticism can be directed towards the lack of more improvised, freer segments that fit so nicely on, for example, the eponymous “SudoKu KilleR” and the wonderful “Futoshiki”, and that can be heard during Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR’s live performances.

Noisier freak outs, that tend to appear after brusk transitions, are question marks and exclamation points, not constants. There’s not much straightforward rocking out here. Instead, the music is dominated by Giacomo Ancillotto’s distorted scratchy guitar improvising freely but subduedly and Antonio Raia’s saxophone rising to the forefront with interesting melodies, while everything’s being held together by Palazzi’s double bass that also gives a note of mystery to the sound and Maurizio Chiavaro’s mercurial, but firm drumming. Because of all this, Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR appears to be a pure jazz band playing occasionally rock influenced songs rather than a fully melded jazz-rock unit. Their five long, cohesive tracks could even be described as Scandinavian contemporary jazz with a smidgen of avant-rock mixed in. And it’s for the better.

Contrary to what the names of the quartet and the album suggest, Infanticide doesn’t feel like an aggressive affair nor a mind-boggling conundrum. Instead, it shows four masters cultivating a dark but vital bonsai tree, patient and careful. It’s rare nowadays to craft a unique, recognizable sound within a well-established genre - something that Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR achieve with apparent ease and by stepping outside of the genre’s boundaries. Recommended for listening during those warm, insufferable summer nights.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Signe Bisgaard - Meander (Finland Studio Records, 2015) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Signe Bisgaard is a young Danish, Aarhus-based composer-pianist who focuses on exploring the improvisational possibilities in through-composed music. The title of her debut solo album, Meander, alludes to the curved, stretched course of her compositions. Likewise, Bisgaard compositions move organically between through-composed music and open improvisational passages, offering surprising detours from any familiar, conventional courses.

Bisgaard assembled an impressive ensemble of eleven musicians to record her challenging compositions, among them trumpeter Jakob Buchanan (who often collaborates with pianist Simon Toldam and percussionist Marilyn Mazur), sax player and flutist Julie Kjær (now playing in Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit and before with London Improvisers Orchestra), sax player Christian Vuust, guitarist Mark Solborg and Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken (member of pianist Jon Balke’s ensembles). This ensemble transforms Bisgaard's arresting musical vision into a unique listening experience.

Bisgaard's compositions demand careful, repeated listening as the layers upon layers of her ideas and compositional strategies become clear. At first, her lyrical compositions sound minimalist and restrained, balancing between delicate, subtle contemporary chamber music and reserved, even sparse manners of improvisation, still, relying on her ensemble to find intuitively the right balance. But with each listen, Bisgaard's unorthodox architecture of compositional ideas, fresh instrumentation and thoughtful arrangements, together with her unique sense of sound exploration, starts becoming decipherable. By then, it is already clear that the gentle, patient playing of all the ensemble musicians, especially Buchanan, has a strong and lasting emotional appeal.

Bisgaard, as a pianist, takes a modest role in her arrangements. She plays a beautiful and contemplative solo on “Das Kleine Rote II”. She sounds as almost offering a philosophical perspective on the meeting between contemporary music and an improvised one.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Nick Fraser feat. Kris Davis & Tony Malaby - Too Many Continents (Clean Feed, 2015) *****

 By Peter Gough

It's the middle of August, the Toronto Blue Jays are leading the MLB Eastern Division (with 11 straight wins), and local drummer Nick Fraser has just released an album on Portugal’s Clean Feed label. It’s hard to decide which fills me with more civic pride. I’ve seen Fraser perform a handful of times, mostly at The Tranzac (Toronto Australia New Zealand Club), a social venue sympathetic to new and adventurous sounds. He is a masterful colorist, and his measured, thoughtful shadings evoke the gentle artistry of Bob Ross. Dialogues with his bandmates appear intuitive and sincere, and unlike the Blue Jays, who last won a pennant in 1993, Fraser’s been steadily perfecting his craft in the city since moving from Ottawa in 1995.

I’m proud of Fraser’s achievements like I am of trumpeter Darren Johnston and percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, two other Canadian-born artists thriving in the international creative music scene. Too Many Continents finds Fraser leading a trio with two heavyweight improvisers who need no introduction - pianist Kris Davis, and saxophonist Tony Malaby. On second thought, labeling anyone ‘leader’ of this date might be inaccurate. The three have been friends for twenty years and seem to communicate their ideas telepathically.

On my second pass through the album, the cover image of The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys (ECM, 1979) flickers through my mind. You know, that wonderful black and white shot of the group seated around a gingham-clothed table drinking coffee? Too Many Continents sounds like that photograph. Natural. Comfortable. This is not to suggest that it doesn’t take chances or stray from familiar territory. Were the Art Ensemble ever tame or predictable? Neither are Fraser and company. Malaby is in top form, sputtering and bubbling above the others in ‘I Needed It Yesterday’, tethered by Davis as Fraser navigates. Davis employs a sustained single note pattern in ‘Nostalgia For The Recent Past’, fueling a restless Malaby to launch into a manic discourse. Fraser really seems to bloom at this point in the album, absorbing the energy of his companions, but never overshadowing them. There’s plenty of fire and fury here, bookended between the controlled burn of sensitive ballads.

This album rewards repeated listenings. It’s wholly musical, well paced, and there’s not a wasted note within. There’s an undeniable bond between the three, and this kinship results in a totally organic, balanced session. Nick Fraser’s Too Many Continents is a grand slam. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Joshua Abrams – Magnetoception (Eremite, 2015) ****½

By Eric McDowell

In a recent Invisible Jukebox interview in The Wire, Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams speaks about “constructing an environment” through his music. “One is creating a space to immerse the listener in sound,” he explains, “and creating room for slowness, for a different rate of attention perhaps.” Magnetoception, Abrams’s third Natural Information Society album for Eremite, demonstrates this concept wonderfully.  

Fans of 2010’s Natural Information and 2012’s Represencing will find themselves in familiar territory here, marked most notably by Abrams’s guimbri (among his other instruments) but also by Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker’s electric guitars, Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium, and Ben Boye’s autoharp. (Hamid Drake, a new addition to this particular project, plays a variety of hand percussion as well as drum kit.) But as a double LP Magnetoception gives the group a new opportunity to stretch out, breathe, and craft an immersive sound environment.

The album opens with “By Way of Odessa,” a side-long piece whose meditative ambient patience, punctuated by Drake’s frame drum, focuses the listener’s attention not by grabbing it but by creating space for it. Eventually the guimbri picks up, before dying down again. The rise and fall of the track’s energy foreshadows the album’s larger structure, more an organic sinuous movement with multiple climaxes than a simple linear escalation.

One climax comes at the beginning of the third side with “Translucent.” The tune’s odd-meter ostinato, carried by the guitars and Abrams on acoustic bass, keeps us entranced but alert, as if we’re burrowing down towards the heart of something, yet not quite there. That heart might come soon enough with the title track. “Magnetoception” finds the album at its densest and perhaps most dramatic, a tightly woven sonic textile of jittery muted guitar, insistent guimbri, and tireless drumming. The group’s natural, protean interplay is in evidence here too, with Drake wrenching the breakneck 6/8 groove into a shuffle for a few glorious bars at one point. Elsewhere brief solo interludes like “Of Night” (Abrams on clarinet) and “Of Day” (autoharp) provide contrast and help contract the scope of the music before opening out again.

“The Ladder” brings things to a close with mid-tempo interlocking guimbri and tabla overlaid by shimmering autoharp and carefully measured guitar lines. This final track leaves us neither too high nor too low, but safely in the middle ground of the album’s dynamic energies. And if Abrams is as inspired by the Gnawa tradition of ritual healing as he is by their use of the guimbri, then “The Ladder” can be said to deliver us out of Magnetoception’s restorative environment better than we entered it.

Magnetoception is available in an attractive LP edition limited to 875 copies or as an iTunes download. Listen to samples on the Eremite website.   

Available from the Downtown Music Gallery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ozo - A Kind Of Zo (Shhpuma, 2015) ****½

By Stef

The specialised Clean Feed sublabel "Shhpuma" keeps surprising with their excellent choice of new music coming out of Portugal. And this piano percussion duo performance is another hit in the bull's eye. Paulo Mesquita plays prepared piano and Pedro Oliveira prepared drums.

It isn't jazz, Mesquita comes from a classical background, and the typical 7th chords are totally absent from his playing, making the music probably more accessible to non-jazz fans, but then the nature or the character of the music is "fire music" if I can use the term. The duo improvises but more on rhythmical and percussive core ideas than with lyrical expansion. Mesquita is excellent at keeping his music focused on a few key ideas, to be explored in immediate interaction with the drums, and I must say that the role of the drums here is quite unusual and without a doubt playing a role as important as the piano. Oliveira does not have a classical background, he's been playing in rock and pop bands mainly, yet the interaction of both musicians is free improv of the welcoming kind, something that may please broader groups of listeners, but then again, they're not afraid to take things far beyond the accessible.

It's hard to find immediate musical references. Benoît Delbecq comes to mind at times, Michel Wintsch too, and at moments even Jarrett, but then this music is still too different, more dramatic, more percussive, more explosive, more evocative of nature, with quite a unique voice.

The end result is quite amazing. Listen to this video to get an idea (and don't be misled by the quiet opening)

 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Nu Band - The Cosmological Constant (Not Two, 2015) ****

By Stef

Joy and sadness join hands on this album. "Joy" because that's the nature of this free bop band, with Joe Fonda on bass, Lou Grassi on drums, Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Thomas Heberer on trumpet. "Sadness" because one of the four leaders of the quartet, Roy Campbell Jr, is no longer among us. His contribution to the band, as a musician and as a composer was quite critical and that can be heard, especially because the band had been playing together for thirteen years when Roy Campbell passed away.

For Thomas Heberer to fill this gap is a true challenge, not only because of the human interaction with the rest of the band, but also because he musically comes from a different background, the European free improv scene, with the ICP Orchestra but also with his own music, which is more avant-garde than free jazz.

The Nu Band's music is characterised by a very open approach to composed themes, which set the scene, and then the band goes on a journey to explore the team, as you might expect from the genre. They sing, they swing, they dance, they bop, they can holler like the blues, but then they loosen up and go on a wonderful expansion of their own compositions. There are few bands like them, and I must say that Thomas Heberer does a great job here, feeling clearly part of the band, and not just a replacement, penning two compositions for the band, and without trying to emulate Roy Campbell, his sound has never been so soulful or bluesy as on this album.

The music is again phenomenal, a treat for the ears, and again delivered by all four musicians. But so are the compositions : the slow "Dark Dawn In Aurora" sounds like instant standard, the long "Time Table" is more abstract in nature and "5 O'Clock Follies" is a joyful swinging piece. And that's the great thing about this band, they play jazz, in all its varieties and subgenres and blend it into one coherent and highly enjoyable whole.


Listen to "Dark Dawn In Aurora", as recorded by your humble servant last year in Brussels.

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Chris Pitsiokos Trio – Gordian Twine (New Atlantis, 2015) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

A Gordian knot is an impossible problem—something hopelessly tangled and complex, unlikely to ever be unraveled. It’s a common metaphor, but before any music is heard, Chris Pitsiokos, Max Johnson, and Kevin Shea have already slyly changed its terms: Gordian Twine suggests not attempting to undo such a knot, but instead wielding the material to create one.

Gordian Twine is Pitsiokos’s first album as a leader. It’s a good proxy for Pitsiokos himself: a brash, youthful jolt that captures the current moment in NYC, both in personnel and attitude. Pitsiokos, a saxophonist with a chattery, Braxtonesqe playing style, has quickly been making a name for himself in the improv scene. Much like bandmate Max Johnson, he’s a young dynamo who is down to play with just about anybody, any time.

Pitsiokos says the trio is a vehicle for the gamut of his musical experimentation, and a bewildering array is unpacked over Gordian Twine’s thirty minute runtime: free improvisation, through-composed works, even graphic scores. This mixture, heavily weighted toward improvisation, fairly lives up to a Gordian ideal: the threads of each musician truly entangle into something that could never be separated back into individual strands.

A nervous energy infuses tracks such as “Clotho” (some tracks are named after the Three Fates of Greek mythology, which adds another layer of intrigue to the idea of “Gordian twine”). This isn’t to say the music is unsure. Instead, it feels always ready to burst at the seams, barely able to stick to the charts, so full of vitality and fire that it risks discharging in all directions at once. “Atropos” showcases some impressive circular breathing, while “Lachesis,” a sax and bass duo, finds its strengths in melody and pacing. Johnson, as always, is in top form; the man seems able to consistently, interestingly respond to any musical situation he’s plunked into. Shea’s drumming is aggressive without being overbearing, the sticks never lingering long enough in any one spot. Together, they sound ebullient, restless, a little deranged.

Gordian Twine is a great jump-start, brief as it is. It has that searching, unsatisfied mien that glimmers within all great improvisation. The formidable work ethic of all three members guarantees it won’t be the last we’ll hear from them, and gig by gig, album by album, these guys are only getting better.

Listen and order on Bandcamp:


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Charles Gayle Trio – Christ Everlasting (ForTune, 2015) ****


By Troy Dostert

To approach the work of one of the all-time greats of free jazz saxophone is an intimidating prospect.  Those who have experienced Charles Gayle and the righteous fury of his tenor saxophone will know that a posture of fear and trembling seems fitting: one prepares to come in contact with uncompromising, undiluted power and, perhaps, something akin to divine fire.  For a lot of us, many of the discs he recorded in the 1990s (Consecration; Touchin’ on Trane; Repent) continue to stand as monuments to what unfettered free improvisation can accomplish.  So it was impossible to consider a write-up for this album as “just another” review.  But in what follows I will try to convey the respect I have for this musician, as well as maintaining whatever objectivity I can muster.

There are a number of remarkable things about Charles Gayle, besides the oft-told story of his homelessness prior to being “discovered” in the late 80s and then exhaustively documented on adventurous labels like Black Saint, Silkheart, and Knitting Factory.  One is that his recorded output over the last 10 years rivals his productivity during his most influential and dominant period in the late 80s and 90s; he has seemingly intensified his pursuit of musical transcendence, despite the fact that he’s now in his mid-70s.  And he’s also dedicated himself to expanding his instrumental facility, developing his chops as a pianist and violist to complement his work on alto, tenor, and bass clarinet—although there’s no question that it is his playing on tenor that is his claim to true greatness.  Finally, in the last decade or so Gayle has taken on the challenge of delving into the jazz songbook, looking for classics on which he could offer his distinctive perspective.  Maybe Gayle is trying to bring things full circle, considering ways in which the trajectory of his career can conclude with some commentary on jazz’s traditional underpinnings—although I would never suggest that Gayle’s career is anywhere near coming to a close.  The evidence certainly suggests otherwise.

Christ Everlasting is a live recording from a Polish club in 2014, with Gayle joined by bassist Ksawery Wójciński and drummer Klaus Kugel.  Fans of Hera will be familiar with Wójciński, and Kugel has performed with a “who’s who” list of leading creative and free improvisers, especially lately with Waclaw Zimpel.  These guys are outstanding partners for Gayle, capable of following him in his freest, most outward explorations, while also skilled at playing “in the pocket” when it comes to the conventional repertoire.  And there are some well-mined jazz classics here—or at least Gayle’s idiosyncratic renditions of them: “Oleo,” Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” (with Gayle appropriately featured on piano), and “Giant Steps” in addition to Ayler’s “Ghosts.”   Wójciński and Zimpel are quite versatile, assured and effective no matter what is called for.  When it involves a full-bore scorcher, like the opening track, “Joy in the Lord,” they can bring all the zealous power needed; but on a quieter, ruminative piece like “His Grace,” they sustain a more slow-burning tempo, giving Gayle room to explore his more mysterious, contemplative side.  One of the impressive things about this record is the sheer diversity of the nine pieces, and the trio works as a cohesive unit on each of them.

As for Gayle himself, all the prophetic majesty his fans have come to expect is present here, although admittedly Gayle in his 70s is not quite the consummate fire-breather he was a couple decades ago.  The upper-register staccato flurries that he could once summon seemingly effortlessly (see Touchin’ on Trane or Consecration as examples) are no longer there, as he more frequently sticks to the middle range of the horn—albeit with the usual bouts of intense overblowing.  And understandably, we’re not going to find any of Gayle’s once-routine twenty-minute jaw-dropping excursions to the outer limits; his pieces here are generally more concentrated and focused, the longest at just over twelve minutes and a good deal more restrained than some of the more intense shorter tracks on the record.  And I confess that I am not as big a fan of Gayle’s work on the piano, although there are some potent moments on “The Father’s Will” where the trio come together formidably around Gayle’s intensely percussive playing in the lower register of the instrument.  As for the standards on the album, some are better than others: “Oleo” is more compelling than “Giant Steps,” the latter exposing Gayle’s diminished precision, especially in stating the theme, which is rather choppy.  But these reservations aside, the overall product on the record is standard-issue Gayle: fiery, passionate, and unceasing in the search for integrity and power in the music.

And on a final note: critics of Gayle’s onetime practice of haranguing his audiences with conservative sociopolitical commentary (see the dust-up from a few years ago over Gayle’s 2012 ESP release, Look Up) will be glad to hear that Gayle’s “preaching” either did not take place at this concert or was excised from the recording.  While I have never been as bothered by Gayle’s desire to speak his mind on these issues as other listeners, on balance it is a positive that we can hereby appreciate Gayle’s quest for truth in its purest, musical form, without distraction.  What a treasure he has been for this music, and how wonderful it is that he is still going strong.

Available for purchase from InstantJazz and the Downtown Music Gallery.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Daniel Levin Quartet - Friction (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

By Tom Burris
There is a solemn beauty to Levin’s approach to composition.  It stands in stark opposition to his ensemble playing, which is generally playful and light.  Between the two lies something like artistic maturity, I think: an openness that becomes more prominent with the passage of time.  Levin’s quartet has always been an interesting chamber-esque group that walks the line between improvisation and composition; but on Friction this balancing act reaches absolute fruition.  To put it mildly, I think longtime listeners will be thrilled with this recording.  The uninitiated should begin here.

The centerpiece of the album is a track called “Chol,” which opens with a repeated bass note played by Torbjorn Zetterberg.  Levin introduces a bluesy middle-eastern style melody over the top, sounding a bit like an homage to Hamza El-Din.  Enter trumpet daredevil Nate Wooley as the phrases repeat, playing sweet harmonic counterpoint on what sounds more like a thin oboe than a trumpet.  (What the hell is he doing now?)  The third time Levin’s melody is repeated Wooley’s sound opens up to display a more conventional timbre.  Matt Moran accompanies the trio by bowing the vibes (I'm guessing), creating a pillow of shimmering smeary tones on which the melodic structure rests.  With the entire quartet now in the game, the piece becomes more intense.  As Wooley rises above the band, Levin reshapes the lone minor chord this has been built upon.  He stretches for blue notes and – at least once – goes in for a long major version of the chord.  The swirling and spinning and levitating that has been taking place all around this simple structure eventually winds down, concluding with the original melody repeated slowly one last time.  The only other aural artist I can think of who has done so much (musically) with so little (structurally) is J. Dilla.  Although the clock says “Chol” goes on for 10.5 minutes, it feels more like three.

Also included are a pair of duets: “Terrarium I,” between Moran and Wooley – and “Terrarium II,” between Moran and Zetterberg.  Both tracks feel improvised but sound composed, especially as they arrive at perfect logical conclusions.  “Particles” features short acoustic spurts that sound like a Stockhausen tape composition.  An excellent mood piece called “Springtime” begins with a one-note drone from everyone in the band that fades in and out.  The note changes.  Again, again.  Levin bows careful harmonics while Wooley rides his wah-wah.  The sky rumbles and shakes, threatening but holding back.  If any rain comes it will be gentle.

“Lyrical” serves as a companion piece to “Chol,” opening with Levin’s gorgeous, solemn bowing before the others join in for a resolution of the melody.  Another passage opens, sounding like a beautiful European folk song.  Wooley then solos over drawn-out bass and vibe chords in free meter before the melodic conclusion is played in unison with Levin.  It is this perfect balance between structure and chaos, darkness and lightness, improvisation and composition, that makes this recording such a rewarding listen. There is frequently an atmosphere of friction; but it is always resolved.  If any rain comes it will be gentle.

Available for purchase at InstantJazz and the Downtown Music Gallery




Friday, August 21, 2015

Leap of Faith w/Steve Swell - Live at New Revolution Arts,Brooklyn,8-15-15

Here's a take on what happened at New Revolution Arts* in Brooklyn last weekend, where Boston's Leap of Faith and NYC's Steve Swell brought their unique sounds to an intimate and appreciative audience.


Leap of Faith does not travel light, and if you have a chance to see them perform, you are in for an multi-sensory experience. From the incredibly detailed discography and many CD's available at the well stocked merch table to the rich visual spectacle of instruments festooning the playing area, this is a group that comes prepared.

The show begins with the start of a timer - a large digital clock that counts up for the next 40 minutes, indicating the length of each of the three sets of the evening. The concert then follows this pattern: a guest artist opens, then Leap of Faith plays, and finally, the two groups combined play. It is within all of this set-up and structure that the planning gives way to the pure improvised music (and some unusual sounds) that pours forth.

On this night, trombonist Steve Swell opened with two reflective solo pieces. Abstract and quiet at first, both improvisations unfolded to the ticking of an internal metronome. Towards the end of the first piece, Swell locked into a pattern that the audience responded to with satisfied and knowing smiles.

Next up, the Leap of Faith quartet worked thorough a constant flow of ideas, a spectrum of sound that toyed with consonance and dissonance. Comprised of woodwind players David Peck (PEK) and Steve Norton, cellist Glynnis Lomon, and percussionist Yuri Zbitnov, the group acted as a unit, creating a unique sonic world of textures and combinations of timbers and sonorities.  The two woodwinds, sometimes butting up against each other, other times in complete agreement, kept things flowing, while the cello was often a focal point. One particularly effective passage occurred when both Norton and Peck reached for their Eb contra-alto clarinets and created a lush sonic bed for Lomon's dissonant double stops. The set was one long improvisation, with a series of climaxes, and ultimately an extended percussion solo passage brought the whole event to fulmination. 

The evening's final set, with Swell joining the group, took on its own character, and though the trombonist was very much an ensemble player, his impact was palpable. The joint set didn't quite reach the volume or density of the previous one, rather, the group stayed in a more melodic mode and broke out some tiny instruments - recorders and wood flutes - towards the end.

To me, the show was a visual event as much as an aural experience. The improvisation goes beyond what notes and rhythms they play, and to what to will they make them with. PEK and Norton are constantly changing instruments, and both percussive and vocal 'events' seem to bubble up throughout. Anticipating and watching what comes next is an event itself from which you can hardly avert your gaze.

This was a show that was as perplexing and challenging as I hoped it would be. I must admit I found the vocalizations, which seem to spontaneously occur and signal a shift in the groups energy, to be a bit hair-raising, but that goes part and parcel with the memorable sights of PEK playing exotic horns or blowing into three slide whistles simultaneous; or Zbitnov playing cymbals strung up on rope. 

If you're looking for sonic adventure, if you're looking for something you didn't know you needed, and if you think you're ready, then yeah, take the leap of faith. This genuinely nice group of musicians transform into something completely otherworldly as they start digging into the dozens of instruments that festoon the stage.


Leap of Faith with Steve Swell [more]


Leap of Faith's Bandcamp page is well stocked. Within three days of the concert, the event was packaged up and ready for download. From this show, 'disc 1' one is called Factorization (LoF w/Steve Swell and Swell solo) and the second is Reimann Surfaces (featuring Leap of Faith's set).




*New Revolution Arts' next show is September 12th, Brandon Lopez solo at 8 pm. Tom Blancarte's Gauntlet with Peter Evans, Louise DE Jensen, and Dan Peck at 9 pm.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stefan Keune, Dominic Lash, Steve Noble – Fractions (NoBusiness, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

Undeservedly, Stefan Keune is one of the most underrepresented musicians in the free music world. This surely has to do with his slender body of work (he was born in 1965 and has released only eight albums as a member of smaller ensembles), but then again he has recorded for FMP (one of the labels last recordings, No Comment) and he has worked with outstanding colleagues like John Russell (in an excellent duo), Mats Gustafsson, Paul Lytton as well as Peter Kowald. However, as a stylist he is simply great. His choice of the sopranino saxophone as main instrument gives him an uncommon sound, which he pairs with a textural approach which is why critics often compare him with Evan Parker and John Butcher, yet his squeezed sound is really distinctive. Even when he plays the baritone sax he makes it sound like an alto.

On Fractions, his new album with British improvisers Dominic Lash (b) and Steve Noble (dr), this high-pitched, squeaking sound collides with Lash’s and Noble’s dark and menacing structures which remind of an approaching thunderstorm (“Two Far“). The music is raw, direct, unvarnished and reduced to what is absolutely necessary. Lash and Noble are not there to push the saxophon to the front or to support it so that it can soar, that’s not the way this trio works. It’s more like the shuffle offense in basketball, an offensive strategy which has all the players rotate in each of the positions. Compared to the trio formation here it is a constellation which offers a maximum of possibilties to interact and where nobody can hide behind the other.

On the one hand Keune, Lash and Noble systematically comb through microcosms of sound fields but on the other hand they are also ready to explode (“A Find“) which prevents the music from dragging on – rhythmic energy and the exploration of carefully defined soundscapes co-exist fruitfully. This is a strict procedure which allows dynamic freedom and therefore almost classic free jazz moments – something like that can only be achieved if the musicians trust each other completely, if they know each other well. “Let’s Not“, the 13-minute central piece of the album, might be the best example for this: starting off with reluctant single notes thrown in, it soon develops to controlled mayhem based on very tight interplay, which is constantly fueled and powered by Noble’s extended materials, Lash’s deep mumbling notes and Keune's hysterical, driving alto.

In his liner notes to No Comment the German critic Felix Klopotek claimed that the trio might be the formation in free music in which you can realize an egalitarian idea best, since it was very open and transparent. You can say this about Fractions as well. In spite of its discipline and strength the music is free of conventions, that’s what makes it so extraordinary.

Fractions is another example that NoBusiness has become a seal of quality for saxophone trios.

Really recommended!

Fractions is available on vinyl in an edition of 300 and you can buy it from Instantjazz.


You can watch a complete set of the trio at the Vortex from the same year the recording was made
here:

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fred Lonberg-Holm & Ken Vandermark ‎– Resistance (Bocian, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

When Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet) played in Weikersheim last May everybody expected a sure thing: two protagonists of the Chicago scene who have known each other very well from different ensembles like Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Vandermark 5, Pipeline, or the Frame Quartet (to name a few). But parts of the audience were puzzled in the break between the first and the second set. The music took very unexpected twists and turns, Lonberg-Holm made excessive use of electronics, some people had the impression that the two did not really match that evening. And when they seemed to have found a common ground – they stopped it all of a sudden to move the music in the opposite direction. Not everybody liked that. But isn’t improvised music about the unexpected?

Resistance, the duo’s live recording from 2013, is another example of surprising music. Here it might be easier to follow them on their paths, although the twists and turns can also be found on this recording, for example in “Z=sl”, which starts with Lonberg-Holm playing his cello almost like a bass, adding distortion to the sound, before the track moves into softer regions just to return even more violently. Both instruments are closely interwoven, Vandermark’s tenor climbs along Lonberg-Holm’s textures like vine around the branches.

His cello reminds of twigs snapping in “E=pj”, while Vandermark’s clarinet mourns over these soundscapes. Then Lonberg-Holm shifts the track to new classical music avoiding his brutal electronics completely. Nevertheless the music sounds stressed towards the end which is a result of the fact that Vandermark uses circular breathing in this part.

Resistance is a lucky bag of sounds and ideas: the distorted electric cello reminding of a gloomy Jimi Hendrix while Vandermark changes between clicking sounds and deep, guttural tones that pay tribute to Peter Brötzmann’s style (“I= V/R”), the cello blowing like a locomotive or meandering between fuzz-tone guitar, the cries of monkeys or clean bowed tones that remind of Steve Reich which is juxtaposed by Vandermark’s tenor simply soaring over these sounds, following them blindly singing in his masterful voice when he is left alone on stage (“p=I2r”).

Fred Lonberg-Holm and Ken Vandermark are like a small band on this album, tight, voluminous, ideally matched, often it seems as if the music was pre-composed (but all of it is freely improvised). The music is like a dance between a songbird (cello) and a belling deer (tenor saxophone), sometimes their energy literally collides.

The second set in Weikersheim was more like the music on the album, the audience liked it much better and there were a lot of “bravos” after the last note. But I also liked the first part for its
abruptness and unpredictability.

The album is available on CD, you can buy it from www.instantjazz.com.
Or through the Downtown Music Gallery.

Watch them at a show in Chicago here:



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Satoko Fujii Tobira - Yamiyo Ni Karuso (Libra, 2015) ****½

By Stef 

One time, some seven years ago, I wrote the following on Satoko Fujii's music "I can guarantee, with certainty, that, somewhere in 2087, in a bar on the planet ZOrghk942, when some legally extraterrestrialized, yet interesting jazz afficionados are thinking back about their favorite music at the turn of the century on planet Earth, that Satoko Fujii will come up in the discussion. Many - and I mean MANY - of the musicians that we think of as good today, will unfortunately have totally disappeared into oblivion, disappeared into a black hole outside history, fortunately together with some other zillion musicians who occupy radio space. What makes Satoko Fujii great? The answer is simple : she is music, she loves music, she creates new languages in music. And I mean indeed the plural of the word. She has more ideas in a year than most musicians in a lifetime, and she manages to create with each CD and with each line-up something exceptional, out of the ordinary, unique and yet accessible, relatively speaking then". 

So why do I refer back to this? First, because my subjective statement is still valid (and still subjective), and second because she demonstrates this again with a new line-up, now with herself on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Todd Nicholson on bass, and Takashi Itani on drums. 

As with each new band, this one also delivers the goods, not only because of the quality of the musicians, but because of the sound and approach that Fujii takes to bring yet another view on what her music can bring. 

On this album, not much seems prepared or composed. Fujii gives her band members lots of freedom, and Tamura kicks off with trumpet whispers, primeval sounds that generate reaction from the percussion, then the piano presents a great theme, somewhat triumphant and insistent in tone, sucking up the sound of the rest of the band, which like in a maelstrom gets attracted to the inevitable centre, and when this happens, silence emerges, and space is given to the drums, which changes the nature of the piece again, resulting in quiet piano, yet intense, somewhat changing timbre, eery, muted strings, clear sounds, inviting exploratory interaction with the rest of the band, chaotic, colliding, clashing, increasing in volume, relentlessly, the trumpet soaring, then the piano theme comes back again, forcing the rest of the band into its powerful drive, aligning forces in the same direction, hammering, pounding, then full stop and quiet chords and harmonies, subtle and gentle, opening space for the bass, followed by a more quiet moment by the quartet. 

Fujii is a big picture thinker, someone who likes broad sweeps of sounds, and strong contrasts between the violent and the quiet, the composed and the improvised, between chaos and discipline, yet always with careful attention for the little details and the emotional depth which bring the music so much further than just some theatrical dramatic effects. And of course not to forget the inherent beauty of the compositions. 


Recommended!


Monday, August 17, 2015

Weasel Walter & Chris Pitsiokos - Drawn and Quartered (2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

So, the gauntlet has been thrown down on using the term 'extended techniques' (sort of), and I accept the challenge to not use it (maybe). Though such a useful phrase, I'll admit, it's a bit of a shortcut, it's a tad lazy, and it can end up maybe even reinforcing the notion that there is a 'right' way for an instrument to sound. Henceforth, I shall banish the word from my reviews, I will set autocorrect to deal with it.

Drawn and Quatered, a duo effort from saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and percussionist Weasel Walter comes screaming to life, taking no prisoners in its embrace of extended techniques all the sounds that their instruments can afford. It is an energetic effort from the get go, and the duo uses every side, shape and sound they can to create an intense and interactive set of music.

The names of the tracks - 'Hanged', 'Drawn' and 'Quartered'  - do not suggest anything nice and the music lives up to this. It's brutal, it's bruising and at times it's beautiful. Pitsiokos is a force to be reckoned with - from piercing blasts to deep bellows, overblown passages to relaxed meditations. He is also an excellent match for percussionist Walter, whose work with Mary Halvorson, Nate Wooley, Yoni Kretzmer, Peter Evans, Nels Cline and others has been documented here on the blog. Walter, it seems, is a musician who can incorporate an endless array of objects to effectively extend his rhythmic ideas. The interaction between the two musicians is almost like a game of cat and mouse, with Walter mirroring the woodwind's bursts with fervor and Pitsiokos darting about the complex rhythms expertly. 

It's hard to say if there is a 'melody' or a 'tune' on this album, rather on these tracks there is an endless supply of ideas, starts, and endings that seem motivated by the moment rather than by a well-laid plan, and what we end up with a bountiful and bloodied cornucopia. This is a tremendously energetic duo and a highly recommended album that is simply brimming with ideas.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fire Music: A History of the Free Jazz Revolution


The blog has a pretty solid policy regarding crowdfunding and promotional requests - that it is just not our goal - we want to share information on the music and musicians who have something important to contribute to free jazz and improvised music. However, sometimes a project comes up that just seems right - like Tom Surgal's in-progress documentary on Free Jazz 'Fire Music: A History of the Free Jazz Revolution'.

Surgal, along with executive producers Nels Cline and Thurston Moore, has been working on securing funding to finish the film. The Kickstarter campaign, as of writing is less than $4,000 short of its goal but there are only a few days left to go.

To help spread the word, we took the opportunity to ask some questions to Surgal (who incidentally is a musician himself and is releasing an album with his group Whiteout and Nels Cline this fall) about the project and (maybe even more importantly) his music collection. For more in-depth information about the documentary, visit the funding page and check out the video

FJB: Why make this film?

TS: In order to expose the world to one the most important and radical musical forms in cultural history. 

What does the title 'Fire Jazz' mean?

Fire Music was a term from the 1960s to characterize an incendiary new brand of avant-garde Jazz.

What can we expect to see in the movie (free jazz, free improv, etc.)?

Electrifying performance footage combined with in depth interviews with the originators of some of the most important music of the twentieth century.

The name suggests a certain approach to free music, do you also consider the type of free jazz pioneered by the AACM and furthered by lowercase artists? 

Fire Music is an umbrella term used to initially describe the inflammatory music emanating from the streets of New York. Once the creative spark was ignited, the music took root in all sorts of places and metamorphosed in the process. St. Louis had the Black Artist Group, Holland had the Instant Composers Pool, Germany had the Globe Unity Orchestra, England had the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and indeed Chicago had the AACM. All these musical entities are as essential to the story that I am trying to tell as anything that ever came out of the New York area.

How would you describe your approach to making the film?

The same approach I've used to make music videos all these years, run and gun. Try and create as much beauty as is humanely possible with the money allotted. I've never had the luxury of big budgets, poverty is my idiom.

Since the blog focuses on album reviews, we'd love to talk about albums. So, what album or musician opened your ears to Free Jazz? When?

When I was 13 years old I heard an interview with the great Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was in the news because he and a group of fellow activist/musicians had been storming the sets of locally produced talk shows in order to demand more Jazz on the airwaves. Rahsaan in interview talked enthusiastically about  artists like John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. His extolling on their musical virtue would forever change ( enrich ) my life.

How much - ballpark figure of course - of your personal collection of music is dedicated to 'fire' Jazz?

I own many thousands of Jazz albums, and I probably posses almost every avant-garde record of note that has ever been released. That being said I also have an enormous collection of straight ahead Jazz. I also collect a wide variety of other musical genres, everything from Tropicalia to Contemporary Classical to Algerian Rai, anything that strikes my fancy. It's all one just one continuum. In the words of Charlie Parker : " It's all music. "  

What are some of the albums that you feel are particularly important to the music?

( In alphabetical order by artist ) 

1 ) Bells: Albert Ayler

A one-sided live LP that captures Ayler at his most gutturally emotive.  Ayler's typically anthemic themes are punctuated by torrid solos and wildly improvised ensemble sections. The album radiates with electric energy.

2 ) BAG (Black Artists Group)
Classic release from the St. Louis ensemble that is rife with all the earmarks of the midwest Free Jazz continuum : heavy dense blowing contrasted by quiet sparse sections with a liberal dose of exotic miscellaneous percussion interspersed throughout. Mysterious as it is potent.

3 ) In Search Of The Mystery : Gato Barbieri

Argentine transplant Barbieri erupted on to the scene with this maiden release. Armed with his poignant, gruff tone, Gato managed to fuse Latin Intensity with the New York energy to create his own signature sound..

4 ) For Alto : Anthony Braxton

Four audacious sides of unaccompanied alto saxophone. The album that challenged the very concept of the saxophone's role in contemporary music; naked, virtuosic, powerful.  

5 ) Macine Gun : Peter Brötzman

Early recording of a summit of prime avant garde players from throughout Europe. Germans, Dutch, a Belgian and a Brit join forces to create a marvel of bare aggression. Han Bennink told me that that they recorded in the dead of night, in a kind of bunker like setting. Conditions that may have fueled the musicians' collective fire.

5 ) Intents and Purposes :  Bill Dixon

Key organizer of the "October Revolution,"  Dixon conjoins Third Stream with New Thing in this seminal release. Unique instrumentation includes cello, flute, english horn, and clarinet. Evocatively structured compositions that vary in dynamic range from delicate to unbridled. 

6 ) Where is Brooklyn? : Don Cherry

Essentially an Ornette Coleman quartet album without Ornette. (Ornette does however pen the liner notes.)  Pharoah Sanders blows mightily, his rough hewn tone the perfect compliment to the quixotic playing of Cherry and company. 

7) Interstellar Space : John Coltrane/ Rashied Ali

Maximalist master Coltrane in his most stripped down setting, accompanied by a young Rashied at his multi-directional best. Arguably the greatest duet album ever recorded.

8 ) Out To Lunch : Eric Dolphy

Definitive recording of five originals by multi- instrumentalist Dolphy, that highlight his inimitable Free Bop style. All star ensemble that includes Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Davis, and Tony Williams.

9 ) Nommo : Milford Graves featuring Don Pullen

An immortal pairing of these two perennial stalwarts of the New York avant garde. The music achieves maximum density while still retaining an airy sense of space. Milford is at his most melodically inventive, and Pullen is ceaseless in his percussive attack.

10 ) The Black Arc : Noah Howard

A vibrant release that showcases Howard's pronounced compositional skills and wailing horn solos with tight rhythmic interplay throughout.

11 ) Black Beings : Frank Lowe 

Extreme, histrionic, unrelenting, Lowe and Joseph Jarman burn with visceral intensity while a frenzied Rashid Sinan pounds up a polyrhythmic storm 

12 ) Topography Of The Lungs : Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Han Bennink

The coming together of  the two leading lights of British avant garde with Dutch master percussionist Han Bennink was an event of historic proportions. Evan and Derek's aggressively pointillist lines are perfectly accompanied by Han's spastic pummeling. Frenetic bursts of wild sound are punctuated by dramatic stops and starts; the silence between sections often resonating the loudest.

13 ) Tauhid : Pharoah Sanders

A mysterious masterwork filled with bells, balafons, and other exotic miscellaneous percussion. The best example of Pharoah's inimitable blending of ethnic sounds and polytonal abandon.

14 ) Life At The Donaueschingen Music Festival : Archie Shepp

A live recording that captures Shepp at his most blistering. The album is comprised of one long track entitled "One For John" which serves as a musical tribute to then recently deceased John Coltrane.The double trombone combination of Roswell Rudd and Grachan Moncur lends the session a kind of Dixieland gone amok quality.

15) Burning Spirits : Sonny (Huey) Simmons

Sonny' s acutely lyrical style is supremely augmented  by a driving sextette that includes the greatest bass tandem ever recorded in Cecil Mcbee and Richard Davis.

16) Astro Black : Sun Ra

Self proclaimed native of Saturn and mystical svengali Sun Ra, mixes wailing horns, other worldly synthesizer sounds, and driving percussion, into an intergalactic stew of mind altering music.

17) The Giant Is Awakened : Horace Tapscott

Tapscott was  a key figure of the criminally unsung Los Angeles avant garde contingent that at one time included Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman, before they made the moved to New York and ascended to fame.This record is an exemplary example of Tapscott's angular compositional forms and cinematic arrangements. The album is also notable for being Arthur Bythe's first recorded effort. 

18 ) Unit Structures : Cecil Taylor 

Cecil at his most percussively explosive, propelled by a large ensemble comprised of double sax, double bass, trumpet, and drums. Each selection is so endowed with thematic complexity, that they resemble miniature suites.

19 ) Afrodisiaca : John Tchicai

A massive work recorded by Danish Congolese Tchicai upon his return to Europe after his much storied stint in New York. Twenty Six musicians are employed to create the mammoth title track alone, playing a wide range of instruments that include tympani, organ, balafon, ophicleide, and glockenspiel. A work of great artistic depth that combines one of a kind orchestrations with hellaciously improvised sections.

20 ) The Frank Wright Trio (self titled)

The good reverend Wright rings forth with his singular brand of soulful ferocity, accompanied by the always eminently inventive Henry Grimes on bass.  

If you were to pick one quality of improvised music that speaks to you the most, what is it? Why?

The raw visceral quality of the jams. Because the courageous act of giving vent to your inner most feelings through your instrument is a thing of beauty. 

What do you want the people who see this film to walk away with?

To appreciate the radical innovations of the original mavericks who created this form. To revel in its naked fury and bask in its artistic complexity. To appreciate the commitment and pure audacity of these sonic radicals, who without popular or critical support, would soldier on and in the process create some of the most sublime music of all time.

Visit the Kickstarter page to learn more. 

Just for the record, the blog is not anyway connected with this project, except that we are excited to see it when it's released!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mario Pavone – Blue Dialect (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

By Troy Dostert

It’s great to see Clean Feed adding a veteran of Mario Pavone’s stature to its roster.  The label has done such a fine job in recent years of documenting many of the most creative and forward-thinking artists in jazz and free improvisation, and bassist Pavone certainly deserves to be in the conversation as one of them, especially when it comes to the piano-bass-drums trio format, arguably the most appropriate showcase for Pavone’s distinctive talents.  A couple years ago Pavone released Arc Trio, an exceptionally fine outing with Gerald Cleaver and Craig Taborn.
 
And with this iteration of Pavone’s trio (what he calls “Arc Trio Blue”) we have Blue Dialect, this time with the no-less-impressive Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Matt Mitchell on piano.  It’s another superb entry in Pavone’s catalog of expertly-crafted post-bop recordings.

As expected, the trio’s musicianship is first-rate.  Mitchell in particular is a revelation, with a seemingly endless array of patterns and phrases at his command; his two-handed runs are especially convincing and effective.  He’s able to articulate the serpentine logic of Pavone’s compositions while at the same time pushing them forward, putting his own stamp on them.  Sorey’s understated, sympathetic and fluid drumming is the perfect rhythmic foundation for pieces that sometimes develop unpredictably, with subtle shifts in dynamics and tempo.  And as always, Pavone is a marvel, staying in close rapport with Sorey and Mitchell even while undertaking his own high-wire explorations.

Highlights include the second cut, “Xapo,” a Monkish piece, deceptively simple, that allows plenty of room for Mitchell’s relentless investigations; “Silver Print,” featuring Sorey and Pavone in extraordinary near-telepathic conversation, both goading and responding to Mitchell; and “Trio Dialect,” a forceful, propulsive group improvisation with far more ideas than seems possible in under five minutes.   

For a compelling glimpse of the trio in action, see the following clip from a performance from last year:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Konstrukt and Guests – Islington Mill, Manchester, 12.08.15

 A Free Jazz Blog experiment ... concert reviews! Colin Green leads off the effort with a review of Konstrukt's show in Manchester, England, this past Wednesday evening.
Let us know what you think about this venture.

By Colin Green

Konstrukt have been touring Europe, including Venice (where they recorded themselves as a double quartet – sounds interesting) Berlin (where they were joined by William Parker, who was apparently dancing) and London’s Cafe OTO (with Alexander Hawkins (piano)). Two days later, they played at Islington Mill in Manchester, a converted industrial mill that serves as an exhibition and performing space and houses creative artists in a variety of media, some of whom joined Konstrukt for their second set, along with local musicians.

Konstrukt have a recently released album: Kaish: Live At Kargart (Holidays Records, 2015) a performance with Akira Sakata from this January (recommended). Since that recording, the line-up has changed, with a new rhythm section, and they now consist of Umut Çağlar (keyboards, electric guitar, woodwinds, reeds); Korhan Futacı (tenor and alto saxophones, voice, percussion); Barlos Tan Özemek (electric bass); and Berke Can Özcan (drums). The new members – the electric bass, in particular – have given Konstrukt a more hard-edged, muscular sound. There’s still the same flexibility as before: lines and patterns swerving in multiple directions, but with a better internal balance and no danger that the front-men will obscure the often dislocated rhythms behind them. The music is less diffuse, but has gained in clarity. Part of Konstrukt’s appeal is the sense that their music occupies several different spaces at the same time, areas that are now more sharply defined. As before, their music can teeter on the edge – a feeling of heightened spontaneity – and the first set closed with a gloriously chaotic up-tempo thrash.

For the second set, Konstrukt were joined by local musicians Graham Massey (B-flat and alto clarinets, electric guitar) and David McLean (Fender Rhodes and tenor sax) together with Sam Weaver (modular synth) who is enjoying a residency at Islington Mill (although unfortunately, he had to retire early due to technical problems). In addition, we had Rachel Goodyear, who provided “live drawing” projected onto the stage, using graphic images, wet ink and fabrics, all of which provided for a novel and busy second set. The combination of an electric-Miles sound of swirling piano, alto clarinet, echo-effects and drones, spurred on by propulsive bass and drums – and with projected images on top – made it feel like the early Seventies (though I suspect I was the only member of the audience who could remember multi-media performances from that far back).

The open-ended nature of Konstrukt’s music lends itself to the guest appearances of which they’re so fond. There’s plenty of space left for others to make their mark. There was some nice double saxophone work from Futacı and McClean, rising to a fever-pitch, and towards the end we had unison horns playing Stax-soul riffs over a blues-rock base – stirring stuff. There’s nothing like live music.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Matthew Shipp Trio – To Duke  (RogueArt, 2015) ****½

By Tom Burris

To say Matthew Shipp has been outspoken on the subject of “the jazz tradition” is an understatement.  Considering this, the arrival of a Duke Ellington tribute album from Shipp made me really excited.   Shipp doesn’t negate tradition; he never has.  He simply regards it as what came before.  Why shouldn’t the most inventive pianist of his generation pay tribute to the most inventive band leader and composer of the first half of the 20th century?  Duke’s music isn’t going to go away; it was built to last.  And that is an understatement too.  It's also pliable enough to withstand every corruption Shipp exposes it to; he toys with every aspect of these standards, including the melodies themselves.  The purity that Ellington intended still shines through; and I'm sure that's Shipp's intention as well.  He wouldn't bother messing with this music if it wilted before the modern world.
An early standout track is “In A Sentimental Mood,” where Shipp introduces the song in a very unsentimental fashion, simply playing the melody as straight as possible – forcing the melody to carry itself, without any overwrought emotion behind it.  Bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey play freely underneath, alternately supporting and distracting attention from the piano.  The melody gets continuously chopped up and reassembled until it is finally restated straightforwardly at the end. 

On “Take The 'A' Train” Shipp plays a few bars of the intro, then promptly lays out over the crazed rhythm section for awhile – then repeats the same bit.  He does this once again before playing out the rest of the head.  The subway car turns bullet train quickly with the melody line colliding furiously with improvisational flurries of notes.  Telepathic fury rules this ride as all three musicians move as a single unit, eventually pulling into the station as the melody returns to its original form over Bisio and Dickey's grinding brakes.  It's an amazing track – probably the finest cover of this tune I've ever heard.  Absolutely stellar.

Shipp's own “Tone Poem To Duke” sends him inside the piano to plunk a bit on this “He Loved Him Madly” from the post-everything school.  Let's imagine your dog chewed up your haiku poetry assignment and you had to fold-and-tape it all back together until it resembled spitball origami.  But somehow it turned out to be beautiful instead of a mess.  Shipp takes a solo turn at “Prelude To A Kiss,” which is reverently (but freely) played.  Again, the song is torn apart and reassembled carefully – but this time I'm reminded more of Monk's approach to the Ellington songbook.  Whether this is intentional or not, it's a beautiful interpretation that is successful on every level. 

“Sparks” is an intense blowout showcase for the trio, relaxed and intense simultaneously – the collective confidence level rising through the roof.  Bisio and Dickey are downright terrifyingly cohesive cohorts as they support and prod Shipp as he levitates above the keyboard.  The disc ends on “Solitude,” which begins with Shipp playing the melody relatively straight with Bisio and Dickey freaking out underneath.  The bands rides a repeated descending chord progression near the end (before the head is repeated) like it's their last chance at redemption.  And then they fly into the sky like we knew they would.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House - Roulette of the Cradle (Intakt, 2015) ****½

By Paul Acquaro 

Roulette of the Cradle, the latest release by Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House - an ever expanding elite group of New York improvisors - begins with a solo drum. It soon switches to solo slide guitar, which then collides into the piano for a climatic ending.

The following track, 'Roulette of the Cradle', continues this game, and one wonders if in fact if there is an order or not, or just how the passages were scripted, if at all. It's hardly a question even worth pondering as the series of passages, passing from musician to musician, build up with a lurching intensity. The song that eventually emerges, with pianist Kris Davis leading the way, is a driving uptempo piece.

The Anti-House woodwind section has been enhanced with the inclusion of clarinetist Oscar Noriega, which creates a whole new set of choices and options for the group. Convoluted and intertwining, the musical lines of the title track lead knowingly into 'Face the Piper, Part 1', which begins lightly with Laubrock favoring the upper register of her soprano sax and Halvorson plucking out choice notes to shadow her. During the track, John Hébert's bass slides about thoughtfully in the background, along side Tom Rainey's rumbling percussive textures. The sonic landscape they create is unique - small crescendoing hills and meandering melodic brooks dot the horizon, until they reach 'Part 2', where they enter what I'll call the valley of dry bones. Here, Rainey's stick work and Halvorson's unvarnished tone deliver an introduction that keeps going until the the sax and piano breaks things up with a unison melody. 'From Farm Girl to Fabulous, Vol 2' apparently picks up from where 'Vol 1' ended on Anti-Houses' last recording, Strong Place. The tune showcases a sound-collage oriented side of the group - but not without also rocking out fabulously. Finally, 'Red Hook' benefits from both playfulness and pathos woven into its composition.

The compositional approach on Roulette of the Cradle brings together the best aspects of each musician's playing. It's most likely safe to suppose that they have all worked together enough now to interact purely on an intuitive level, but more so than just improvising, there is an arc and progression to the songs that speak to the leader's compositional prowess as much as the individual contributions. 

A highly recommended recording, no doubt! 





Tuesday, August 11, 2015

John Butcher & Gino Robair – Bottle Breaking Heart Leap (Alt.Vinyl, 2015) ***½


By Colin Green

John Butcher dislikes the term “extended technique” – a phrase that appears regularly in our reviews – as it suggests a hierarchy which for him, doesn’t exist. His exploration of the soprano and tenor saxophones has produced a vocabulary in which there is no meaningful distinction between a standard and extended means of producing sounds: they are all as one. His starting point is not notes but sonorities, and not just those of the saxophone but of the space in which he’s performing. He prefers not to know what that acoustic is where possible, and to discover its resonant frequencies and peculiarities while playing. In his solo work, the result is a cycle of vibrations encompassing ear, breath, instrument and acoustic, heard as a constantly renewed feedback of sound.

Things are rather different when he performs with others. According to Butcher, he’ll play with anyone once and see where it goes, but there are about fifty musicians with whom he feels he can play sympathetically. One of these is Gino Robair, with whom he’s performed often as a duo, in trios, and as part of larger ensembles. Robair takes a similarly broad view of percussion. In this performance – recorded in May 2012 at Left Bank, Leeds (a former Church) – in addition to drums, bells and cymbals, sounds are produced by mechanical vibration: the “energised surfaces” Robair is credited with playing, as well as a Blippoo Box. Butcher plays tenor and soprano (acoustic and amplified).

In a number of respects, listening to this album is a matter of what not to do. It’s tempting to identify who’s playing what and to think in terms of a duo. Is that a cymbal overtone, electronic whine or saxophone harmonic, or possibly all three merging into each other, maybe just feedback; was that staccato burst drums or Butcher’s use of plosives? Tempting, but probably fruitless, as it cuts across what’s actually going on. Whereas the distinctive character, phrasing and timbre of a musician often informs his or her contribution, in this performance musical personality is suppressed in favour of the overall aural landscape. It’s the sounds which count, not who’s playing them or how they’re produced.

There’s no denying that for some, this is all decidedly outré. There are no tunes or motifs, not much that could be described as dialogue, and no musical progression in the conventional sense (perhaps, not in any sense). As is often the case with improvisation, we’re required to adjust how we listen and our expectations as to what’s going on. A more profitable way of appreciating this is not to apply familiar musical categories, but to think in terms of contrasting and sympathetic movements and gestures, or different surfaces – rough, translucent, reflective, shattered. This is not to say that the function of the music is to conjure up a succession of mental images – ultimately, it’s about what we hear (and feel) rather than see, even with our mind’s eye – but it provides some understanding of the aesthetic at play, which requires considerable discipline and focussed listening by both musicians and audience.

There is emotional content: levels of intensity and invention, as well as subtleties – some events take place on an almost microscopic level – but there’s room for drama and contrast: textures can be carefully layered or just atomised, and there’s no shortage of variety. The performance doesn’t reach the heights however, of the quite superb On Air (Weight of Wax, 2013), recorded the day before, at the end of a European tour for which John Edwards (bass) was added to the duo, and who seems to have provided that extra spark.

Butcher has said that in the past he made a conscious decision to avoid some aspects of the jazz tradition, which have nevertheless crept back into his music. That’s not really apparent in this recording – the saxophone is still very much an inventor of sonic possibilities rather than inheritor of a tradition – but the expansion of his playing to include more recognisable jazz phrasing can be heard in in the recent video clip of the duo, below.

Bottle Breaking Heart Leap is a 180g vinyl only release (250 copies) with beautifully quiet surfaces – necessary to appreciate this kind of playing.