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Friday, May 26, 2017

Noah Kaplan Quartet - Cluster Swerve (HatHut, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Shapeshifter Lab, tucked away in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, is an impressive 4,200 square foot venue. The stage area alone is the size of most venues catering to experimental music. The area is gentrifying quickly - in the few years I've been attending more and more bars and coffee shops have been opening up and I am pretty sure there was some sort of dance party happening at a self-storage place along the canal.

I arrived at the same time as the Noah Kaplan Quartet. Kaplan, who lives nearby, and currently studying composition at Princeton University, just released his second recording for HatHut records, Cluster Swerve, this was the release show. The rest of his long standing quartet, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Giacomo Merega, and drummer Jason Nazary, were now at the small bar outside the music area, getting our hand stamps and what not.

I grabbed a drink, found a good vantage spot, and watched as the group set up as an intimate crowd filtered in. The group was relaxed though the leader paced about a bit - Morris and Merega sat opposite each other with Nazary recessed between them. Kaplan took a spot center left and began to play. His sound was tempered, soft but not smooth, with a pensive and somewhat vulnerable tone. Morris joined next, throwing out a mix of chords and legato phrases. Nazary then introduced some electronic textures, a crackly fizz, to the atmosphere and Merega started to lay some foundation. The drummer picked up his sticks, a propulsive pulse gripped the group.

As Kaplan picked up the pace, his dark tone filled in the remaining space between his taut microtonal phrases. Moving in a blur of melody and motion, he pushed the sound further and further. Morris jumped in as Kaplan dropped out, beginning with spaciously articulated notes before ramping up the speed and density. Merega responded with with a punchy walk, while Nazary kept up the pace. Coming down from a early peak, Morris and Kaplan engaged in a quiet, but tense duet, the electronics (perhaps a bit too loud, but not overpowering) provided a cushion of sound while Merega shifted the slabs of bass about.

Kaplan's music is an intriguing mix of classic free jazz with bits of rock, sometimes ethereal, sometimes driving. The breadth of musical elements and contrasting styles - moments of intense groove, musical searching, and then enthralling peaks - kept it compelling from start to finish. All but one song that night was improvised (an utterly transformed version of 'Stella by Starlight') and there was nary a dull moment.

On Cluster Swerve, it is obvious that the spirit on display at the show was not a one time event. The album opens with 'Clinamen', the historic name given to the swerving motion of atoms, and in this case, perhaps its also related to the unusual movement of the melody. Kaplan utilizes to great effect the aforementioned clustered notes, craftily swerving around the pulse and accompaniment. The second track 'Entzauberung' - the German word for disenchantment, is actually quite energizing. There is a fascinating passage where the electronics and drums blend into a thick sonic texture, and the song builds to a climax that is not unlike the concert experience - an intensity grips and holds the listener close, until it finally decides to let go.

The version of 'Body and Soul' on the album is like the experience of hearing 'Stella by Starlight' at the concert - unless paying close attention it is easy to get lost in the music without realizing you've heard it so many times before. The kinetic swirling of sound the group achieves on the fourth track, 'Sphex', is the best example of the group's power. The full effect of the kinetic bunching of phrases from both Kaplan and Morris is felt as they reach a fevered pitch. In support, Merega's plays in strong parallel with Morris, at once reactive to his musical directions and at the same time quite independent. Sometimes silent, other time upfront, Nazary's playing is strong throughout, whether reacting to the or helping wind things down with a more straight ahead beat like a the end of 'Virago'.

Check out the Noah Kaplan Quartet. Cluster Swerve captures an exciting group for whom form, melody, and contrast are never neglected, and any given approach seems to last the right amount of time, leaving the listener both satisfied and maybe wanting just a little more.

Here's an older video of the group at work:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017) *****

by Tom Burris

Much has been made of Jaimie Branch's move to NYC from Chicago a couple of years ago – especially about the fact that her new city quickly became the birthplace of her long-overdue debut album as a leader. Whatever NYC had to do with inspiring this thing, THANK YOU BIG APPLE. But make no mistake, this record is still the sound of Chicago. It's a sharply focused work that moves from one great idea to another quickly and – while retaining its originality - is also very representative of the last 20 years of a certain Chicago sound, with its musical precision and post-production work in the electro-acoustic realm of Tortoise or Rob Mazurek's many projects.

What you're getting here is 35 minutes of compacted and refined hyperactivity that is also highly sensitive, a bit stormy, and completely brilliant. Textures are extremely important, as Branch casually uses reverb to widen and deepen the landscape, or as in perfectly placed overdubs – like the dubs of Tomeka Reid's cello on “theme 001,” which build tension and add richness to the mix. Of course, before you can play with texture you have to have the goods – and with the lock-in-groove between Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Chad Taylor, the goods are definitely in supply. Then there's Branch herself. She plays the trumpet with skill and purpose, and her approach is both passionate and cerebral. No note is wasted. She knows what to do with every bit of space. I think her days of being a ridiculously underrated musician will be officially over once this record takes off. And there is every reason to expect that it will.

A real standout track is “leaves of glass,” on which Branch is joined by guests Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay on cornets. The opening chords are almost unbearably mournful and gorgeous, then the mix goes crazy as the horns start melting all over themselves in multiple washes of echoey effects. This track is followed by “the storm,” where things really get surreal as Reid and Ajemian make rain and Taylor thunders. Branch provides the lightning. Then echoed brass ghosts dance on the plains as the storm passes overhead.

The record is definitely a suite. Branch seems to turn over ideas until every workable outcome has been been revealed, and a suite is the perfect outlet for her writing and arranging methods. And for as much of a Chicago-comes-to-NYC vibe the group presents, I'm reminded as often of big open Midwestern spaces like Kansas or Nebraska – and even the Southwest. Seriously, it sits nicely as a companion piece to Jimmy Giuffre's Western Suite or Neil Young's Zuma.

I have to talk about the magnificent “theme nothing.” Taylor wallops out a horse clomping rhythm that indicates we may be headed toward the Southwest. Ajemian's bass rumble propels the music forward. The way Branch and Reid wind around each other is spellbinding. The melody will stay in your head forever – and not in an annoying way. I think it's my favorite track of 2017 so far.

And then there's the oddity at the end, which is called “...back at the ranch,” Guest musician Matt Schneider plays a freestyle campfire acoustic guitar for a minute and a half. It doesn't sound like a tag to me, although the liner notes call it an epilogue. It sounds simply like we have arrived at a new and different place where anything is possible. So is it jazz? The only answer to that question is “Who gives a shit?”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Matthias Müller - Solo Trombone (Mamü, 2017) ****


By Martin Schray

In his book Into the Maelstrom David Toop claims that there is no solo. "Every sound meets the flaring acoustic space, encounters its own shadow in the higher-pitched resonation of electronic feedback, communes with ensembles of the multiple self, doubles back into its own maker even in the moment of its emergence, cries out to the listener who is performer and the hypothetical listener, the invisible ear which will at some point absorb and decipher the mystery, the arresting physicality, of these concise but strange communications."

In spite of Toop’s statement, Matthias Müller calls Solo Trombone his first official solo album. Like many solo albums Müller’s performance is an oscillation between his band efforts (e.g. with Foils Quartet) and the evolution of his very own introspective vocabulary. Here he crosses different borders than with his groups and tries to map territories he hasn’t been before in these environments. Particularly with his use of extended playing techniques he has developed a spare yet eloquent language.

Müller transforms the fragility and vulnerability of the solo situation into excitement. "Bell", the first piece, is an exposure of pure trombone sound in all its varieties, there is no electronic manipulation. However, Müller does alienate his lines, he delves in hissing, spitting, agonizing, squeaking and he implements the sound explorations he’s developed with his trios Trigger and their performances in show-caves and their surroundings. No traditional trombone sound is audible, only in the last four minutes of the 17-minute track Müller switches to circular breathing and throws in a funky riff he playfully dances around.

Moreover, Solo Trombone is also Müller’s way back to the roots. The album was recorded at St. Lambertus Church in the small village of Kirchtimke, located between Bremen and Hamburg, where Müller comes from and where he learned to play the trombone. "Valve" the second piece, symbolizes this way back, he pays tribute to Johannes Bauer (with whom he played in the Posaunenglanzterzett). Recorded only three months after his death Müller uses lines Bauer could have played, as if it was a last sad reference to the great German trombonist.

In the closing track, "Slide", Müller combines the two different approaches from the aforementioned pieces, sound in all possible varieties disperses in the church. Short shots ricochet through the room, answered by mournful groans. Listening to this piece, David Toop has a point. Müller is in a permanent dialogue with his instrument, he absorbs the atmosphere and vice versa, he listens and responds.

Is this a solo album? Who cares if the music is that good.

You can listen to an excerpt of“Valve“ and buy the album here:






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jeph Jerman / Giacomo Salis / Paolo Sanna - KIO GE (Confront Collectors Series, 2017) ***½ ​



By Eyal Hareuveni

A free-improvised meeting between three musicians who blur the distinction between experimental sound art, minimalist percussion music and field recordings. KIO GE documents 12 short and untitled improvisations of prolific American sound artist-percussionist Jeph Jerman and the Italian percussion duo of Giacomo Salis and Paolo Sanna, who already have released a debut cassette (My Problem Child, Gravity’s Rainbow Tapes, 2015).

These short pieces offer abstract atmospheres that do not rely on any pulse, suggestive in their inventive, mosly organic sounds, and surprisingly characterized with strong storytelling qualities. Jerman, Salis, and Sanna know how to develop tension and sketch a dramatic texture with only homemade objects such as metal lids, brass bowl and brushes, creating a ritualistic ambience that balances between sudden radio waves noises and static silence or devling deeply into the sounds of skins and wooden objects.

Patiently, the three musicians experiment with a richer palette of sounds and delicate, cryptic textures. The later improvisations suggest some strangely beautiful moments when the prepared instruments, extended bowing techniques, and various field recordings lead to an exploration of new, imaginary sonic environments. Some of these otherworldly sonic environments are even charged with an exceptional urgency and a sense of disturbing playfulness. The last improvisation is the most radical one. It re-contextualize cheery Far-Eastern voices and a brief song in a chilly, distant drone.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Dálava - The Book of Transfigurations (Songlines, 2017) ****


The core of the group Dálava is the husband and wife team of vocalist Julia Úlehla and guitarist Aram Bajakian. They released the first Dálava album in 2014 and like The Book of Transfigurations, it is an exploration of Moravian folk songs collected by Úlehla’s great-grandfather, sung in Czech, and set to the more contemporary downtown NYC sound cultivated by Bajakian. The care and concern put into crafting the music, stemming from Úlehla family roots, plus the adventurous compositions from Bajakian (who worked with Lou Reed, the rambunctious group Abraxas, as well as created the meditative Dolphy Formations) make for a potent combo. 

Let's jump right in on track three, 'Dyž sem já šel pres hory / The rocks began to crumble'. The words, translated are of a young man’s heartbreak, being torn away from the woman he want’s to marry because he’s being drafted to war … 
Get married my girl, my golden heart,
I am not allowed to take a wife
I received a note, a little note, note
I must go to war.
Úlehla’s voice is haunting, there is a compressed urgency and a folksiness that doesn’t quite settle into, or leave, your ears. Bajakian delivers slashing guitar work that captures the internal tearing apart by conflicting romantic and patriotic loves. On the next track, 'Co ste si mamičko za dům stavjat dali / Iron bars, iron lock’, Úlehla’s voice is front an center, while an accordion provides appropriately forlorn accompaniment:
What kind of a house did you build for yourself, mama
Neither windows nor doors, only walls
On a later track, 'Okolo Hradišča voděnka teče / He's bringing something for me’, the music swells from quiet reflection into a wrenching explosion of sound. Such contrasts of old and new, and stylistic juxtapositions make the album compelling, while the language leaves many listeners simply hanging onto the expressive emotion of Úlehla’s voice rather than the meaning - the translations, invoking timeless themes, are provided within the accompanying booklet. 


The Dálava band is comprised of Vancouver musicians: cellist Peggy Lee, bassist Colin Cowan, accordionist/keyboardist Tyson Naylor, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. This isn’t the group that recorded the first album, which was drawn from the guitarists New York City groups. Bajakian and Úlehla have been living in BC for the past several years. While the downtown vibe was mentioned earlier, it is a not omnipresent, rather a calm, assured, expressiveness permeates the album. Check it out - listen closely and let time collapse around you.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

FMP. The Living Music; Munich 3/10/2017 - 8/20/2017; The Concerts

Part Two: The Concerts (Brötzmann plus …)

By Martin Schray

On the occasion of the exhibition Free Music Production / FMP: The Living Music, Haus der Kunst, in collaboration with Peter Brötzmann, planned two evenings with concerts trying to recall the spirit of the legendary Total Music Meeting and the Workshop Freie Musik. Over the course of three decades, Jost Gebers and the musicians continually developed new formats with surprising combinations of line-ups, structures, and durations, especially for the Workshop Freie Musik.

On May 5 and 6, 2017, the parameters were at least similar. In the run-up to the shows only the musicians were published: Brötzmann (saxes, clarinet, tárogató), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Joe McPhee (tenor sax, pocket trumpet), Heather Leigh (pedal steel), Marino Pliakas (electric bass), Michael Wertmüller and Han Bennink (drums), the actual line-ups were chosen ad hoc.

Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink
The intriguing questions were if the concerts could evoke the magic of the old days and if the chosen collaborations would match, especially whether a rather rock-orientated rhythm section fits with the free jazz warhorses. The answer to both questions is: partly. Veterans in the audience who regularly attended the Berlin concerts agreed that the atmosphere and the podium reminded them of the 1980s and 90s, although the line-ups were already fixed then. Here, curator Markus Müller announced the program of the evening. When the first band - Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink - hit the bandstand in the dim light, they appeared like ghosts from the past. Having played together in various combinations, this could have been a rather experienced set but it turned out to be a really adventurous and exciting tour-de-force. Schlippenbach rejected playing his beloved Monk phrases and used propulsive clusters instead, which were chopped by Brötzmann’s outbursts and Bennink’s rolls. This was topped by Toshinori Kondo, whose distorted trumpet contributions seemed to come directly from outer space.

Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh
That Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh would play a duo set was no surprise. However, at last year’s A’Larmé festival in Berlin and at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg they could not convince the audience for various reasons. But in Munich they did a good job. In general, they seem to work through an established set of themes, things they know will work together, varying their order from performance to performance. That night Leigh alternated between echoey tones, sustained notes, and distorted parts, while Brötzmann concentrated on insistent howls close to the threshold of pain.

Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo,
Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller
The sensation of the first day was a quartet of Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller, the latter known as Brötzmann’s backing band in Full Blast. Pliakas and Wertmüller had no intention to swing, instead they delivered gloomy drones and extremely loud walls of sound, and McPhee (with The Thing) and Kondo (with IMO) have proved that they can cope with such contexts. The set was an emotional rollercoaster ride with the two trumpets challenging each other in the first piece including a dramatic crescendo towards the end. When McPhee picked up his tenor, Kondo’s electronically-abetted Wah-Wah phrases contradicted and fleshed out his blues-drunk phrases in the slow part of the second track. Kondo built on McPhee’s multiphonics in icy, propelling punches before the band drowned in an electronic maelstrom.

Brötzmann/Leigh/Pliakas/Wertmüller
The second day started with Brötzmann/Leigh/Pliakas/Wertmüller, a band picking up the thread from the night before. Pliakas, Wertmüller, and Leigh were weaving a dense sound carpet that allowed Brötzmann to concentrate on concise contributions. When he dropped out in the middle of the first piece, Pliakas set his electric bass thrumming at speed metal velocity, immersing into a dark drone - clearly in the tradition of Bill Laswell. The second piece was actually just Brötzmann on tárogató, sparsely accompanied by Leigh. It unfolded a subtlety in his presentation, a beautiful monochrome aspect that he tends to display in his solo performances. Here Pliakas and Wertmüller just listened - only to return even more forceful, since the set ended with a classic Full Blast speed metal piece, a study in increasing tension and density, collapsing and re-building.


Notwithstanding the fine performance, some people in the audience complained that a real jazz bassist, who was also able to swing, was missing.

Han Bennink and Alexander von Schlippenbach
They were partly compensated with the next collaboration - a duo of Alexander von Schlippenbach and Han Bennink (since there was no swinging bassist at hand). Schlippenbach saluted Monk and Ellington, culling the feel and melodic shapes of the music but also using it for free rides (mainly around Monk’s “Green Chimneys“ theme). Bennink enjoyed this a lot, swinging, pushing and - at the end of the set - indulging in his typical clownery.  He, Schlippenbach, and the audience had their fun.

Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo
Kondo and Brötzmann
The second part of the evening was reserved for surprises. It was only announced that Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo were to start, a very organic combination, their similar approaches created ambient soundscapes. In its spaciousness, the set could apply for an ECM album. Then they were joined by Joe McPhee and Pliakas/Wertmüller -  and here there were the first obvious friction losses. Leigh and Kondo continued with their concept and the rest of the quintet couldn’t fully adapt. Only when Kondo and Leigh left the stage, McPhee, Pliakas and Wertmüller managed to create a bluesy version of the Full Blast approach, with McPhee’s typical voice contorted with pain. The next to come was a drum-and-bass-less trio with McPhee, Kondo and Brötzmann, another proof how well Brötzmann’s variations of themes he often uses (“Master of a Small House“ again), Kondo’s aloof lines and McPhee’s blues exegeses go together. Like wise zen masters, they were singing almost forgotten tunes, telling from old times, however, especially Kondo’s effect orgies offered a solution to combine these tunes with contemporary approaches. The 17 minutes were at least the highlight of the day, if not the whole festival.

After this set, a quintet with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Joe McPhee, Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller was announced, and here it became difficult. Schlippenbach decided not to leave the jazzy paths and Pliakas and Wertmüller couldn’t find a suitable answer - although they really tried. Wertmüller played much more silent and even used a jazz pattern here and there but Pliakas seemed to be really lost. Joe McPhee once shook his head, obviously realizing that this band doesn’t work.

The festival was concluded by a short set of Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach, a natural way to end the evening. Again, Schlippenbach consequently played his Monk phrases and Brötzmann tried to respond, but one could see that he had his difficulties with it.

Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach
All in all, it was a very fine festival. The organizers managed to bring back at least an echo of the Workshop Freie Musik feeling, nostalgia was all around and the audience was grateful. When the exhibition will be presented in Berlin next year, there are rumors of a larger festival (maybe three days) and at the old homestead the spirit might be even more alive than in Munich.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

FMP. The Living Music; Munich 3/10/2017 - 8/20/2017; The Exhibition


Part One: The Exhibition

By Martin Schray

When Markus Müller curated the ECM exhibition at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in 2012 there were no plans for a similar one for FMP (Free Music Production). However, Müller has always claimed that when it came to art and cultural politics, FMP was Western Berlin’s most important contribution. Müller is an expert on the cult label, he wanted to write a book about it and constantly nagged Okwui Enwezor, Haus der Kunst’s director, about the project. Eventually, Enwezor suggested that Müller should organize an exhibition - and FMP - The Living Music is the result.

On the one hand, the exhibition highlights both the record production and samples of FMP’s most famous and often copied concert formats, Total Music Meeting and Workshop Freie Musik including all posters and unique photos. On the other hand, less well-known projects like FMP’s collaborations with dancers like Pina Bausch, visual artists like the recently deceased A.R. Penck, and famous writers like Günter Grass are also on view.

The exhibition is mainly presented in two rooms. After a video of the Globe Unity Orchestra in the entrance hall (s. below) Room 1 shows three of FMP’s most important special editions in vitrines: FMP 0030/0040/0050 with the music of Peter Brötzmann’s group (Fred Van Howe and Han Bennink including guest star Albert Mangelsdorff), then limited to 200 copies; the double LP Snapshot - Jazz Now/Jazz aus der DDR, which was issued in a limited edition of 800, and finally the Cecil Taylor in Berlin ’88 box set, produced in an edition of 1000. All these albums are out of print and if you haven’t had the chance to see the extensive and excellent booklets before, they alone are worth watching the exhibition (if you want to listen to excerpts, check out: https://destination-out.bandcamp.com)

Another vitrine documents FMP’s collaboration with women, starting with pianist Irène Schweizer and singer Maggie Nichols. As member of the Feminist Improvising Group they both played with Corinne Liensol, Lindsay Cooper, Sally Potter, Annemarie Roelofs and Georgina Born at the TMM in 1979. There are hardly any documents of this group, it’s a rather unknown chapter of free music, which is why this is one of the most insightful parts of the exhibition. Moreover, the label’s collaboration with musicians from the German Democratic Republic plays an important role. Apart from Snapshot - Jazz Now/Jazz aus der DDR you can study contracts between label boss Jost Gebers and GDR government agencies, in which they set out in detail that the label has to make the albums available in other socialist states like North Korea, Vietnam or Cuba. Authentic testimonies of the Cold War en miniature.

In room 2 the exhibition displays several videos of concerts and recording sessions in the FMP studio from the 1980s and 1990s, some of which have never been shown before and can be watched here for the first time - certainly not only for fans the most interesting part. There is footage from the 1984 Workshop Freie Musik showing Brötzmann as part of a septet with Phil Wachsman, Francois Dreno, Peter Kowald, Kent Kessler, Tony Oxley and Garreth List, a very unusual line-up worth listening to. In another video Brötzmann joins Butch Morris and Garreth List, a context in which he shows his introspective side.

Another important part of the exhibition explores Peter Kowald and his various steps across borders, as well as the numerous collaborations between FMP and artists like A.R. Penck, Martin Kippenberger, Günther Förg and Albert Oehlen. Kowald’s and Cecil Taylor’s collaborations with dancers like Pina Bausch, Min Tanaka, Cheryl Banks, Kazuo Ohno and Christine Brunel are also part of the show, as well as Günter “Baby“ Sommer’s recording with Günter Grass. Grass, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999, even supported some FMP projects.
The show ends with a presentation of various solo projects from the FMP complex. The work of the sound avant-gardist and instrument maker Hans Reichel is represented by the tongues of the “daxophone“ and a never before shown video of him recording.

In a nutshell, the exhibition concentrates on the most important FMP musicians and co-founders, only Alexander von Schlippenbach is a bit underrepresented. Markus Müller mentioned that it was a real piece of work to put the exhibition together, he actually spent years in Jost Gebers’s archive. Gebers, who worked as a social worker, did all this tremendous work in his free time. And - as a good German public servant - he daintily archived everything. Thanks to that we are able to watch an extraordinary exhibition, for free jazz fans it’s certainly a must.

FMP - The Living Music ends at 8/20/2017. The good news is that it will be presented in Berlin at Haus der Kulturen next year (probably in March) with a greater focus on the women in free jazz and hopefully with another row of concerts.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Evan Parker & RGG – Live@Alchemia (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2017) ***


On June 12, 2016, Evan Parker joined RGG (Łukasz Ojdana on piano, Maciej Garbowski on bass, and Krzysztof Gradziuk on drums) for a 70-minute set of improvised music at Alchemia, in Kraków, Poland. So, what happens when a paragon of free jazz plays with a young trio who usually play a sort of meandering, lyrical, romantic jazz?

“Part One” makes a promising start. Parker, under the dreamy influence of RGG, dispenses with his usual fast-layered harmonics and instead plays a style reminiscent of West Coast Cool Jazz. Gradziuk, freed from the chore of merely keeping time, joyously plays every bit of his drum kit. Ojdana comps and echoes Parker’s riffs. As Parker plays, he draws lines of laid-back beauty with the artful distinctiveness of Picasso painting on glass. Here, as with Picasso, we witness the art and the man creating it at once. Ojdana’s melodic piano solo feels out of place, but he comes alive for a moment at its end, chording aggressively. The highlight is Garbowski’s bass solo. He strums dissonant dyads to accompany his own runs up and down the neck. This catches Parker’s ear, for he picks up Garbowski’s lines, echoing and complicating them.

“Part Two” is the most exciting part of the set. Odjana repeats a four-note melody and creates harmonics inside the piano. Parker enters, holding notes, growling and fluttering a little. Garbowski bows in, filling the air with the sound of long, plaintive cries. Again, Parker follows Garbowski. They play together for a bit, as the piano and drums drop out. During Parker’s solo, he seems to get stuck on a thought until Ojdana interrupts with his most assertive chording of the night. His comping becomes clusters; his chords no longer in major keys. For nearly 7 minutes of the 18-minute piece, everyone on the bandstand plays with one mind, driving the music past the limits of form. Gradziuk plays without inhibition. Parker’s fast, staccato runs skip like a small stone over water. There is even some call-and-response playing between Ojdana and Parker. Then Parker steps away, and RGG plays free jazz on their own . . . for a moment, until they fall back to earth and their wonted prettiness.

When Martin Schray recently reviewed another Evan Parker live collaboration on this blog, he rightly mentioned the “deep affinity, a shared consciousness” in that group’s playing. This occurs for a moment in “Part Two”; however, in the final two parts it disappears. Even in the freest of free jazz, one detects a conversation among like-minded people about some unifying ideas or elements, but not here. Parker drops out more frequently in the second half; it is as if the trio is not listening to him nor to each other. Ojdana perseverates on a handful of notes. Gradziuk’s drumming becomes distracting. Garbowski’s playing continues to be interesting, but in the last in the 37 minutes, their ephemeral concord is gone.

When I listened casually to this album, getting to know it, it was rather enjoyable. It was when I began to listen more closely that the shortcomings of this experiment revealed themselves. Evan Parker’s playing is intriguing because it is so different from what one might expect from him, but RGG feels out of its element—but, of course, getting out of one’s element from time to time can be valuable. If this were a 35-minute album of the first half of the set, it would have been stronger and might have ended on a much higher note than it does.

Some of this set is available on a series of videos, starting here:


Available here:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Devin Gray - Fashionable Pop Music (s/r, 2016) ****


By Paul Acquaro

Drummer Devin Gray's quartet with guitarists Ryan Ferrier and Jonathan Goldberger, and bassist Chris Tordini is a potent post-rock explosion - at least that how it begins. 

The two guitarists twist distorted sounds around like they are sculpting with sheet metal. Legato melodies are stretched over the sharp angles and effect laden structure of 'Antiplutocracy'. As the long form improvisation unfolds, the electric guitars and acoustic drums and bass mix with the electronics in a textural and exciting way. The drums lead for the first half of the 20-minute track, guiding the hands of the artists as they twist the sounds into new shapes. Then, it stops. A few rattles of the drumsticks and a gathering of thoughts ensures, then the sound of electric guitar with a good deal of crunch begins to cut a meandering path. The music builds up a dramatic and ambient hellscape (I mean that in a good way) as it builds to the much anticipated climax. 

The other track 'Sowieso' means 'anyhow' in German, but more importantly it is the name of a sehr wichtig venue for improvisational music in Berlin. The track starts quietly with blips of electric guitar and some percussive chatter. Tordini does a walk on the bass and the acoustic/electric sounds slowly hush from an acoustic clatter to an ambient silence. The small sounds are eventually met with a driving rock beat and some straight ahead instrumental rock improvisation that would sound out of place on a Nels Cline Singers epic, with Goldberg and Ferrier trading sonic swaths. The last third of the track finds the group dissipating into the ambient again, having had made their point. 

This album reminds me of some of the music that the blog turned me on to a while back, like that great first Lawnmower album. I regret that somehow this excellent album languished on my iPod for such a long time. It came out about a year ago and I've listened to it repeatedly since, and suspect I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Yeah, totally recommended.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A.R. Penck 1939–2017


By Lee Rice Epstein

Best known as a leader in the Neo-Expressionist movement, of which I am, admittedly, less familiar with, artist A.R. Penck also had a long career in free jazz. As a drummer and pianist, his music tended towards free, featuring long experimental improvisations that seem to barely hold together moment to moment, revealing themselves best at the macro level. There’s a rough beauty to a lot of Penck’s playing, a kind of raw and unfiltered play that isn’t always driving forwards. Penck primarily recorded with Frank Wollny as TTT (Triple Trip Touch). With TTT, Penck and Wollny recorded albums with, among others, Frank Wright, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Jeanne Lee, Alan Silva, Billy Bang, Frank Lowe, Louis Moholo-Moholo, and Peter Kowald. Penck’s paintings serve as cover art for every album, gorgeous images going from dense, colorful pictorials to spare lettering on a plain background. It’s a fine metaphor for the playing itself, but there’s no one-to-one correlation with the art. Some of the sparsest covers decorate jam-packed material.

Although most of the recordings and sessions are undated, Penck and Wright’s dynamic partnership developed throughout the 1980s, after Wright had recorded his best-known albums. (Interesting side note, I’ve seen several comments over the years about whether or not these recordings are from the 1970s, likely because that decade is seen as the high water mark for free improvisation. But just based on the overall timeline, it’s almost certain that most of Penck and TTT’s output began in the ‘80s and continued on.) Their collaboration resulted in some of Wright’s most compelling playing. On Run With the Cowboys, Wright and Kowald join TTT for an outstanding firestorm of a session. And Concert In Ulm! with Wright, Penck, and Wollny is weird and wooly thing, with the trio breaking into a late take on Wright’s classic “Jerry.”

Likewise, the albums with Butch Morris showcase Morris’s playing more than his conduction, acting as something of a b-side to Morris’s main output. A 1991 triple-album—Hollywood Blvd. Concert: Holywood Blvd 89, Malibu-experiment, and Frank Wright—features both Wright and Morris in separate performances with Wollny and Penck. Recorded in 1989, shortly after Morris’s Conduction #11, Where Music Goes and just before Dust To Dust, the small groups with Morris captured on Holywood Blvd 89 and Malibu-experiment are outrageous in the best possible way. Wholly unpredictable, after a full album of breakneck improvisation, the opening of “Malibu Experiment,” with painter Markus Lüpertz guesting on piano and flute, features a gorgeous Morris melody that slowly gets chewed up and swallowed by Wollny and Penck’s absurd rhythms.

For anyone interested in free expression and abstract improvisation, you can fairly easily track down some of Penck’s albums. Although most of his music is now out of print, all the ones I mentioned, and many others, have been uploaded to the inconstantsol blog.

Stargarder 18, 1993

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rempis/Piet/Daisy - Hit the Ground Running (Aerophonic, 2017) ****½


By Philip Coombs

First thing I do is sharpen a pencil. Then I open a notebook to a fresh page and run my hand over it feeling the smoothness and unbound potential for the last time. Next comes the title written at the centre of the top of the page, thus spoiling the crisp white, Hit the Ground Running. Next I write out the players and their instruments, which will likely get integrated into the review as opposed to just stating them in list form.

Dave Rempis (Tenor and Alto Saxophones)
Matt Piet (Piano)
Tim Daisy (Drums)

Next comes the label it was released on, Aerophonic and any relevant info I can did up like, its Rempis’ label and it was recorded live at Elastic Arts in Chicago January 21st, 2017.

Okay enough of that, time to get to work. Usually at this point, I hit play on whatever devise the track was recorded on and wait for the music and the words to come. SO with pencil at the ready and my structure in place I hit play on this record and wait for whatever comes at me.

It starts beautifully enough with a fractured melody from Piet and an equally matched rhythm from Daisy. They play around with this for a minute and a half to start the opening track, ‘Long Night Ahead’ until Rempis enters the equation with a soaring sax line that elevates the track to such a height that I could only do one thing. Put the pencil down. I could wait for the words to come for this one, but I would be waiting for quite some time. Today I’m a fan.

Only once the shock of this record started to wear off and I started to hear what they were doing and the constant joy of this track allowed me to keep my pencil in my hand, could I begin to extrapolate how good this track is. It is expertly recorded which allows each player to be expressive and contribute to the over all aural palate with every subtlety captured.

Each player is allowed to express where they are now in their jazz thinking but still have the foresight and self control to propel the track and calm the track whenever it is needed.

One of my favourite tracks of 2017.

‘Keep Alert’ the second and last track on the record, is equally as potent with the players expanding and compressing all over the place. The structure on this track is a little more familiar with each getting a more traditional solo space and neither of them are wasted.

And as if it couldn’t get any better, there is a humanitarian side to this recording. All proceeds go to “Refugee One, a local Chicago-based organization that creates opportunities for refugees fleeing war, terror, and persecution to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.” Quote taken from their press release.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Gonçalo Almeida / Rodrigo Amado / Marco Franco - The Attic (NoBusiness / Tombed Visions, 2017) ****


By Eyal Hareuveni

The Attic documents a live performance of an ad-hoc trio of three prolific Portuguese musicians working in the greater field of free jazz - double bass player Gonçalo Almeida, known from the LAMA and Albatre trios, the Tetterapadequ quartet and the Spinifex quintet, tenor sax player Rodrigo Amado, leader of the Motion Trio and the international This Is Our Language quartet (with Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano), and drummer Marco Franco, known from trumpeter Luis Vicente’s Clocks and Clouds quartet. The trio was recorded at the SMUP, in Lisbon’s suburb Parede on December 2015.

This ad-hoc meeting of these strong-minded musicians radiates a raw immediacy and also a strong affinity. The sense of freshness charges this meeting with a sense of danger and the liberty of taking chances and accordingly all five pieces flow but not in a linear manner. Still, the three musicians always opt for a highly collaborative and supportive interplay without asserting clear leading roles. In a way, this trio actually applies - literally - Amado’s prescriptions for his own Motion Trio, as were the titles of the pieces of its latest release: “Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword”, “Liberty” and “Responsibility” (Desire & Freedom, Not Two, 2016).

Almeida opens the performance with a commanding arco solo on “Shadow”. Amado later stresses the harmonic development suggested by Almeida with charismatic emotional calls, while Franco solidifies the rhythmic basis with subtle colors and all three together build to a powerful spiritual ritual. The following “Hole” is free-associative improvisation that avoids settling on a pulse or a clear narrative, but still moves in a tight and intense interplay. The sparse and lyrical “Spring” emphasizes, even more, the versatility of this trio as it shifts quickly between simple melodic motifs and pulses. The longest piece, the 16-minutes “Board” is structured as a classic, fiery, free jazz piece, spiraling patiently around a playful, muscular pulse that becomes more intense, stronger and ecstatic as the song progresses. The last, and shortest, piece “Nail” deepens the trio collective rhythmic interplay with a manic, Ayler-ian blow-out that brings to mind the sheer, boundless energy of outfits like those of Peter Brötzmann or The Thing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Le Poisson Rouge, May 7th, 2017

Ivo Perelman, Photo by Susanne Baltes

It’s a rainy Saturday here in New Jersey and I finally have a chance to sit down and think about last Sunday's release show for saxophonist Ivo Perelman's and pianist Matthew Shipp's latest set of releases on Leo Records, The Art of Perelman & Shipp. I've cued up Volume 3, Pandora, which pairs Perelman and  Shipp with bassist William Parker and drummer Whit Dickey, to set the mood.

So it's a late show at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC. An intimate and extremely attentive audience is gathered, chatting and waiting for Perelman and Shipp to take the stage. They appear exactly at 9:30 and quickly assume their places. Perelman is in jeans and a crisp white button down shirt, tenor sax in hand, Shipp is in jeans and a black t-shirt facing kitty-corner from the audience at a Yahama grand piano. With a nod and no words, they begin.

Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman, photo by Peter Gannushkin

It's a gentle start, a lyrical and somewhat romantic melody rolls out of the saxophone. Shipp is hunched over the keyboard playing slow deliberate chords as they together set the baseline. Shipp begins picking up the pace, a slight push to which Perelman responds with a quick run, then rests on a long single note. With just piano and sax, it may seem that is a lot of empty space, but that is hardly the case, soon they work up to an early crescendo, piano intense like a crashing wave and sax coasting over the crest.

The fluidity of their music is most striking. Throughout, Shipp's rhythm is riveting, keeping the music flowing, never stagnating. In a short solo passage, Shipp lets loose small melodic rivulets that quickly join into a steady stream. Then, Perelman re-joins, tossing out more and more jarring ideas. Rapidly ascending lines jump deftly between octaves, never losing the musical ebb and flow.

After they ramp down from another intense moment, Perelman is in the midst of a solo passage and suddenly the reverent atmosphere is pierced by a squeaky door. In the pin-drop silence - aside from his horn of course - Perelman is nonplussed as he seamlessly reacts to the unexpected sound - maybe subconsciously, maybe not. 

Shipp is now pawing at the keys, light and bouncing, his shoulders moving rhythmically as Perelman takes up the challenge and quickly finds the right rhythm to play. Soon, the pianist's body language changes, he becomes less buoyant. Perelman hits a few low blats before matching a sudden cluster of notes from the piano.

The dynamic range that they work with is fascinating, the music is alive, sometimes growing a bit louder, sometimes just more intense. They eventually reach yet another peak, though this time the tension is heart pounding. Perelman is hanging out in the high register, an utterly gripping sound, and Shipp is all sustain and storm … finally it breaks. It seems like an effortless set, the music coming out of Perelman in a constant outpouring, achingly beautiful and abstractly challenging within just a few bars.

Following the duo is Marco Cappelli's Italian Surf Academy with bassist Damon Banks and drummer Dave Miller. They are a power trio take on the Ennio Morricone spaghetti western genre. It's as excellent as it sounds, fun, raw, and striking a nice balance between composition and improvisation.

The latest series of 7 CDs from Leo Records (The Art of Perelman-Shipp) sees the duo playing with peers such as bassists William Parker and Michael Bisio, and drummers Andrew Cyrille, Whit Dickey, and Bobby Kapp, in various combinations. However, the two don't necessarily need the help, as this release concert showed, the pair certainly are their own gravitational center. 

Catching up with Perelman later, near the merchandise table, it seemed to be an obvious question to ask: after several sets of multiple album releases over the past couple of years (all on Leo), is there more to come? With a smile Perelman said yes … "until I’m out of ideas", which doesn't seem to be happening any time soon!


  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Carlos Bica & Azul – More Than This (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

It almost sounds an absurd thing to mention with regard to the type of music that we review on the blog, but this album really does benefit from lots of repeated listens! The first few times I listened to this I thought it sounded like it contained some nice relaxed and pleasant music, which was re-enforced by the holiday snap style photo that adorns the cover of the album. But on repeated listens the subtleties of the music start to reveal themselves, which makes it a far more interesting prospect, with the cordial and pleasing phrases, such as on the opening track ‘Mafalda’, growing into a beautiful melody underscored by a sad and reflective feeling. I started to notice the careful use of delay that Frank Möbus uses on his guitar, which creates a pastel shade to his more subtle and delineated lines. Moments that seemed to provide some contrast to the relaxed nature of the music took on a much more dynamic shape of their own, providing interest and excitement that hadn’t appeared to have been there before. Also, the depth of the recording of Jim Black’s drums & percussion, where some parts of the kit are closely miked whilst others are an ambient tone in the background and sound like they’ve been recorded in another large room formed another significant point of discovery. Of course, this could be said of many free jazz, improv, and experimental recordings (as well as other music too), but with More Than This it is very prominent that the music seems to not give up its secrets lightly and requires a more patient, dedicated and active listening approach to really find the gems in this music.

Just to highlight a few more tracks, ‘Whale Rider’ contains a fusion-like melody with solo phrases, which is underpinned by the very rhythmic, syncopated, and creative percussion playing of Jim Black, and contains a lovely chromatic legato guitar solo. ‘Skeleton Dance’ with its perseverative Latin-melody and percussion that conjures-up the ol’ bones shakin’ like no other since XTC’s ‘Poor Skeleton Steps Out’. There’s also the tastefully melodic bass solo, of Carlos Bica, in ‘Patchwork’, the energetic crime-watch of ‘XY Ungelöst’ and the alluring homage to the Wadden Sea ‘Wattenmeer’.

Overall this is a very graceful album that has an understated and modest feel to it. As what seems to be a set of fairly conventional sounding tunes, it is interesting to note the subtleties that can be heard within and between the notes themselves, the ambiance and the extra dimension that it brings. The musicians are clearly at ease in each other’s company and this translates into the relaxed, spacious and lyrical vibe of the music. You’d certainly want to go back to this time and time again, where more secrets could be unearthed from this seemingly unobtrusive set of pieces.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Recent Duo Releases of Peter Brötzmann

By Eyal Hareuveni

Peter Brötzmann's duos with American pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love seem to be his favorite ones in recent years. The recent live recordings of these duos capture the deep connection Brötzmann's has with both Leigh and Nilssen-Love. I was fortunate enough to experience both performances in real-time and these recordings add more insights to these experiences.

Brötzmann / Leigh - Sex Tape (Trost, 2017) ****


From the first second of this performance, on the last and third night of the Unlimited Music festival in Wels, Austria, on November, 13th, 2016, it was clear that the duo of Brötzmann and Leigh stages some kind of a love story. The energy and the dynamics hinted that something primal, sensual connects these unique personalities. This insight was reaffirmed few months later when the explicit artwork for this album, prepared by Brötzmann, surfaced. This artwork echoes and twists a formative biblical myth, with the make-no-nonsense title that shouts it out even louder.

Well, Brötzmann was never shy how his music and art at all radiates his sexuality. Go and listen to his sextet playing Nipples (originally released on 1969, re-released by Trost sister-label Cien Fuegos, 2015) or Balls (originally released by FMP on 1970, re-released by Cien Fuegos on 2011), or check the poster he did for the Unlimited Festival that he curated in 2011 (captured on the 5-discs box Long Story Short, Trost, 2013).

Sex Tape is only the sophomore release of Brötzmann and Leigh, recorded in the middle of a European tour, following Ears Are Filled With Wonder (Not Two/Trost, 2016). However, this duo had already established itself as one of the main outfits of Brötzmann. Brötzmann and Leigh recorded recently another studio album that is about to be released later this year.

The live recording sounds now as a restless ritual of heavy - sonic - petting. Brötzmann begins with a typical muscular roar but Leigh is far from impressed by his manly call. Her sharp metallic lines force him to change his tactics, seducing him to play in her own game, a slow and noisy psychedelic drone. For a while, he enjoys this mischief. Still, the old lion has few more tricks up his sleeve and he knows how to swing Leigh to some fiery, cathartic climaxes. She jumps head-on, but soon she surprises him with soft, repetitive patterns of courting sounds, answered immediately with surprising emotional melodies by Brötzmann, who plays now on the tarogato. The peaceful, intimate dynamics do not last long before Brötzmann and Leigh resume another explosive confrontation, pushing each other to extreme, ecstatic terrains, eventually drowning in Leigh feedback-laden, metallic storm. Again, after exhausting themselves, both opt for more introspective and emotionally touching interplay that offers Brötzmann most vulnerable and gentle side. Finally, this emotional pendulum concludes when these tough-minded improvisers making peace, in their own proud and most intense terms, by no means surrender to each other but totally fascinated by this mysterious sex thing.





Brötzmann / Nilssen-Love - Levontin 7, Tel Aviv, 30th March 2015 (No Label, 2017) ****


If Sex Tape showed the improvising wisdom of Brötzmann in a free-improvised setting, then this documented meeting with Nilssen-Love owes more to their free jazz backgrounds. Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love play regularly during the last decade, beginning in the Chicago Tentet and instantly continuing in different formats, trios - with fellow reeds player Mats Gustafsson, koto player Michiyo Yagi, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, electric bass player Massimo Pupillo and trombonist Steve Swell - and the Hairy Bones quartet, but always returning to the duo format. This live recording from the Israeli, Tel Aviv based Levontin 7 club is their third duo recording, released by Nilssen-Love's mysterious no-label, in a cardboard sleeve designed by Brötzmann.

Both looked quite exhausted before the performance began, taxed by tiresome flights and endless touring schedule, but nothing of this affected their on-stage stamina. Brötzmann began with an intense, wild attack, that was organically yoked to fast-changing, hard-driving rhythmic patterns of Nilssen-Love. Their level of communication was so natural, immediate and profound that no more than a millisecond was needed to shift their rhythmic focus to a different dynamics. The real magic happened when both moved from free jazz whirlwinds to freer terrains, sketching more emotional, lyrical textures. Nilssen-Love alternated between light African polyrhythms and sparser coloring using different cymbals and metal objects, enabling Brötzmann to charge this interplay with beautiful, lyrical melodies, still blended with deep intense shades. Wisely they kept structuring together a multifaceted, nuanced texture, a kinetic architecture that has muscular, tough foundations but its higher, heavenly outlines have some kind of liquid-compassionate qualities. I could have listened to them playing love for hours if not days, but hey had to catch early morning flights.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sound Etiquette and Dialectical imagination

Sound Etiquette (Orenda, 2017) ****


Sound Etiquette is a trio hailing from the Bay Area, formed by drummer Aaron Levin, keyboardist Eli Wallace, and saxophonist Nick Obando. Together, they work with an exciting sound palette, primarily guided by Wallace's sumptuous analog electric keyboard's shimmer and growl.

'Entrance' is an entrancing tune that kicks off like a soundtrack lacking a film. Short melodic bursts from the sax lock in with syncopated comping from the electric piano, the drums are an insistent splash of cymbal and snare. In the track's closing moments there is some free improv foreshadowing, and the follow-up 'Spiral Recollection' is quick to capitalize on this. Wallace employs a throaty sound and pushes out a thick groove that when meeting up with Obando's sax, simply explodes. By the third track, 'Escape Velocity', we're into some heady poly-rhythms between the drums and piano, along with energizing squalls from the sax. Relief can be found on tracks like the ballad 'A Clearing' where Obando's sax playing suggests the wee hours of a good night out, 'Solar Winds' may be the ultimate statement from the band - a decidedly early Weather Report like collective non-solo submerged in atmosphere and electro-acoustic colors.

Sound Etiquette is a fine recording from this West Coast trio, with roots firmly planted in the soil of early jazz/rock, and growing into something else entirely.


Dialectical imagination - The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of the Rapture (Atamandi, 2017) ****


Dialectical Imagination is the duo of NYC-based Eli Wallace, heard here exclusively on piano, and Bay Area drummer Rob Pumpelly. Though configured minimally, the sound world that they create is big. Wallace approaches the piano with passion and Pumpelly - who is credited with the compositional concepts - provides perfect counter balance.

The album begins with 'Refusing Confusion', a title that could almost be read as a political statement in current times. The track begins with the splash of piano and percussion, quick jolts of melody connected by a pulse, and about halfway through, it coalesces into a tremendous climax. Wallace's melodic instinct are sharp and he uses the momentum that he and Pumpelly generate to push and pull the listener through a grand tour of musical emotions. The track is an example of their exciting use of dynamics and yin/yang of inside/outside approaches to come. The following track 'Immutable Light' draws on a McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones vibe, piano drenched in sustain, the blocks of chords building dramatically, while the drums become a powerful propulsive force. On the flip side, there is the tender openness of 'Sky in Eye Free of I', where the intro is dipped in a fine coating of melody, but becoming more fractured, and at times even ferocious, as the track progresses.

The album is, to the eye, a tape release, however, a quick inspection reveals it is actually a USB drive with both WAV and MP3 versions of the music files, along with the artwork. The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of the Rapture can also be found for purchase on Bandcamp.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Krokofant - Krokofant III (Rune Grammofone, 2017) ****½

By Derek Stone

When it comes to scuffed-up, rock-infused jazz, it doesn’t get much better than Norway’s Krokofant. Existing at the decidedly narrow intersection where instrumental prowess, compositional complexity, and sheer heaviness meet, Krokofant are yet another entry in the long line of recent Scandinavian groups who have been breathing new life into, and occasionally hammering the hell out of, contemporary jazz. Their last two albums, 2014’s self-titled and 2015’s II, saw the group boasting an absolutely monolithic sound, but never at the expense of tight interplay and intricate, often dizzyingly fast, melodies. The somewhat improbable part is that all of that was produced by a trio - as such, there was never a feeling of overindulgence or of having “too much going on.” On each record, the band said exactly what they needed to. Not a note more.

On their latest recording, predictably entitled III, Krokofant stick to that familiar, no-frills approach, but not without throwing us some interesting curve-balls. One of the first of those curve-balls is provided right from the start: Jørgen Mathisen, whose energetic, breakneck saxophone lines have been present from the group’s inception, here utilizes a synth that can only be described as “rotund” - while Krokofant have always reveled in the riotous and unrestrained, Mathisen’s synth lends the group an aura of sinister, unhinged funkadelia (just imagine the fusion records of Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, with a splash of punk vitriol). Aside from Mathisen, the other members of Krokofant are as exceptional as ever; on “Clazz,” witness guitarist Tom Hasslan’s bluesy, winding riffs - as they spiral in and out of melodic shapes and become increasingly distorted, drummer Axel Skalstad maintains a beat that, despite its lightfooted complexity, is dense and muscular.

On “Juice,” Skalstad lays out a sinuous, dancy rhythm that acts as the perfect support for Hasslan’s grimy stabs. Meanwhile, Mathisen truly goes off the rails, his saxophone bleating and threading through the piece in psychotic spurts. “Double Dad” finds each member coloring outside of the lines within which they normally find themselves: Mathisen’s synth and sax somehow become twin barrels, red-hot and carnivalesque in their bouncing melodicism. Hasslan, for his part, toys with various effects throughout the piece, but always eventually returns to his (admittedly virtuosic) grinding rock riffs and incendiary solos. The final track, “Wrong Turn,” is not a wrong turn at all, but an explosive end-piece that references stoner-rock with its narcotized synths and reverb-laden guitars.

Krokofant III is yet another fantastic entry in the discography of a group that, to my ears, keep getting better and better. If you’ve always wondered what expansive, Sabbath-indebted grooves would sound like married to the intensity and adventurousness of free jazz, be sure to check this one out.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

GRID – GRID (NNA Tapes, 2017) ****


By Eric McDowell

Listening to GRID, it doesn’t take long to conclude that the album’s namesake structure is a pretty poor descriptor of its musical content, almost to the point of irony. Captured live at Seizures Palace in Brooklyn, these four tracks are built of treacherously shifting layers of sludge, a hellish quicksand of shadowy subterranean tones, temperamental feedback, and tumbling drums unbeholden to any points of reference. Instead, it’s as if the trio—Matt Nelson on saxophone, Tim Dahl on bass, and Nick Podgurski on drums—had set out to repurpose the word “grid,” strip it of its conventional associations and down to some essential onomatopoeia. “GRID”: whatever it is, it doesn’t sound pleasant.

Whether the music itself sounds pleasant is another question, though there’s a reason “doom jazz” has stuck as the go-to shorthand for explaining GRID to would-be listeners. The album opens on a toxic dawn, with electronic static and swampy bubbles of bass cut with saxophone (and/or bass?) so processed it sounds like Hendrix at the limits. As “(+_+)”—as the piece is called—develops, Podgurski sustains what might be termed a free groove, drawing on all the expected gestures but keeping them unpredictably disjointed and thus full of tension, abusing the connective tissue between one stroke and the next. As a whole, the trio dismisses recognizable chops in favor of slow-moving accumulations of harsh textures and defamiliarized sounds. Although Dahl explains that “there was never a concept discussed before we started playing,” GRID displays a dogged consistency across its suite of four tracks. So while in the details the music sounds completely improvised and ready to grind apart at any moment, in the broader view it takes on an easier-to-digest and simpler-to-summarize single-minded quality, whether you label it “doom jazz” or something else.

Just as GRID may be a misleading title for this music, the album’s personnel list is another source of confounded expectations, once you hear the sounds coming out of your speakers. For one thing, it’s impressive to hear just three musicians produce so much noise. For another, it’s impressive to hear these three musicians produce the noise they do on their chosen instruments—with the help, to be fair, of electronic processing and pedal effects. We’ve heard Dahl push the boundaries of the bass with his huge sound before; on GRID he attacks from both sides, high and low. But Nelson’s sound pays even less respect to conventional assumptions. No one would blame an unsuspecting listener for going all of GRID’s 38 minutes mistaking Nelson’s saxophone for a guitar. Only here and there, for example the middle of “(-_-),” if you listen closely, can you trace what you’re hearing directly back to the familiar reed instrument. In that way, Nelson’s playing is like the album as a whole—there’s a tether to the known, but it’s disfigured from fraying.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Loafer’s Hollow (Hot Cup, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Reprising (and revamping) their extended line-up from Red Hot, Mostly Other People Do the Killing continues their inside-out exploration of capital-J jazz on Loafer’s Hollow. Their most recent albums, Hannover and Mauch Chunk, showed two sides of the core quartet. The former, a kind of victory lap for the original pianoless quartet, is a barn-burner of a live album. The latter is a (relatively) kinder, gentler introduction to the piano-quartet lineup of Jon Irabagon, Ron Stabinsky, Moppa Elliott, and Kevin Shea. As they did on Red Hot, when Stabinsky first guested with the group, MOPDtK brings back the septet for Loafer’s Hollow, with Brandon Seabrook and David Taylor returning on banjo and bass trombone, respectively. Although it was always going to be a challenge to replace Peter Evans, I don’t see how they could have done better than bringing in Steven Bernstein. From Sex Mob and Millennial Territory Orchestra, to his Diaspora tetralogy on Tzadik, Bernstein is one of the forefathers of MOPDtK’s multilingual in/out style.

As incredible and seemingly telepathic as ever, Shea is probably the standout player of this album. How he manages to be everywhere at once and one step ahead of everyone is, frankly, astonishing. But truly, the highlight is, as always, Elliott’s singular compositions. This time around, Elliott aims for the swinging ‘30s, drawing inspiration from the Count Basie Orchestra. Frequently, Seabrook and Stabinsky guide the group through stunningly gorgeous dance-band phrasing, with Elliott . True to the era, if unusual for MOPDtK, all but one of the songs clocks in under five minutes. “Hi-Nella” and “Honey Hole” provide an opening one-two punch of intertwining melodies, countermelodies, harmonies, and genuinely fantastic playing. Seabrook and Bernstein set the scene with excellent solos on “Hi-Nella.” On “Honey Hole,” Irabagon and Taylor take lead, with Taylor playing a particularly excellent solo near the end.

“Bloomsburg (For James Joyce),” which opens a literary suite that makes up the bulk of the album, moves in and out of a series of romantic statements, recalling themes of love and lust in Ulysses. The rest of the literary suite includes tributes to Kurt Vonnegut (“Kilgore”), Thomas Pynchon (“Mason and Dixon”), Cormac McCarthy (“Meridian”), and David Foster Wallace (“Glen Riddle”). Taken together, as their authors often are, Elliott’s compositions seem to comment on each other, phrases and idiomatic references either recur or reappear in variations. “Kilgore” features an extended Stabinsky solo that turns Basie’s style on its head, while echoing his solo from Red Hot’s “King of Prussia” (to my ear, at least, there’s even a different Joe Jackson reference dropped here). Stabinsky’s piano serves as the bridge into “Mason and Dixon,” with Shea putting in some of his finest work on the album. For a song dedicated to McCarthy, “Meridian” is surprisingly restrained, leading into the wonderfully dense and reflective “Glen Riddle.” Seabrook takes a late solo, over some excellent Bernstein and Irabagon doubling.

On album closer “Five (Corners, Points, Forks),” MOPDtK pulls off a rather stunning trick, performing a literal sonic journey from mono to stereo, with everyone first in the high register, before shifting over to a full band, full-range attack in the second half of the song. The effect is MOPDtK in miniature, where decades pass in an instant, and boundaries that once seemed solid now melt into air.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Peter Evans / Agustí Fernandez / Mats Gustafsson — A Quietness of Water (Not Two Records, 2017) *****

By Rick Joines

On their first album as a trio, Korpos Lithos (Multikulti Project, 2009), and on their new album of free improvisations, A Quietness of Water, Peter Evans, Agustí Fernandez, and Mats Gustafsson borrow their song titles from the American poet Robert Creeley. Creeley makes an interesting, and apt, muse for these musicians. For some, Creeley’s poems, despite their direct and simple beauty, lack the traditional moves they presume a “good” poem ought to make. Once, after a poetry reading, a puzzled audience member asked Creeley, “Are those real poems, or did you just make them up?” A Quietness of Water also puzzles at first, and might make one to wonder: “Is this real jazz, or are they just making it up?” The answer to such a conundrum is: keep reading; keep listening. The answer is yes; yes.

On the album’s first cut, “Once in a Rented Room,” Evans’ trumpet sounds like an Egyptian mizmar, a euphonium, a wounded animal, warning sirens. When he emits a hellish growl, one fears it may be, in fact, a howl from one’s own unconscious primal depths. Evans, at once, sounds like an air raid siren and a dive bombing kamikaze. He hums into his trumpet like a kazoo. He tongues the mouthpiece. He plays the spit collecting in the tubes. He holds a note past normal human capacity while its microtonal changes mess with our desire for resolution. And that’s just Evans. Fernandez pounds the piano keys occasionally, but mostly he is inside the piano, rending it like an industrial combine at a metal recycling plant. Gustafsson puffs, grunts, and desperately inhales and exhales through his stops.

Next, on “Persistent Hope,” Fernandez’s eerie scrapings remind us a haunted house. Gustafsson woo-wooo-wooos like a ghost. Evans’s trumpet whirls like a Hammond organ with a Leslie speaker playing the soundtrack for an old silent movie. Then things really get weird. The sax and trumpet snarl at each other until an entire angry animal kingdom wakes: elephants roar, zebras whinny, monkeys whoop and screech. For a moment, things calm down, yet soon enough the whole haywire jungle machine goes nuts again. There’s an end-of-the-world bedlam in the guts of Fernandez’ piano. Gustafsson sobs and wails and moans. Evans feeds back like a guitar flung in front of an overdriven Marshall stack.

“I Speak to Hear,” the third track, puts us in the mind of a gentle rain, at first, then, after a bang like a gunshot, Gustafsson whoops and hollers, thwump-thwump-thwacking percussively. Together he and Fernandez beep-beep-flurp-squawk. Evans overblows his trumpet. It squeals like he’s letting air out of a pinched balloon. He plays long, lippy, rising notes, makes kissy noises, and plates saucy smorgasbords of sound. Gustafsson’s playing alternately sounds like an upright bass plucked pizzicato, or like his stops have transmuted into bongos. Evans veers from sounding like a Theremin to blowing through a mouthpieceless trumpet, pistoning the valves, whistling, and choo-chooing.

On the fourth song, “Thoughts,” named after a tiny Robert Creeley poem — “Am I dying? / I am beautiful. / Either way.” — the trumpet and the piano sound, surprisingly, like a trumpet and a piano until the song begins to have too many simultaneous disquieting thoughts. They race and zoom. Gustafsson is a fog horn; Evans, an ocean liner sounding an alarm, which turns into thick static. Fernandez flogs the piano, which refuses to give up the ghost, even when it sounds like a downed powerline wildly jetting and sparking in the icy street. Gustafsson’s rather lovely, breathy solo transforms into thwumping and yelling as if he’s frightened by a nightmare. Evans blows through the trumpet which discovers it is a flute, whale song, a flock of ducks being mass murdered, and the suction tool at the dentist’s.

The final song, “A Quietness of Water,” finds Gustafsson sounding almost like a cello section. Fernandez’s piano plinks like an autoharp or a hammered dulcimer or sprung springs. Evans’s breath through the trumpet is white noise, which for a moment pierces like an oboe, then turns into a pervert’s heavy breathing into the phone, a suitcase dragged across Berber carpet, a NASA radio signal fizzling before the crew is lost, a fire alarm, a Tour de France ambulance, a teakettle at the boil . . .

As I listened again and again to A Quietness of Water, I noticed how often Evans reminded me of the flute section in the second movement of Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and how the trio, with all its manic bravura, suggests the entirety of an orchestra. There are emotional swarms that leave the imagination reeling, dark dramatic swells, trilling notes that float above the rest, hectic conflicts as if a violin section were bowing tremolo, and rumbles from bass drums like a dark night of the soul descending. There is vigor and joy; anguish and ambition. There are rude, blatting raspberries, terrifying explosions of sound, and an epic sweep.

Which is to say, A Quietness of Water is, finally, beautiful.

Part of what makes music enjoyable are the pleasures of what Peter Kivy calls its “plot without content.” Thinking of the genre and structure of jazz, we enjoy the statement of the theme. We desire its return but feel titillated by its delay. We love the entanglements of the grammar of the song’s unfolding. We crave the riddles the interplay creates and the pointed variations of the theme. Our ravenous conjectures hunger for what happens next. The “better” the song, the more often it mystifies our anticipations, toys with our expectations, tricks us in alluring ways. A “great” song generates an ever-increasing adoration for the unexpected. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue demonstrates this: modal jazz seemed strange and unwelcome at first, yet the album fulfilled expectations about jazz tunes while teaching us to listen closer and to appreciate what had seemed unpredictable. It was so skillful it became the most popular jazz album of all time and what many consider the very definition of “good jazz.”

A Quietness of Water tantalizes us with its strangeness and its teasing refusals to satisfy what we thought we were supposed to expect—or even want. Evans, Fernandez, and Gustafsson wield a variety of extended techniques, playing their instruments in untraditional, unconventional ways. It isn’t so much that they are playing jazz as they play the trumpet, the saxophone, and the piano for all they’re worth. They ignore, or transcend, the expected uses not only of their instruments but of their breath and bodies. They smash the iconic twists and turns of the jazz tune. They are not producing “special effects”; this is just the way they play. It is how they say what they must say. Their songs exist outside plot structures. Their music develops circuitously, like thinking does, and when these three think together, things get too complicated for even a battalion of critics and therapists to unravel. This is pugnacious music. It affects its listener physically, physiologically. The song is an arena; the playing an event. Like all great music, it rewards a listener who listens carefully and often. It is a new translation of the language of “jazz” that requires immersion to develop fluency.

Robert Creeley wondered, on a rainy day, “What am I to myself / that must be remembered, / insisted upon / so often?” A Quietness of Water asks equally existential questions. It poses problems about the nature of our desire for jazz and the ways we define it. It joins a profound improvisatory conversation that is unceasing. This is not music to “enjoy.” It defies usual satisfactions. It provides no rest for our perturbed spirits. This is jazz as experience—as pathos. I don’t know if there are aesthetic categories to judge whether the music or the playing are “good” or “bad,” but Evans, Fernandez, and Gustafsson leave me thinking that the music they make is beautiful because of the sublime ways they just make it up.

Available at Not Two Records (http://www.nottwo.com/mw952), Instant Jazz, Downtown Music Gallery.