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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Frantz Loriot Systematic Distortion Orchestra – The Assembly (OutNow Recordings, 2016) ****½

By Eric McDowell

At the risk of beginning with a cliché, there’s an organic quality to the music on the debut album by violist Frantz Loriot’s Systematic Distortion Orchestra. Developing with tectonic stateliness and glacial patience, the four compositions that make up The Assembly evoke natural phenomena—storms and swarms, cycles of life and breath. The playing has a physicality that suggests effort and sweat. The beauty of this music is not only in its sheer intensity but also in the details of its incremental escalation. So get out your headphones and close your eyes.

The Systematic Distortion Orchestra is a twelve-piece group with a line-up not terribly far removed from Carlo Costa’s Acustica. But by doubling and tripling some of the instrumentation, Loriot tailors his ensemble to the specific needs of these compositions, especially their timbral richness and complex layering. The Systematic Distortion Orchestra is: Loriot on viola; Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax; Brad Henkel and Joe Moffett on trumpets; Ben Gerstein on trombone; Sam Kulik on bass trombone; Sean Ali and Pascal Niggenkemper on double basses; and Carlo Costa, Devin Gray, and Flin Van Hemmen on drums and percussion.

Establishing a reliable structural principle, the album’s first track, “Echo,” begins quietly, with spare, disparate sounds not yet assembled: clattering percussion and sputtering brass, bowed bass warming up. A slow melodic phrase weaves in and out of the gradually accumulating morass of noise. I can’t help envisioning a seascape in tumult—drums sloshing and crashing over the terrible dark depths of arco string textures. The turbulence heightens and heightens until the only way to add to it, around the sixth minute, is for someone to scream. Not long after this climax, things begin to calm down and thin out. The deceleration is as masterful as the acceleration that made it necessary. And it would be irresponsible of Loriot not to take us back down to the ground carefully and safely.

Even if for my money “Echo” packs into ten minutes what other albums struggle to achieve in an hour, it’s worth moving on to the three remaining pieces. My only misgiving about the follow up title track is that it seems to try to replicate the experience of the opener. But even if the grammar is the same, the language is new. The single epic breath of “The Assembly” is achieved not by the weighty sounds of “Echo” but by a fresh lightness. Pizzi bass replaces arco, kisses and whispers on the horns replace expansive grave melodies.

Next, opening with a long poem by bassist Ali, “…Maybe…Still…” changes direction more drastically. Little by little small sounds begin to infiltrate the space between Ali’s measured words; when the poem is over, the sounds continue, not mounting as in the previous pieces but creating an eerie, static atmosphere full of phantom groans and whines—this time I can’t help picturing an abandoned theme park, the amusements left creaking in the wind.

The final and longest track is called “Le Relais,” and the group delivers on the promise of that title—a thirteen-minute musical relay that puts Loriot’s novel line-up to new use. Still, within this system, the familiar pattern of rise and fall plays out—first in the percussion, then in the strings, and finally in the horns. Each overlapping leg of the relay is a master class in technique, control, and listening. As a whole, the piece forms an incredible triptych.

The Assembly comes highly recommended and is available from the OutNow Bandcamp page.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Claudia Quintet – Super Petite (Cuneiform, 2016) *****

By Troy Dostert

Although John Hollenbeck’s versatility as a drummer and composer has led him to pursue a wide range of projects over the years, it’s his work with The Claudia Quintet which arguably is the best vehicle for his idiosyncratic style. With this ensemble, he’s got the perfect mix of instrumental textures, technical expertise and devil-may-care flexibility needed to pull off these ten tricky, yet undeniably fun, pieces. The result is a superbly enjoyable and addictive record, a release sure to end up on a lot of “best-of” lists for the year. 


With the exception of accordionist Red Wierenga, who replaced Ted Reichman for its 2013 release September, the rest of the personnel have remained unchanged since the band’s inception in 2001: Matt Moran (vibes), Chris Speed (tenor sax and clarinet), and Drew Gress (bass). This is essential to the success of the music, as Hollenbeck’s vision seems particularly driven by the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each of these musicians is an outstanding contributor in his own right, but Hollenbeck requires them to subordinate their individual offerings to his unique compositions, which have always been the centerpiece of the group’s music. 


Okay, so how do the compositions stack up? Really well, unsurprisingly. Take “Nightbreak,” for instance, the delicate opening track, which features a beautiful melody from Moran and the perfect support from Wierenga and Speed, and as the track gradually becomes more intricate the initial feeling of wonder and mystery remains, even as Hollenbeck and Gress take on a more prominent role and the rhythm emerges more fully. There’s also plenty of the Claudia Quintet’s stylistically adventurous trademarks: the rock-influenced pieces, like the infectious “JFK Beagle,” animated by some especially spirited playing from Speed, or the propulsive “A-List,”with insistent chords from Wierenga fueling the beat; the intricate pyrotechnics of “Philly,” a fast post-bop extravaganza; or the danceable groove of “Rose-Colored Rhythm,” built upon a figure from Senegalese drummer Doudou N’Diaye Rose that practically dares you to sit still while hearing it. 


At just over 45 minutes, the record is noteworthy for the relative brevity of the tracks, something Hollenbeck has endeavored to hone over the years, as he argues that “when tunes are longer, there tend to be moments when not a whole lot is happening.” One certainly can’t say that about these pieces, where there simply aren’t any wasted notes: it all counts. And while that sometimes can be a bit disappointing, as you could easily imagine the group stretching out and continuing the groove (witness “Rose-Colored Rhythm” in particular), there’s an easy solution to this problem. Just play the record again. And again.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Jonas Cambien Trio - A Zoology of the Future (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone
Jonas Cambien is a Belgian-born, Norway-based pianist who has here joined with two native Norwegians (André Roligheten on reeds and Andreas Wildhagen on drums) to produce an exciting, concise recording that draws from the well of free jazz’s past and present, that rummages through the box of available sounds and methods and combines them to form something decidedly unique. While other groups might try to mask the seams, however, attempting to lump all the disparate elements together into a fluid whole, the Jonas Cambien Trio make no such pretensions: in fact, they revel in the ramshackleness, producing an album that is absolutely infectious in its wild, wide-eyed exuberance. 

 The first track, “Gulf,” is something of a teaser - an appetizer, so to speak, and an atmosphere-builder. When “We the King” kicks off with Wildhagen’s martial, no-frills percussion, we start to get a sense of what this trio is all about. While there are moments of relative complexity and virtuosity, the group seems to be more devoted to the rhythmic, the repetitive, and the exultant. Wildhagen’s drums clatter, clink, and clang, a veritable junkyard of sound, and Cambien never strays far from the central melody. As the piece progresses, the structure gets more rickety, but it never changes its shape, and it never falls apart. The next piece, “Clap,” tosses the melody out altogether: it’s almost purely driven by stark rhythms from Wildhagen and Cambien, as well as exhalations from Roligheten’s saxophone. Here, the group toy with the idea of the piano trio, working together in ways that deliberately subvert their roles - as these deliriously wonderful noises suggest, the point is not to fulfill a role, to do everything “by the book,” but to simply come together and create. That’s not to say they are not capable of producing accessible melodies. Take “Times,” for example: the main figure is a lovely, circular one, and it boasts a timelessness that links it to some of the most memorable pieces in jazz history. 

 “Frosk” carries hints of minimalism, with spacious, repetitive rhythms that gradually accrete and build. At one point, Roligheten takes a cue from Roland Kirk and plays two saxes at once! A word on Roligheten: he’s a reedist of the highest order, but that commendation isn’t just deserved because of his technical skill. It’s because he’s not afraid to take risks, to reject the typical notion of what a saxophone should “sound” like. While that’s not an entirely uncommon approach in the world of free jazz, Roligheten does more than just bleat or blow maniacally - he’s always aware of what’s going on around him, and he integrates himself accordingly. In “Sing,” for example, he barely rises above a bloated whisper, and the notes he does produce are terse and rough. However, his rhythmic sense is impeccable; for him, the saxophone is just as much a percussion instrument as anything else. The same could be said for the leader, Jonas Cambien. He’s not a showy pianist, and he takes a simple approach to the way that the melodies unfold: in short, maintain them, throw in some frills whenever you get a chance, but, above all, make sure that the rhythms are firmly in place. It’s this simplicity, though, this reduction of the piano to its core components, that makes his compositions so exciting. These pieces are “free” not because of how much complexity they add, but because of how much they strip away. 

If this album represents the sound of the future (as its title suggests), I won’t complain. It’s three men, a pile of instruments, and an aversion to musical convention. Mix those all together, and you get the wild racket that is A Zoology of the Future. Highly recommended! 
        

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Brad Shepik & Ron Samworth – Quartet 1991 (Songlines, 2016) ***1/2

By Chris Haines

Having been recorded back in 1991, hence the title, the quartet of Brad Shepik, Ron Samworth (guitars), Phil Sparks (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums) were rushed into the studio off the back of a lone gig. It seems that the performances had been thought of as not up to scratch and the project has laid in the vaults ever since. That is until now, and with a bit of digital editing the project has finally seen the light of day. With covers of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin”, and a piece by Robin Holcombe called “Nightbirds” the rest of the album is made up of originals.

The first track “Confluenza” starts with a Middle Eastern sounding theme played by both guitars, which dissolves into a freer solo after a simple but effective bridging passage, with the two themes and variations of them recurring throughout. “Terrestrials” contains the sort of freer solos that I would die for, walking the line between tonality on one side and the chromatic disregard for it on the other, the improvisation weaving it’s silken thread between the two fabrics creating a clear but wavy melody that is just as elusive rhythmically. “Circa” starts with a theme that wouldn’t be amiss off a Pat Metheny album, but then continues with a wandering melody line full of chromatic interest, the like of which I can’t get enough of at the moment. “Plaw” starts with interweaving guitars playing chromatic lines accompanied by drum rolls and percussive hits with the intensity gradually coming to a point where the music takes a more laid back approach with a fusion feel to it. This then continues for a short while before the knotty sounds of the dual guitars become abrasive in character once again ending on a short tumbling unison phrase. “Bent House” with its tango feel is one of the weaker pieces and unfortunately to these ears sounds a bit twee, and wouldn’t have gone amiss if it hadn’t been included.

Throughout the album there is a looseness between the two guitars especially noticeable when playing in unison, which for me is a big part of the attraction of these recordings, a stylistic trait that goes right back to the beginning of Jazz history, particularly New Orleans music with the collective embellishments of a single line. The structures of the pieces are relatively simple allowing for the soloists to gleefully stretch the music creatively, which is where for me the interest lies, although I get the impression that this is where the bone of contention is. However, it all sounds remarkably fresh by today’s standards and seems like it could have been recorded later than the original date.

It’s great that these recordings have finally been released, and I’m sure that there are many of us out there, myself included, who might wish that we could play that ‘badly’.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mette Rasmussen/Paul Flaherty/Chris Corsano – Star Spangled Voltage (Hot Cars Warp, 2016) ****


By Martin Schray

Chris Corsano, one of the most interesting drummers on the scene, is a specialist in sax duos. Among others there have been excellent collaborations with Joe McPhee, Virginia Genta and Paul Dunmall. His most long-lasting collaboration is the one with Paul Flaherty (since 1998), with whom he has released great albums like Low Cost Space Flights (FTR, 2014), for example. For this new trio project he has chosen Mette Rasmussen to support them, with whom he had released the very recommendable All the Ghosts At Once (Relative Pitch) in 2015. The Danish sax player is able to add substantially to the duo format, contributing a new layer of expressivity and complexity. Flaherty and Rasmussen haven’t worked with each other before, however there is an almost telepathic understanding you hadn’t necessarily expected from players of such different generations.

Star Spangled Voltage is the recording of a 2014 show at Never Ending Books in New Haven/CT. Three of the five tracks on this album present the two saxophones weaving wild lines around Corsano’s percussive outbreaks, there’s plenty of brutal high-energy playing with breath-taking and aggressive solos. Often it seems as if the three are chasing each other relentlessly through the free improvisations.

Then again, Star Spangled Voltage consists of obvious contrasts and similarities. On the one hand there are crisp articulations and clear sounds, circuitous “melodic“ arcs are confronted with short, sharp and abstract notes, hectic and nervous lines foil relaxed, vibrato-laden blues patterns. On the other hand the musicians often agree easily on common topics, exploring fields of sounds and structures in a similar way - as if they had been playing together for years.

A good example of this is the five-minute-explosion “c. 800 BCE (Hit the Ground Running)“, which starts with a high-speed drum solo before the saxophones drop in with dissonant and atonal outcries. Very briefly they accompany each other but then Rasmussen’s ultra-high pitches provide an alternative draft to Flaherty’s approach, it’s like a fight between the two of them, which is additionally fueled by Corsano’s drum attacks. The piece bursts of extreme intensity, it reminds of Arthur Doyle Plus 4’s classic Alabama Feeling from 1978.

And even as to the structure of the album there is a contrast: The pieces which are the exception to the rule are “Salt“, a duet between Rasmussen's prepared-sax and Corsano's bowed metal, and “In the Light of Things“, a conversation between Rasmussen and Flaherty. In the first one Corsano and Rasmussen use extended techniques compared to the rather classic playing on the rest of the album. Rasmussen contributes overblown, shivering sounds which are backed by Corsano’s fragile textures. The piece is divided into two parts, the second one is almost balladesque, a complete contrast to the first part. The latter one, the last track on the album, is a duo by Rasmussen and Flaherty, which draws a bow to “Salvaged“, the first track, with its extensive and bluesy phrases.

Star Spangled Voltage is an excellent album full of old-school fire music, a real feast of the senses for fans of classic free jazz.

It’s available on vinyl.

You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com and www.downtownmusicgallery.com

Watch parts of the concerts here:


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thank you, Paul and Dominic


By Stef

The news about Paul Smoker passing away in May only reached me recently, and coincided with the news about Dominic Duval passing away too on July 22nd.  

I did not know them enough to feel entitled to write a real obituary. I can only say their music has given me incredible moments of delight, and they will continue to do so. At this very moment I am listening to "Duocity In Brass & Wood 2", a recording of a duo performance of both artists, and a sequel to "Duocity In Brass & Wood 1", that features Smoker with Ed Schuller. 

They share the same qualities, a deep-rooted sense of soul, a warm lyricism and a great comfort and expressivity in free contexts, even if both liked the more rhythmic or structured or bluesy anchoring once in a while. Their technical mastery was always at the service of their emotional authenticity. 

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Trio X, in which Dominic Duval played a key role with Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen. CIMP recently released the Trio's latest recordings, actually a series of four live albums, which I can highly recommend. 

I want to thank them for the great music and uncompromising art they offered us. It was a great gift they have given us. We will continue to listen to their music with joy and sadness, as they would have wished. 

Our thoughts go to their families and friends. 




Twenty One 4tet - Live at Zaal 100 (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Located in Amsterdam, Zaal 100 is a venue that has hosted a number of notable figures in the world of improvisational music: John Dikeman and Luis Vicente, for instance, who appeared there in February of 2016 (along with George Hadow, Dirk Serries, and Martina Verhoeven) and later released an album documenting the performance. Well, Dikeman and Vicente had actually done a prior performance at Zaal 100, in September of 2015, with Wilbert de Joode on double bass and Onno Govaert on drums. On this newest release, we can hear that first performance in full. Govaert, Dikeman, and Vicente first met during the course of Jasper Stadhouders’ International Improv Ensemble. Finding they had “developed a strong rapport,” they decided to carry on their acquaintance, eventually choosing Wilbert de Joode to fill out their small ensemble. Of these four musicians, Vicente is the only one not currently residing in Amsterdam - considering most of his shows seem to happen in Portugal, it’s a treat to hear him with these Netherlands-based players. Why such a treat? Well, just listen to the sense of interplay they exhibit on Live at Zaal 100: it’s phenomenal, and shows them to be among the finest musicians in the world of contemporary free jazz.

“Red Moon” gets things off to a fine, albeit lurching, start - there’s a sense of haphazardness, of loosely-held-together structures that are always on the verge of collapsing. It’s this “looseness” that distinguishes the Twenty One 4tet as such a fine outfit; they may sound like they are about to disintegrate completely, but they never do.

The next piece, “Rising Tide,” begins with Wilbert de Joode’s delicately-plucked bass, followed by Govaert’s clattering percussion. When Luis Vicente comes in, it’s with a rather straightforward solo, but one that soon unspools itself, sending threads in every direction. That’s one of the joys of listening to him play: he’s got an undeniable ear for melody, but he’s also not afraid to draw all of the primal physicality out of his horn - sometimes he sputters, sometimes he spits out lines with acerbic intensity, but he always keeps your attention. The same can be said for Dikeman. His solos are, at times, downright harrowing - his playing calls to mind Albert Ayler, tossing tortured warbles, dense multiphonics, and screeches into a boiling cauldron. Likewise, the rhythm section doesn’t disappoint. Onno Govaert is a dexterous and acrobatic drummer, moving from taps to thumps to veritable bombardments, all without sacrificing the elasticity that lends his playing such an unpredictable, natural quality - hearing him construct his patterns is akin to watching a master tailor make a garment, with complex filaments weaving in-and-out of the compositions. Wilbert de Joode is the Gary Peacock to Dikeman’s Ayler, shifting easily from arco to pizzicato whenever it suits him, and producing rotund, dense lines that positively pulse through your speakers.

The final piece, “Vesuvius,” is the longest and most fiery one. Here, Dikeman drops the vibrato for an exuberant, impassioned style of playing that more accurately calls to mind Pharoah Sanders. While the Twenty One 4tet aren’t explicitly playing “spiritual jazz,” there is a core of religious fervor buried in these tracks - each player seems to be wrapped up in their own fever-dream, their own torrid world of searing visions and prophetical howls. Miraculously, though, they manage to reach across the gaps and truly connectwith one another, thus realizing one of the ideals of free jazz: creative expression that simultaneously marks out the boundaries between players (each player, after all, has their own unique style), and obliterating those boundaries completely. Perhaps that’s the real meaning behind the titles here - “Red Moon,” “Rising Tide,” “Undertow,” and “Vesuvius” - titles that imply submersion and annihilation. It’s in this same destruction, however, that the Twenty One 4tet find the “spiritual unity” referenced by Albert more than fifty years ago.



Monday, July 25, 2016

Luis Lopes – Love Song (Shhpuma, 2016) ***1/2

By Chris Haines

Released on Clean Feed’s sister label Shhpuma, this collection of solo improvisations shows a more intimate side of Luis Lopes’ guitar playing.  Better known for his work within his groups the Humanization 4tet and Lisbon-Berlin Trio, apparently after a concert the guitarist’s music was criticised by a female fan for being too ‘masculine’.  Whether this remark was the catalyst for this reflective approach found on Love Song or just a candid soundbite, it nevertheless illustrates the difference in approach from the complex, dense and knotty phrases that he wields so expertly within the aforementioned groups.

Although this set of solo pieces shares the concept of love throughout, what it gives us are the more punishing aspects of this emotional web.  The reflective nature of these pieces explores the pain of love, with titles such as “Ever Eternal Loneliness” and “The Sadness Of The Inevitable End” highlighting the way, if it needed it.  The nine pieces are all played on electric guitar using a fairly clean sound but with an edge.  Ranging from two to nine minutes a piece the mood and style has a consistency of melancholy and contemplative desire that hangs like a cloak over the whole proceedings.  Far from the happy bubblegum pop or schmaltzy ballads of many musical interpretations on this favourite of themes, Luis Lopes tries to delineate the complexity of the interpersonal attraction between people and almost creates an essay on the mixture feelings that it brings to bear for us.

This is certainly something different in his canon of works, thus far, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to develop this side of his playing further, maybe incorporating it more into some of his already existing projects.  Having stepped away from the machinery of these, Luis Lopes has examined his feelings in the moment and laid them bare for all to hear.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Santos Silva/Wodrascka/Meaas Svendsen/Berre - Rasengan! (Barefoot Records, 2016) ****


By Lee Rice Epstein

An ad hoc group assembled for opening night of last year’s Blow Out! festival at Oslo’s Café Mir, Rasengan! is a fiery session in the European free jazz mode. A straightforward acoustic quartet of trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, they really lean into the European creative-music lineage of which they’re a part. For one thing, I really dig the FMP-throwback aesthetic of the cover. Can we call that color “Follies orange”?

All four members of the quartet—Susana Santos Silva, Christine Wodrascka, Christian Meaas Svendsen, and Håkon Berre—are well-established in the European jazz scene. Santos Silva has been covered extensively on the blog (though, as I admitted in a comment last fall, I had completely missed out on her music for years). Wodrascka’s solo album Linéaire was featured on the blog. And Meaas Svendsen latest solo bass recording was reviewed earlier this year. Berre is relatively underrepresented here, but as a founder of the Barefoot Records collective, I expect that will change shortly. I’m not sure how these four decided to assemble, but the result is magnificent. They waste absolutely no time. From the outset, all four members are going at full blast. Seriously, Rasengan! is a half-hour of fire.

“Sweatshirt” takes up the bulk of the album, at 25 minutes. Opening with everyone in staccato, the shape of the piece rapidly assembles. Berre keeps up a brisk undercurrent, countered by Meaas Svendsen’s lively bass. Something of a call-and-response motif emerges from Santos Silva and Wodrascka’s early explorations. About four minutes in, “Sweatshirt” is swinging. As soon as it opens up, however, the group pulls back, setting the stage for a ferocious solo from Wodrascka that’s backed by a chaotic soundscape of Meaas Svendsen’s extended arco, Berre’s assorted percussion, and the barely-contained howls of Santos Silva’s trumpet. Each member, in turn, takes a moment at the lead. But in the spirit of collective improvisation, the entire quartet is in constant motion, playing off each other’s ideas and urging on their collaborators.

“Death by Candiru” opens in a somewhat meditative state, with airy work from Santos Silva, punctuated by Wodrascka’s restrained piano. Meaas Svendsen gradually fills in, leading to a thoughtful duet with Wodrascka. When Santos Silva returns on muted trumpet, Berre joins on bowed percussion, his metallic drones heightening the tension in a piece dominated by space. “Death by Candiru” (and the album) ends abruptly, leaving many ideas unfinished, many emotions unfulfilled. But isn’t that what separates a great free session from a merely good one, leaving the door wide open for more?

Watch



Listen



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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Introducing the French label Circum-Disc

By Eyal Hareuveni

One of the advantages of a label that relies on a local collective of musicians as the French, Lille-based Circum-Disc is the freedom to experiment. Circum-Disc was founded in 2004, enjoying the work of about 30 musicians of the Muzzix collective. The collective members include the French half of the quartet KAZE - drummer Peter Orins, who runs the label, and trumpeter Christian Pruvost, and the label offered orchestral and smaller groups projects with composer-guitarist Olivier Benoit, now the artistic director of the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ). Since 2007 Circum-Disc began to offer a new series, Helix, specializing in free improvised and experimental music.

Bi-Ki ? - Quelque Chose Au Milieu (Circum-Disc/Helix. 2016) ***

The alto saxophone duo Bi-Ki ? -Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin,  has been working since 2012, investigating the sonic parameters of a meeting of two highly personal sonic identities, both playing the same instrument. Both Abdou and Rubim aim to explore different aspects of the timbral range of their instruments: the density, fragility and elasticity in different spaces, with an open, intuitive approach.

Quelque Chose Au Milieu (Something in the middle) documents the duo collaborative work with fellow French sound artist, sax and keyboards experimental player Jean-Luc Guionnet. Guionnet recorded the duo improvisations in five urban spaces and noteworthy architectural buildings - “listening stations” -  in the suburban town of Lille, Lomme. Each of these distinct spaces subjected its own unique sonic qualities on the duo playing and forced the duo to adapt its playing. Guionnet used these recordings as sound material, mixed and edited them into 12 pieces that often sound as a quiet, almost silent, sometimes windy and sometimes even dreamy soundtrack of a very calm and peaceful town. Only on pieces as “C3/C5/∞”, recorded at the Église Notre Dame de Lourdes, and on “SIb” and “C3/C5/∞”, both recorded at the Marché Min Zamin, this town sound as charged with busy, stressful  urban action.


Jean-Luc Guionnet - Plugged Inclinations (Circum-Disc/Helix. 2016) ***


Guionnet often alternates between many left-of-center courses, all suggesting his unique conception of sound. Sound is as an elastic, fluid material that he can alter, sculpt and manipulate. Plugged Inclinations focuses on the bare basics of playing different electric keyboards, reducing the sonic output to mere electric current. Somehow it is an extensions of his approach to playing the church organ which he began to develop since 1993.

Guionnet compares the electric keyboards, mainly organs, to a “ship, a barque, a boat, a building within building”. He reconfigures the electric keyboard's stream of sound and its loose architecture as a pure and endless electrical current, of which he manipulates its blasts and peaks intuitively. He even compares this process to going back “in the machine as we go back in a train of of thought”.

The 57-minutes piece offers a weird feeling of being lost in waves of white noises that on one hand are so familiar from our home environment and daily life that we are hardly pay attention to them. But on the other hand the manipulated arrangement of these noises charges these sounds with a claustrophobic quality that is getting deeper and deeper, full of existential stress.



Jérémie Ternoy / Ivann Cruz / Peter Orins – Qeqertarsuatsiaat (Circum-Disc, 2016) ****½



The trio of pianist Jérémie Ternoy, guitarist Ivann Cruz and drummer Peter Orins, known in its electrified version as TOC, decided to unplug and to go opposite to all characterized it before, i.e. energy, density, volume, excess, channeled into a twisted mix of post-punk-post rock-post jazz. This time the trio opted to explore the timbral range of their acoustic instruments in a minimalist, sparse and spontaneously improvised interplay. To add an exotic flavor to this album, the title is the name of small settlement in the southwestern Greenland, while the other pieces are titled after remote towns in Algeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Mongolia, Hokkaido, and Okrug, Russia.

The established interplay of the trio, solidified on previous three albums of TOC, as well as the extensive experience of the resourceful Ternoy, Cruz and Orins in many other projects contribute to the success of this sonic adventure. The trio knows how to sketch multilayered and intriguing textures that flow organically by their inner logic. Pieces as the atmospheric “Djanet”, “Gilgit”,  the mysterious “Wakkanai” or the weird, hypnotic rhythm of the title piece, dissolve any attempt to distinguish such improvisation from a written, well-crafted composition. All these pieces sound fresh, eccentric with its inventive approach, but surprisingly coherent.





TOC - Haircut (Circum-Disc, 2014) ****


The third album of TOC - following their debut, a soundtrack to a wildlife documentary, Le Gorille (2009) and the sophomore work for a dance company, You Can Dance If You Want To (2012) -  is focused on different forms and levels of energy. Haircut is built as two consecutive pieces, and is an insistent, sometimes repetitive research of different modes of highly energetic interplay, built on the spur of the moment. The two pieces, “Half Updo” and “Updo”, do not settle on any pulse or structured progression, but developed as in waves and storms of effects-laden energy.

There are moments when TOC sounds as locking on a distinct form, as on the third part of “Half Updo”, in a heavy, spacey groove, almost with a dance-like pulse, or in the infectious, noisy beat on the beginning of “Updo”. But soon TOC transforms these muscular outpours into another sonic adventures that has an altogether different rhythmic characteristics, still charged with high-octane energy. Eventually all the energy is channeled towards the ecstatic climax at the end of “Updo” where TOC explodes in a fast, reckless and wild mode.




Sakay - Antipodes (Circum-Disc, 2015) ***½*


The Sakay quartet was born of an impromptu meeting in Lille on December 2013 between trombonist Jérôme Descamps who lives in Tahiti and the label regulars- double bass player Nicolas Mahieux and trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins.

Antipodes documents the quartet in the studio. The quartet experiments with different improvised forms of interplay, explores extended techniques and investigates their instruments timbral ranges. All is performed in an unassuming, open-ended approach, with no attempt to commit to any specific narrative or approach, and often within two-three.minutes pieces that suggest multifaceted exploration of a single sonic idea When the quartet stretches its sonic searches a bit longer as on “Architecture du Besoin”, “Distribution des Cartes” or “Bille en tête”, it sketches organically, arresting, eccentrically textured, full of invention, and rich with detail.

Quartet Base - Le Diapason (Circum-Disc, 2014) ***½


Quartet Base is one of long-lasting outfits of Lille, though La Diapason is only its sophomore album. This quartet is actually a quintet now, led by guitarist Sebastien Beaumont and featuring trumpet players Christophe Motury, who also sings, and new addition to the group, Christian Pruvost, who also plays the saxhorn, double bass player Nicolas Mahieux and drummer Peter Orins, who also adds electronics.

The eclectic repertoire references British, Canterbury-scene art rock groups as Soft Machine and Henry Cow, Frank Zappa groups, nineties incarnation of King Crimson, experimental and free jazz improvisation and clever pop songs sensibility. Quartet Base mixes such diverse elements into a wild ride, wrapped by the group tight and playful interplay, Moutry amused and often eccentric pathos is delivered with clever sense of humor and sharp sense of drama. Quite often Quartet Base sound as a French variation of the seminal great prog and fusion groups, especially on the demanding and wild virtuoso pieces as “That Too Much Hurts Me/Part 3”, but fortunately it lacks the pretentious approach these groups and it is much more open to sonic experimentation, as the impressive double solo on “Changes of Love/Part 1”..



Friday, July 22, 2016

Magimc - Area Sismica (Setola Di Maiale, 2015) ***1/2



Magimc is a trio formed by Edoardo Marraffa on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Thollem McDonas on piano and Stefano Giust on drums and percussions. This is their second album together, a live recording of a concert held at Area Sismica, one of Italy's main venues for free music.

Marraffa, a powerful voice in Italian free jazz and a veteran of the scene, has an immediately recognizable tone on the tenor saxophone, reminiscent of the tradition of Fire Music, capable of intense atonal cries but also of more restrained tone color explorations.

McDonas, a pianist and composer from California, shows impeccable technique and a strong contemporary sensibility, with an elegant approach to both melodic and harmonic developments. Giust, another important figure in the Italian free improvisation scene, acts as a sort of bridge between the freer expressions of the saxophone and the richly layered excursions from the piano, assuming different roles depending on the necessities of the performance, keeping all together or providing additional ideas with diverse stylistic approaches to the kit.

The record follows a typical free music encounter, with the musicians carefully listening to each other, testing moods and expressions before committing to a common language. The group shows strong affinity and cohesiveness from the beginning, but the exploration process is always in full display, presenting an engaging overview of different improvisational strategies, from textural soundscapes to powerful rhythmic explosions, from simultaneous free jazz attacks to delicate melodic passages.

Each musician has a strong personality, and the contrast of styles and instrumental voices constitute one of the most interesting aspects of this album, a sonic snapshot of both a working group and a spontaneous musical meeting, showing all the subtleties, difficulties and brilliant solutions to that most difficult task — listening and talking to each other, in spite of the differences.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Christian Weidner - Every Hour of the Light and Dark (Pirouet, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

When it comes to so-called “free” jazz, there’s a lingering misconception among some listeners who’ve only heard Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, or late-period Coltrane - there’s the belief that “free” means “fiery,” and that all of the music, by necessity, comes out of the same white-hot barrel as Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun. Of course, that’s not true; while some of the genre’s best recordings are, indeed, explosive, there are just as many that evade that descriptor. In short, there are many shades of freedom. Some sound like spiraling shrapnel from a hand-grenade, and others are closer to the lazy flights of migratory birds.

Christian Weidner is one of those artists who sticks to the cooler, calmer side of the free jazz spectrum. His compositions are, well, composed, and they always seem to maintain a certain reserve, an equable demeanor that lends itself well to the late hours. On this, his latest album, Weidner returns with the trusty group that helped him deliver the enchanting Dream Boogie: Achim Kaufmann on piano, Henning Sieverts on bass, and Samuel Rohrer on drums. Dream Boogie was a stellar effort, with pieces that ranged from the architectural elegance of ECM, to pieces that wandered down more unpredictable paths.

After one or two listens, there might not seem to be much to distinguish Every Hour of the Light and Dark from the previous album; both exist in a world of dreams, and the compositions themselves mirror this fact - sometimes, they glide along with a sensible, transparent beauty. Other times, they come to us in fractals, shards of melody that skip and stutter and swirl. Like the duo of Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp, Kaufmann and Weidner have a certain simpatico when they play together, and they tackle all this stylistic variation with astounding proficiency.

Though this newest album shares many attributes with the 2012 outing, I would say that it’s a refinement of what made the last one so compelling. It’s even more ethereal, and it strikes me as (yet again) an album that is practically made for nocturnal musings. “Tethys” is lovely, yet slippery, with Kaufmann’s notes sometimes clustering, sometimes cascading, but never spoiling the listener with a straightforward progression. In many ways, the crystalline delicacy of his playing on this piece recalls Debussy’s compositions - impressionistic tonal swaths that are near-spectral in their lightness. The title track develops in more direct ways, but still maintains a heart of inscrutability; Weidner is endlessly expressive here, but he is also laconic - each note arises as if it were the last drop of water squeezed from a damp towel. This terse approach is shared by the rhythm section: Henning Sieverts plays with great economy, not often taking solos or busying up the compositions with undue complexities. Likewise, Samuel Rohrer has a soft touch - he plays just what is necessary to maintain the foundation of Weidner’s shadowy sound-world.

As its title implies, “Weightless” is a sparse affair, and its success owes perhaps more to the vacuum between the notes than to the notes themselves. Although it stretches to seven minutes, it never loses its enchanting quality - like being stranded in the depths of space, watching the Earth move from marble-to-pea-to-speck, it’s enchantment of a somber sort, but enchantment nonetheless. “Dance Fantasm” is a quick antidote to the solemnity, injecting the album with a burst of primal energy. It’s only a burst, however, being soon replaced by the elegiac wails of Weidner’s alto on “In Memoriam.” In this piece, the other players are slow to appear, giving Weidner and Kaufmann an opportunity to show just how deep-seated that aforementioned simpatico truly is. When Sieverts and Rohrer do arrive, it’s not to tie a rhythm to Weidner and Kaufmann’s productions, but to accent them with sibilant splashes (in Rohrer’s case) and leaden lumps (in Sieverts’). The final piece, “As Long as Now,” finds the album closing in much the same way that it began - somberly.

Weidner’s compositions are pleasant, and they never veer off into the harsh, uncompromising landscapes that many other albums lumped under the “free jazz” label tend to do. For that reason, Every Hour of the Light and Dark might strike some listeners as overly safe. While my first couple of listens seemed to be leading me to that same opinion, it was with a few more that I started to see the complexities buried in these compositions - yes, they are (for the most part) calm, but there is a knotty, mystifying heart in the center of this album. As with any exceptional recording, it is in the untying of those tangled threads that we receive the greatest sense of fulfillment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Full Blast - Risc (Trost, 2016) ****½


Full Blast is one of the most exceptional outfits of German reeds titan Peter Brötzmann. This is an equal trio that features classically-trained, Swiss electric bass player Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller. Both play leading roles and rarely are confined to the role of a rhythm section. Most of the Full Blast pieces are composed (the trio last album, Sketches and Ballads, Trost, 2011, was based on Wertmüller 50-pages, notated composition), or at least structured along a distinct narrative, and its sonic aesthetics is more open to sonic experiments. Still, Full Blast genre-bending blend of fiery, muscular free jazz, metal and noise suggests that it has its roots in another legendary group of Brötzmann, Last Exit.

Risc, Full Blast fifth release in the last decade, celebrates the work of German sound artists Gerd Rische, the former head of the Berlin Academy of Electro-acoustic Music, who sadly departed on October last year, shortly after the production of Risc was completed. Rische collaborated before with Pliakas and Wertmüller on a project based on the compositions of Charles Ives. While both were artists-in-residence in Berlin,  Rische added electronic treatments to the Full Blast pieces while they were recorded live, and added some more treatments, this time with Wertmüller, after the recording was mixed and mastered.

The electronic treatments and enhancement sound at first as adding elements of surprise and danger and as distancing the urgent playing of Brötzmann from its angry, emotional core with premeditated, cold and subversive sounds. But actually the dimension of arbitrariness and the repeated, abrupt alien sounding interventions charge Full Blast tight, volcanic interplay with additional layers of power and conviction, often channeled to an inevitable cathartic climaxes. The 12-minutes “Doss House” demonstrates best this kind of live and later enhanced interplay. The piece begins with Brötzmann warm yet tense playing, soon contrasted with an industrial, massive grind created by Pliakas and Wertmüller and enhanced by Rische electronic sounds. Still, Brötzmann struggles with this kind of grind, alters its mechanical tone into a more humane pulse, now sounding as a twisted, speed metal distorted beat, but one that also pushes Brötzmann to more extreme, possessed mode of playing.

“TTD” begins with a radio recording of Timothy Leary, calling the sixties, counterculture-era slogan - Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out - but this piece offers a sober, even ironic perspective on Leary innocent vision. Full Blast mix of heated interplay, accompanied by an uncompromising march-like beat with disturbing and brutal electronic sounds create a nightmarish soundtrack to that era that ends with a fitting, magnificent, multi-dimensional blast. The last piece “Roguery” succeeds to suggest a balance between Brötzmann powerful mode of playing and the massive, heavily treated pulse, in a manner that Full Blast, all and the three musicians individually, together with Rische, keep feeding this immediate interplay.

Fantastic.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Jeff Parker – The New Breed (International Anthem, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

What can’t Jeff Parker do? From free improvisation to jazz to post-rock, the Chicagoan guitarist (now based in LA) thrives in any number of habitats, though he tends to get more exposure as sideman than bandleader. Working brilliantly in the former capacity on Makaya McCraven’s In the Moment (2015), Parker connected with the folks at International Anthem, who released his latest album as leader this June. The New Breed looks both backwards and forwards. Featuring a yellowed old photo of Parker’s late father on its cover, the album is named after a clothing store he owned in the 1970s. But the title is also a projection, a promise even, for the future—Parker’s new breed of music, bringing together jazz improvisation, mellow soul, and sampled beats.

“Executive Life” opens the album with a staggering loop over which drummer Jamire Williams and bassist Paul Bryan lay a sturdy groove. It’s not until almost a minute in that Parker and alto saxophonist Josh Johnson make their first appearance, dropping in with a melodic line you’ll find yourself humming a day later. But it’s the atmospheric, open-ended B section that takes over the bulk of the tune—a languid weave of fragments from all instruments (including a range of keyboards played by Parker and Johnson) that demonstrates both Parker’s knack for postproduction editing and his interest in cultivating a mood over showing off chops.

According to International Anthem, Parker has been living with and working on the samples and programmed beats on The New Breed for several years. They come to the fore early in the album with the fleeting “Para Ha Tay” and the spare, repetitive “Here Comes Ezra.” Other worthy if abbreviated beats are hidden at the tail ends of longer tracks—I won’t say where since part of the fun is encountering them unexpectedly.

One of the richest pieces on The New Breed, “Jrifted” offers the first solo proper, halfway through the album. Johnson’s alto playing here is well integrated into the mood and groove, nimble and inventive without calling undue attention to itself. On the following track, “How Fun It Is To Year Whip,” Parker himself steps into the spotlight, taking a laidback solo with echoes of Jim Hall. “Get Dressed” turns things up a notch as Parker spins soulful, jazzy licks over both a tight 16th-note ride cymbal groove and a bed of sampled voices, lending the track a just-right party flavor.

Bringing Parker’s emphasis on family history and future sounds together is the closing track, “Cliché,” on which Parker’s daughter Ruby sings in duet with Johnson’s alto. It’s possible to read the lyrics as a message to anyone distressed by the increasing union of jazz and hip-hop culture (remember when we reviewed Flying Lotus?): “He told me the end is coming / I told him that’s a cliché.” If Parker’s vision sounds to you more like a beginning than an ending, you can find The New Breed at International Anthem’s Bandcamp page and the Downtown Music Gallery.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nate Wooley - Argonautica (Firehouse 12 Records, 2016) ****


By Lee Rice Epstein

Argonautica is yet another fascinating Nate Wooley project that’s been around for years but is only just now being recorded. As described by Firehouse 12: “Argonautica is a sonic analog to the epic poem of the same name. Built in three parts, or chapters, the music makes oblique reference to dodecaphony, ambient tape music, and the driving minimalist rock of Terry Riley.” Argonautica is dedicated to Ron Miles, though it owes a huge debt to Miles Davis and early-to-mid-’70s fusion, with its thick drums, double piano-keyboard middle, and piercing trumpet and cornet.

Wooley’s described the group as a double trio. One trio is Wooley on trumpet, Cory Smythe (a staple of Tyshawn Sorey’s trio and double trio) on piano, and Devin Gray on drums. The second trio is Miles on cornet, with Jozef Dumoulin (who also plays in Bureau of Atomic Tourism) on Fender Rhodes and various electronics, and Rudy Royston on drums. Royston’s presence is also a call back to his playing on Miles’s My Cruel Heart, which Wooley cites as a reference point (and which is criminally out of print, being a Gramavision title). On record, the trios sounds more fluid and cohesive than the description implies, with each player seeming to slide effortlessly from trio to trio.

A single, unbroken track, “Argonautica” opens on Miles unaccompanied, with the band members gradually filling in from the bottom up. Dumoulin brings a hefty dose of funk, and the drummers lock in a classic fusion-y jazz/rock groove. The whole first third is fairly straight, with Miles, Dumoulin, and Wooley alternately soloing and playing the melody. It’s the second third that gets truly expansive, with muted brass improvising, as snippets of the melody bubble up and fade away before they can coalesce. During a piano solo, there’s almost an inner call-and-response, with Smythe’s right and left hand playing off each other dramatically. The doubling motif returns when Wooley and Miles play a long, barely-accompanied duet improvisation. In the last part, Wooley and Miles play a gorgeous unison, Davis-inspired melody, while Dumoulin and Smythe loop a unison counter melody. Twinning the brass line is particularly effective, and Wooley really shows his respect for Miles here, with a melody that blends warmth and atonality, in a way Miles perfected during his career. Gray and Royston lay down fierce, driving beats, ultimately pulling the band apart, leading to a slow denouement of long tones and fading keyboard runs.

Argonautica is a heavy slab and shows yet another side to Wooley. Outside of BOAT, I don’t recall him going quite as deep into jazz/rock territory, but it so comfortably fits his compositional mode. The small duos and trios tucked into a larger piece, the way threads of melody come together and pull apart, all these emerging hallmarks of his style and interests really benefit from the boost of energy injected by Gray, Royston, and especially Dumoulin. Unsurprisingly, this would make a killer BOAT album, and I would love to hear that group also tackle “Argonautica.” It’s a composition that’s definitely ripe for multiple interpretations.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tim Daisy - Relucent (Relay, 2016) ****1/2


By Tom Burris
 
Last year Tim Daisy gathered up various radios, turntables, percussion instruments and kitchen utensils and hit the road.  These compositions are the result of working within the realm of random sounds and textures (radios, turntables) and conceptual ideas about time and space.  Sure, sometimes the passage he has chosen from a record is planned – but it can just as easily be a random grab, an educated guess about what is needed to augment the new sonic world in the moment of its birth.  The radio, of course, is far more of a crap shoot.  The marimba is the latest addition, percussive but also melodic in the most conventional sense.  It has become the center of this new music – but not as the staid old grandfather clinging to tradition.  It serves more as a glue that holds the carefully constructed collages together.  In fact, I'd say that the textural qualities of this music are every bit as important as its melodic ones –  probably more so.  Christian Marclay's turntable work, John Cage's Variations (check out that cover art!) and dadaist Kurt Schwitters are credited by Daisy as influential upon these works.  Something Daisy doesn't mention is the blues, for which these compositions might as well be a valentine.

So given all the high art background, the first imagery conjured up here is of a loose interpretation of Pharoah Sanders' “Thembi” coming from a humble jungle hut.  And dammit, that's as it should be!  Inclusiveness, randomness, the incorporation of the interruption – that's what life IS.  We can only benefit from variety in life, which here forms a shakedown dance line followed by a turntable downspeed drone into malarial hypnosis that is equal parts Ake Hodell and Moondog playing a balafon from Ghana.  Worst sentence ever, but you get the point.  The juxtapositions are all Daisy's.

It turns out that this music was not spliced together at any point.  There was no “cut-up” technique applied in the editing process.  I would have put good money down on the assumption that Mr. Daisy chopped off bits of various versions and inserted them into rearrangements post-recording, due to the fact that the incredible flights that sound like spontaneous creations HAD to have been from an early version – when the thing was fresh.  When it was still in the process of becoming.  Splice that into the finished piece.  Nope.  All live solo performances.  All, as the composer puts it “were recorded live in real time with three turntables, a marimba, and three radios.”  Unreal.

A full peaceful minute of radio static is followed by a three-note repeated pattern on “Naturalized,” before building into a high-speed chase for solo marimba. It's a Takemitsu film score gone car chase.  Prior to this was “Blue Rectangle,” which made this listener fully appreciate the idea of electronic static (and ticking sounds) as a solid background.  (The track sequencing is stellar.)

What follows “Naturalized” is a beautifully constructed aural collage called “Intermezzo,” bringing together all previously heard elements to form something new and indescribable.  Keep in mind the collage is happening in real time and has mostly been predetermined.  It is a magnificent piece.  “Rain Static” and “Tangent” follow, providing a subtle and ambient atmosphere in which melodies from marimba or recordings rise and fall in carefully measured intervals.  The disc closes with the sound of an electric fan on the verge of collapse accompanying a sleep-talking marimba's slumber.

This music is playfully serious and seriously inspired.  It is obsessed with sonic juxtaposition, yet it is highly melodic.  It wears its influences openly, yet it is refreshingly new.  Born of improvisations, shaped into compositions, Daisy has written pieces that are sturdy, finely crafted morsels of musical experiences that the listener will return to again and again.

See footage from Daisy's “On The Ground” tour here:



Get Relucent at a ridiculous discount here:



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Free Jazz Blog on Air Available Now


Listen to Martin and host Julia Neupert on SWR2 for another excellent hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this time on large ensembles, with music by Globe Unity Orchestra, Brötzmann Tentet, Fire! Orchestra, Henry Threadgill's Ensemble Double Up, and more.

http://www.swr.de/swr2/programm/sendungen/jazz/swr2-nowjazz-freejazzblog-on-air-9/-/id=659242/did=17523350/nid=659242/1jknd58/index.html

Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, Tyshawn Sorey - Flaga: Book of Angels, Volume 27 (Tzadik, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

On this recent Book of Angels release, John Zorn brings together a new piano trio, with Craig Taborn, Christian McBride, and Tyshawn Sorey. All three have been on some superb albums from the past couple of years, including Taborn’s longstanding trio and the super-trio Farmers By Nature, Chick Corea’s conventional but killer acoustic trio with McBride, and Sorey in both his own Alloy trio and Mario Pavone’s Blue Dialect. The recorded output of these men is huge, so it’s no surprise the result is a scorching hour of music. As with all Masada projects, there’s the clever historical nod—this is clearly an acoustic piano trio in the tradition of pretty much every single acoustic piano trio ever—but nothing is ever simple with Zorn, who cleverly tweaks and twists convention to make Flaga recognizably his.

“Machnia” doesn’t waste a moment, with a single piano pick-up before the group enters into a floating, lush improvisation, led by Taborn, who stomps out the brief melody before launching into another fierce solo. On the follow up, “Peliel,” Taborn delivers the melody with such lightness and sensitivity. His emotional range on the piano is nearly unparalleled, and it’s a testament to the working relationship with Zorn that the pieces here draw on all his strengths. “Katzfiel” is a knotty pretzel of McBride’s walking bass lines intertwined with Sorey’s brisk tom and cymbal work, winding their way beneath Taborn’s, let’s call them supernatural, piano runs. He displayed some of this work on his ECM trio debut, and again I’d give kudos to Zorn for taking something even remotely familiar and making it fit squarely in the Masada tradition. “Talmai,” of which two takes are included, is primarily a showcase for Sorey, who is every bit Taborn’s counterpart, from his emotional drive to his dexterity and creativity.

I don’t think any readers of this blog will be surprised that McBride is the clear outlier in this group. His discography boasts over 300 albums (interestingly, he lists two Zorn albums). However, I was even more surprised to hear how well he integrates with Sorey and Taborn. There’s genuine rapport and equal space given up to all three players. Take “Rogziel,” where McBride and Taborn perform a hard-edged duet over and through Sorey’s crashing drums. This is followed by “Harbonah,” which hinges on McBride’s pretty flawless arco lead.

We are rapidly nearing the end of Masada Book Two, with both Book Three and Zorn’s Bagatelles on the way. It’s wonderful to hear Zorn continue to amass these talented, creative groups, and I’m thrilled by the promise of what’s still to come.

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Reading Diary

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three recommended books that offer different perspectives on distinct musical culture, creating music and life, poetry and art. 

The Sound of the North: Norway and the European Jazz Scene - Luca Vitali (Auditorium International, paperback, 2016) ****½


Italian journalist Luca vitali is the first writer who managed to explain what seemed to be the sudden popularity of Norwegian jazz, in its many formations and manifestations, since the mid-nineties and until today. Many articles in music magazines, websites and blogs or academic dissertations, attempted before to explore different aspects of this cultural phenomenon, but none of the writers succeeded to describe it from so many angles as Vitali did.

Vitali, who published the book originally in Italian, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Norwegian, and in many instances even an intimate and personal familiarity with many of the heroes of that scene. But not only the musical sphere. He tells in a concise and informative language how Norway cultivated a healthy, ever growing cultural environment - encouraging music education from early age, investing in excellent music academies, establishing many renowned jazz festivals, and supporting economic initiatives that fertilize mixing of genres and styles. He, obviously, knows all the local clubs, active and defunct, sound engineers, journalists, festival managers and many more. Vitali knows the history of Norway, have insightful remarks abbot its still egalitarian social and economic structure and identifies with the great love of the Norwegians with the local nature scenery.

Vitali begins the story of the Norwegian jazz more than fifty years back, with George Russell, the innovative pianist, composer and bandleader who lived in Sweden in the sixties, but often visited Norway and took young sax player Jan Garbarek to his group. This is the turning point that symbolizes the transformation of the local jazz scene from a huge American influence to the rise of local heroes with a unique sound, often described as Nordic, tough Vitali clearly does not subscribe to such superficial sonic descriptions.

Vitali tells the important role model that Garbarek set, still one of the most revered musicians in Norway, from a modern jazz sax player to a musician who sculpted his highly personal voice, tinged with local folk influences. He expands on the importance of the first generation of Norwegian musicians to be signed by the German ECM label- bass player Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal and drummer Jon Christensen, all are still active, creative forces in the local scene.

But Vitali knows sketches also the counter movement to this generation, spearheaded by Nu-jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, and later by cross-genres bands as Jaga Jazzist, experimental labels as Rune Grammofon and free jazz pioneers as reeds player Frode Gjerstad and his close collaborator Paal Nilssen-Love. Despite what me seemed as opposed musical camps there are strong links and many collaborations between musicians from both camps, as well from other genres - noise, contemporary music, metal and naturally, folk music.

More on the book: http://www.thesoundofthenorth.net/

Listening - Urs Leimgruber / Jacques Demierre / Barre Phillips (Lenka Lente, 2016) ****


In 2015 the free-improvising trio of Swiss sax player Urs Leimgruber, French pianist Jacques Demierre and American, based in France double bass master Barre Phillips planned to celebrate its 15th anniversary, as well as the 80th birthday of Phillips, with tours on both sides of the Atlantic. This trio released so far five albums, the first Wing Vane (Victo, 2001) and the last one, 1↦3⊨2:⇔1 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015), establishing a unique, experimental language, as Demierre describes it: “The silence between each performance is simply a period slightly longer than the silences played on stage. The listening process of the trio does not stop when the performance is finished, but continues, it constantly weaves dynamic links with our memory until the next meeting of us”.

Listening is a tri-lingual travelogue, beginning in March 2015 and ends on December of the same year, bringing the parallel narratives of the three musicians - Leimgruber in German, Demierre in French, adding many insightful photos, and Phillips in English. The book documents their personal experiences, focusing on “creating new spaces with sound”, as Phillips defined it, the hardships of any tour of such an outfit, travelling “thirty hours door to door. For just a hour concert?”, playing on a piano that is more a “sound sculpture” than a piano, but eventually meeting many curious audiences that are eager to understand “how it works”.

Unfortunately the touring plans were marred by Philips health problems, his continuous struggle with what he names the “Black bat”. Leimgruber and Demierre continued the American leg of the tour as a duo, but began the American performances with video montage of interview with Phillips and live footage of the trio. Phillips joins Leimgruber and Demierre again to few European performance, enjoying the “new-ness” of being back together: “the music took off, outward bound, to other universes and dimensions”, before being hospitalized again. Still, Phillips concludes this book with a great belief in the the trio legacy: “giving it a deeper meaning than ever before and creating a future that will carry on until the last drop, the last sigh, the last stroke”.

50 Couplers - Moondog (Lenka Lente, 2016) *****


This pocket-size, bilingual (English and French), 40-pages book is published on the 100th birthday year of Moondog (aka Louis Thomas Hardin), the unique blind composer, poet, homeless musician dressed as a Viking and inventor of instruments, hailed by innovative musicians as Charlie Parker and Philip Glass. This book collects the poetic couplets of Moondog, suggesting his words of wisdom, delivered in two line rhymes, often spiced with an absurdist sense of humor.

Here are two couplets:
An armored knight fell of a ship and sank into the blue. / He looked a lobster in the eye and said “you’re armored,to?”
Offensive and defensive weapons thought they ought to race; / but, as they ran, defensive weapons couldn’t keep the pace.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Akio Suzuki - a i sha (Edition Omega Point, 2015) ***½


By Nicola Negri

Designing sound for installations and performance art is particularly difficult, needing to be effective in the moment and continually engaging for the audience, taking in consideration physical space while retaining musical coherence. Documenting such projects on disc is even more difficult, with the risk of having a musical performance that inevitably lacks the crucial aspect of the environment for which it was created.

With a career spanning more than 50 years, Akio Suzuki has constantly succeeded in both these endeavors, producing acclaimed sound installations and site-specific performances that always retain a strong musical identity when translated on record. His latest release a i sha is no exception. Created for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa in 2009, the performances were constructed around self-built sound producing devices.
Installation of Howling Objects
Howling Objects used cylindrical paper boxes containing radios and microphones, that responding to the physical spaces in which they were located produced variable undulating drones, sometimes reminding of more familiar sounds, like guitar feedback and traditional electroacoustic treatments. The second performance employed a small dolly where the same radios where put and carried through halls and corridors, responding to the space of the gallery and creating an ever-changing musical landscape that merged with the environment itself and the audience inhabiting such space, adding another layer of complexity.

From a strictly musical perspective the album is an interesting mix of environmental sounds, electronic drones, and accidental rhythms, and Suzuki’s role is particularly intriguing: more than performing a musical piece, he prepares the conditions for it to occur, letting it to be shaped by randomness through spontaneous interactions with the surrounding ambience. The mind of the composer is always present though, emerging through carefully built sections that provide structural coherence – listening and reacting to the accidental interactions between sound and space in always meaningful ways. In the end, the musical experience unfolds in a natural, relaxed way, as inevitable as the sonic landscape we all live in.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Free Jazz Blog on Air - Friday July 15th


Free Jazz on Air, co-hosted by our very own Martin Schray, returns this Friday at 11 p.m. CET to German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

Martin will be joining host Julia Neupert on air for another hour of Free Jazz talk and music, on large ensembles, with music by Globe Unity Orchestra, Brötzmann Tentet, Fire! Orchestra, Henry Threadgill's Ensemble Double Up, and more.

A link to the show is available for on-demand listening for a week after the broadcast. Check out the announcement (in German).

Thollem McDonas & Markus Hunt - Adobe (Edgetone, 2016) ***½



Recorded in Misión Y Convento at the Plaza De Española, New Mexico, Adobe documents the meeting of two improvisational heavyweights, pianist Thollem McDonas and bassist Markus Hunt. It isn’t entirely surprising that the two have ended up in the parched deserts of the southwestern United States; from a quick glance at his profile on the Edgetone website, it’s clear that McDonas is perpetually on-the-move, and what better place to carry out nomadic impulses than in New Mexico? It’s this same impulse - seeking, exploring, endlessly cutting out new shapes in the terrain - that informs much of Adobe. Markus Hunt is no stranger to creative questing, either; as a former member of Rent Romus’ Life’s Blood, as well as his own Equity & Social Justice Quartet (whose The Whisper of Flowers showcases Hunt’s compositional chops), he has done his fair share.

The “Introduction” is just that - an entry-way into the abstruse enclosure that McDonas and Hunt have constructed. With a spatter of hesitant notes from McDonas and Hunt’s busy runs, it perfectly captures the pensive, lost-in-thought mood that is all over this recording. That’s not to say they aren’t versatile, however. On “De la Cabeza de José,” the duo start with an abstract foundation, McDonas conjuring rattles and clanks from his piano that bounce airily around. With the title track, “Adobe,” Hunt switches to arco, teasing out a series of notes that moan and tremble, ghostly approximations of the spirits from Luke 11:24 - the ones that “walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none . . saith, ‘I will return unto my house whence I came out.’” On “Broken Haiku,” McDonas’s piano sends out shards that cut like clay fragments, all while Hunt’s bass provides the melodic glue that keeps them (loosely) held together. The atmosphere of restlessness carries on throughout most of the pieces, most of which are around the three-minute mark. With such short running times, it might be supposed that there’s no time to develop the improvisations, to let them breathe. While that is a potentially valid complaint, I believe that McDonas and Hunt succeed in what they’re trying to do. As McDonas himself notes, “If you’ve ever gone to an unfamiliar place and found home, that is at the core of this recording.” These pieces are skeletal and uncanny, sure, and they are full of the uneasy tension that can arise when you find yourself in a strange land, amongst strange people; it’s that same tension, however, that allows us to connect with these sounds, to feel that we are discerning pieces of ourselves within them.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Music to Silence to Music: A Biography of Henry Grimes - Barbara Frenz (Northway Publications, 2015) ****½



One of the enduring mysteries of jazz is what happened to Henry Grimes from 1969 or so until 2003. There are many questions, but few answer. Barbara Frenz’s new biography of Grimes, Music to Silence to Music, seeks to fill in the many unknowns about Grimes’ life.

Henry Grimes was one of the most influential bass players of the Sixties, regularly performing and recording with musicians like Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler,  Cecil Taylor,  Charles Mingus, Don Cherry, Andrew Cyrille, and so many more. Then one day the music world blinked and he was gone.

Frenz’s research is extensive and well documented including original interviews with Henry Grimes, Sonny Rolllins, Clarence Becton, and Andrew Cyrille. The book contains almost seventy pages of footnotes, bibliography, and references.  My only real complaint about the book is I’d have liked to see a full discography included, but links are provided to the extensive discographies available online (and given Grimes’ extensive recording activies both before and after his disappearance, this would have substantially increased the size of the book).

The book does an excellent job of recounting Grimes’ early years in Philadelphia before his move to New York. His training both as a classical musician (including studies at Juilliard) and in rhythm and blues bands laid the foundation for his beautiful, strong bass playing. Extensive documentation is provided for his work in the 1960s. Jazz would be radically different if Grimes hadn’t been a part of it. Just listen to the bootlegs from the 1963 tour with Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins, or his work with Cecil Taylor or Albert Ayler. Check out The Call, the only album Grimes released as a leader. The man was a revolutionary.

Sick of New York and, like everyone else, unable to make a living, Grimes briefly moved to San Francisco before settling in Los Angeles. Broke and unable to afford much needed repairs to his bass, Grimes sold his bass sometime around 1969 and that was it. No more performances for thirty-four years.

During this time, even though Grimes wasn’t performing publicly, he continued to work on his music in his mind and began to write while working odd jobs in construction and janitorial work around L.A. Frenz includes an extensive discussion of Grimes’ writing. Some of his poetry was published in 2007 by the German publisher Buddy’s Knife under the title Signs Along the Road. The discussion is informative and provides valuable insight into how Grimes kept himself mentally alive during the long decades of isolation. I am surprised that no mention is made of Sun Ra’s poetry, which in many ways seems like the obvious parallel.

No one in the music world knew what happened to Grimes. Somewhere along the way he lost his address book. There are hints that some of his isolation was related to depression and other problems. Grimes wasn’t and still isn’t the kind of man to ask for help. As his work was being reissued in the ‘80s and ‘90s, liner notes and articles frequently mentioned his death.

In the fall of 2002, social worker and jazz fanatic Marshall Marrotte managed to track Grimes down, living in a shitty hotel in a bad section of Los Angeles. Marrotte ecstatically announced the news to the world, beginning the process of bringing Grimes back into the fold. Eventually William Parker donated a bass to Grimes and within weeks he was performing again, first in L.A. and eventually back in New York. Grimes is a now a very active musician, performing with old friends and helping to push the newer generation of players into outer space.

Music to Silence to Music is a well researched and easy to read biography, clocking in at 234 pages (not including footnotes and the bibliography). It provides answers to some of the mysteries in Grimes’ life, as much as it is possible to answer what are essentially unanswerable questions. We’ll never know what really happened to Grimes. It appears that in many ways Grimes doesn’t fully know himself.

If you’re interested in the history of jazz, free jazz, creative music, whatever label you want to put on it, read this book, it is going to be an essential part of that history.

As a side note, it was a real treat to see Henry Grimes being celebrating at the Vision Festival this year.  With performances from Grimes on bass and violin in various combinations with new and old collaborators, including performances of his poetry.  Given his pivotal role in creating this music, it’s beautiful to see him come full circle.

Published by Northway Publications, 2016. 315 pages.