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Thursday, August 31, 2017

zeitkratzer + Elliott Sharp - ONEIRIKA Live at Berghain Berlin (Karlrecords, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray
Elliott Sharp and zeitkratzer are an obvious match, it’s no surprise that they’ve often worked together in the 20 years of the band’s existence. In addition, there have been two duo releases of Reinhold Friedl, the ensemble’s mastermind, with the New York multi-instrumentalist.

Their new collaboration, ONEIRIKA, is named after the Greek word for dream and conceives a daydreamy sonic landscape. It’s mainly inspired by the music of John Cage, especially regarding Sharp’s method to process his individual notation via the picture-editing software Photoshop, which opens up further artistic possibilities for the musicians involved in the project. Moreover, this approach is a perfect jumping off point for a band like zeitkratzer, which is interested in the intersections of light, image, sound and motion and the high-quality amplification of acoustic instruments.

For ONEIRIKA the ensemble is augmented by Marc Weiser (guitar) and Matthew Davis (trumpet) replaces French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord. Elliott Sharp conducts the composition and plays tenor saxophone and electric guitar.

The composition consists of ten different sections, but actually the piece should be received as one. Sharp has created harmonic and rhythmic patterns the musicians pick up and repeat in the different parts. The snorting and groaning of the first section based on short saxophone pops and percussion staccatos is recapitulated in “Section 10“ however, it’s electronically processed and alienated. In “Section 4“ Sharp intersperses string and reed riffs which sound disharmonic and fragmented, as if the band wasn’t sure what to do with the different elements. These unison riffs return in “Section 6“ and “Section 9“, where they have the intensity of a heavy metal track. Again, electronics are used to create a variety of sound colors, they also push the track, the listener is overwhelmed with cacophonous barrage. Here the music is reminiscent less of John Cage than Philip Glass.

Between these very intense and tight sections, there are others that relieve the tension, like “Section 3“, “Section 5“ and “Section 7“. The atmosphere here is spookier, the rhythm less hectic, but they also follow a similar structure: All three pieces start slower and more silent, but there’s a dynamic crescendo in the middle before the music fades out and gives way to more dramatic up-tempo parts.

ONEIRIKA presents a gloomy musical utopia, the dream is not a pleasant and optimistic one. But, as often with zeitkratzer albums, beneath the violence and brutality there’s also something comforting and joyful.

ONEIRIKA  is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can buy and listen to it here:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

20 years of zeitkratzer

By Martin Schray

zeitkratzer (time scraper) is a project founded by Reinhold Friedl in 1997 devoted both to new classical and improvised music but also to noise, electro, avant-rock and traditional folklore. Among their most famous adaptations are Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen’s Aus den sieben Tagen, and Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire but they’ve also released some of Friedl’s own compositions. The collective has worked with musicians as different as Terre Thaemlitz, Christian Lillinger, Keiji Haino, Merbow and Jim O’Rourke. Last year I saw them live at the Météo festival performing Metal Machine Music. Due to their philosophy it was indeed sound made visible and tangible – a really unforgettable corporal experience of live music, something one had to endure in order to enjoy it. This kind of physicality of sound is achieved by the use of extended instrumental techniques and sometimes crass amplification of traditional instruments. You wanted the performance to end and continue at the same time.

The result is an immense intensity of sound transcending genre borders, which brings the different musics together in zeitkratzer’s very own complex universe. This universe is mainly powered by the soloists of the ensemble, apart from Friedl (piano) there are Frank Gratkowski (clarinets, saxes), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello), Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn), Uli Philipp (bass), Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Maurice De Martin (drums), Burkhard Schlothauer (violin), Martin Wurmnest (sound) and Andreas Harder (light).

zeitkratzer: KORE (Karlrecords, 2016) ****

KORE is Reinhold Friedl’s continuation of his composition “Xenakis [a]live!” - a homage to the French-Greek composer Iannis Xenakis. Friedl refers to Xenakis’ tape compositions like Persepolis or La Legende d’Eer, in which Xenakis integrated his stochastic synthesis sounds, something made obvious in the materials, textures and densities, an approach which served as a model for zeitkratzer’s music.

Persepolis is one of Xenakis’ so-called polytopes, which are closely tied to a specific architecture or to an archeological site. At these venues Xenakis used coordinates composed by points of sound (speakers). Starting from these presuppositions, he builds figures or volumes with music and light.

The original polytope of Persepolis took place in the ruins of the Temple of Darius in the Iranian desert in 1971. The performance assembled a variety of devices including two lasers, military searchlights, bonfires, 150 torch-bearing children and six listening stations provided with eight speakers, one for each track of Xenakis’ electroacoustic composition. In this context Xenakis mentioned that “Persepolis is neither a theatrical spectacle, nor a ballet, nor a happening. It is visual symbolism, parallel to and dominated by sound. The sound—the music— must absolutely prevail.”

For La légende d’Eer, another polytope, Xenakis used sound materials from three sources: instrumental sounds, noises, and electronically generated sounds, again he combines various selections of sounds in order to create a dynamic sonic landscape. The piece opens with static crescendo and juxtaposes percussion speckles against extended durations of sound particles.
Friedl’s KORE is conceived for nine amplified instruments (Uli Philipp is replaced by Martin Heinze on the bass), again highlighting zeitkratzer's philosophy of amplification. It’s important for this philosophy that playing amplified does not only mean turning up the volume, the crucial point is to have a more accurate and detailed view on sound in general so that acoustic microsounds become more prominent.

Like many Friedl compositions KORE is a precisely notated piece but it also has the energy of collectively improvised music, it brings together noise art and European improvised and experimental music.The basis for “Kore 1” is a massive bass drone pushed by metallic scrapes, gargling reeds and repetitive string glissandi and tremolos reminiscent of a shower of meteorites. You feel as if you were on a gigantic, horrifying merry-go-round from which you can’t dismount.

“Kore 2” reduces the tension at the beginning by omitting the bass drone, just to bring it back after a few minutes, which increases the horrifying effect. A prepared piano hides in the background, the whole piece wheezes, snorts and growls. The creepy trombone and French horn finish you off. Then, in “Kore 3“, expansive percussion dominates the track, for example gongs set in front of squeaking strings and a crazily meandering piano, while “Part 4” collects the different voices to create a surging sonic hailstorm. When it’s over, all that’s left is exhaustion.

But make no mistake: This isn’t a mere mishmash of sounds, every instrument is discernible, this music is subtle and finely crafted and in the end you can see the beauty in it. 

KORE is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to it and buy it here:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kołakowski / Wykpisz / Korelus — Schönberg (For Tune, 2016) *****

By Rick Joines

No album has given me more pleasure this year than Schönberg by the trio of Mateusz Kołakowski (piano), Alan Wykpisz (bass), and Bartłomiej Korelus (drums). Recorded in the middle of 2016 and released at its end, for the last four months it has played repeatedly in my headphones. I procrastinated writing this review, thinking eventually I’d be able to give these remarkable musicians their due. But mainly it was because once I write a review, I move on to other albums, other reviews. And I wasn’t ready for that.

Schönberg is inspired by a set of solo piano works—Sechs kleine Klavierstücke (Six Little Piano Pieces), Op. 19—by the modernist composer of the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951). Depending on the interpretation, these six little pieces, composed in 1911, take a little under six minutes to play—the longest is eighteen measures; the shortest, nine. Kołakowski, Wykpisz, and Korelus transform Schönberg’s aphoristic scores into a forty-minute meditation on the nature of atonality and the flexibility of contrapuntal rhythm in the realm of improvisational jazz.

Schönberg’s six little numbered pieces have no titles, but he provides hints indicating tempo. The first is “Leicht, zart” (light and delicate), the next “Langsam” (slow), “Sehr langsam” (very slow), “Rasch, aber leicht” (brisk, but light), “Etwas rasch” (somewhat brisk), and finally another “Sehr langsam” (very slow). Each of Schönberg’s short pieces provides the motif for the trio’s versions, but they do not follow the head/solo/head progression of traditional jazz. Nor do they engage in completely free improvisation. Instead, they follow a course akin to Schönberg’s theory of “developing variation”: their individual, improvised repetitions continually reshape the motif harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, or by intervals.

Schönberg hoped his lean, experimental, intellectual pieces might express the unconscious connections and illogic of emotion. Kołakowski, Wykpisz, and Korelus honor Schönberg’s ambition, blending classical serialism with a clever pastiche of jazz elements. Some tracks adhere rather closely to Schönberg’s score before expanding and reimagining it. In the first piece, for example, they play Schönberg’s composition fairly straight at the beginning. When they begin to drift away from its spirit, falling into a bouncy rhythm and regular melody, the trio’s playing slows, as if swirling in an eddy. Once dislodged from the conventional, they reorient their course. Dissonance and irregular cross rhythms reassert themselves. Two-note phrases and broken chords echo faintly, the tempo builds, and the trio circles back to Schönberg’s eighteen measures. Kołakowski, Wykpisz, and Korelus turn the second piece—its nine measures usually get performed in about a minute—into a nine-minute call-and-response between piano and bass. Here, they truly indulge in Schönberg’s direction to play “langsam.”

In the third and fourth pieces, they take bold liberties. Schönberg’s third piece has the direction, “sehr langsam.” It seems an even slower version of the second piece—so slumberous, the composition almost suffers entropic disintegration. The trio utterly ignores Schönberg’s direction. Instead, Kołakowski, Wykpisz, and Korelus ramp up the tempo so their piece also almost seems to fly apart—only this time like a rocket travelling at too great a speed. They turn the longest piece for Schönberg (a glacial seventy-eight seconds!) into their shortest (three-and-a-half minutes). In a similarly playful mood, they turn Schönberg’s fourth piece—which comes in at around twenty-nine seconds—into their longest (a little over eleven minutes). The trio’s version begins with about two minutes of somber, elegant solo piano, but in third minute the song radically translates into New Orleans ragtime. By the song’s end, Kołakowski’s striding left hand and the band’s boogie-woogie playing grows meditative before sliding into slick hard-bop. Their combined version of V and VI begins with compelling arco bass. VI was written four months after I-V, following Gustav Mahler’s death. Schönberg considered it a tombeau. But there is nothing of the funereal in the trio’s version. A presto rhythm leads to a tinkling right hand and powerful chording with the left, providing romantic heft Schönberg always aimed to abandon.

It is difficult to do justice to the virtuosity, the intellectual and historical reach, and the audacity of imagination of Mateusz Kołakowski, Alan Wykpisz, and Bartłomiej Korelus. The pianism of the former child prodigy Kołakowski reveals his extensive classical training. He combines baroque, classical, and Slavic avant-garde styles with the complicated chords and rhythms of both Schönberg and jazz, all while maintaining a sweet, bluesy touch. I have an inordinate fondness for crafty bassists, and Wykpisz does not disappoint. His solos in pieces I, II, and IV are marvels of percussive pizzicato and thunderous, atmospheric arco. When Kołakowski angles off into solos, Wykpisz sticks close to Schönberg, keeping the song anchored in the composer’s atonal melodies. The work Korelus does with cymbals, brushes, and rims is impeccable. They have made a terrific album. If your taste in free jazz trends toward the cerebral (but you’re secretly a sucker for some emotion), you will find great satisfaction in this album. It hits all the right notes, again and again.


Kołakowski / Wykpisz / Korelus—Schönberg @ Jazz w Ruinach (Jazz in the Ruins)

On August 11, 2017, a recording was made of the Kołakowski / Wykpisz / Korelus trio playing their album Schönberg live at Jazz w Ruinach (Jazz in the Ruins) in Gliwice, Poland. The trio has been playing their improvisations based on Schönberg’s “Six Little Piano Pieces” for a year or so, and this recording (release date and label TBA), showcases their unflagging pursuit of all the mysteries hidden away between the notes in those tiny scores.

Maintaining their light-reined adherence to Schönberg’s originals, the trio’s improvisations take on a different timbre before an audience. Perhaps the most fascinating contrast is how the trio stitches together several of the pieces, blending them via some mesmerizing contemplative reveries. Moments of deliberative pause stretch out on stage, with each musician seeming to find a new progression of notes that needs to be tried against the new ideas of the other two. Their care and patience is exquisite.

What was sharp, fast, and angular about Kołakowski’s playing in the studio gets sharper, faster, and bewitchingly jagged live. He attacks phrases, layers harmonics and arpeggios, and leaves us transfixed with ringing trills that suffuse the air with sound. Wykpisz’s power here is most evident in his restraint. Whereas Kołakowski’s chops have gotten evermore jazzy, Wykpisz’s style gets more “classical.” During his understated solos, he rubs short, rough pizzicato notes and bows poignant, lyrical chords. Korelus, too, gets his moments to shine, sussurating a solo on cymbals and kinetically brushed toms.

Though often still tantalizingly sparse, the trio’s playing live unleashes powerful emotions pent up in Schönberg’s pensive score. The end of the set, a medley of Schönberg’s fifth and sixth pieces, arrives as an achievement, a joyous arrival after a challenging journey, a symphonic vista that is sight to behold.

The encore is the trio’s version of Edvard Grieg’s “Watchman’s Song” (Op. 12 No. 3) (1867). It has a bit of a high-school-recital, wedding-march Romantic-era vibe that doesn’t jibe well after the rabid modernity of Schönberg, but if the trio has set its sights on transforming Grieg’s Lyric Pieces into jazz, I’m looking forward to hearing what they will come up with. They are alchemists, and what they touch turns gold.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Eric Revis - Sing Me Some Cry (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Derek Stone

Just last year, Eric Revis released Crowded Solitudes, an exhilarating romp through the corridor that stretches between the mainstream and the avant-garde. Between Gerald Cleaver’s powerful drumming, Kris Davis’s explosive piano acrobatics, and Revis’s dynamic bass-work, the trio had hit upon a winning formula that could’ve easily sustained them for a few years more. On his latest, however, some key changes have been made that, far from stripping the group of what made it so appealing in the first place, have only served to make their sound even more thrilling and robust. First of all, Chad Taylor has come on board to take Cleaver’s old spot - Cleaver will be missed, surely, but Taylor is a more than adequate replacement, utilizing a responsive and subtle approach that works well to contain the fiery attacks of the piano and sax. With regards to the sax, that’s the second of the key changes: Chicago maestro Ken Vandermark has been brought into the fold. Vandermark is in no need of an introduction and, if you’re like me, his involvement in a project is reason enough to give that project a shot. In expanding the group to a quartet, Revis has simultaneously expanded its range of possibilites - timbral, rhythmic, and otherwise. Are those possibilities fulfilled? Let’s see.

One of the best aspects of this project lies in the rather egalitarian way it’s been put together: each player has compositional credit. As such, Sing Me Some Cry represents something of a prism through which each player’s unique qualities can shine through. The title track is a precursor of sorts, Revis’s flurries cascading down as the other players lurch into wakefulness. “Good Company,” the de facto opener, is a bouncing slice of post-bop - here, Kris Davis largely adheres to a conventionally melodic line, with occasional excursions into more frantic territory. Revis and Taylor are the rhythmic stalwarts, with Taylor in particular maintaining a relentless swing that, once Vandermark starts up, serves to keep the train on the tracks. In some ways, it sounds as if Vandermark and Davis spur each other on; like a two-cylinder engine, their power lies in the way that they conjoin, alternate, and amplify what the other is doing - it’s a twin attack, and it’s a joy to hear. “Pt 44” calls to mind an Andrew Hill composition with its laconic central melody, skeletal drum-work, and distinctly enigmatic air. Once again, Vandermark and Davis seem to be engaged in a mad race, but not just them - Revis too joins in, his thudding notes like so many stones dropped into a pond. “Rumples” showcases Revis’s superb rhythmic sense; marrying himself to Taylor’s sinewy beat, he produces a series of thick, luxurious grooves that would sound positively out-of-place if they weren’t so damn effective. Not all of the tracks are wild dashes, however; “Solstice...the Girls (for Max & Vivi)” finds the group in a more contemplative state, the whole piece guided by a vaguely martial rhythm that, due to Taylor’s light touch and Davis’s plinking repetitions, resembles a toy music-box. Revis lends his exquisite bass-work to the beginning of Davis’s “Rye Eclipse,” a piece that had previously appeared on Davis’s album of the same name. Here, the piece more than ever seems cast in an ominous glow - the near-mechanistic stride that Davis, Taylor, and Revis lock into is mesmerizing in its relentlessness, and it grows increasingly intense until the entire thing seems on the verge of collapse. Overhead, Vandermark spirals and screeches, a carrion bird encircling the wreck. Not for the faint of heart, definitely.

With Sing Me Some Cry, Revis has once again shown himself to be one of the finest bandleaders around - not only does he surround himself with stellar musicians, but he provides them with the freedom and opportunity to explore the various compositions in the ways they see fit. Whether you like jazz that swings, screeches, or (as on the final track, “Glyph”) swoons, Sing Me Some Cry has you covered. Highly recommended!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Samo Salamon Sextet - The Colours Suite (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Connor Kurtz

The Colours Suite was recorded live at the 2016 Ljubljana Jazz Festival in Slovenia. The suite works in eight tracks and is performed by a wonderful sextet featuring two drummers, two horns, bass and guitar (don't worry, I'll elaborate on all of these wonderful performers soon). If you're anything like me, an ensemble which contains two drummers has you jumping in joy; and it seems the same is true for composer and band-leader Samo Salamon. In the liner notes, Salamon mentions that the possibility of an ensemble like this was something that he was very eager to try, so he wrote all eight pieces (this is a white lie, which I'll elaborate on later) with each performer in mind. Salamon aspired to make this an exciting and important one, and the results certainly justify his aspirations because this set is everything but underwhelming.

The Colours Suite is an album where everything has fallen exactly into the right place. An ensemble of fantastic performers meets an imaginative composer, and it's all lovingly and meticulously recorded and produced. The compositions leave plenty of room for the performers to improvise freely. I imagine them to work as rough guidelines with sparsely placed themes and ideas, even more than they do in similar jazz explorations in this vein. When the compositions lend so much freedom to the performers, and the performers are all so exciting and unique, it seems that breaking down the sextet should be my best plan of attack for explaining what make The Colours Suite so wonderful.

I'll start with the two drummers, Roberto Dani and Christian Lillinger. Dani is a friend and collaborator of the composer, but this is their first meeting with Lillinger who is better known as a free improviser, and for his work with the German avant-classical ensemble zeitkratzer. The two often play together and seem to merge together, but at other times it could be said that Dani plays more rhythmically and Lillinger more atmospherically (of course I am just guessing at who is doing what). Most often it is difficult to separate their performances unless focus is pushed solely towards them, and the rest of the ensemble is far too exciting to let that happen. I've previously thought of legendary free jazz / improvisation drummer Tony Oxley's greatest ability as being able to generate a full and sudden soundscape out of nothing more than a controlled, and occasionally even sparse, flurry of immediate sounds – this is something that can be seen in the performance here as well. A particular moment on Black has the two performing rapid-fire strikes on the rims of their instruments, creating a startling and textural wall of small sounds. Other moments have Dani demonstrating a very subtle control of the rhythm, which he morphs and breaks in completely unpredictable ways, while Lillinger plays unexplainable improvisations which land somewhere between Chris Corsano and Eddie Prévost.

Up next is German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, who's made a small name for himself as a band-leader and through his improvisation trio, who I've never personally heard but could not possible ignore with such a wonderful name, Baloni. While the dual drummers are often too busy minding their own avant-garde business, Niggenkemper is left as the only rhythm instrumentalist to perform their traditional task. His performance often simple and efficient, creating a powerful pulse to guide along the performances – and I must also note that he is perfectly mic'd and can be heard clearly, therefore avoiding a problem I often have with live jazz recordings. Calling him simple is an understatement however, restrained is certainly more apt since he keeps several tricks up his sleeve to be used when necessary. The opening to 'Blue' is a perfect example, where he performs a sprawling bassline that feels like a perversion of the walking basslines found in classic jazz. A more noteworthy example is in 'Green', where he pulls out a bow to perform the longest unaccompanied solo on the entire album, which is equal parts surprising and outstanding.

Next we have Julian Argüelles on both tenor and soprano saxophone and Achille Succi on bass clarinet. It is significantly easier to tell these two apart than the two drummers, but even more than them they keep quite closely together. The two often experiment with relative pitch, which can be very excited as Argüelles moves between the high-pitched sopranino and low-pitched tenor, allowing him to play both above and below Succi's bass clarinet. This also provides many opportunities for harmonies, which actually ends up being a technique the duo seldom uses, but with great affect. Argüelles typically plays significantly faster than Succi, shooting out quick scales while Succi meditates on low-end belches. An exercise I've found enjoyable while listening is attempting to juxtapose the percussion duo with the horn duo, as they operate in intriguingly distinct ways.

At this point you may have noticed that I've left Samo Salamon, the only member of the sextet with his name on the album cover, to last, perhaps due to a "saving the best for last mentality", but that is actually not the reason at all. I've left him for last due to what is one of the album's biggest surprises: that Salamon by far has the least screen time out of any of the performers. His performance is subtle and subdued, with only occasional eruptions (such as the devastating solo in 'Yellow' which comes as a complete shock, calling reference to noise rock guitar before any jazz idiom). For many sections he sits in silence or in the background, creating an ambience which one might glance over if they don't pay attention. With an attentive ear, one might find him to be the most original and inspired performer of the bunch – subverting all genre clichés, and even what may be expected to happen within the tracks. This leads me to think that, perhaps, his scores is very different than that of the rest of the band, giving himself even more room and less guidance than the others.

The sextet all blends together curiously. In the most upbeat moments it feels exciting and meticulous, but in the sparser moments it can feel like all control is lost. If I had to choose a single complaint about this album, it would be the lack of intelligent interplay during these sparse moments. Too often it feels like the performers are all ignoring each other, creating a polyphony that, while enjoyable, gives me the feeling that something greater could have been achieved if these performers were more experienced with each other. Lillinger and Niggenkemper usually seem to fend best in these moments, which may not be a surprise due to their free improvisation experience, but the rest of the ensemble does not fall so far behind that becomes is a major issue.

The last track is titled 'Grey', and is the only track where Salamon doesn't have a sole composer credit. The whole band is credited as composer on this piece, leading me to believe it to be a live improvisation (it certainly sounds the part). The piece is slow, mysterious and dark, or rather, grey. The musicians who previously stuck together are now miles apart, leaving logical interplay behind them. The track does result in a vague sense of progression, which takes the form of a slow build and quick departure. Argüelles eventually moves towards a pseudo-melody on his sopranino saxophone, and Succi joins him in a not-so-obvious way, but the rest of the band stays free and baffling. Whether it's truly free improvisation or not, 'Grey' feels like a wonderful ending to a wonderful set.

On The Colours Suite, Samo Salamon and Co. have assembled a document which is both exciting and multi-faceted. Each member of the sextet is a wonder to listen to, and each pulls their instrument through several terrains whether it be together or independently. I think the album is one that will appeal to both jazz fans who are looking for something invigorating and punchy or those who are looking for something new and experimental – and especially if you're someone like me who is looking for both, The Colours Suite is not one to miss.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mike Reed – Flesh & Bone (482 Music, 2017) ****

By Troy Dostert

The music on drummer Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone was occasioned by a harrowing incident he experienced while touring the Czech Republic in 2009 with his People, Places & Things band.  Mistaken directions put the group in the vicinity of a neo-Nazi rally turned riot.  While Reed and his colleagues managed to navigate their way to safety, the event understandably left Reed shaken, and with a determination to confront the episode through music.  But it’s not so much the specific event in question as much as a broader reflection on the lingering challenges of race and identity that animates Reed’s compositions on this record.  Making use of an exceptional group of musicians (Greg Ward on alto sax; Tim Haldeman on tenor sax; Ben LaMar Gay on cornet; Jason Stein on bass clarinet; Jason Roebke on bass; and poet/spoken-word artist Marvin Tate), Reed evokes a host of emotional registers and stylistic approaches on this memorable and invigorating album. At just over 40 minutes, it’s not a long record, but it packs a punch, making every moment count.

Although it will be tempting for some to view this as a kind of “protest” record, given the encounter with racial animosity that precipitated it, Reed’s more interested in raising questions than providing determinate answers.  Firmly in the legacy of Charles Mingus or Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Reed has a healthy appreciation for the ironic and the absurd – as does Tate, whose irreverent spoken-word segments on three of the tracks are both potent and disarming.  Nowhere is this more evident than “Call of Tomorrow,” which starts with Tate declaring that “The weight of rage…can hold you back,” but which soon segues into Tate’s self- (and audience-) mocking taunt: “This is a fucked-up poem. I’m fucked up for living it…and all of you are fucked up for listening to it.”  And meanwhile, the band surges behind him with abandon, somehow in perfect sync with the rhythmic bounce of Tate’s delivery.  This is serious music, but its seriousness rests in part on its reluctance to take itself too seriously.

Reed’s musical inspirations here are taken from a wide swath of the jazz tradition: from the post-bop groove of the opener, “Voyagers,” to the Mingus-like ensemble voicings of “Conversation Music,” the infectious funk of “A Separatist Party,” and the bebop inflections of “Imaginary Friend,” there are a host of touchstones on display, all of which point to the importance of jazz as a force for solidifying as well as challenging one’s bedrock self-understandings.  And it is a credit to Reed’s colleagues that they can embody all of these stylistic impulses so adroitly.  Ward, Haldeman and Roebke are Reed’s long-standing partners in People, Places & Things; but the new guys prove themselves to be just as valuable: both the warmth and the acrobatic dexterity of Stein’s bass clarinet are constants throughout the album, and LaMar Gay’s clear-as-a-bell cornet contributions are similarly crucial to the band’s collective sound.

On a recording which captures Reed’s idiosyncratic and unpredictable style perfectly, we see plenty of evidence here of his ongoing vitality and creativity as a bandleader and composer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sharif Sehnaoui / Adam Gołębiewski - Meet the Dragon (Uznam, 2017) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The dragon in our case is a tough, uncompromising and unpredictable beast, but this demanding, mythic creature can also be a gracious one, bestowing fascinating, poetic sounds to its worshipers. This dragon was nurtured by two idiosyncratic shamans - Lebanese, Beirut-based Sharif Sehnaoui, who focuses on expanding the sonic spectrum of the acoustic guitar without using any effects or electronics, and Polish, Poznań-based percussionist Adam Gołębiewski, who focuses on exploring the anatomical aspects of his drum-set and assorted objects, extending their expressive spectrum. Sehnaoui and Gołębiewski were recorded at MDK Dragon club in Poznań on February 2015.

Both Sehnaoui and Gołębiewski are resourceful improvisers who always opt to experience with new sounds and dynamics. Sehnaoui, along with trumpeter and visual artist Mazen Kerbaj - who did the artwork for this album, founded the Lebanese Irtijal festival for improvised and new music, and the local labels Al Maslakh and Annihaya. He recorded with other forward-thinking improvisers as Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach, Portuguese violinist Ernesto Rodriguez, and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher and performed with American percussionist Michael Zerang and Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. Gołębiewski recorded with American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and performed with fellow American guitarist Thurston Moore and reeds player Ken Vandermark.

Meet the Dragon
offers an urgent and intense 46-minute piece. Sehnaoui and Gołębiewski scratch and rub the guitar strings and its wooden body, the drums skins and cymbals surfaces, creating an avalanche of noisy, resonant clashes. Their language adopts gentle calls of reeds instruments, visits imaginary, tortured country blues phrases, and spirals into an exotic-industrial version of koto and frame percussion duet and flows like a delicate stream of sounds or sings a cryptic-cacophonic song. It seems that there is no end to Sehnaoui and Gołębiewski's sense of invention and willingness to keep extending the vocabularies of their instruments. Any idea can trigger an immediate, kaleidoscopic chain-reaction, which soon evaporates in a turbulent meltdown. Sehnaoui and Gołębiewski navigate wisely through this adventurous journey to a peaceful conclusion, leaving the dragon content and satisfied.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters (Luminous Label, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

I first encountered baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts when Julie Kjær interviewed her for a series on female improvisers in London, published at British Music Collection’s Sound and Music website. In it, Roberts mentioned her various groups, including the duo Ripsaw Catfish, her large ensemble work for Lancaster Jazz Festival, LUME project with saxophonist Dee Byrne, and of course her group Sloth Racket.

A semi-improvised quintet, Sloth Racket is Roberts’s main group, with Sam Andreae on tenor sax, Anton Hunter on guitar, Seth Bennett on bass, and Johnny Hunter on drums. Roberts creates what she calls “semi-graphic” scores for the band, which direct the group between composed material interlaced with long improvised sections. The result finds the group often headed in surprising directions, with composed themes emerging from hidden edges.

Bennett’s arco opens “Edges” with a sharpness that teases a rip-roaring kickoff which never quite arrives. Instead, Roberts and Andreae enter for a series of chamber-like episodes, and the group very gradually emerges in its full 5-part shape. “Tracking” finds A. Hunter, Bennett, and J. Hunter in a deep groove, with Andreae and Roberts playing off each other with smearing runs. Later in the track, a loping sax melody contrasts J. Hunter’s percussive improvisation. This stretch presents one of the clearest models of the group’s working dynamics, with composed stretches more transparently counterbalanced by solo and duo improvisations.

With “Bark,” Sloth Racket tips over into contemplative abstract territory, which works exceedingly well for a group that’s great at resisting the urge to overcook any one idea. The band simmers along, crafting a really nice tonal exploration, eventually exploding into the opening notes of “Shapeshifters.” Bennett’s a phenomenal bassist, and here, in a trio improvisation with Roberts and Andreae, he absolutely shines. After a lengthy bass solo, A. Hunter and J. Hunter join for a stellar trio improvisation. A. Hunter’s approach seems to take his guitar from idea to idea, rather than note to note, sometimes jumping from a picked line into an effects-drenched wash in a single move. Roberts and Andreae with a composed melody, phasing in and out of group improvisation before the whole unwinds back into more abstract territory.

At the heart of Sloth Racket seems to be something Roberts described in her interview with Kjær, “I see improvisation as instant (usually collaborative) important form of musical communication...and a group making totally improvised music can be like an egalitarian, non-hierarchical social organisation in miniature.” In the shared space of Shapeshifters, everyone has a place and a voice. And in the final stretch, with the band moving in unison along a partially charted route, you can hear this philosophy in all its glorious action.

Available at Bandcamp.

“Shapeshifters” Live at the Vortex, London, May 2016

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

John Abercrombie 1944 - 2017

By Stef

Yesterday, guitarist John Abercrombie passed away at the age of seventy-two. He is one of those musicians who gave my life flavour. How many hours have I not listened to his albums, surprised and excited by his very unique guitar sound? He himself is the musician who could be central to a composition but at the same time he could also take a step back and be as effective in giving color to a piece from the background, interjecting his soft and subdued tones, with precision.

I got to know him from his early Timeless album, released on ECM in 1974, with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette, a "fusion" album that dragged me into the universe of ECM and consecutively to jazz and free jazz. Despite the quality of the album, his fusion sound (think McLaughlin or Jeff Beck) soon made place for his soft-toned and unaltered playing, mostly on guitar, but sometimes on electric mandolin. His collaboration with Jack DeJohnette's New Directions in 1978 was another new listening experience for me, and opened even more doors to his playing: nervous, jubilant, bluesy and always subdued and precise, reaching the right accent and colour to make the overall sound whole and complete, and interesting.

I listened with fascination to his collaborations with Gateway, a super trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. It was jazz of a different kind, raw and polished at the same time, authentic and well-balanced, reflective and dynamic, with three musicians who understand each other. A great success, that was repeated later with Gateway 2 and the Homecoming albums.

Add Colin Walcott on sitar to this trio and you get the "new age" beautiful sound of Cloud Dance and Grazing Dreams with Don Cherry, soft-spoken and meditative, intense and beyond any genres, but of high quality and the interaction of sitar and guitar has never been as good as on this album, primarily because of the players' mutual respect, subtle understandings and accuracy in creating their unique sound.

Then listen to Eventyr with Jan Garbarek. Listen how his guitar - with the typical glissandos - acts as a wonderful counterpoint to the soaring sax, and then does what few guitarists would dare to do ... adding single notes here and there, sprinkling them around.

And I think that's Abercrombie's most amazing feat, apart from his pure technical skills as a guitarist, he could play with musicians as diverse as Lonnie Smith and Charles Lloyd, Henri Texier or Kenny Wheeler, Jan Garbarek or Joe Lovano, he still made it work, fitting perfectly within the idiom of the leader, and without relinquishing his own style and approach to the instrument and to his own sound.

His own music as a leader moved more into mainstream modern jazz, carefully crafted and balanced pieces, often in combination with his favorite musicians such as DeJohnette, Adam Nusbaum, Marc Copland, Drew Gress, Joey Barron. His music was no longer mine, in the sense that it was too controlled, too contained, but I guess that this was exactly what he was looking for: superb musicianship, tight compositions, and joyful interplay with a wonderful focus on the music itself, putting his own instrument fully in the service of the band.

Despite the fact that I somehow lost track of his recordings over the year - I guess my tastes changed moving away from the mainstream and so did his, moving more into the mainstream, he made a great impression on me as a musician, as composer and as the member of so many bands.

Without a doubt he changed the role of the guitar in modern jazz. He was a true innovator and an artist with a wonderful empathy for the band members and listeners alike. And his precision on the instrument is unparalleled.

Our feelings are with his family and friends.

John Abercrombie, Deer Head Inn, July 2016
By Paul

The news that John Abercrombie had passed away yesterday came as real surprise. My mind went to a night approximately a year ago at the Deer Head Inn in Pennsylvania where Abercrombie was playing with an ad-hoc quartet. I recall sitting out on the porch before the show and his group was gathered around a table pouring over the New York Jazz Record commenting on the passing of trumpeter Paul Smoker. Abercrombie commented on how they had met years ago but that Smoker was always more out with his music. 

The snippet of overheard conversation stuck with me as a friend and I sat at the inn's stately wooden bar and took in the effortless fluidity pouring from Abercombie's small headless guitar. He was such a lyrical and melodic player and his fire was of the blue flame variety - burning hot at its core, unconcerned with spectacle. There was always a moment or two on his later recordings where this heat built to searing flame, but most of the time, it just burned consistently, flickering between warm and cool, perfectly situated for his long association with ECM. 

My interest in Abercrombie's work started with the album he made with John Scofield, Solar, but was quickly was followed by his early fusion statement Timeless, then his work with Ralph Towner, the excellent fusion/world music of the group 'Gateway' with Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, and his sharp organ trio work with organist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum. His discography is rather lengthy and from the early Friends recording from the WKCR studies at Columbia University to his last date on ECM with Up and Coming, along with an impressive listing as a sideman on dozens of albums, he leaves a robust and influential body of work. 

While, by his own admission on that warm night in Water Gap, PA, he wasn't an out player, but his music transcended such fuzzy boundaries as his gentle yin-yang and laser precise use of distortion never failed to excite. Elements of free playing, modern jazz, and the timeless standards co-existed peacefully in John Abercrombie's music. 

Rest In Peace, John, thank you for the wonderful music, you will be missed. 

Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM, 2017) ****½

By Martin Schray

At the end of the 1960s the situation for the publishing and production of avant-garde jazz music was very difficult, since the major labels were still reluctant as to signing artists and support them for a longer period of time, although there seemed to be an audience for this kind of music.  At that time Manfred Eicher, a jazz bassist and up-and-coming producer in his mid-twenties, decided to found a new label, ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music). Eicher’s plan was to establish a new approach by introducing a new way of high-class recording and presenting contemporary jazz. More so, he wanted to work with young musicians who were interested in uncharted fields of improvisation.

However, ECM was not the only German label which was initiated with this special intention. The same year Eicher started ECM in Munich (1969), Free Music Production (FMP) was founded in Berlin by a collective of musicians - mainly Jost Gebers, Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald. Although these two record companies represent two separate artistic ideas and producing values in terms of their approach to make music available, there is also an inevitable intersection as to their work. While FMP’s philosophy was focused on sonic condensation and piling up sounds in the style of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, ECM’s line was more closely connected to the more open music of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and Lennie Tristano. And there’s another difference: FMP recorded many of their albums live, Eicher wanted to use modern studio equipment to develop a distinctive sound, an idea incredibly crucial.

Eicher has often been criticized for this ideology (e.g. when Peter Brötzmann said that he cut off the balls of powerful groups for his productions) but it seems to be important to keep in mind that his ideas aren’t based on artistic poshness but on the plain fact that inventive and challenging music should be presented with the best possible production standards.

Finally, let’s not forget the complex and experimental albums ECM has published during the years by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dave Holland, Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Joe Maneri, Barre Philips, Craig Taborn, and Roscoe Mitchell.

With Mitchell’s new album Bells for the South Side, Eicher combines both approaches mentioned above. It’s a live recording of an artist representing both the compact, uproarious side and the spacious, decompressed one, recorded with the best possible equipment.What is more, Bells for the South Side is the result of a performance premiering at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition "The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to now" displaying the history and legacy of Chicago’s "Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians" (AACM). For the first time, Mitchell combines his four trios, juxtaposing and re-organizing them into larger formations, and by that, exploring and surveying not only his own music, but the musical history and legacy of both the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In two pieces the musicians use the percussion instruments of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Don Moye’s and Malachi Favors’ set-ups, Lester Bowie’s bass drum and Roscoe Mitchell’s percussion cage) - an army of gongs, bells, rattles, sirens, hand drums and more of what the Art Ensemble called little instruments, which refers to the African tradition of this music. But that’s only one side of the coin.

On the one side, pieces like 'Spatial Aspects of the Sound', 'EP7849', 'Bells from the South Side', and 'R509A Twenty B' are programmatic and typical for ECM recordings. Mitchell’s musicians analyze the essence of their musical material and its spatiality, letting the music breathe by using long notes and well-chosen breaks, they work with the reverberant museum space. There are floating moments which are reluctantly wrapped around by figures that seem to appear from out of the blue and then vanish into the depth of the museum.

However, this is not euphonic and complacent, the compositions continually change colours and textures, for example in the lyrical, yet gloomy bass guitar feature for Jaribu Shahid in 'EP7849', Hugh Ragin’s extended and shrill trumpet solo in front of a myriad of bells in the title track or Mitchell's and Fei’s sharp-edged shouts in 'R509A Twenty B'.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of music based on the layering of sounds, compact and immensely tight. Music that displays Mitchell’s roots in the 1960s, wild and rampant. Especially the trio with Fei and Winant on 'Six Gongs and two Woodblocks' and the one with Taborn and Baku in 'Dancing in a Canyon' are rough rides on free jazz waves. The most prominent example is 'Red Moon in the Sky', the last but one track, a 17-minute cacophonous orgy including all twelve musicians, that’s built up slowly just to transcend the emotional spectrum displayed up to that moment.

The performance is concluded with 'Odwalla', the Mitchell-composed 1973 theme song of the Art Ensemble, the last reference to the history of Mitchell, the Art Ensemble and AACM.

Bells for the South Side is celebration and reinterpretation of Roscoe Mitchell’s work, but it is not self-satisfied, it’s ambitious and innovative, created by a then 75-year-old man (the album was recorded in September 2015), who’s still full of energy and looking ahead. It’s two hours of cutting edge avant-garde, finely conceived, mature and honed, cut to the chase. One of the best releases of 2017 so far.

The musicians:

  • Roscoe Mitchell - sopranino, soprano, alto and bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder, percussion
  • James Fei - sopranino and alto saxophones, contra-alto clarinet, electronics
  • Hugh Ragin - trumpet, piccolo trumpet
  • Tyshawn Sorey - trombone, piano, drums, percussion
  • Craig Taborn - piano, organ, electronics
  • Jaribu Shahid - double bass, bass guitar, percussion
  • Tani Tabbal - drums, percussion
  • Kikanju Baku - drums, percussion
  • William Winant - percussion, tubular bells, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, roto toms, cymbals, bass drum, woodblocks, timpani

Watch “Spatial Aspects of the Sound“ here:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Vlady Bystrov, Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky - Annäherungen (Fancymusic, 2016) ****

The duo setting in jazz and improvised music has a long tradition, and is often especially valuable for the possibilities it offers – an intimate dialogue where ideas can be easily traded, where any digression has the power to completely reconfigure the musical development on the spot. Of all the possible instrumental combinations, however, the pairing of trumpet and woodwinds is one of the rarest. Maybe is too risky, not only for the obvious absence of a strong harmonic dimension, but also because in less capable hands it tends to set on predictable, and boring, patterns – usually with the musicians alternating as rhythmic accompanists to each other’s melodic excursions.

Bystrov and Guyvoronsky are skilled improvisers, veterans of Russia’s new jazz scene, but they also have strong connections to classical music, evident in the chamber-like approach to their improvisations. The combination of technical facility and improvisational creativity allows them to take on the duo setting with a relaxed attitude, calibrating their interventions in an effective dialogue enriched by unusual melodic sensibilities and a strong sense of structure. Annäherungen consists of a single track, roughly fifty minutes in length, organized in different sections that start with simple musical gestures, gradually increasing in complexity, finally reaching a musical climax that promptly leaves space to the next development. This dynamic elasticity, where idiomatic concreteness and unorthodox techniques are equally important, creates an engaging listening experience. All the usual suspects are still present – the exchange of melodic ideas, the harmonic framings, the rhythmic support – but everything is approached with the right balance of looseness and restraint, letting the music evolve in spontaneous configurations, where half-valve notes on the trumpet leave space to imposing staccato declamations, where the dark textures of the alto clarinet naturally flow into the lyrical flourishes of the alto sax.

Annäherungen is a fresh take on a seldom explored group setting, where the language of jazz is just the starting point for a charming, unpredictable musical encounter, unfolding before our ears with deceptive simplicity.

Vlady Bystrov: alto and soprano saxophone, alto clarinet.
Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky: trumpet, whistle


Monday, August 21, 2017

Nate Wooley - knknighgh (Clean Feed, 2017) ****1/2

By Daniel Böker

It starts with a bang. Six seconds. Then silence for a second or two. Then the next bang. And so on, for the first minute. Before I started writing this review, I had several different ideas on how to approach it. First there is the title "knknighgh (minimal poetry for Aram Saroyan)". Aram Saroyan is a poet and writer who is well known for his minimal and concrete poetic work. The title knknighgh (pronounced knife) is a reference to some of his short poems, which I learned from an article about the poet, since I had never before heard of him. He plays with the spelling of words, and some poems are comprised of only one word with a changed spelling: "laughgh."

Nate Wooley dedicates his new album to this poet and his approach to poetry. So what are the connections? Can I hear them? Is the connection within the way the four musicians use their instruments in slightly “incorrect“ ways, like Saroyan does with the letters in his words? The surprises he creates through his unusual manner? (And yes there are a lot of surprising moments created in the music). This answer would work with me but it does not sufficiently reflect the album.

The second approach was on the relationship between composition and improvisation. That's a field I'm rather curious about because I still find it hard to grasp. Today I read an article in the German weekly "Die Zeit" about Jazz in Germany. The author Ulrich Stock visited a concert at the Loft in Cologne by Pablo Held, and as he watched them play, they unfolded long music sheets and he stated: "So there are compositions." (As I would translate it.)

I noticed a link between the two approaches as I read the information about “knknighgh“ on Clean Feed's homepage. I quote a few sentences, for otherwise I would just rewrite them:

"The band uses short composed materials written by Wooley and those fragmented materials are looped and pushed to the limit, triggered by any of the players in whatever order chosen in the moment. At first, the procedure seems to adapt some of the repetitive strategies of minimal music, and yet again, it doesn’t sound like minimalism, and neither it is a crossover between free jazz and minimal music."

The question is can you hear and recognize it  while listening to the record? I honestly don't know. I think I realize patterns and composed parts in the music but that might be because I read about it. Perhaps a more trained ear would find it a lot easer to point them out. But then again, maybe the whole thing isn't about finding composed or improvised parts. It's about listening to the sound that was created on the way the musicians took. Which leads me to my third approach.

Listening to the album as it is.

Nate Wooley on trumpet, Chris Pitsikos an alto sax, Brandon Lopez on bass and Dre Hocevar on drums play 5 pieces, all named knknighgh, numbers 3,4,6,7 and 8.

(What brings me back to my second approach for a sentence or two: Is there a number 1? A number 2 or 5? Didn't they like the result? Or are the numbers also dedications to Aram Saroyan?)

So the first track 'knknighgh 3' starts with a bang and then silence and back again. I listened to the album in different situations and it made different impressions every time. I couldn't really get a hold of the music until I sat down with nothing but the music. And then it took me (almost by surprise).

The way I interacted with this album depended very much on the setting I was in. While I was doing something else like reading (about Aram Saroyan for example) or taking notes, I skipped in and out of the music. Though I still liked it I felt a little lost these times. But listening to it with open ears and nothing else on my mind, it really got me. Maybe it is all about short pieces like the poems of Saroyan. Maybe it is all about the relationship between composition and improvisation.

For me it is all about my listening habit and about commmunication. It felt as if I was witnessing an intimate conversation.

A few minutes into 'knknighgh 3' something like a first solo by Chris Pitsikos begins, out of which a dialogue or rather a quatrologue emerges. You can hear the four individuals listening to each other, reacting and opening the space for one another. Then come silence and very quiet and intimate parts, and the communication especially between Pitsikos and Wooley shape the first track. This is not said to diminish the part of Lopez or Hocevar. But the sound of Wooley and Pitsikos in the first track was it that brought the thoughts of dialogue to mind. In these interactions, I hear sequences I think were part of the composing work that Wooley did before the recording began, but one way or the other, it wouldn't change my joy while listening. It's an amazing work of music.

'Knknighgh 4' widenes the range of conversations. There is more of Lopez and Hocevar in the interaction. And still it all sounds very lyrical and intimate (another connection to Saroyan maybe. To poetry). 'Knknighgh 6' intensifies the communication. There is a long and strong beginning with all four voices taking part at the same time. But without ever stopping to listen to another. More than in the first two tracks, you hear Hocevar using his snare, tom, and bass drum.

With all respect to the differences between the five pieces, it is a very lyrical and intimate collection of music. I recommend to listen to it in whole. You will experience a beautiful set of improvised and composed music, dedicated to and inspired by the poetry of Aram Saroyan. Regardless if you pick out all of the composed parts or some of it or none at all, or if know and like the poetry of Aram Saroyan or not, this album is a beautiful piece of art that you should listen to carefully, maybe with your earphones on and a glass of wine at your side.

It's great.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Matt Piet Deep Dive (Day 2 of 2)

By Philip Coombs

Part Four - The Swim in New Waters

Matt Piet and Paul Giallorenzo - Wood, Wire and Steel 2017

Matt himself describes this record as “pianistic ear candy” for those who care to listen. I care to listen and it is just like candy.

This album forced me to really sit and think about what goes through a musician’s mind when he sits down at a piano and looks across the stage to see only one other person sitting down at a piano. Obviously there was something that brought them together such as a mutual respect or an insane challenge. So as the first notes are struck and the musician’s put their heads down, what are they hearing?

Is it an extension of their fingers, or their ideas that are one step ahead of what we can hear?
Wood, Wire and Steel is split into three parts with titles chosen to emphasize the fact that there are only 2 voices here. (1+1, Two, and Too) The first track is a feeling out process and the title kind of alludes to that 1+1, still individuals playing together. This all changes in a hurry on the follow-up track, Two.

This is an example of two musicians getting so comfortable with each other that it becomes impossible to tell them apart. Are you finishing your thought or are you finishing mine? Did I just play what you thought or are you reading my mind? As Matt alluded to in the Bandcamp notes for this recording, it has a lot to do with instinct which is demonstrated on the closer Too. It can sometimes get a little overwhelming when 2 great players hammer idea after idea at you so the last track is really refreshing as the tempo slows to a pace where there is nowhere to hide. This results in pure beauty and a tangible respect for each other and the instrument.

Part Five-  Tim Daisy and the March to the Future. 

Matt Piet & Tim Daisy- strike one; strike too (s/r, 2017)

So after a week of listening almost exclusively to Matt Piet, I was looking forward to listening to this one as Tim Daisy, one of my favourite percussionists gets tom play with Piet one on one. So, what happens when the piano gets played hard and heavy like a drum with Daisy sitting next to you? The result? Well, you are not bored, that’s for sure. Piet opens the lid and with the inside and outside of the piano top work with, he develops a new language for himself which in turn becomes a different type of agitator for Daisy. As you would imagine, not a problem for him.

Daisy has been working on a new language for a while now himself and some of that makes an appearance here. Not that he needed any help as his formidable expressive language was powerful enough, radios and loops and other creative uses for his kit add plenty of spice to this record.

At the 12 and a half minute mark of the opener, laissez-faire, the roles are reversed. Piet supplies the percussive elements to the narrative as Daisy melodically makes his way around his set up.
Track 2, the empathy and the entropy, starts with the least amount possible. In a good way. Its a slow build. Then out of nowhere, Piet comes at you with a killer passage followed by another killer passage. This get Daisy really going and the rest of the track is just magic.

Part Six -  Matt goes to Amsterdam and, you know, makes a great record.

Matt Piet, Raoul Van Der Weide, Frank Rosaly - Out of Step (s/r, 2017)

You can tell from the opening notes that there is a new world vision happening here. Van Der Weide is a monster and if there is anyone who can match that intense beginning, its Frank Rosaly. Its like when you stick your face out the window of a fast car and you realize that it is more difficult to breathe than you thought. Rosalyn and Weide hit the groove halfway into Step to the Music giving Piet a chance to carve out a few frequencies of his own.

The 25 minute track, However Measured or Far Away, allowed me some time to think about why a like this music so much. I think its about the discovery. I’ve joked about how I am saving classical music until I get a little older so I will have something to look forward to. Looks like I may have to be pretty old if I keep finding gems like Matt Piet. And it just goes to show, if it wasn’t for my history with Tim Daisy, I wouldn’t have found Matt Piet, and you can see where that got me. Now, i can say, if it wasn’t for Matt Piet, I wouldn’t have found Raoul Van Der Weide, who just took me head first out of my contemplation by trying to rip the strings off the bass. First he treats his bow like a light sabre and now you can hear the wood from his bass cry.  Rosaly rolls in the thunder and the storm continues.

The music here is now music. It resonates, it sings, its enjoyable, its complex and with Piet getting better with every release, the future is, well, nobody knows, because it will be created in the present on a stage with a man sitting behind a piano looking up and seeing other musicians and wondering, so, what are we going to do next???

Learn more here:

See Day 1 of the Matt Piet Deep Dive.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Matt Piet Deep Dive (Day 1 of 2)

By Philip Coombs

Part One - Out of the studio and into the spotlight

Chicago born pianist Matt Piet has been on my mind a bit lately. Ever since I reviewed the record Hit the Ground Running that he did with Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy, Piet has reinforced the wonderment of discovering something new and forcing you to take the time to go back and find as many records as you can.

Piet studied piano at a young age and was classically proficient before too long. His travels to Berkley opened his ears to improvised music and it was there that he decided to move back to Chicago to pursue it head on. He spent many days by himself locked away in a studio tuning his ear and putting the touches on what would become the style that inspired me to delve deep into the Matt Piet variations. If you want to go back even further, some of these solo piano improvisations can be found on his record silent moves, unseen.

The opening shot has been fired. Citing Paul Bley’s Footloose! as the inspirational jumping off point to how he wanted his debut musical statement to feel, Piet releases Of Sound Mind.


Matt Piet Trio- Of Sound Mind (Amalgam, 2016)

He wanted to utilize Albert Widman on bass and Julian Kirshner (Drums who you will see a lot more of later) as they were the ones he trusted to give a very important recording the best possible chance to match his vision.

Matt Piet - Piano
Albert Wildeman - Bass
Julian Kirshner - Drums

The final product is a success. It bounces between nods to the players who influenced him and to wholly original ideas that are fully realized; rare for a debut trio band leader. As much as his chosen rhythm compliment his style, they are just as important in their antagonistic role. On 'Mood Swing' for example, Kirshner swings the hell out of the kit and Wildeman jumps in right alongside luring Piet in to swing with them only to give him just enough rope before loosening the screws and throwing daggers for him to get around.

This sits as an amazing fully improvised debut which may as well be his calling card for the records to come but it does require multiple listens as layers upon layers will present themselves.


Part Two - Matt Piet invites two Chicago heavyweights to record an album and in true united Chicago fashion, they said yes. 

Dave Rempis, Matt Piet, Tim Daisy - Cure for the Quotidian (Amalgam, 2016)

In my estimation, this would be the equivalent of me asking Ali to hit me on the chin a few times just to see if I have any staying power in the ring.

Not only is Piet up to the task, he contributes in such a powerful way that this trio is slowly becoming one of my top musical moments of the year. Lets face it, Rempis and Daisy are going to be great. They have a rich recorded history that has documented their progression into true masters of their instruments. They know by now what the other is thinking. The true magic here is Piet who steps in a spars with both of them. It is also fun to hear a piano get between Rempis and Daisy. The opening track, Red Glare, is a 37 minute burner where they feel each other out, quickly realize the strength and power of what each of them bring to the table and then spend the rest of the track just going for it. No Jazz, is time to experiment with extended technique, and as the shortest track creeps into the finale, Cerebral Pulse in Hi-Fi, you can feel something brewing and by the 2 minute you start to get a small taste of what it is. Daisy takes the edge off by switching to mallets and Piet plays around with repetitive phrases, while Rempis blasts off into the either.  As the track approached the conclusion, and you realize that you are drained, you think to yourself that Matt Piet has made another powerful statement. Now he knows what can be, and how to get it.

Part Three - The New Matt Piet Trio is born

Matt Piet Trio - Live at Constellation 2016
Matt Piet Trio - At the Hungry Brain 2017
Matt Piet Trio - Live at Elastic Arts 2017

And here he gets it. Piet brings drummer Julian Kirshner back into the mix and adds bassist Charlie Kirchen to the roster for these three live gigs. To be honest, I have not enjoyed a piano as much as this since I was a kid and I stumbled across the Chick Corea Akoustic Band. I had a part time job working in a bookstore one summer and I could play whatever music I wanted. I had the cassette and whenever I opened the store and got past the security code, that tape went in the player.  Understandably, their approach to the piano trio is very different, but that feeling of being in the presence of something special is still the same. 

Matt Piet has so much to say and this becomes the perfect vehicle for it. 

In a new jazz world of huge orchestras and electronic experimentation, Piet manages to carve out three amazing records full of fresh ideas. A new message in an old medium. Everywhere throughout these records you can hear the influences from the players he studied like Misha Mengleberg, Crain Taborn and Cecil Taylor, but when he ditches the past and allows his muscle memory control the proceedings, his classical flares and acute improv senses take over and the real magic happens. There is an obvious progression both in execution and flow of ideas from Of Sound Mind to here. It really is everything you could want in a forward thinking trio.

Live at the Constellation begins with the fitting song title 1. The statement. It is full of arcs and quieter moments where the three players demonstrate their abilities to listen and talk. The record expands on moments that cook and when a heavy hand is needed to pound out a repetitious phrase, it appears. Real attention grabbing work. 

At the Hungry Brain a more mature still version appears. It starts with a bass and drum line and before Piet attacks it with precision ivory strikes, you are already a part of this exciting world. The rhythm section is a little more prevalent on this one as they are given a little more space to stretch their ideas.

As if we have gone full circle, Live at Electric Arts begins with a track called 1. This record delves back into the long form as the group who are full of gas, explode out of the gate with speed and nimble fingers but soon changes gears with a bowed bass and a very expressive piano narrative. Three very solid records to establish this trio as a new force.

Learn more here:

See Day 2 of the Matt Piet Deep Dive

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ryoko Akama - places and pages (Another Timbre, 2017) ****

By Connor Kurtz

Rating or reviewing conceptual music raises a difficult question: and that is, what am I really rating here? Should I ignore all conceptual context and rate the music on its own, in terms of how it affects me as a listener, or should I think of the concept and score and how it intrigues and inspires me? I'm brought to Alvin Lucier's 1981 conceptual classic I Am Sitting in a Room, which consists of nothing more than Lucier playing back a voice recording into a room, recording it, and repeating until nothing more than the natural resonance of the room is heard. What interests me most, something that Lucier mentioned in his book, is that he decided to use text of him describing the experiment, rather than a poem as initially planned – this was so that the listener would gather no artistic power from his words and would simply focus on the concept. What is left is a wonderful concept resulting in a slightly boring album which I'll likely never revisit – and this seems to have been Lucier's intention. Now the quandary – how do I rate an album like that?

places and pages is a massive work of contemporary conceptual music, reaching nearly 3 hours over 50 tracks. [Only 45 of the tracks could fit on the 2 CDs, so the remaining 5 are made available for free download here: – for those of you who would like to view these as 5 sample pieces, let me remind you that there was a reason that these were the ones left off of the album…] Many potential listeners may be deterred by this, I'll admit that I nearly skipped this one myself, but please hear my argument before you close the tab. places and pages was initiated by composer Ryoko Akama and Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear, who are both members of the wonderful ensemble which I will get to soon. Akama explains the concept underlying the composition as follows: "a score that would concern location, situation, time and environment in terms of performance, and that somehow would erase a boundary between 'performance' and 'installation'." [Source:] The score takes the form of 50 pages in a notebook, each with their own brief text score which is equal parts simple, cryptic and concise.

When I listen to avant-garde music, I typically prefer longer tracks – I like to submerge into a soundworld, and stay for a prolonged period of time. places and pages contains fifty tracks, ranging from a few seconds to 9 minutes, so this becomes a much more difficult listen than other similarly long releases. Each track requires heavy concentration; otherwise you may miss what makes them so enjoyable. When I first heard the album, I planned on doing some reading while listening, but to my surprise I was constantly distracted from my book and looking at the tracklist. My advice for listeners is to take this in in several sittings. The tracks all exist as their own independent statements, and there's little to be gained from hearing them in a row.

places and pages is performed by a wonderful international ensemble, which includes the composer, Cristián Alvear and four members of the Swiss INSUB. music collective. The tracks use many different combinations of performers, creating a vast range in the possibilities for realization of the score. All 50 tracks are really quite diverse, so I've decided that the best way to detail this music would be to take the microscope to just a few tracks – those being the five which I've seen the scores of.



'none to six'"

#6 was realized by Ryoko Akama, Cyril Bondi and Christan Müller, and is 1:13. The piece was performed by the trio all standing around a bass drum, which they create a simple rhythm on with their hands (a picture is included below). They seem to all try to stick to the same rhythm, but it's very sloppy – and that slop is what I like about this piece. Certain hands strike the drum milliseconds after others, so rather than creating a bang-bang-bang rhythm, it sounds more like petite bang clusters in sequence. It sounds like a malfunctioning delay effect; it's broken in a very human way.


"two leading objects and

eight following objects"

#28 was realized by Ryoko Akama, Cristián Alvear and d'incise, and is 8:23. This piece was performed on droning instruments, which I assume to be Akama on an electronic instrument and Alvear and d'incise on bowed percussion instruments (there may be a melodica in there somewhere). The three drones always move together, creating sparse pulses where one introduces and the other two follow. The three drones are all distinctive enough that no natural harmonies are created, so it feels more like being serenaded by three sources at once (as these drones are quite beautiful).The piece is one of the album's longest cuts, and the longest of which I'll discuss, and it seems to be the perfect length – longer would certainly become tedious, as it is such a simple idea, but it is nearly awe-inspiring, and even relaxing, at its current length.


"thirty-nine (systems) (sticks)"

#39 was realized by Cyril Bondi, and is 0:53. This piece is a very brief performance on snare drum, with two drumsticks. Bondi plays single notes, short sequences and tiny rolls. What this piece makes me think of more than anything else is the uniqueness of the snare drum. There are few instruments with a more succinct sound than a snare drum; the instrument's decay is nearly immediate, but the voice is rich and complex. All sound, and all evidence, of the instrument fades in an instant, so even when a couple of seconds are left between sounds it feels like ages. The piece feels like a lowercase composition on an incredibly small scale.




#44 was realized by Stefan Thut, and is 1:38. This piece is an outdoor field recording, where
deceptively little is happening. It feels like any day in the city, but it's texturally rich and full of humanity and personality. We hear birds, a garbage truck filling up, conversations in the distance and people walking. It's no surprise that this piece was a realization from one of the Swiss performers, as the album was recorded in Switzerland and this feels like a document expressing love of one's home.


"fifty overlaps"

#50 was realized by Ryoko Akama and d'incise, and is 6:24. This piece is an electronic duo, where the two performers play sine tones and noises which overlap over each other to create complex harmonies. The piece is surprisingly fast moving, making it sound much shorter than its relatively long runtime. It's hard to say what's more surprising: the size of the arsenal of sounds, or the high pace and absence of silence. In seconds the piece will move from comforting to alarming, and it's all surprisingly shocking and exciting.

Each of the album's tracks could be looked at and enjoyed on their own. What we're left with is 50 bite-sized scores, concepts and realizations, each one thoroughly enjoyable, and each one carrying a distinct message. Listening to the entire album feels more like a slideshow than an individual film: several wonderful photographs which are held together quite arbitrarily. The individual power of the tracks is likely the album's best quality, but its inability to exist as a single artistic statement, as all albums should, holds it back from being a truly great album.

The album does have its own over-arching conceptual questions though, what is the role of the composer in contemporary music, and what is the role of the performer? The composer gives little more than instructions, and I'm often praising the performers for their intuition, rather than their ability to follow instructions. However, it is the scores and the work of the composer which inspired these realizations – they would not exist without the composer. This brings me back to my initial question: am I rating the concept, or the outcome? The album gives no answers, but it provides me the tools to enjoy both simultaneously.

places and pages is an album that requires patience and attention, containing at least 50 complex concepts which will surely take multiple listens to absorb and understand. What results from this is a wonderful multifaceted release, which gifts something new to be heard on each consecutive listen. The fifty pieces all carry their own intrigues, all present their own sound phenomena and all influence in distinctive ways, but when the listener looks at the bigger picture they will find even bigger questions. It's easy to look at Ryoko Akama as a child of the Japanese Onkyo movement and the international Wandelweiser movement but, places and pages confirms her as a unique creative being.