Click here to [close]

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Bad Luck - Four (Origin Records, 2018) *****



As Bad Luck, Neil Welch (tenor saxophone & live electronics) and Chris Icasiano (drums) have played roughly 60 shows a year for over 10 years. Their latest CD out on Origin Records, Four, displays the mature, complex seamlessness which comes from two players who know what the other is about.  Welch’s dexterous chops atop his use of drone and chorus pedals (plus studio work by Randal Dunn) combine with Icasiano’s tom-heavy drumming to produce an exhilarating sonic experience. Welch’s tone moves from gorgeous to scolding to Pharoah Sanders cries. Icasiano can do it all with his drum kit: bombast, light touches, dense unrelenting low patterns, sermons of light and darkness.  The six compositions here are sometimes smooth, sometimes angular, sometimes a cross between tight metal and prog rock; at other times they invoke the patient, caressing ethereality of Sigur Rós, with Welch’s soaring tenor playing the role of the untranslatable, invented language.

Welch and Icasiano are and have been fixtures in the Seattle improvised music scene for a decade. In addition to being among the 6 or so founders of the Racer Sessions (Seattle’s free jazz/creative music weekly jam, now nearing its tenth year), they have separately and together performed in 1000s of shows in various settings— from standards gigs to modern creative dance (using accelerometers to manipulate sound) to ragas with master sitar players, to an opera house performance of Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah” (with the master himself in attendance). It is lovely for them to put out such an ambitious and successful record.

Sonically, Four feels like a road-trip through the badlands: driving, zoning out to gorgeous vistas, striated canyons, breathing the occasional sulfur rising from prehistoric ponds, the otherworldliness of endless horizon, at night just the dark, stars, the highway markers, and, now and again, headlights coming full-on. Some of the tunes operate at three levels: Icasiano’s rolling toms create a roiling current; Welch establishes one or two shifting trenches of long notes on his pedal board, and then soars over atop on his gorgeous tenor. Another approach they use is to play in tight, synchronized cell structures, like paired modern dancers working the mat in an esoteric, physical vocabulary. Welch and Icasiano credit Randal Dunn, who recorded, mixed and co-produced the record, as chief sonic sculptor in the studio.

Track 1 (“Four”) encapsulates the whole record: crying sax over energy drum-fills over slow-shifting choral effects. “Four” opens with tom beats, and sax squeals, and then shifting blocks of chorus pedal mark out the tune’s sonic boundaries.  Some Pharoah Sanders plaintiff cries, some Sigur Rós cloudscapes.  Now relax, strip it down to the shifting chordal blocks under ride cymbal sheen; breathe. Very filmic. The CD’s back cover depicts a cold stream through snowy barrens, leading to low bluffs in the distance.  This tune could easily be the soundtrack on a frigid, upward trek: wind brisk in your face, heat rising under your jacket, the dizzy you experience when you close your eyes after exertion. There’s some exhilaration and some mystery fear. The sax returns and the drums gets busier.  Then a fade-out. It works with headphones.

Track 2, “R.B.G.,” (yes, named for the esteemed Supreme Court Justice) starts with an angry twitch, softens slightly, briefly, and flows into rolling, frenetic toms and multiphonic sax cries.  It becomes a study in intensity, and then a break until the next cell starts: a driving into a storm motif, until Welch really lets loose: quick tonguing, crying, lifting us into stratosphere, swept into multi-colored clouds without an airplane. Around 4:30 the backdrop peels away and they launch into something like prog rock, where the sax/drums play patterned hits in unison. They reach a silent precipice, and Icasiano unexpectedly goes into a Caribbean dance beat, over which Welch wails, a menacing held note rising in back. If we are still thinking R.B.G, we have here Justice Ginsberg dancing and ruefully laughing at what fate has thrown at her: so many steps forward, so many steps back. At some point they switch into pure energy mode, continuous fills making for a rhythmic tapestry, Welch in the upper range singing with banshee determination and possession.

Track 3, “Index,” is the shortest cut at 6 and 1/4 minutes. The backgrounding techniques are made the foreground.  As mood music, imagine a mouse moving through a labyrinth slowly losing the certainty of its location.  It opens with brushes on snare and that undergrowth of shifting sound blocks. Enter some softly held sax dissonant harmonics, woven with their electrified echoes and modulations.  It is a gentle piece, with just enough edge to keep the experience real.  Track 4, “Capital,” opens with some rising toms that turn into rapid, spasmodic sax notes in unison with rim-shots, snare, and cymbal hits.  Again the anxiety of losing one’s way in a maze, anxious to find the thread of escape.  When the electronics and the pacing tambourine kick in (at 3:35), something soothing happens in the multiphonics which take us to safety.  The timbre of the sax really comes through on this piece.

Track 5, “Bends,” grows into what is perhaps the most terrifying song in the collection: intense wails and drumming that is a drubbing, patiently upping the ante over a long-form electronic, undulating drone background.  Around ten minutes in, a myriad of bells enter as the intensity loosens, and we are held aloft in an elegant sound garden of resonant objects. Track 6 (“Big Sky”) opens calmly, with large gestures, timpani, and cymbal swells.  It shifts to a kind of rocking, thumping, and foregrounds some modulated sax notes, some buried electronic blips and bleeps. Then begins the low thunder out a-ways yonder in them dark clouds.  Icasiano’s seething tom rolls and cymbal swells produce an atmosphere of foreboding, Welch provides the sheet lightning behind the storm, and the whole leads upward to an extended drum roll (a la Godspeed You! Black Emperor), and then Welch’s tenor reaches for the human sublime.

Bad Luck treads its own path. If last century, Coltrane and Ali’s Interstellar Space (recorded in1967) set the table for the sax/drums duo, Bad Luck leaves behind the question of handing off the torch, and draws instead on so many other traditions all at once. This music is not jazz, it is not rock or metal, it is not ambient, it is not techno. Its admixture of electronics and acoustic elements, its cinematic, creative use of time and song form amounts to a neo-expressionism for the new century.




Friday, October 19, 2018

BROM - Sunstroke (Trost, 2018) ****


The Russian. Moscow-based group BROM - БРОМ - was founded in 2008 but until recently has been a well-kept secret, unknown to the most of the world. BROM’s eight album, Sunstroke, is the first one to be released internationally and may do justice to this group thanks to the enthusiastic endorsement of Swedish sax titan Mats Gustafsson.

BROM - bass player Dmitry Lapshin, sax player Anton Ponomarev, drummer , Yaroslav Kurilo and new member, electronics player Felix Mikensky - began to act as an anti-statements to the post-rock hype, but later pushed heavily into crossing over free-improv, noise rock and free jazz. Gustafsson asks in his liner notes how such a band can make “something personal within the given frames? When so much already has been done?”. His typical answer: “Break the frames? Love the frames? Hate the frames? Dismantle the frames? Just fuck the frames? Use the frames?”

And as Gustafsson advices, BROM uses and fucks all given frames, straight in-your-face, especially the seminal frames of Gustafsson’s own The Thing, Peter Brötzmann’s Last Exit and John Zorn’s Naked City (and Gustafsson adds many more sources of influence, from Led Zeppelin to Radian). BROM sounds at times as sharing the same gene pool with these groundbreaking musicians, but insisting to inject their proud gene mutation. The influence is so strong that you can recognize the phrasing of Gustafsson in Ponomarev playing or the manic bass attacks of The Thing’s Ingebrigt Håker Flaten in Lapshin licks. But BROM edits this kind of high-velocity, intense legacy into its own personal vocabulary and syntax. Still, as Gustafsson preaches, channeling and transforming this rich legacy into a its own defying call to fight the everlasting stupidities of the world.

BROM's sonic statement is clear and loud from the very first second of the opening piece “Plunge into an ice hole”. Brutal, dense and super-intense kick ass attacks that reach into unbearable stratospheres and then pushes even more, suddenly sneaks to a breezy cinematic detour before resuming the manic grind. “Tuna” and the title-piece sound as twisting the mean rhythmic onslaughts of Italian Zu with Naked City post-modern sonic pastiche into a supersonic cacophony. Mikensky’s electronics on “Queue” add a subversive, irritating layer to Ponomarev's powerful sax theme. “Urtica” suggests BROM in a head-on collision with The Thing, including the open flirt with  a dramatic metal narrative. “Hematoma” offers BROM in its most free-improvised version, eager to experience any adventure and take all risks but also to bare its gentle side. The last “Mingus 30°C” actually boils with an infectious theme, repeated over and over while borrowing from the light, harmolodic pulse of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, the shiny elegance of Naked City and the massive nuclear reservoirs of The Thing.

Hard to believe that these Russian guys were stricken by the sun, but you can be sure that they were hit by something as powerful and nourishing as the sun. Seriously badass!!!, as Gustafsson says.



People Band 10-14-18. Exploratorium, Berlin.

The People Band (l-r): Paul Jolly, George Kahn, Terry Day, Mike Figgis, Charly Hart, Davey Payne.
Photo courtesy Fotoarchiv exploratorium berlin
By Paul Acquaro

Tucked away on an upper floor of a re-purposed chocolate factory in Berlin's Kreutzberg neighborhood sits the Exploratorium. Hosting workshops and concerts with a focus on improvised music, the center has provided me, so far, with two wonderful musical experiences - the first, the Schlippenbach Trio’s Winterreise tour on my first visit to the city back in 2012, and just this past week, the legendary People Band.

The People Band is a musical collective with its roots in late 1960's London. I became aware of the band via Trevor Barre’s detailed examination of the UK free music scene, and was excited for the chance to see them in the flesh.

Tonight the group's evolving line-up consisted of all original members, adding an extra boost to the anticipation. Terry Day, on drums and percussion, was physically and musically the center piece of the group. His playing both rhythmic and colorful, driving the band when the tempo picked up, and centering the group when the mood was explorative. Mike Figgis on trumpet and electric guitar provided texture and hypnotic riffs. Charlie Hart on electric bass, and in the second set, violin, was also key in providing momentum - some of the most interesting passages came when his bass work grew agitated and kinetic. On saxophone and flute, George Khan and Davey Payne flanked the group, providing excited solo moments and reacting to the goings on in the rhythm section with both musical agreement and disagreement. Paul Jolly, poised towards center left on bass clarinet, saxophones, and flute, brought other textures to the group sound and offered several powerful saxophone, and deeply resonant bass clarinet, solos.

The first set was a dramatic, tension filled, 45 minutes (or more? I didn’t really keep track), starting with Payne wandering about an eclectic array of chimes, gongs, and bells. It rose to a climatic outpouring of emotionally melodic snippets and fierce runs, and ended in a hushed whisper. The second set took on a totally different approach, also with sublime moments mixed with the infuriating (i.e. the ‘Earth Angel’ progression). Overall, it was an exciting, adventurous, and fulfilling night of the musically unexpected.

Some other exciting shows coming up at the Exploritorum include the Tiger Trio with Joëlle Léandre, Myra Melford and Nicole Mitchell on Nov 11th, and renowned bassist Barre Phillips with the Ensemble de Musique Improvisée en Résidence on December 16th. Check it out here: https://exploratorium-berlin.de/de/category/improvisationskonzerte/

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Denman Maroney, Leroy Jenkins, Rich O’Donnell - Unknown Unknowns (Live) (2018, self-released) ****½

By Keith Prosk

Maroney (“hyperpiano”), Jenkins (violin), and O’Donnell (percussion) have appeared together before on Leroy Jenkins’ Driftwood’s 2005 The Art of Improvisation, also featuring Min Xiao-Fen on pipa. Recorded in 2004, it is among Jenkins’ last recorded performances and in the midst of Maroney’s fruitful partnerships with Mark Dresser and Ned Rothenberg. Both recordings display a mastery of musical time, space, timbre, and soul but, whereas the primary draw of The Art of Improvisation’s succinct 42 minutes is the interplay of Min and Jenkins, Unknown Unknowns’ 149 minutes provides a fuller exploration of the core trio’s communicative capabilities.

Unknown Unknowns is comprised of two sets. The first, “Cooler in the Shade,” covers 85 minutes across six tracks and was recorded in 2003 as part of the New York music series of the same name. The first track provides a digest of what this group is about: Jenkins bows haunting vamps, allowing Maroney and O’Donnell to timbrally run wild, until eventually the trio converges and then they’re off, guiding each other through changes in structure and volume and space until climaxing with Jenkins sawing, with O’Donnell scraping cymbals and drum heads, with Maroney producing what sounds like a circus organ of nightmares. Jenkins’ fusion of jazz, blues, classical, and gospel is here along with the full gamut of extended techniques for violin. When O’Donnell isn’t matching the stringy timbres of Maroney and Jenkins, his playful technique reminds me of Gerry Hemingway and Gunter Sommer. And Maroney’s tonal transmogrification of the piano is on full display. The next three tracks are modular performances recalling the beginning of Cecil Taylor’s One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, with duos of Maroney/O’Donnell, Jenkins/Maroney, and Jenkins/O’Donnell, before the united trio returns for the last two tracks. The second set, “New Music Circle,” covers 64 minutes across four tracks and was recorded in 2005 as part of the St. Louis music series of the same name, of which O’Donnell was music director at the time of recording. The set demonstrates a continued exploration of the dynamics presented on both “Cooler in the Shade” and The Art of Improvisation, but the trio is more instantly reactive to each other here and able to satisfactorily express their language much more efficiently.

Each set stands alone perfectly. However, if you can spare two and a half hours, the release is not exhausting like some longer releases can be. It’s a varied journey that could be mentioned in the same breath as Jenkins’ solo, Revolutionary Ensemble, and AACM outings, or Maroney’s work with Mark Dresser, Ned Rothenberg, and Hans Tammen.

Unknown Unknowns (Live) is a digital-only release.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rempis / Piet / Daisy - Throw Tomatoes (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Last year, Dave Rempis, Matt Piet, and Tim Daisy debuted their new trio with Hit the Ground Running and Cure for the Quotidian, two excellent sessions that impressed several reviewers of this blog. Now they’re back with Throw Tomatoes, which features the group’s third and fourth shows together. Altogether, the three releases tell the story of less than a year’s worth of collaboration, improvisation, and inspiration. Beginning with Cure for the Quotidian, recorded November 9, 2016, continuing with Hit the Ground Running, January 21, 2017 (a pair of auspicious dates here in the States), and picking up with May 8 and July 2, 2017.

On “To Play Is the Thing,” recorded last May at Chicago’s Elastic Arts, Daisy opens with melodic cymbals, introducing and accompanying Piet. As we’ve discussed here numerous times, Daisy is a remarkably musical performer, with a style and approach that defies the personnel listing “drums” (just as Rempis is much more than “saxophones” and Piet beyond “piano”). Rempis enters a couple minutes in, and the three tackle a circular, pointillist interlude, with Piet employing some preparations.

It’s not just the name Matthew that brings to mind Shipp in Piet’s playing. There’s a similar depth to Piet’s approach to the piano as a complete instrument, with the full range of its keyboard and dynamics simultaneously deployed, as on his first solo section in “The Thousand Natural Shocks,” recorded at The Hungry Brain last July. Daisy is in a particularly driving mood on this date, shifting into a mellow swing at one point, before urging Rempis and Piet back into high gear. All three seem to be constantly supporting, poking, and prodding each other.

In the liner notes, Piet writes about a moment near the 20-minute mark of “To Play Is the Thing,” when he and Daisy tried to end the performance. Daisy adds some solid punctuation to Piet’s playing, but in context it does sound unfinished without Rempis. The proper ending is much weirder and more surprising, and therefore apt.

I mentioned to someone recently that Rempis has reached a new stage in his playing. Maybe it’s the modern horror show we’ve been cast in against our will, but I’d mark Perihelion as the point when something notable changed. For a saxophonist who always seemed capable of doing anything, Rempis now does absolutely everything. Throughout the album, Rempis plays with an open, fluid voice, which pairs well with Daisy’s resonant pitches and warm rhythms. And his sly references and unvarnished fury cut straight through Chicago’s thick night air.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Albert Cirera / Abdul Moimême / Alvaro Rosso - Dissection Room (Creative Sources, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Lisbon-based trio of Catalan sax player Albert Cirera, Portuguese prepared electric guitar player Abdul Moimême and Uruguayan double bass player Alvaro Rosso, also known as the AAA Trio, was established in 2015. The debut album of this trio was recorded live at the experimental space of Lisbon, O'Culto da Ajuda, on December 2017.

The title Dissection Room already suggests the approach of these fearless improvisers - a methodical exploration, deconstruction and reconstruction of various extended techniques, never surrendering to the known and the familiar. Cirera, Moimême and Rosso are seated and each on his own highly independent way investigates the uncharted, topographical organs of this free-improvised body of music. This kind of Frankenstein, mad sonic scientists approach promises an uncompromising, demanding and often otherworldly journey. But, somehow, as Stuart Broomer comments in his insightful liner notes (the notes are titled after John Dryden’s poem “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day”, the patroness of musicians), throughout the fragile and reserved interplay Cirera, Moimême and Rosso still communicate and weave a “shroud of harmonics, a transparent veil through which one another’s activities pass discreetly”.

Cirera, Moimême and Rosso use different kinds of objects to alter and expand the sonic range of their instruments. Cirera injects objects into the bells of his tenor and soprano saxes and sketches fractured, percussive patterns, He also employs extended breathing techniques that introduce electric-ethereal drones. The prepared guitar of Moimême has nothing common with an electric guitar. It becomes an imaginative sonic lab with a vulnerable and tangible resonating entity. The extended bowing techniques of Rosso dig tortured sounds, and more tortured overtones and cries from the double bass, transforming it to an instrument with a seductive, human voice. Mid-piece, around the 28-minute mark, as Broomer adds, something happens, a sudden blackout, and the interplay instantly shifts to a nervous and urgent mode. From this moment on Cirera, Moimême and Rosso begin to build the climax, injecting more bizarre components, confront wild hallucinations and struggle with frightening colors and shades of this Frankenstein body of music.

But when you dive deeper and deeper into this music, allowing your ears to grow to it, you may realize that this kind of Frankenstein music is highly addictive.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Bobby Naughton/ Leo Smith/ Perry Robinson - The Haunt (No Business, 2018) ****


By Stuart Broomer

Lithuania’s No Business label has a fine track record for bringing lost music to light, and this 1976 session led by vibraphonist Bobby Naughton is an excellent example. Naughton became interested in free jazz in the late 1960s, meeting clarinetist Perry Robinson in New York, and was active in the loft scene of the 1970s. He met trumpeter Leo Smith in Connecticut and would appear with some regularity in Smith’s ensembles of the ‘70s and ’80s. Naughton had a few credits on some other major recordings as well, including documents of Anthony Braxton’s 1978 European Creative Orchestra and his Ensemble (Victoriaville) 1988 and recordings by Roscoe Mitchell and Mario Pavone. Much of Naughton’s time, however, has been spent away from music, earning a living as a locksmith before recently returning to music. In the 1970s he released a few recordings on his own OTIC label, of which The Haunt is the first to appear on CD. Hailed on its first release, it’s a lost masterpiece by musicians of the first rank.

It’s a music based on keen familiarity. The absence of anything like a rhythm section immediately places it in the special creative lineage of the chamber jazz avant-garde, one that began with the Jimmy Giuffre Three circa 1961 with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley and developed with the Creative Construction Company of Anthony Braxton, Smith and Leroy Jenkins. The pieces heard here are all Naughton‘s compositions—pieces in which written and improvised elements flow together, whether the movement is from composed ensemble to solo or collective improvisation. Naughton’s works here are distinguished by an abstracted lyricism, a floating quality with an immediately engaging collective sonority. There’s literally nowhere to hide in this music, with each voice cast in high relief whether in solo or ensemble.

In the first moments of the opening title track, the three voices arrive alone, first Robinson with a keening wail and a wide vibrato that will link him to Sidney Bechet, albeit by way of Albert Ayler, then Smith, lower, more reflective, assembling materials, then Naughton, pianistic rather than percussive, notes ringing under the others. Some of his writing here has an Ornette Coleman feel, a vocal and rhythmic inflection that lives here even without bass and drums. On “The Weight” and “Slant” the improvisation is insistently collective, a spirit of continuous creative dialogue shaping the music. Sustained individual statements arise on the pensive “Places,” first Smith, all concentration, then Robinson tending always toward flight, even here sounding like his clarinet might come untethered and soar, but instead fading gently into a collective passage that’s literally both improvisation and theme (Robinson eventually explodes into wild squiggling lines in the upper register, but it takes an added alternate take of “Slant”). That commitment to Naughton’s music is evident everywhere here, arising again in the quietly intense, naked knitting of sounds that distinguishes “Rose Island.” By the time one reaches “Ordette,” the final track in the original LP configuration, the album’s cumulative identity is so strong that you feel the presence of the trio even in the series of unaccompanied solos, the music assuming its shape in the concentrated presence of the other musicians.

The special challenge presented by The Haunt’s spare, subtle intensity may be what has kept it so alive during its decades of neglect.



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Kirk Knuffke/ Ben Goldberg - Uncompahgre (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Uncompahgre is the sixth highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The word is from the Ute language and means "dirty water", in reference to the red spring water from the area. I don't know if this was flowing through the minds of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and clarinetist Ben Goldberg when they got together and came up with these set of improvisations, but the music that poured forth was subsequently named Saguache, Basalt, Blue River, La Junta, Ouray, Gypsum, Rocky Ford, Leadville, Granby, De Beque, Paonia, Fairplay, Carbondale, and Cortez. A little more digging and I realized both Knuffke and Goldberg come from Denver, and the titles were a homage to their origins.

What bubbled to the surface is the product of forces that operate deep in the core, culminating in a series of miniatures - 'Granby' is the longest at a smidge over 5 minutes, while the closer, 'Cortez', clocks in at less than a minute. These improvisations are succinct but whole ideas, no fluff, nothing over staying, no searching for 'the moment', it's the work of two masterful musicians engaged in an effortless dialog.

Both Goldberg and Knuffke have many duo recordings to their name - Goldberg recently released Practitioner, which was an interpretation of saxophonist Steve Lacy's Hocus Pocus. There is also the recent release with pianist Myra Melford, Dialogue, and his Clarinet and Drums duet with Hamir Atwal. Knuffke released the excellent Fierce Silence with drummer Whit Dickey in 2016, and the absorbing Moon with Karl Berger in 2015, among others. So both are well versed in the spontaneous dialog of the duo format, and the listening, reacting, and empathy it takes to make such an intimate type of recording.

The album begins with 'Saguache', following a snippet of dialog. Goldberg's lone clarinet plays a climbing etude with a bluesy ellipses at the end two times though and then Knuffke joins, responding but also taking the idea in a slightly different direction. The two are off and the musical chemistry is obvious. Keeping upbeat and bouncing rhythmically, Goldberg's theme appears over and over, though never quite the same, as Knuffke chases several ideas to their end, only to return to the core and start again. 'Basalt' follows, and it begins on the squeakier side of things, but settles into long held notes, interspersed with melodic figures. 'Blue River' begins again with Goldberg, a trilling and vibrant melodic figure, a cross between a scale and bat flying too and fro during dusk. Knuffke offers a melody that touches in that place where it's almost familiar, but at the same time, it's nothing you have ever heard before. Here, Goldberg offers choice accompaniment - spare and effective - to give the cornetist something to work from.

As previously mentioned, the camaraderie is apparent from the get-go, but as they get further into the recording, they seem to grow even more comfortable and willing to stretch out. 'Gypsum' is a laid-back affair with an evolving theme, and featuring a vulnerable sounding clarinet counter melody to the cornet's legato tones. 'Rocky Ford,' the follow up, was most likely just a marker made in post production, as the ideas seamlessly flow, until finally petering out with the clarinet. Fast-forwarding ahead almost to the end, 'Carbondale' finds the two reprising the swinging types of lines, laden with blue notes, that the recording opened with all the way back in 'Saguache'. The 54-second 'Cortez' offers a succinct closing statement from Goldberg, where he seems to play the reverse sequence of the album's opening arpeggio.

Unlike the place, Uncompahgre, the album, is a crystal clear flow of ideas and spontaneous duets, featuring the technical prowess and musical compatibility of two top notch musicians, and is sure to find a featured space in your collection.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Vergara/Jackson/Baker/Sudderberg - The Hallowed Plant (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****

By Alexander Dubovoy

When I first listened to The Hallowed Plant, I was immediately captivated. It’s a work that grabbed my attention and made immediate, intuitive sense. It seems that that the artists had a similar experience; after all, the band recorded it after having only played together twice previously. Chilean trumpeter Benjamín Vergara (trumpet) traveled to Chicago a few years ago and met Chicago-based musicians Keefe Jackson (reeds), Jim Baker (piano/synthesizer), and Phil Sudderberg (drums). It seems the connection was instant, and the music that resulted excellent.

One of the characteristics that makes this album special, and one of the reasons why it is immediately relatable, is the obvious chemistry between Vergara and Baker. The first track (“The Halloween Plant”) begins with just the two of them. They have an unusual knack for combining trumpet and saxophone, playing simultaneously and egging each other on, yet maintaining an expansive concept of space and never overpowering the other.

As Baker and Sudderberg join, it is apparent that this band really understands texture. Though the album contains great melodic content, small shifts in texture drive the organic evolution of each improvisation. Take the second track, “This moves to that” for example. It begins with a dense and jagged set of rhythmic gestures. Over time, the band unexpectedly coalesces around a tonal center and meter, and the piece becomes a sort of abstract blues. It is this sort of shift that makes me appreciate that the album is completely improvised. Each piece is formally concrete, as though intricately planned but comprehensible as such only through the privilege of hindsight.

On the final track “La Repentina Ola”, Baker switches to synthesizer, introducing a new type of spectral exploration to the album. With this change, the band reaches even higher levels of fire. Eventually, however, the music simmers down to excruciating near-silence and a satisfying end. The Hallowed Plant is a concise and well-executed musical statement. After just 30 minutes, it ends where it should, but somehow I can’t help wanting more.

 ***

Sadly, Relative Pitch Records's co-founder Mike Panico passed away tragically last week. He has left quite a legacy, and one for which we are grateful. We wish his label co-founder Kevin Reilly the best in continuing the label's support of challenging and exceptional music.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12, 2018) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Tyshawn Sorey returned to Firehouse 12 Records for his latest, Pillars, which seems an appropriate reunion given the scale. Sorey’s debut, that/not, was a “this is who I am” artistic statement that still resonates. For Pillars, Sorey assembled a mighty octet, with Stephen Haynes on trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, alto horn, and small percussion; Ben Gerstein on trombone and melodica; Todd Neufeld and Joe Morris on guitar; and Morris, Carl Testa, Mark Helias, and Zach Rowden all on double bass. Sorey adds drum set, percussion, trombone, and dungchen, a horn used predominantly by Tibetan Buddhists (though the sound is markedly different, I was reminded of the Jewish shofar, the blowing of which is both sacred and symbolic). The music displays all the hallmarks of Sorey’s composing, but in a highly focused, distilled format, which might appear counter to the size of the group. Nevertheless, there’s something clarifying about Sorey’s art that really clicks on a recording of this length.

Of course, Sorey himself is just one element of this album’s brilliance. The entire group delivers some incredible playing. Haynes, reunited with Morris, who played on the masterful Pomegranate, pairs expertly with Gerstein, who has recorded with Sorey for over a decade. The two primary horn players perform several stunning push-pull-push improvisations. These burning passages are balanced by long stretches of where one or all members of the supporting bass quartet—Morris, Testa, Helias, and Rowden—take center stage. Take the first several minutes of “Pillars II,” with its darting, aching bass lines bouncing rapidly off each other, almost Xenakis-like. And just to capture another key moment, late in “Pillars III” is a sparse, abstract Neufeld solo that harkens back to some of the excellent albums he and Sorey have recorded.

In the liner notes to his guitar trio album Koan, Sorey talked about the different ways we perceive time and sound. I was reminded, as I often am, of Masahiko Togashi, whose album Speed and Space names the other two axes upon which one could chart Sorey’s four-dimensional work. Like Sorey, Togashi also seemed to perform in multiple dimensions at once, using silence as a powerful compositional element. His late ‘70s albums, like Voice From Yonder and Story of Wind Behind Left were a couple of albums brought to mind by this octet’s excellent performance. There’s also an unmistakable connection with Bill Dixon—through label, design, and scope, Pillars is a recognizable cousin to Tapestries for Small Orchestra, but I was also reminded of Dixon’s Considerations 1 and 2. Like Dixon, Sorey’s work always feels incredibly personal, whether he is the one playing at that moment or not. And here that’s partly due to his conducting, which has grown into a wholly unique expression of Sorey’s ideas. You can hear this on Matt Mitchell’s A Pouting Grimace, and especially towards the end of “Pillars I” and the middle of “Pillars II” come sections defined more by overall movement that seem defined by Sorey’s conduction.

Okay, yes, the album is massive, thick and heady, with ideas atomically colliding. But it’s also music to simply listen to, which is one aspect of Pillars that shouldn’t be ignored. You can dive headlong or simply dip in and out of the album, let the music filter in from wherever it’s playing, leave the room and come back at a wildly new section. Much like Max Richter’s similarly beautiful Sleep, perhaps you’ll never listen to the whole album straight through. But it’s not enough just to know it’s there when you need it, you have to start by letting it in.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Chaos Echoes & Mats Gustafsson - Sustain (Utech, 2018) *****

By Stef Gijssels

Breaking boundaries, destroying preconceived notions, and then building up something new entirely is often a high risk, but when it works, as it does on this album, the result can be an absolutely unique listening experience.

The French avant-garde death metal rock band "Chaos Echoes" invited Mats Gustafsson to add his part over an improvised performance by the band, already recorded in November 2016. Gustafsson, recorded his parts with Andreas Werliin at RUD Studio in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2017, and the final result was again remixed in France. A rare approach, but not unique, and more importantly: the outcome is nothing short of spectacular.

The band are guitarist Kalevi Uibo, his drummer brother Ilmar Uibo, bassist Stefan Thanneur and second guitarist Fabien W. Furter. The 45' vinyl album or cassette offers two sides of only 12 minutes each. And that is the only disappointment of the release, that it's so short.

The first track, "Spellbound", creates a crushing, slow eery wall of sound, with hard to identify instruments, in a long shifting drone, over which Gustafsson's baritone hovers full of agony and despair. We are in a sonic environment from which there is no escape. It is harsh, subdued and intrinsically violent, intense and measured.

The second part, "Harvest Of Souls", starts with the most incredible collective power beats, hammering in all the energy of the band in slow, precise measures. It qualifies as one of the darkest pieces of music I have ever heard, ominous, apocalyptic, haunting, and built over a steady repetitive drum beat, that gives the whole sound a level of inevitability like time progressing.

Gustafsson is his magnificent self: well-paced, precise and howling and roaring like only he can do it, expressing all the deepest emotions of torment and doom and pain that he can muster. And the French band is throughout at the same high level, keeping the unique sound steady and terrifying, without losing themselves in unnecessary excursions, which gives the whole improvisation that compact and coherent sense of direction that the listener's last minute is arriving, steadily, slowly, in all its horrifying terror.

The limited editions vinyl and cassette are probably already sold out, but the digital version is available on Bandcamp.

Don't miss this!




Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Full Blast: Live at Cafe Oto 10/4/2018

FULL BLAST (PETER BRÖTZMANN / MARINO PLIAKAS / MICHAEL WERTMUELLER)
Photo from www.cafeoto.co.uk
By Sammy Stein

Full Blast are Marino Pliakas on bass, Michael Wertmueller on drums and Peter Brotzmann on reeds. Together this trio deliver something very special. From the first note, the intent is clear - devastating sound delivered either at full throttle, full volume or cut back, suddenly falling into near silence with an almost aching, searching quality.

Once the music started, it mattered not a jot the setting, the space or the place. Close your eyes for a moment and you were lost, borne away on the driving, full pelt drive that is Full Blast on top form. Drums vying with the bass, fast, powerful and together with the sax, clarinet and other reeds the magnitude, momentum and noise build and build. Walls of sound, loud, relentless, wave after wave becoming ever more textured, sonorous and then suddenly, at some sensed moment dropping down with the suddenness of an axe to leave the sax or clarinet emotively searching, climbing scales and descending, over the top of a low volume thrumming bass and tremulous drums. The points of these changes were dictated by some kind of intellectual and musical connection unfathomable yet perfectly placed, as if the listener was provided with that which their hearts secretly knew was coming and expected, now made whole, a gift from the ensemble.

Marino Pliakas is mesmeric on bass, his fingers racing up and down the frets and lower strings, creating patterns and waves of sound which flow out and engulf. Michael Wertmueller on drums is sensitive to the tiniest change in atmosphere and will change accordingly yet is also not afraid to dictate a change of tempo and noise, which the others follow. At times, the heavy rock style of both players felt like a competition in noise and speed. Then, effortlessly stealing the stage with his eyes shut tight, there is Peter Brotzmann.

Somewhere between the time the air leaves his lungs, is controlled by his lips and tongue, enters, travels through and exits his instrument, alchemy takes place. Molecules of ordinary air have been squeezed, pushed together and transformed into things of beauty and power. They can now deliver ferocious passion and emotion which enters souls, whether playing loud and fast or exquisitely gently and emotively, Peter Brotzmann delivers with a strength still as magnificent as when he started.
At times, the bass and drums turned up the volume enough to literally make the floor of the packed Cafe Oto shake, yet they too displayed a sense of perception which showed a trio in total communication on stage, something which the audience could not fail to pick up.

Peter Brotzmann has long been the epitome of a free players, someone whose heart and history is delivered in his playing. The more you know the man, the more you understand his music and the depth of feeling which comes across. At Cafe Oto, this night there was a sense of a shift, an even deeper meaning behind the emotive playing , like we were witness to a change and the whole place felt charged and crackling. Peter's delivery, however, belied anything which may be behind that feeling and the emotion he put into his delivery was simply immense. Beautiful , prosaic interludes contrasting with forceful, rapid-fingered, overblown, searching sections are felt by even the coldest of listeners and cut through to the soul.

For Peter, as he has told me before, music is about connection and tonight he did what he does best, aided and abetted by stalwart fellow musicians. The unengaged became engaged, the inanimate stung into life, the bored interested. This was the effect of Full Blast, played at full blast.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Recent Releases from Yoni Kretzmer and Assif Tsahar

By Nick Ostrum

Consider this an unofficial companion to Eyal Hareuveni’s recent review documenting some recent output from the Israeli-American free jazz nexus. That post covers a good deal of musical territory and is high recommended. Fortunately, however, it left space for me to review some new releases by two extremely talented Israeli saxophonists: Yoni Kretzmer and Assif Tsahar.

Yoni Kretzmer’s New Dilemma – Months, Weeks and Days (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ****


Months, Weeks and Days is the second recording of Kretzmer’s New Dilemma experimental chamber group. That is, with a completely new line-up. (I guess that would make this the New New Dilemma.) Consisting of an international/New York-based line-up of Frantz Loriot on viola, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, Pascal Niggenkemper on double bass, and Flin van Hemmen drums, this group has a powerful sound. According to the release’s webpage, the group explores “the intricacies differentiating and combining the written and improvised.” Fair enough. In so few words, exploring how partially compose music can take on different forms with each performance, even with the same personnel and directions, is a worthy pursuit, but it is hardly new to experimental music. What is novel, however, is how well this group pulls it off.

Months, Weeks and Days spans two discs. Each song is titled after a date, presumably the date on which it was recorded or conceived. The only exception is the final track, “Tishma,” which is Hebrew for “You will listen.” Each track seems to follow the same, basic parameters. Ebb and flow. Tension and release. The glue that holds the pieces together are the long, undulating melodies and rhythmic rumblings laid by Niggenkemper, Loriot, Hoffman, and Hemmen. Sinton and Kretzmer, meanwhile, bob in and out of the baseline harmony – a harmony that is at times sweet and unified, and at times ominously discordant - with percussive clucks, muffled trills, and more pronounced melodious phrasings.

The tracks can bleed into each other. It takes an attuned ear to decipher, for instance, “March 14th” from “June 14th” once they get rolling. Although the introductions are distinctive, each track collapses into dense, oscillating swells of sound. This similarity, however, does not imply sameness or monotony. Each track has its own feel and expression. This is where the contemporary chamber/new music inspiration really shines through. The tracks have movements of inexact repetition and incremental melodic development. The jazz appears in the more spirited sax and clarinet edifice continually reconstructed atop that protean chamber foundation. The result is deeply engaging and is much greater than the sum of its parts.



Thomas Heberer, Yoni Kretzmer, Christian Weber – Big (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ***½


This album is a marked departure from Months. It is “big” (as per the title) but not big not in the sense of length or loudness. Rather it is big in the sense of vastness, of the balance of quiet and sound, of concepts, of alternating energy and restraint. The first stand-out track is “Münchhausen Trilemma,” a piece that begins with punctuated clucks, squeaks, and plucks, but evolves into a disorienting series of rapid swings from calming extended passages to buzzes, quiet breath, and frantic screams. The extreme upper and lower registers are often present, even when just ominously skulking in the background. The piece then ends in a lamentation imbued with either peace or resignation. “The Sky Above” serves as a counterpoint to the cacophony and fluctuations of “Münchhausen.” It begins with contemplative drones that seem to mimic the slow, serene passage of clouds overhead. Not much happens (or, rather, the dynamics are subtle), but the piece still draw the attention and imagination as one hears forms seamlessly develop and dissipate. The final track, “Everyone in the Cemetery is Dead,” is the longest and serves as a fitting end. As the name implies, this track is spirited, but mournful. At times, Kretzmer sounds like he’s invoking Albert Ayler or maybe even Tsahar, with whom he had studied; Heberer, like “Sketches of Spain”-era Miles Davis. For his part, Weber provides at first the thuds and walking bass, then the mournful arco that anchor the track.

Big does not make any definitive statement, nor does it intend to. Especially in this age of digital distribution, there is ample space for provocative recordings like this, sessions where three talented and accomplished musicians sit down and simply work through ideas through dialogical improvisation. It does not always work out. On this album, however, it does.

Assif Tsahar, William Parker, Hamid Drake – In Between the Tumbling a Stillness (Hopscotch Records, 2018) *****


Let me start by saying In Between the Tumbling a Stillness exceeded my already elevated expectations. Tsahar, Parker, and Drake are in expert form. Their playing is tight, responsive, creative, and emotionally exhausting. I envy those who were lucky enough to be in Tel Aviv at Levontin 7 (a club owned by Tsahar) on the night this was recorded.

The album consists of three tracks of straight-forward, spirited free jazz. On the first track, “In Between,” Drake lays down tight, endlessly varied grooves for Parker’s bass to dance over. Tsahar weaves rapid scale runs, melodic phrasings, and free blowing – think some combination of Charles Gayle, Peter Brötzmann, and Ornette Coleman (I am trying not to say Albert Ayler, here, but it is difficult) – through the rhythm section. Around the 18-minute mark, Tsahar steps aside and opens space for Parker and Drake to really shine. The overall result is a relentless, toe-tapping onslaught of soulful improvisation. The second track, “The Tumbling,” Parker switches between rapid bowing and pizzicato variations of a deceptively simple, pulsing theme. Drake plays a contagious and endlessly varied groove around Tsahar and Parker’s deconstructions, abstractions, and reconstructions of the refrain. This piece is every bit as dynamic as, if slightly less itinerant than, the first. The third track, “A Stillness,” is the shortest and closes the performance with that same type of melodic assault that introduced the performance.

Although In Between is not ground-breaking, it holds its own with aplomb. Rather than pushing the boundaries of what can be done conceptually, it shows how powerful, vibrant, and cathartic this type of energy music can still be. Especially for those of you who were excited by Ein Sof (Tsahar, Parker, and Susie Ibarra) and the Live at the Glenn Miller Café releases (Tsahar and Drake), here is another one to add to the top shelf.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Solo Violin

By Stef Gijssels

Solo violin albums come in many shapes and forms, from the austere acoustic classical sounds to the most opaque multi-layered electronically enhanced wall of sound, performed again by a range of musicians with different skills, classically trained or iconoclasts who turn their sense of music into something new. Regardless of their angle of approach, the music can be fascinating.


Tiago Morais Morgado - 2 Solos,  Cálice (Requiem Para Um Sonho) (Nachtstück Records, 2018)  Basket Of Loose Recordings (extended version) - Viola Solos (Nachtstück, 2017)



One of the most prolific iconoclasts of the moment is computer scientist Tiago Morais Morgado, hailing from Braga in Portugal, and without a doubt one of the most passionate musicians around. I think he only gets beaten by Noël Akchoté in the number of Bandcamp recordings that you can download, now released through his own Nachtstück label. Morais Morgado is a collector of ideas, a transformer of known phrases - Bach comes through especially in repetetitive chordal arpeggios - yet he pushes the boundaries into a raw and authentic avant-garde delivery, with respect, with vision and sensitivity. The advantage of the 'digital only release' is that the music is not confined to a material context. Some 'albums' have only a few short tracks, others - such as the aptly titled 'Loose Recordings' - have more tracks than a CD could contain. 


All this results in a music that is incredibly captivating, welcoming and disorienting. The "2 Solos - Collection of Improvisation for Viola and Electrionics" album for instance starts with solo acoustic violin, digging into the classical heritage, and gradually the sonic environment becomes harsher, more direct, less pleasant, yet more expressive, with additional violins being dubbed in, evolving on the second track towards a one-man symphony orchestra sounding like a trip to the end of the universe. The two relatively short tracks take the listener from a very intimate sensitivity to an overwhelming and overpowering distance. Amazing ...

The "Basket of Loose Recordings", with the shopping cart on the cover, brings no less than 27 pieces, between one and six minutes long. The violinist's sound is acoustic, dubbed, with ambient sounds such a road traffic or crickets thrown with great effect. His sound is mostly raw and austere, building repetitive phrases upon repetitive phrases, once in a while adding more sentimental romantic vibratos or scraping sounds as if the strings are being stretched to breaking point with the bow used as a lever under the strings (my interpretation). In many of the pieces the same ingredients re-appear in slightly different forms, showing the artist's efforts and try-outs. Should all this be recorded and made available? Well, the quality and the passion and the vision are so great that even these bits and pieces all in a row make for interesting listening. 

"Cálice (Requiem Para Um Sonho)" is a short album released earlier this year with five pieces totalling eleven minutes of music. All the pieces are very intimate and close to the listener, hypnotic and dramatic at times, always intense and unpredictable. 

You cannot but admire the man's passion for music, and his relentless search for his own sound and expression. It's about him and his instrument, and it's clear that the last thing he cares about is what people might think of his music, he's not here to impress or show off, or even to demonstrate his skills, he's on a solitary journey, playing and perfecting his art somewhere in his room, all by himself and his violin, recording it, and sharing it with us. And we can only be happy to hear it all. A real treat. 


Benedict Taylor - Solstice (Nachtstück Records, 2018)



This must be the British viola player's 7th solo album. Taylor is a classically trained musician, who added some years of formal education in ethnomusicology. In contrast to his current work as a composer for film and theatre, his solo performances are much more idiosyncratic, personal investigations of sound and texture. His playing is austere, harsh even, and complex, often played on several strings, and he appears to love the physical resistance of his bow against the strings, as much as he likes glissandi. This exploration results in a kind of parlando discourse, as if he's speaking with his viola rather than sing with it. You get to hear personal stories, that hesitate, stop, continue, stutter and go in different directions. This will not be to everyone's taste: it's the kind of music that deserves full attention by the listener, and that's a good thing.


  Laura Schuler - Elements And Songs (Veto, 2018)


She picked up violin lessens at age seven, and quit her classical training at age sixteen, fed up with it, until she was asked to perform in a band and just play music by ear. That pleased her and gradually she started to recognise the value of improvisation and of her instrument as more than just strings and a bow. Now, German Laura Schuler releases her first solo album on the Swiss Veto label, and also has a new album with her quintet.

Her music is audacious and very personal. She sings along with her improvisations, she performs with very high intenity, adding percussion once in a while.

The music on the album is inspired by the 'I Ching', the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, also offering the names of most tracks: "Kün" is the receptive earth, 'Dui' the joyous lake, "Xun" the gentle breeze, 'Qian' the creative heaven, "Li" the bright fire.

Schuler's music is creative, very special and unique in its own genre, yet at the same time inviting the listener in with gentleness. She loves her violin, and lets it show the myriad of sonic possibilities that it has to offer, from classical lyricism to more atonal modern work or outlandish explorations beyond the known. Listen and enjoy.


Irvine Arditti -  Caprices (Aeon, 2017)


This is a little outside of the music that we generally write about, yet worth mentioning in this list. Irvine Ariditti is the legendary leader of the Arditti Quartet, one of the leading contemporary classical string quartets, but his solo album stands out from this work, offering performances of compositions by Boulez, Elliott Carter, Emmanuel Nunes and Salvatore Sciarrino. The interesting thing is that these compositions were written specifically for Arditti to perform. The stylistic differences between the four composers are quite obvious when listening to the album, but Arditti's incredible skills on the instrument, and his personal interpretation of the material keeps the album very coherent and strong.

Recommended for fans of modern music, and of the violin.


Olivia De Prato - Streya (New Focus, 2018)


Another classical violinist on our list here is Olivia De Prato, Austrian-Italian but now living in New York. She is the founder and member of the Mivos Quartet. On this album she takes her art a step further, and much further than Arditti, if only because of the use of electronics. The music is also composed, but by some of the most avant-garde classical composers of the moment: Reiko Füting, Missy Mazzoli, Taylor Brook, Ned Rothenberg, Victor Lowrie, and Samson Young.

Her approach to the music is gentle and forceful. She plays with precision yet dares color outside the lines, by having a very physical attack of her instrument. Her playing is a pleasure to listen to, even if her choice of the different pieces is quite wide in terms of sound. Especially the last composition by Missy Mazzolli is of a totally different nature, a mellow and overly dramatic piece that sounds like a full orchestra with choir, and is in too much contrast with the rest of the album to make it really coherent.

Maria da Rocha - Beetroot & Other Stories (Shhpuma, 2018)


This album was reviewed earlier this year by Gregg Miller, but I just want to add my appreciation for her music, and we end where we started: in Portugal. Da Rocha's use of electronics offers a more cinematic and dense music than you would expect from a solo violin album, but that makes her music probably even more interesting. One of the most admirable aspects of her art is its singular vision: a wall of sound is created that hovers between minimalism, ambient, drone and classical without chosing sides, but rather merges into deeply resonating sonic waves with a strong emotional component: dark fear ("Lost", "Vertigo") and dreamlike sequences ("Diving", "Melancholia"), and the unsurpassed "Le Fenix" that creates deep emotions that are not yet named.



Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jamie Saft Quartet - Blue Dream (RareNoiseRecords, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Blue Dream is the debut album from the Jamie Saft Quartet, featuring Saft on piano, Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Bradley Christopher Jones on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and sound engineer Jamie Saft is likely the most well-known of the quartet, having been a fixture of the American underground since the mid-nineties or so. His massive back catalogue includes not only his solo work, but collaborations with John Zorn, Wadada Leo Smith, Nick Millevoi, and Joe Morris to name a few. The phenomenal New York saxophonist Bill McHenry also leads his own quartet and has collaborated with the likes of Hamid Drake, Paul Motian, and Andrew Cyrille. Bradley Christopher Jones has worked with Marc Ribot, Elvin Jones, Ornette Coleman, and is a member of Vibes with Bill Ware and EJ Rodriguez. Nasheet Waits (son of the great Freddie Waits) has played with Jason Moran, William Parker, John Medeski, and leads the Nasheet Waits Equality Quartet. This album finds the quartet gliding through a fantastic set of originals and standards with elegance, passion, and capability.

The album kicks off with Vessels finding the group winding up behind Saft’s lumbering chord progression and McHenry’s light tenor sax tones. The rhythm section keeps a steady unadorned time, until the midpoint at which Waits lets loose a fury of rolls and cymbal shimmer and the pace quickens, the saxophone soloing wildly over the upswing in intensity. Equanimity begins with Waits’ rustling percussion solo, the rest of the band jumping in at about a minute and thirty seconds. Jones plucks out a romping bassline and Saft takes an extended solo to which McHenry adds the occasional honk or odd lick. Sword’s Water presents precipitous sax runs and squall over turbulent piano and the rumble of the rhythm section. For the quartet’s first standard of the collection they offer a rich interpretation of Frank Sinatra’s Violets for Your Furs, with Saft proving the platform for the band’s airy retelling of the melody in the style of Coltrane’s classic quartet. The title track Blue Dream bursts from the gates with an up-tempo beat and walking bassline. Saft adds measured chords and runs as the song bobs along, McHenry only appearing during the last minute to harmonize with Saft. Infinite Compassion rolls to life in the same manner as Sword’s Water, however after about a minute the theme is stated by Saft which segues into the main melody and we are treated to powerful solos by McHenry.

The second half of the records starts with another standard, this time Sweet Lorraine, made famous by Nat King Cole. The classic is given a terrific rendition here; McHenry’s tone is warm and soft, his playing reflective. The moody Walls follows, beginning with Saft rolling sustained chords over Jones’ lines of arco. Waits adds cymbal shimmer as McHenry traces the shapes produced by Saft and offers subtle counterpoint. Decamping presents a stout reprised melody, the sax and bass both offering brief vamps in between which nicely frame the piece. The song has some serious bounce to it and offers a nice change-up to the more moody preceding and proceeding pieces. Words and Deeds returns us to the bottom of the ocean with a gorgeous piano motif over taut rhythms. Jones displays some terrific pizzicato runs which segue into a husky and potent solo by McHenry. Mysterious Arrangements begins with a wash of piano and percussion, the saxophone pleading somberly. The bass switches up the rhythm and the song turns into an undulating piano suite. The album is closed with There’s a Lull in My Life, Mack Gordon and Harry Revel’s ballad from the 1937 movie Wake Up and Live that is given an extended treatment by the quartet including soft piano and airy sax lines over barely there percussion and a deep bobbing bass line.

This is fairly conventional jazz by this blog’s standard, which isn’t meant as a detractor just as a bit of information for the reader. Perhaps it doesn’t break any new ground but the songs and sequencing are stellar and the playing is superlative. I’ve been really enjoying this record and have given it multiple spins. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest, this being a Jamie Saft record after all, but I like this direction and I think this is a really great band he’s assembled. Blue Dream, in addition to his recent (and equally great) solo piano album Solo A Genova, find Saft releasing some very compelling music this year.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

William Parker – Voices Fall from the Sky (Centering, 2018) ****

By Colin Green

It is said that life is lived forwards and understood backwards, and if something similar is true of music William Parker has provided us with several opportunities to make that assessment. His evocatively titled Voices Fall from the Sky is the latest in a series of box sets released by the AUM Fidelity label, following Meditation/Resurrection (2017), For Those Who Are, Still (2015), Wood Flute Songs (2013) and Centering (NoBusiness, 2012), each collection focussing on a particular medium or period of Parker’s working life, providing a wider perspective on his music. This set – three CDs on the Centering imprint of AUM – is a retrospective of sorts covering Parker’s engagement with the voice and art of song, comprising reissues and the very recent. It gives us a broader insight into the vast output of not only one of the great double bass players, improvisors and collaborators in jazz (it would be easier to list those with whom he’s not worked) but also one of its foremost composers.

As set out in Parker’s notes, his involvement with singers and song goes right back; in his early days he played with Jeanne Lee and Gunter Hampel after meeting them at a bus stop. Over the years he’s placed voices in a multitude of settings, from the wordless vocalisations of the Centering Dance Music Ensemble 1976 (Dawn Voice), the intimate ambience of voice and piano (Song Cycle (Boxholder, 2001) and the vivacious Raining on the Moon with Leena Conquest, ‎to large-scale works with Parker’s Orchestra and the AMR Ensemble It’s unsurprising therefore, that this is a diverse and at times disorientating collection with abrupt shifts in style and format to which it can take several hearings to acclimatise.

Taking the discs out of sequence, CD2 (‘Songs’) is a selection of previously released recordings and features – except for the first track – a singer and just one instrument: either Parker’s bass or the piano of Yuko Fujiyama, Eri Yamamoto or Cooper-Moore, giving the sequence a more unified feel than the other discs and arranged in a satisfying progression. It starts with the broad strokes of Ernie Odoom and the AMR Ensemble in ‘All I Want’, a tribute to Billy Bang, and then scales down to ‘Baldwin’s Interlude’, one of Parker’s first songs, with Ellen Christi declaiming a simple melody framed by a cobweb of plucked bass notes.

Parker uses unadorned, syllabic settings for the voice respecting the natural rhythm of words, enhanced by internal rhymes, and leaving room for subtle colouration, phrasing and improvisation by his singers. He’s been blessed with some truly wonderful chanteuses, sensitive to word meaning and emphasis. In ‘Life Song’ Christi’s devotional sotto voce seems to conjure from the air itself the verse, “How can a tree not get sunlight? / How can a soul not be free?”, and on ‘Falling Shadows’ her bird-like vocalisations flutter and swoop above Parker’s repeating ground bass, as in a chaconne. Lisa Sokolov alternates between roll-calls of great jazzmen and free scat on ‘Band in the Sky’, Parker’s depiction of what happens to musicians after death: “Playing strong forever / No time measured no time lost”.

Like love and a cough, a gift for melody cannot be hidden and Parker’s songbook contains some memorable tunes, like ‘Sweet Breeze’: a wistful evocation of childhood and the smell of his mother’s cooking, and the modest but heartfelt ‘Poem for June Jordan’, each line carefully measured by Conquest’s expressive vibrato. The contribution made by each of the pianists is also significant, accompaniment which compliments and augments, such as Fujiyama’s sparse chord placements in ‘Aborigine Song’ providing a minimal harmonic underpinning for Lisa Sokolov. Cooper-Moore and Mola Sylla from Senegal are perfectly matched in the ruminative ‘Tour of the Flying Poem’, taken from Parker’s small operetta for children. The disc concludes with Conquest and the sublime ‘Prayer’ – with its shades of Donald Ayler’s ‘Our Prayer’ that go beyond the title – one of Parker’s finest songs, a delicate blend of supplication and resignation.

CD3 (‘Essence’) contains the only real disappointment of the collection, but it’s difficult to say exactly why. ‘The Blinking of the Ear’, in four parts, is a piece originally written for piano, then arranged for mezzo-soprano AnnMarie Sandy and ensemble as part of Parker’s ‘Healing Songs from the Tone World’ performed in January 2017. Due to sound problems, that recording could not be used, so Parker arranged the piece for voice, piano (Eri Yamamoto) and drums (Leonid Galaganov), recorded the following month. Sandy has a light voice, heard to good effect in her elegant renderings of songs by Ravel on her website, but she seems ill-suited in this setting. The vocal line suggests a bigger voice which opens out more whereas Sandy sounds too timid in this context. It’s possible that the support of a larger group would not leave her voice quite so exposed and provide a more sympathetic environment, but I’m afraid the piece just doesn’t work here.

The remainder of the third disc consists primarily of edited versions of previously released material., with largely the longer instrumental passages having been excised. I’m unsure if the pieces benefit from such reduction though the revised versions do provide the chance to sample the full ambit of Parker’s vocal music with larger groups – Ernie Odoom fromEssence of Ellington (Centering, 2012) andWood Flute Songs; Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay from Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM, 2008); and Leena Conquest and the Kitchen House Blend Ensemble in ‘For Fannie Lou Hamer’ from For Those Who Are, Still. The final track is Conquest with two cellos, two violins, bass and drums. in the full version of ‘Natasha’s Song’ from Alphaville Suite: Music Inspired by the Jean Luc Godard Film (Rogueart, 2007), a vision of the redemptive power of a poetic sensibility, a recurring theme throughout Parker’s lyrics, often expressed through metaphors of light and the cleansing power of rain – “holy light”, “tears fall down like rain”, “let the light shine within”, “falling rain light” – and visually, Lois Eby’s ‘Raining’ paintings on the front and back cover.

On CD1 (‘Voices Fall from the Sky’, another allusion to rain), apart from the opening incantation the material is new with all but one song taken from sessions recorded between December 2017 and January 2018. None of the vocalists has recorded with Parker before and there’s an assorted mix of forces and interpretive styles. Raina Sokolov-Gonzalez, who has a delightful melismatic quiver, accompanies herself on piano in two songs. In contrast ‘City of Flowers’ features Andrea Wolper, Karen Borca (bassoon) and Masahiko Kono (trombone and electronics) in which Parker’s lyrics initially provide a jumping-off point for free improvisation, followed by delivery of the final verse as a chorale.

The disc also features some medium-sized groups and expansive interchanges between voice and band. Parker allows his words and music to lock in a way that enables greater movement in the instrumental parts without disrupting the vocal line. Everything is anchored by an elementary structure, often a repeated figure sounded out on his muscular bass. Like Mingus and Howlin’ Wolf, he builds from the ground up. ‘Bouquet for Borah’ is dedicated to the late Borah Bergman’s “new classical jazz sound”: Wolper and a quintet featuring two alto saxophones (Dave Sewelson and Rob Brown); all three stretch out in the middle section. During ‘We Often Danced’ Fay Victor’s recitation slowly moves into song as her voice intertwines with two violins, alto sax, bass and trumpet over a shuffling beat, gradually picking up pace as the dialogue becomes denser. On ‘Voices Fall from the Sky’, Amirtha Kidambi’s blustery enunciation, Steve Swell’s earthy trombone and Jason Kao Hwang’s floating violin seem to occupy distinct but related spaces, bound together by Parker’s palpitating bass. The disc ends with ‘A Tree Called Poem’ a twilight world portrayed by the haunting Morley Shanti Kamen accompanied by Parker’s fragile strumming on a 6-string donso ngoni, a harp from Mali: “A light called poem / A tree called wind / Is the house where the Lord resides”.

Reflecting on this collection, we have a richly varied tapestry – the spiritual affirmation of gospel music and irresistible groove of blues and soul; the breezy swing of Ellington and Mingus’ propulsive drive; cyclic refrains from African music and the ebullience of Township; and the energy and spontaneity of free jazz. Under Parker’s supervision, it feels like ultimately, they all come from the same place in a celebration of diversity and deep undercurrents, music keen to shape continuity with people, places and the past and suggesting that some of the musical divisions we make might impede the freedom declared in the title track:
“Let the sun rise in your soul
Voices fall from the sky
Bringing hope and love to the world
This is why we sing
We sing because the world needs freedom.”

The set is available to order or download from Bandcamp.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Naked City - Live in Quebec '88 (Air Cuts, 2017) ***½


By Martin Schray

In the 1980s and early 90s I was working in a small record store and I still remember when the salesman of the record company presented a new album by John Zorn, a musician my boss and I vaguely knew from his Nonesuch albums The Big Gundown, a tribute to the music of Ennio Morricone, Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman and Spillane, a #crude style mix between off-the-wall avant-garde jazz, blues (one track features guitarist Albert Collins) and new classical music (one composition was written for the Kronos Quartet). The salesman had a promo copy with him and we listened … and were confused. We expected a jazz album but what kind of music was this? Many tracks were extremely short (around one minute). Naked City, the name of the album, was speed metal, country, swing, punk, easy listening, surf sound and even more. Sometimes all the genres could be found in one track (e.g. in “Saigon Pickup“). Listening offhand we thought that the music consisted of samples, that it was hardly possible to play such music live. The band was on tour in Germany a bit later, we went there and of course they could. In fact, they were even more spectacular.

Naked City (the band) featured a phenomenal concentration of extraordinary musicianship from New York’s downtown experimental music scene, including John Zorn on saxophone, Bill Frisell (guitar), Wayne Horvitz (keyboards), Fred Frith (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Later they were augmented by The Boredom’s frontman Yamatsuka Eye on voice. The band released seven completely different albums in three years (1990 - 1993) before they split - and a posthumous live album (2002).

As a fan of their complete works I was excited when I saw that there was a new live album from 1988, two years before the first official release of the band. Live in Quebec 1988 is a CBCFM Radio recording consisting of performances at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec. The set includes previously unreleased cover versions of the Beach Boys, Ornette Coleman, Henry Mancini, and Bernard Herrmann. From this concert four tracks made it on the actual debut, namely “Snagglepuss“, “The Sicilian Clan“, “Batman“ and “James Bond“. Many of the tracks could also have been on Zorn’s Filmworks series, however one gets an impression where the Naked City concept started from before it became the top notch post-modern project it was later on. Their typical collage-like genre mix is discernible but not yet as sophisticated as on their debut. It seems that they haven’t really decided which way to go with their approach. Their cover of the Beach Boys classic “Surfer Girl“ is rather reminiscent of Bill Frisell’s version on his Guitar in the Space Age! album from 2014. Then again, apart from being an interesting back link to the beginnings of the project the album contains excellent pieces, mainly John Zorn’s original compositions.

“Snagglepuss“, named after the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, is already a signature piece, but more than twice as long as the studio version two years later, it’s exuberant and you can feel the fun the band seems to have. The same goes for “Reanimator“, “Den of Sins“, and “Graveyard Shift“, all breathing the punk spirit and the fast-change tendency inspired in part by Carl Stalling, the latter piece even processing funk and dub elements. Another outstanding track is Big John Patton’s “The Way I Feel“ (Naked City changed the title to “The Way It Feels“). The band doubles the speed, puts Wayne Horwitz’s piano to the fore and stretches the dramatic solos to breaking-point.

Unfortunately, it’s very disturbing that the CD contains the complete radio show including comments of the radio announcer, which is awkward (even in enchanting French). Wasn’t it possible to cut them out? Also, the sound could be better, especially the guitar sounds tinny. Last but not least there’s a bit too much background noise. That’s the reason for the rather conservative rating.

Watch the band on top of their art in 1992 with Yamatsuka Eye:

Mike Panico (1965 - 2018)

We were very sad to learn that Relative Pitch co-founder Mike Panico passed away earlier this week. Mike was an ardent supporter of improvised music in both New York and Europe, and is responsible for making many wonderful recordings possible. We offer our condolences to his friends and family, and take some solace in the fact that he leaves behind a legacy of music to enjoy in perpetuity.

Please see Nate Chinen's article here: https://www.npr.org/2018/10/05/654721536/behind-a-death-in-queens-a-major-loss-for-the-avant-garde-jazz-community