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Monday, December 10, 2018

Mars Williams - An Ayler Xmas Vol 2 (ESP Disc, 2018) ****

Last year, Mar William's released Volume 1 of An Ayler Xmas, this year, the saxophonist has followed up with Volume 2, which is another celebratory mash up of holiday music delivered in the style of Albert Ayler and with reference to his signature melodies.

Unlike the first volume that was recorded with his Ayler tribute group Witches and Devils from Chicago, Volume 2 is comprised half from a European version of the band, with the tracks pulled from a date in Vienna. So for half the album, joining Williams is cornetist Josh Berman, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, keyboardist Jim Baker, bassist Kent Kessler, multi-instrumentalist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt, with a guest spot by trombonist Jeb Bishop. On the the other half, we have trumpeter Thomas Berghammer, bassist Hermann Stangassinger, drummer Didi Kern, and electronics wiz Christof Kurzmann.

The album begins with the 15 minute "Xmas Medley" in which we hear piano, cello, guitar, and drums in a royal rumble while the horns play with fanfare flare. The band switches between searing solos and traditional and not so traditional holiday songs, like the quote from the Waitresses ear-worm "Christmas Wrapping". Here, Jeb Bishop's trombone solo stands out, floating over the roiling undercurrents and weaving around the song quote studded accompaniment. The track breaks down in the middle and small instruments, like the finger piano, or forlorn calls from the bass, cry out from the void. The mood changes from bleak to hopeful, as there is a chorus from "Frosty the Snowman" followed by a chorus from a traditional tune, which finally pulls the group back to its feet as they go out in squelching triumph.

The next track, "O Tannenbaum - Spritis - 12 Days of Christmas" features the Vienna band. The mix of the two bands is noticeable at the start. Someone, possibly Kurzmann (who is credited with vocals), speak/sings the lyrics of "O Tannenbaum", first the original German version, then after an instrumental passage, the socialist anthem version known as "The People's Flag". Then, the group launches into Ayler's 'Spirits' and quickly gains momentum, showing the same enthusiasm and grit as their American counterparts. They reach a collective peak as Williams and Berghammer take off in different directions. William's wraps up the track with a fiery cadenza, stark against a silent backdrop, and signals the closing moments with a piercing note.

We're then brought back to Chicago, track three being a medley of "Love Cry" and "Christmas Wrapping" (the quote returns, this time growing and multiplying). Track four is an epic "Carol of the Drum - Bells - O Come Emmanuel - Joy to the World". The closing track brings us back to Vienna for a mashup of Ayler's "Universal Indians" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", featuring Kurzman's lloopp, a heartfelt solo from Williams, and a the refrain "we wish you a merry Christmas" and, whispered with an Austrian accent, "a happy New Year".

Volume 2 is another successful installment of Christmas and Ayler cheer. Whether you are tempted to pull it out between the holidays remains up to your feelings towards the songs out of their temporal context, but with the sheer musicianship and spirited deliver makes it a real possibility. Regardless, William's Ayler/Xmas concept remains strong and holds up well against international travel.

Annette Peacock 12-8-2018. Brooklyn, NY.

Annette Peacock (from Blank Forms)

By Eric Stern

On Friday, December 8th, I went to the First Unitarian Church in downtown Brooklyn to see a rare solo performance by Annette Peacock. The show was produced by Blank Forms and Artists Space. It was part of an end-of-the-year fundraiser for Blank Forms with the first few rows being set aside for donors. The room was full, and the audience waited patiently for nearly an hour before the performer took the stage. The lack of any audience response to the delay demonstrates that this behavior was both anticipated by the sizeable crowd and provided also a fortuitous opportunity for the community of music fans to socialize with one other in anticipation of the set.

Peacock, who is now 78 years old, demonstrated that time has not diminished either her playing or her singing ability. The most effective songs from the performance were those that did not include synthesizers and pre-recorded instruments. Those that did feature synthesizers often felt trapped in the time of their creation, the 1970s and the 1980s. Those pieces that relied only on her voice and piano skills felt fresh, exciting, and new despite that fact that most of these songs were written decades ago.

Annette Peacock's work feels sui generis, a prototypical "one of a kind." The first stage of her
musical career spans the decade from 1965 to 1975, during which Paul Bley recorded many of Peacock's songs including "Touching," "Blood," "Mr. Joy," and "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway." These important recordings helped to establish ECM Records, and they continue to be frequently covered by other artists, including recent versions by guitarist Mary Halvorson and Nels Cline. Peacock was an early adopter of synthesizers and was among the first to use a Moog to treat her vocals. Her songs are often notable for their oddly melodic structures and the frank discussion of sexuality and relationships. Since the ECM release of An Acrobat's Heart in 2000, there have been no studio recordings and only a small handful of live appearances.

While not the subject of a major re-issue campaign, Peacock has managed the trick of establishing a new audience even in the absence of new recordings or touring. The audience on Friday contained plenty of grey-haired persons but also a strong contingent of young listeners. Considering that the artist controls much of her own catalog, which was released on her own Ironic Records label, this would seem to be a good time for her to make them available again, at least in a digital format.
The set ran a little more than an hour. The singer appeared to be suffering from stage-fright which resulted in the feeling that she was unhappy to be performing, and indeed she disappeared from the stage as quickly as possible without a word to the audience when she was finished. Despite the audience's clearly demonstrated desire for an encore, no encore was forthcoming. Yet none of this behavior seemed to surprise those in attendance.

I had seen a very similar performance from Annette Peacock last year at the "Le Guess Who Festival" in Utrecht. She arrived late to take the stage and was seemingly miserable while performing, and then left abruptly while concluding. I checked a few other reviews of recent performances, and this does seem to be a pattern. If not for the truly original nature of her compositions and her wonderful voice I would not recommend this so enthusiastically!

Peacock's gifts are impressive and more than made up for her shortfalls. It was clear that this was a feeling that was shared by the members of her Brooklyn audience.

After coming to New York City in 1983, Eric Stern has practiced law by day and followed the improv music scene by night. He presently coordinates the House of Improv which organizes monthly performances.  

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Lotte Anker, Thomas, Håker Flaten & Liavik Solberg - His Flight's At Ten (Iluso, 2018) ****½

By Stef

If you're a lover of energetic music, raw, fierce and fearless, if you enjoy the adventure of four musicians interacting with assertiveness and sensitivity, if you like the unexpected, even if you're acquainted with free improvisation, and still like to be taken off-guard, if you like sudden changes, if you can appreciate chaos as both a source and end-point for a journey that can be full of calm, respect and sophistication, if you like pounding chords as well as subtle harmonics, if you like screaming saxes as well as precious timbral vibrations, if you like powerful bass-playing and screeching bows, if you like hard-hitting sticks and refined cymbal touches, if you like to be overwhelmed and impressed and taken for a wonderful trip without having anything to say except to become part of the music, then this album is for you.

The quartet are Lotte Anker on saxophones, Pat Thomas on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass, and Ståle Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. They take you on board for a wonderful flight, from a rocky departure to a soft landing, and luckily the flight is not linear. The rhythm section, including the piano, is ferocious at times, yet Anker is a real master in keeping the plane stable despite the ongoing turbulence, keeping her beautiful warm tone, even in the harshest parts, human and sensitive. And it's a real quartet album, with all musicians contributing to the total sounds, including having their own short solo time, but the real treat is when all the violence and the power move together in the same direction, with speed and a common sense of destination.

An eventful, fascinating and exhaustive flight.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Intakt, 2018) *****

By Martin Schray

Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish double bass player Petter Eldh, and German drummer Christian Lillinger founded their trio Punkt.Vrt.Plastik at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, where they played a completely improvised set at the famous October Meeting in 2016. Their name is composed of “Punkt“, which represents a view and a musical statement for Petter Eldh (it’s Swedish for “point“), “Vrt“, the Slovenian word for garden and according to Draksler the place where the musical philosophies are planted and cultivated, and “Plastik“ (German for “plastic“), for Christian Lillinger the symbol of plasticity of musical forms and structures.

After I had seen them at the Just Music Festival in Wiesbaden in February this year, I couldn’t wait for their debut album, however it was announced only for November. They had played a spectacular gig displaying a cornucopia of idiosyncratic, weird hook lines, harmonic shifts and unpredictable percussive ingredients. Yet, when the CD arrived and I listened to it for the first few times, the magic of the concert somehow wasn’t there anymore. When I recently heard the trio at Schorndorf’s Manufaktur though, I was blown away again. Do they just feel more comfortable in a live context than in a rather confined studio atmosphere (the album was recorded at the Loft in Cologne)? Can they just take higher risks live when they are able to let themselves go on the basis of preconceived ideas? After the Schorndorf gig I’ve listened to the CD over and over again and I’ve found a different access to it. In this band three very different musical personalities crash into each other, at first sight contradictory, yet also consistent. “I was both excited and scared of the power Christian and Petter have together as a rhythm section. It’s like riding a wave,“ says Draksler in the very insightful liner notes by Peter Margasak. On the album the power of the rhythm section is guided by the compositions, they set a certain direction, Draksler’s improvisations are less exuberant. The music here is like the essence of the live gigs.

One of the most interesting aspects on Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is Eldh’s and Lillinger’s different approach as to time. While Eldh is rather grounded and robust, Lillinger is busy and incredibly dynamic. They seem to constantly negotiate where the music should go to, based on a common ground of musical phrases in general. This allows Draksler to find her space, her style being structurally unusual with its intricate counterpoint melodies and rhythmical motives (see “Life Is Transient“, that comes across like a Bach piece). This is also obvious in Christian Lillinger’s “Nuremberg Amok“, in which the melody played by the piano is literally shredded and torn apart. Occasionally it reappears in different shapes, while the drums quote hiphop beats suggesting a groove, but actually Lillinger just dissembles time varying rhythmic cells, which brings his approach close to postmodernism. Eldh is the one who holds this fraying structure together with his rootsy, powerful playing and with his steady presence, which in turns allows Draksler to create crystal clear melodies zigzagging between the twitching pulse. Another example of the band’s outstanding qualities is Draksler’s composition “Evicted“, which directs the energy of the rhythm section with frugal chords. Lillinger and Eldh throw in sudden stops and starts, the bass even taking the lead as to melody. The piano is reduced to essentials, the chords are stripped to the very bare, they’re free of any mannerism. Finally, Draksler contrasts extremely low and high notes, she carries the dynamics and the folksy melody all by herself, bass and drums drop out. This extreme reduction creates a somber atmosphere - another characteristic of the album.

In general, the pieces morph and stretch forms and grooves, the music is constantly coloured anew. This is a very exciting band - both live and in the studio. Draksler, Eldh and Lillinger are among the most thrilling and promising figures in today’s European improvising scene, hopefully Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is not just a one time thing. It’s one of the best albums this year.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Ivo Perelman and Rudi Mahall - Kindred Spirits (Leo, 2018) *****

By Sammy Stein

Ivo Perelman is a prolific free playing saxophone player. He has collaborated with too many musicians to mention but which include some jazz luminaries like Matthew Shipp, Peter Erskine, William Parker, Paul Bley, Billy Hart, and a host of others. He is tenacious and affable and his free playing, often switching up a register, is renown. When paired with other empathetic improvisers a complex and deeply satisfying interaction can happen.

Here, on 'Kindred Sprits' ( Leo records 2018) Perelman pairs with bass clarinet player Rudi Mahall and the result is something extraordinary. A 2 CD set, CD1 features 5 tracks, CD 2, 7 tracks listed simply by number. Track 1 features Mahall and Perelman in at times quite poetic interaction, each bouncing and reflecting the tempo and cadence set by the other, switching back and forth, the tenor commenting and the bass clarinet responding with uttered phrases and interjected sentences of music. The tone of the bass clarinet is sonorous, silky and laced with a touch of humour, reflected ably by Perelman's sax. One section feels like the two are engaged in musical hopscotch, each jumping into the brief pauses left by the other. This, as the opening track, sets the theme and standard of the rest that follow. Perelman's control at altissimo is superb. Track 2 sees the bass clarinet open with sax swiftly following , echoing at first, the rhythmic patterning of the clarinet but soon there are two melodic lines on the go, swooping towards, across and away from each other but returning to key and lines which cross and entwine. Absolutely charming. Perelman's joyful dance over the bass line of the clarinet is perfectly placed so as to enhance the lines which Mahall introduces. At one stage the sax gives a series of slurred notes over a tight rhythm of the clarinet which denotes the change and switch of the track into something a whole lot more than it was, with blisteringly fast passages from both.

Track 3 is opened with breathy, soft melody, which is offset by a slippery set of glissando explorations from first the sax, then the clarinet - or is it the other way around? At this point the musicians are trading commentary to such an extent it is difficult at times to pin point when one stops and the other starts, or when both are playing. It is hard to get across how well the improvisational element is felt here as each introduces changes, the other follows or not and there is a sense of true and complete immersion by one musician in the other's playing. Beautiful. Track 4 is of the same quality and vein, though it is defined by more series of fast, scorching blasts of fast-delivered changes and also a dynamic in the crescendo and diminuendo which add yet another texture but the essence of the sound changes is not attained by volume changes but intensity and the effect is not subtle. One section sees both screeching like banshees, Perelman stutting over a loose-reeded clarinet line creating a Brotzmann-esque sense of the bizarre yet perfectly acceptable. Track 5 is lyrical and melodic at times, interspersed with phrasing which could have been plucked from a film score - but only briefly. Song-like snippets flitting across the consciousness of the players, both, it seems simultaneously at times whilst at others, one leads, the other follows. There are some crazily beautiful and perfectly pitched disharmonies with 7ths and 3rds galore - not always form both and not always at the same time- across a small section which makes the ears prick up and the brain take note. This is decent music with hidden themes, fascinating under currents and superbly un thought-about delivery, which is the point - and it is beautiful.

Disc 2 is a musical continuum of the power-share of Mahall and Perelman , the opening track conveying an atmosphere which is soft and calm until Perelman decides to squeeze more emphasis and the bass clarinet responds by issuing forth a series of notes of such rounded depths, the sax can do nothing but contrast, as it cannot reflect so Perelman takes off on a fluttering flight of altissimo and higher register phrases which hover over the top of the smoother, well rounded and profoundly thoughtful bass clarinet lines before each acknowledges and reflects the other's phrasing . Track 2 sets off with a cheeky, walking little theme before it gets just a little silly and time warps into clari-sax land's version of the looking glass. In a good way, as this is verging on ridiculous in its exploration of different and contrasting phrasing from both players.

Track 3 is short but slightly wonderful with Perelman squeaking over the top, searching for the highest range of his tenor, whilst the bass of Mahall offers support but lets Perelman fly. This continues into track 4 but with a spacier, emptier feel, with gaps in the music allowing silence to be used as an effective tool into which both players tip their improvised sounds. Track 5 should be called '12 and a half minutes of very cool improvisation is done'. At times, though the music is completely improvised, the two players come together as one creating a curved edge feel as they come together, swoop away and back again. Complete overdose of loveliness for the improvised music listeners. Track 5 contains more harmonic development between the 2 players than some of the other tracks and also some playful reflection and echoing with first one, then the other taking the initiative. The bass lines are gorgeous. Track 6 is led first by the bass clarinet with sax over the top but by the second third who know who leads and who follows - actually neither and that is good.

What hits home on this CD is the joy of improvisation which can come when two players of similar musical thoughts and needs perhaps are put together and choose to collaborate. Mahall and Perelman both explore and there is a lot of adventure in the music yet you can hear the classical training and the links to strong jazz precepts as they never veer too far from the theme set, the melody is always there. Somehow, this makes the music more accessible because the mind , even subliminally, has something to follow yet the improvisational nature in which both play around the themes and lines is exceptional, natural and a joy. I had not listened to a lot of Perelman before , though he has been on the radar through other players or indeed Mahall, but the impact of this first intensive listen is such that I am now asking myself - why had I not heard more? That, I intend to rectify. This is improvised music at its best , delivered with power, joy and it is completely uplifting.

Personell: Ivo Perelman , tenor sax
Rudi Mahall: Bass Clarinet

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Trumpets and Bass

By Stef Gijssels

Not too much of an in-depth analysis, this time, just a quick overview of trumpet-bass duos released this year. An unusual format, but when brought to us by the best musicians, things can hardly go wrong.

Peter Evans & Barry Guy - Syllogistic Moments (Maya, 2018) ****

Here is what Barry Guy writes of this concert:
"Peter Evans and I have occasionally met in larger ensembles for special projects. This particular concert in Uster (Switzerland) within the PAM festival on 18. November 2016, allowed us to delve into the minutiae of duo performance where intense listening and decoding of intentions kept our minds and bodies in high alert. This occasion had us playing somewhat athletically, pushing and pulling ideas around, and to be honest, we both felt exhausted after the concert but also exhilarated. The joys of improvisation I guess…. and high speed communication".
It is an athletic performance indeed. Peter Evans is one of the leading voices on trumpet today, demonstrating new possibilities, timbres and musical exploration. The British bassist needs no further introduction. Both are very audacious musicians, extremely disciplined in their technique combined with extreme rebelliousness in their sound. A rebelliousness that is not only directed at destroying existing norms, but equally, and probably even more so, to show new creative options, new possibilities of sonic exchanges and impact, but then at a rare level of abstraction.

This is very headstrong music, without any compromise to the listener, and that's how we like it. That's how borders move, how frontiers of expectations get expanded.

A more in-depth analysis can be found in Colin Green's review of the same album.

Wojciech Jachna & Ksawery Wójciński - Conversation With Space (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2018) ****

Three years ago, this duo released its first album, called "Night Talks", offering an intimate overall sound for listening on quiet evenings. On their sophomore album, the intensity is a notch higher, with more attention to musical creativity. Wojciech Jachna is known to us and reviewed before, especially for his collaborations with drummer Jacek Buhl. So is Ksawery Wójciński as a frequent member of the new Polish jazz scene, often reviewed here, in the company of Charles Gayle, Agusti Fernandez, Waclaw Zimpel (I suggest readers to use our search engine for more information).

The main inspiration for both musicians comes from nature, with track titles such as "Sky", "Stars", "Waterfall", "Stones", "Lake", "Wind", "Dust", "Cloud", which suggests the impressionist approach by the artists, and indeed with the titles in hand, it is easy to imagine the music as an artist's reflection of nature, or an accompaniment of the pictures that unfold before your mind's eye. The tracks are short and concise, making a musical point with little development and without long excursions.

Two track titles are more human: "Song about Saint Wojciech Bishop and Martyr" and "Citizen Of The City". The first is an amazing piece, a Polish traditional, a duet of bowed bass, overdubbed and polyphonic, and offering a wonderful classical sound with jazzy influences, especially in the crystal-clear trumpet part, reverent and solemn, in stark contrast to "Hurricane", the angular and raw subsequent track on which guest saxophonist Tomasz Glazik joins.

"Dust", the shortest piece, is for bass only, both bowed and plucked, and uncanny despite the fact that it's only one minute long. It shows the inventiveness of both musicians: to deliver very compact and intense, imaginative and varied little pieces of music, that all have their own character and recognizable nature.

The album ends with the most sensitive and human piece, called "Citizen Of The City", a beautiful closing for a strong album.

A real treat.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Tomasz Dąbrowski & Jacek Mazurkiewicz - Basement Music (Multikulti, 2018) ****

Also from Poland comes this equally strong duo album with Tomasz Dąbrowski on trumpet and Jacek Mazurkiewicz on bass. Mazurkiewicz released albums with Wojciech Jachna before, and is member of the Modular String Trio, and he also released a solo album, all reviewed on this blog.

Dąbrowski is probably better known, and has been reviewed extensively over the years, both with Polish and Danish ensembles. This duo, just like the previous one, demonstrates again why Polish jazz is so "hot" these days. The instrumental skills of both musicians are exceptional, and to hear them use these skills with cleverness in a free environment of an open dialogue makes it even stronger.

If the Jachna/Wójciński album is more focused on a co-creation of impressionist improvisations ("a conversation with space"), the Dąbrowski/Mazurkiewicz duo is more a conversation among the two musicians themselves, challenging each other, listening well, joining and collaborating, more interested in creating new sonic adventures than in a common sound. The performance was recorded in the Basement of Fort Sokolnicki in Warsaw, 18 October 2015.

It does result in some beauties, such as "Pickled Cucumber", which starts with a long intro of solo bowed bass, and ending with Dabrowski adding only six notes to the piece. It also results in madness, as in "Something Fermented", on which the use of electronics adds a kind of weird intensity, or "An Ant Lobotomy", where Dabrowski explores the sonic vocabulary of his horn.

... and the exploration progresses into deep uncharted territory in the next few tracks, going further and further away from their base camp.

Mazurkiewicz says: “I’m inspired by people, situations, places, colours, scents and by other things related to my life. Lots of melodies and musical structures pass through in my mind quite quickly... Some pieces are inspired by sounds of a city; others are connected with places and people.”

It's great to be part of their adventures.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Taylor Ho Bynum & Mark Dresser - THB Bootlegs Volume 4 -  Duo with Mark Dresser (Self, 2018) ****

I hope that Taylor Ho Bynum will excuse me for putting a cornet among the trumpet review section. This album is one in an ongoing series of so-called bootlegs, which is of course not entirely true, because released by the artists themselves. Like the first solo album in the series, this one was also recorded at the Acoustic Bicycle Tour, recorded September 29, 2014 at Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, CA. The "Acoustic Bicycle Tour" is an artistic project by Taylor Ho Bynum, set up to perform with the musicians he encounters on his bike rides: 
"The Acoustic Bicycle Tour is an ongoing performance journey where I travel solely on bicycle, presenting solo concerts and playing with ensembles of area musicians. I see the entire trip as a kind of composition. Like all my music, it looks to combine the predetermined, indeterminate, improvised, intuitive and structured into an organic whole. The endeavor is an act of composition, a performance art piece, a philosophical statement, a celebration of musical community, and an exercise in extreme physicality. For me, there are clear analogies between choosing to travel by bike and choosing to pursue a career in creative music: the trip may be slower and more arduous, but it is ultimately more rewarding in its acoustic pleasures and unexpected delights".
Knowing the artistic talent of both Taylor Ho Bynum and Mark Dresser, this 'bootleg' is one to listen to. The interaction is as can be expected: creative, intense, intimate and deep. Some pieces start with a musical or even thematic concept, others are complete improvisations. Some are full of drama ("To Wait"), with low tones and bowed bass, others are full of joy and fun ("Coyote"), or even jubilant ("Coming On/For Bradford").

An absolute joy, this album. Don't miss it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ab Baars / Meinrad Kneer / Bill Elgart - Live at Konfrontationen Nickelsdorf 2012 (Evil Rabbit, 2018) ****

There is no better place to flesh out your most intense, risk-taking and adventurous improvisation skills than the free-improv haven of the Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria. Six years after performing there, the masterful set of Dutch reeds player Ab Baars, German double bass player Meinrad Kneer and veteran American, Germany-based drummer Bill Elgart is finally released, sounding fresh and invigorating as on the day it was performed.

This trio grew out of the Barrs-Kneer duo that began working in Amsterdam around 2008 and released the album Windfall (Evil Rabbit, 2010). It expanded into a trio after Elgart guested in the duo performance at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis club. This trio recorded its debut album, Give No Quarter (Evil Rabbit, 2013) in October 2011, nine months before its performance at the Konfrontationen festival in July 2012.

The performance at the Konfrontationen festival allowed this trio to stretch out the format of short pieces that appeared in the Baars-Kneer album or the trio studio album. The trio plays two extended “Nickelsdorf Suites” plus a short “Nickelsdorf Fantasia”, all emphasizes the physical and intense, confrontational element of such a truly spontaneous meeting. These distinct, resourceful improvisers know how to play - literally - with all aspects of free-improvisation, often simultaneously. The trio moves instantly and organically between sketching a loose structure and then, alone or together, deconstructs it; builds the tension and immediately releases it; stresses muscular attacks but also highlights a more subtle, fragile and sometimes even a lyrical vein; searches for surprising variations of timbres and new sounds - especially Baars who plays the tenor sax, clarinet and the Japanese shakuhachi flute - and always alternates between consensus, dissent and echo.

This trio has become a powerful lab for free-improvisation strategies. It refuses to settle in any strict form or dynamics, but attempts to invent and reinvent itself anew again and again while keeping a playful flow, despite its fast-shifting, confrontational approach. You need the support of an open audience as the one of the Konfrontationen festival to choose this kind of challenging approach.

Perry Robinson (September 17, 1938 - December 2, 2018)

On December 2, Perry Robinson, the virtuoso clarinetist and free-minded spirit passed away at the age of 80. Robinson was a real "musician's musician", very sought as a member of bands and possibly the clarinetist of the early free jazz movement in the 60s (next to Jimmy Giuffre who was on a slightly different musical track). His first album was one with Henry Grimes - with whom he's kept a special relationship throughout his career - Paul Motian and Kenny Barron, just to show that excellent musicians find themselves from the start. Then he performed with Archie Shepp, was part of the famous avant-garde jazz big bands of the seventies: the Jazz Composers' Orchestra and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, while at the same time, across the Atlantic, performing extensively with German reed-player Gunter Hampel.

He performed on more than 120 albums, of which a about a dozen were released as a leader, or one album every five year. That he was highly esteemed by his colleague clarinetists can be demonstrated by his participation in the Clarinet Summit, a multi-country ensemble of some of the best clarinetists around in 1979, including John Carter, Gianluigi Trovesi, Bernd Konrad, Theo Jörgensmann and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. It is also not suprising that other clarinetists like Hampel and more recently, Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, asked him to join their bands.

He was also a citizen of the world, a free spirit, and basically open to play in any type of configuration or jazz genre, and he was even part of Klezmokum, a Dutch klezmer band, created by Burton Greene. This jewish heritage also shone through in his other collaborations with Anat Fort, Rozanne Levine and Waclaw Zimpel.

But whatever the genre, his approach was virtuosic, soft-toned and inherently melodic, often capable of combining tradition and adventurous moments in the very same solo.

We will cherish his heritage.

Albums with Perry Robinson reviewed on our blog:

Carla Bley & Paul Haines - Escalator Over The Hill (JCOA, 1971)
Anat Fort - A Long Story (ECM, 2007)
Nobu Stowe Lee Pembleton Project - Hommage An Klaus Kinski (Black Saint, 2007)
Burton Greene & Perry Robinson - Two Voices In The Desert (Tzadik, 2009)
Rozanne Levine - Only Moment (Acoustics, 2009)
Undivided - Moves Between Clouds (Multikulti, 2011)
The Lou Grassi PO Band with Marshall Allen - Live At The Knitting Factory Vol. 1 (Porter, 2011) Perry Robinson, Zerang, Roginski, Zimpel - Yemen. Music Of The Yemenite Jews (Multikulti, 2012)
Robert Kusiolek/Perry Robinson/Christian Ramond/Klaus Kugel - The Universe (MultiKulti, 2014)
Bobby Naughton/ Leo Smith/ Perry Robinson - The Haunt (No Business, 2018)

Watch his performance at the Kanjiza Jazz Festival (Serbia) in 2011 with Matthew Shipp, Ed Schuler and Ernst Bier. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Gabriela Friedli Trio – Areas (Leo Records, 2018) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

Areas is the Gabriela Friedli Trio’s second album. And, what a powerful album it is.

For those of us out of the Swiss loop, this trio consists of Daniel Studer on bass, Dieter Ulrich on drums, and, of course, Gabriela Friedli on piano. Composition credits split almost evenly between Friedli and Ulrich, but these seem to vary between loose graphic scores and more traditionally composed structures.

I originally had trouble describing the music on this disc. It is at once abstract and straightforward, thoroughly contemporary but rooted in earlier traditions. One hears echoes of ECM-styled jazz, deconstructed blues, and contemporary classical spaciousness. The first track begins with a slow plodding that gives way to scraped strings and ominous piano lines based around short, meticulous clusters of notes. Studer is quiet, but energetic. Ulrich, meanwhile, plays with a measured freneticism that adds depth to the billowing tension of the piece. As with most of the album, this piece is structured around arrhythmic variation rather than melodic or chordal shifts. The second track, “Fil da Ramosa,” is one of few exceptions. Friedli and Studer recite a repeated angular phrase in unison, while Ulrich plays around the theme. The track dips into quiet, then improvisation after the first minute and is eventually brought to its conclusion in a final return to the theme.

The rest of recording fluctuates in a similar fashion between energy and restraint, composition and free playing. To address a few standouts: “Mildew Lisa” opens with string of staggered heavy bass thumps that is soon joined by Ulrich’s inquisitive drum explorations and the alternatively playful and nervous keys of Friedli, again more frequently opting for clusters rather than chords. In contradistinction to the wooly bass and Ulrich’s feints at laying a discernible groove, the piano is particularly crisp. The groove-laden “Miedra” begins with a jagged walking bass and maintains the most consistent jazz structure of any piece on the album. Clearly this trio has the chops to play in a more conventional vernacular while retaining its more meandering tendencies. The seventh track, “Um Su” (an alternate take of which graces the end of the album), is curious in its inclusion of Ulrich on a bugle. The horn sounds wounded, but tender. This mood is reflected in Studer’s bass explorations in friction and juxtaposed against Friedli’s concerted clarity and economy of notes. The effect is a disorienting but rewarding.

According to the liner notes, the album originated in a sojourn Friedli took in the mountainous region of Graubünden. Rather than composing as she had planned, she began to hike, converse with neighbors, and, apparently, internalize her temporary surroundings. A vast and jagged mountainscape makes perfect sense for this recording. Or, rather, it helps me better understand the album’s contours. The music rarely repeats or flows in a single direction, but instead rebounds and refracts. Stilted and augmented echoes outshine the few lengthier melodies. The sounds are spacious, but, as in the penultimate track “Masse,” can well and collide into claustrophobic outbursts that inevitably collapse back into their discrete elements. Absolutely recommended.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Uivo Zebra - s/t (Bocian, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Uivo Zebra defines itself as a power trio but offers a challenging variant to this too common aesthetics. This Portuguese trio - electric guitarist Jorge Nuno, electric bass player Hernâni Faustino, known from the RED Trio and other local groups as Clocks and Clouds and the José Lencastre Nau Quartet, and drummer João Sousa, who collaborates with Nuno in the psych-improv group Signs Of The Silhouette - like any other power outfit operates in a high-octane stratospheres and always aims for almost unbearable levels of intensity, blending elements of free-improv, noise and psychedelia. The big difference is Uivo Zebra's total control of its power - the depth and breadth of it and the colors and nuances of the extreme power. Uivo Zebra may sound as being possessed by its brutal outputs, but knows how to tame and discipline these extremes, attaching its very own personal mark on these kind of sonic meltdowns.

The self-titled debut album of Uivo Zebra, following a self released cassette Gancho (A BESTA 033) from earlier this year, was recorded in Lisbon during March 2017. The album offers five pieces, structured as a dramatic suite that accumulates more and more tension and higher degrees of volatile intensity as it progresses. But at the same time Uivo Zebra is ready to grab more and more risky, free-form detours, insisting on eccentric walks on a tricky tightropes and jumping headfirst from impossible, surreal cliffs.

Uivo Zebra never employ tiresome clichés of reckless aggression. These singular musicians are perceptive listeners, know how to build a multilayered, cohesive interplay, full of sudden, inventive twists that not only keeps them all -literally - on their toes, but, most likely, will keep you - the listeners - out of any possible comfort zone. Nuno is master of of translating showers of buzzing feedback into ritualistic trance-soundscapes and knows how to light an infectious storm in an instant. Faustino keeps constructing deep-tones tsunamis and Sousa pushes this heavy, electrifying commotion forward with mighty blows.

Go and experience this sonic phenomena for your good. Uivo Zebra can rewire your exhausted nerves to a hyperactive and subversive mode. Just what these times demand.

More on Soundcloud...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Roundup 12-2-2018

By Stuart Broomer

Fareed Haque and KAIA String Quartet - New Latin American Music for Guitar and String Quartet (Delmark, 2018) ****

Released on the venerable jazz and blues label Delmark, this CD bears only tangential relationship to jazz and improvised music, but it testifies to the rich syntheses of musical languages in Latin American culture, presenting chamber music that pulses with life. Master guitarist Fareed Haque and the KAIA string quartet present music that pulls together local traditions, European conventions and African roots from composers from Cuba (Leo Brouwer), Argentina (Astor Piazzolla), Mexico (Eduardo Angulo) and Uruguay (Elbio Barilari). Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations was written for the Kronos Quartet with Piazzolla on bandoneon with and Haque has done a wonderful job of transposing the role to guitar. The concluding movement of Brouwer’s Quintet (1957) is a stunning example of complex music executed with a special degree of clarity and intensity.

Rafael Toral/ Hugo Antunes/ João Pais Filipe/ Ricardo Webbens - Space Quartet (Clean Feed, 2018) ****½

Portuguese composer/ sound artist/improviser Rafael Toral describes what he’s doing as “this odd intersection of Zen, Electronic Music and Free Jazz.” Initially influenced by John Cage and the methods of Lisbon trumpeter Sei Miguel, Toral has worked with a variety of electronic devices, from synthesizers to mini-amplifiers treated as sound sources. On Space Quartet, he presents something very striking, a band that is literally a direct hybrid of acoustic free jazz and electronic-based improvisation, adding bassist Hugo Antunes to regular partners drummer João Pais Filipe and synthesizer player Ricardo Webbens. Toral’s phrasing on feedback circuits and other electronic instruments is uncannily fluent, and there’s something very fresh in this reversal of typical roles in which acoustic instruments are in the foreground while electronics functioning ambiently. is a fine source for streaming examples of Toral’s music. This is highly original, exciting music.

Marco Scarassatti - Hackearragacocho (QTV, 2018) ****½

Marco Scarassatti is a Brazilian sound artist and improviser. In 2017 he released the remarkably varied Casa Acústica (Fragments from an Improvisation Diary) on Creative Sources. One of the most interesting components of his diverse musical practice was his improvising on the viola de cocho, an idiomatic fretted string instrument of the lute family. Hackearragacocho is a half-hour web release devoted to the instrument. Scarassatti brings a range of approaches to it, from plucking melodies and drones to scraping, drumming and bowing it in free improvisations. Whatever his approach, Scarassatti is a special artist. It's rare to hear music that is a spontaneous exploration of sound, sometimes at the granular level, and which also can be heard as music that explores and expresses complex and subtle emotional states in a way that perhaps only improvised music can, music that is coming into being and becoming one with the feeling itself.

Ross Lambert - MAGNIT-IZ-DAT (Earshots! Recordings) ****½

Belfast-born and London-resident guitarist Ross Lambert presents comparable levels of exploration and involvement on MAGNIT-IZ-DAT, his first solo recording. In part recorded in the back seat of a car at various South London locations, this is music in the moment, spontaneous and touching, with Lambert’s spoken introductions emphasizing a personal urban geography. There are sometimes odd vocalizations and bits of alien and electronic noise, but for the most part a listener has an ear pressed close to the guitar’s sound hole. It’s consistently surprising as well as involving, moving through different sonic terrains with a feeling of inevitability, as Lambert moves from sudden driving rhythms, scalar improvisation, free association and the most meticulously detailed lines. “Sometimes Receptionist” moves through a dozen areas, an unfolding that begins with rubbing the body of the guitar to explosions of notes and sound effects to a conclusion of sustained lyric beauty.

Eugene Chadbourne - 1 1/3 (Feeding Tube, 2018) *****

More than forty years ago, Eugene Chadbourne was already creating his own space, developing a unique musical practice by mixing unlikely (sometimes downright unfriendly) genres, techniques and instruments with a Bakunin-ite aesthetic and humor, crushing country and western into the avant-garde. 1 1/3 is the first of four projected LPs from Feeding Tube that go to the beginnings of his explorations during a Canadian “expatriation.” The site provides the start date of 1975, though the precise venues and recording dates are absent. These recordings can still surprise, whether it’s a menacing tape of a CB radio hillbilly matched with abstract, dissonant guitar arpeggios (“Love”); a mash tape of what sounds like radio about CB radio with mad noise and high-speed random guitar overdubs (“BBs Jazz Blues and Soup”); high speed free jazz on classic tunes (“Parker’s Mood” and Dolphy’s “Miss Ann”); higher-speed picking (“Golden Dragon,” “Elbow” and “Making It Go Away”); or layers of noise and strings (“High School”). Previously unreleased, this is essential history and hearing.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Birgit Ulher - Matter Matters (Hideous Replica, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

On Birgit Ulher’s latest solo album, Matter Matters, she has recorded a bold and vital interaction with the world as it is. Which of course, in her hands, means a set of works that are alive and crucial, by alternating moments of discomfort with a sense of stability, creating a sound world that remains distinctly Ulher-ian, for lack of a better descriptor.

There is nothing sly or understated about the opener, “Traces.” Composed for trumpet, radio, speaker, objects, and tape, “Traces” uses as its source material measurements taken in the Chicago and Elbe rivers. Starting with source data for each river’s oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, and e. coli contents, Ulher assigned each of these a physical material to be recorded: marble, tins, wire whisks. Sounds and rests are dictated by the measurements, which represent the four “traces” of the title. The resulting tapes alone would be enough, possibly, to make a point, but Ulher’s does far more with the concept, her trumpet serving as both commentary and experiment, measuring the impact of a human’s impact on this aquatic scale.

“From Die Schachtel” is a composition by Christoph Schiller, with whom Ulher has an ongoing creative duo, derived from a set of text fragments, graphics, and other conceptual materials Ulher refers to for constructing the performance. Interestingly, the source of the text fragments is reporting from two 19th-century polar expeditions, which conceptually extends Ulher’s dialogue between herself and the external world. In this case, her trumpet interprets a farther past, a state of the world we can never return to—and may not desire to, at any rate. Like the writing of B.S. Johnson, the material the comprises “Die Schachtel” can be assembled in any direction, as the liner notes state, “The score collection presents a self-contained cosmos.” Ulher, a master of form and structure, performs splendidly, and the composition is intriguing enough one wonders what a set of three or five realizations might play like.

The final track, “Splitting 21,” utilizes both splitter and tape, two objects Ulher has previously used to great success. The composition was co-written and recorded with one of her regular collaborators, cellist Michael Maierhof. Opening with a set of bright, clear notes set against pops, crackles, and airy stops, “Splitting 21” is at times a disorienting listen, given that Ulher is perhaps an underrated player of silence. Her trumpet tone is majestic and bright throughout, but it’s her dramatic playing of rests that deepens this particular performance. I’ve often thought of Taylor Ho Bynum as a kind of heir of Ulher’s, but she’s a bit less reliant on motif building than he has typically been. However, they both play with a uniquely physical sensitivity to space. As “Splitting 21” ends with a brief, crisp whole tone, there is, as there often is with Ulher’s recordings, a definite feeling that a bridge has been erected between listener and performer. For despite being an avant-garde or experimental performer, Ulher is also entirely human, her concerns timely and true, and listening takes more than pressing play: it’s up to us to hear.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Daniel Carter Review

By Stef

It's hard to keep up with the recorded output of multi-instrumentalist and New York free jazz icon Daniel Carter, and my estimate is that he appeared on no less than twelve albums last year, even if not always as a leader. Some of his earlier bands such as Test and Other Dimensions In Music, made the already forward-thinking New York jazz scene even more progressive musically. Despite his output and his influence and presence in the avant-garde jazz scene, he remains self-effacing in all his musical endeavours, putting the music in front, rather than his personality or ego.

The list of albums reviewed here will show his strong musical versatility: in the use of multiple instruments, the mastering of various musical styles, the possibility to adapt and perform in different settings and ensembles, but without losing his own character and vision.

Carter is not an iconoclast (like Ayler,  Coleman, Brötzmann), he is not the signature voice musician (like Brötzmann, Gustafsson, Evan Parker), he is not the virtuoso instrumentalist (like Vandermark, Wadada Leo Smith, John Butcher), he is not the towering musical personality (like Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, William Parker), nor does he seem to care. He appears to be interested in music, and in music for its own sake, performing on all saxes, trumpet, clarinet and flute, performing in all sorts of bands and musical settings, all very much of influence, but largely under the radar, unseen but shaping, invisible but very present. Curiosity and a genuine interest in mixing with other voices seems to of higher interest than making his own voice heard. A good reason for us to give Daniel Carter some more attention.

We already highlighted the excellent "Seraphic Light" earlier this year, but these ones are also worth looking for.

Daniel Carter & Unanimity - Unanimity (Self, 2018) ****½

Unanimity is a first collaboration of five musicians, all based in New York but with different musical backgrounds. 

Vasko Dukovski is a clarinetist from Macedonia, but trained in the United States, and very active in several contemporary music ensembles, spanning from Bang On A Can to the Either/Orchestra. Stelios Mihas is a guitarist from Greece, classically trained, and active in the United States, in several ensembles, including the free improvisation band, The Listening Group. Jeff Harshbarger is an award-winning bassist, who has played in a multitude of bands of which Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is probably the best known. George Spanos is a Greek drummer, also living in the United States, and who has performed with artists such as John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Juini Booth, Lawrence Clark, Marc Ribot, On ka'a Davis, Sylvie Courvoisier and Erik Friendlander. 

This is the band's first collective performance, and the outcome is powerful and amazingly cohesive for musicians who've barely played together. All tracks are fully improvised, and the craftmanship and listening skills of this US-Greek-Macedonian quintet is more than above average. 

The intro of the opening track sounds like a well-rehearsed atmospheric piece, much in the same vein as Other Dimensions In Music, with music that flows along the backbone of Carter's slow trumpet phrases, while the other musicians accompany him, with granular interjections and supportive emphasis, increasingly developing their own narrative of agitated counterpoint, and when this becomes solid enough in its own right, Carter picks up his sax to expand and change the sound towards more energy and speed. Michas' dry and somewhat dirty guitar sound is possibly one of the most memorable elements of the piece. 

The second track, "The Variety Of Things And Beings",  is much more explorative, with sounds colliding in an unstructured way, full of surprises, yet again resulting in a quite unique and coherent whole. At times it somehow reminds me of early King Crimson improvisations, with lots of little sounds and open space at the beginning, picking up density as the tune evolves, led by Spanos' clattering and rattling drumming, and the frenzied shrieks of both clarinet and guitar. 

Harshbarger opens the "pièce de résistance" of the album, the eighteen minute closing improvisation, with a rhythmic throbbing bass, then cedes the place for calm guitar and clarinet. The music takes its time to develop, and that is just great, because it takes us along a meandering kaleidoscopic sonic journey, from beautiful quiet passages to harsh intensity. 

According to the liner notes "This album serves as a manifested testament, as a seed for a collective consciousness/unanimity for the posterity of the variety of things and beings with the proposition of achieving balanced harmony in the greater spectrum on the planet and in the distant future beyond the heliosphere". We truly hope it does.

The performance was recorded on September 12, 2015 at Favela Worldwide in Brooklyn. 

Listen and download from CDBaby

A new album, "Radical Invisibility", is in the pipeline with a slightly revised band, to be released in 2019 by 577 Records. 

Daniel Carter, Holmes, Putman, Greene & Ughi - Telepathia Liquida (577 Records, 2018) ****½

After an initial exploration of each other's sound, the rhythm section sets out on a great vamp, hard-boppish, with heavy piano chords by Matthew Putman, a pulsing bass by Hilliard Greene and the hard-hitting drums of Federico Ughi. It's a majestic train that's set in motion, offering the wonderful foundation for Daniel Carter on reeds and trumpet and Patrick Holmes on clarinet to intertwine their soloing with increasing intensity and power, only to slow down again for a more fragile and exploratory mid-section, after which the intensity picks up again.

On the second track, "Shine-A-Town", first Ughi, then Carter set the tone for a piece with shifting moods and levels of intensity. It starts wild and ferocious, yet changes rather quickly into a subdued and calm mode, as if once entering through the gate of the improvisation, the inside is quite friendly and welcoming ... until Putman's ascending harmonics and hammering chords drive the other musicians into more intensity and power, including drums and bass to weave a wild tapestry of branching sounds, collectively stopped with one strong chord, to the pleasure and appreciation of the live audience.

"Throne", the last track, offers an unexpected quiet start, with music that sounds like a ballad, initiated by the piano, over which Holmes' clarinet and Carter gently interlace their freely evolving lyrical phrases. The middle part becomes more boppish in nature, even if the rhythm remains rather implicit. The middle part is full of wild intensity, propulsed forward by Putman and Ughi, shifting back to a quiet duet of the two reeds, and ending with what the whole album is all about: raw authenticity, jubilant and glorious interplay, and a feeling of fun that transcends into the deeper level of real art: clever, meaningful and forcing the listener to remain vigilant to capture frequent shifts in direction and to be transported by the emtional force of the delivery.

Again, too short.

If their previous album, "Telepathic Alliances", was only a first collaboration of the five musicians, their sophomore release is even stronger, and more telepathic, if that overused term is still acceptable. 

Available on Bandcamp, but also in 300 copies in vinyl. To be released on December 7th.

Listening Group - Listening Group (577 Records, 2018) ****½

Again, a totally different musical universe opens with The Listening Group, a band 'led' by Daniel Carter, or maybe 'initiated' is the better word, because the band's concept resides in collective improvised composition, based on active listening. The musicians come from diverse backgrounds and instruments: Daniel Carter on alto, tenor, soprano and trumpet, Claire de Brunner on bassoon, Patrick Holmes on clarinet,  Nick Lyons on alto saxophone,  Jeff Snyder on Electronics, Stelios Mihas on guitar, Jonah Rosenberg on piano, Zach Swanson on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums.

The result is a genre-defying album that holds the middle between a classical ensemble, romantic music, modern composition and jazz ... and then more. The collective demonstrates Carter's vision on life and on music, in which the total is more than the sum of its parts, in which spiritual beauty and unity arise when things things converge. He writes in the liner notes: "Each of us has her/his musical view, philosophy, way of playing, personality, and thus, makes her/his unique contribution to the overall alloy/alchemy/sound of the Listening Group, but we all most probably would agree that the Listening Group is majorly about listening, playing in such a way that each and every player can be clearly heard by each and every other player, notwithstanding the fact that some instruments in the ensemble are capable of playing much louder than others. The Listening Group mind, heart, body, soul, spirit, character, is brought into being by the mind, heart, body, soul, spirit, character, of each of its players".

The music is ambitious, and amazing: it creates a semi-dense and warm sonic universe in which instruments ebb and flow into a common pool of sound, in which individual voices are still identifiable, yet are irrelevant on their own. The atmosphere is open, neither dark nor optimistic, and brings to mind images of organic growth in nature, in which a wild yet seemingly organised whole comes into existence out of strangely unrelated and unpredictable components. The only thing that keeps them together is the listening. All instruments grow into a collective landscape.

The album is released in an exclusive limited edition of 300 hand-numbered vinyl LPs. Luckily, it's also available on Bandcamp.

Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure &Federico Ughi - New York United (577 Records, 2018) ****

Because of Tobias Wilner electronics and beats, the album is somewhat reminiscent of the work that Matthew Shipp produced with his Thirsty Ear recordings, and the Blue Series Continuum band, and especially "High Water" with El-P, combining the free flowing melodies of the soloists with solid yet subdued techno beats. On that album, Carter was accompanied by Roy Cambpell, Steve Swell and Matthew Shipp as soloists, but on this album, the only soloist is Daniel Carter, which makes the overall sound a little less rich, but because he switches instruments once in a while, variety is offered in return.

The other musicians are Djibril Toure on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums. Toure is (one of) the bass player(s) of the famous Wu-Tang Clan hip hop band.

The end result is a mesmerising blending of genres, with repetitive and trance-inducing beats over which Carter adds his solos and Ughi his creative and rock solid drumming.

This will not be for the purists (purists? really?) among our readers, but this a very enjoyable album, which will hopefully also bring non jazz fans to this kind of improvised music.

Daniel Carter, Hilliard Greene & David Haney - Live Constructions (Slam Productions, 2018) ***½

"Live Constructions" starts with a beautiful slow piece with Carter on trumpet, Hilliard Greene on bass, and David Haney on piano. Even if freely improvised, there are references to gospel, cool jazz and bop, in a wonderful interaction between three musicians who've done it all during their career.

Haney's presence is decisive on this album. He is under-recorded in my opinion, and his other albums are easy to recommend: he combines a clear sense of harmony with very creative inventiveness in creating a sound which is both intimate, lyrical and even funny at times.

The performance is the first meeting of all three musicians, organised by WKCR Radio based at Columbia University, New York, as part of their weekly programme "Live Constructions".

David Haney writes: "I have found that some of the best music comes from first encounters. As per my usual style of collective improvisation - we don't discuss what we are going to play. Just as you wouldn't discuss what you are going to talk about, I see no need to talk about improvised music before or after it is performed. To me we are just talking." And that is indeed the case here.

In contrast to some of the other albums reviewed in this list, the overall mood is calm, slow-paced and warm. This end result is a very inviting album, performed with felt precision by three artists who no longer need to prove themselves, but who at times appear to be more focused on delivering on the expectations of acceptability of a radio programme rather than creating a new sound.

It's a nice album, but a little short with less than thirty minutes of music.

Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Inside The Studio Vol. One (577 Records, 2018) ***½

According to my estimate, this is the 5th duo album between Carter and Federico Ughi, and to celebrate the event, it's released in an exclusive limited edition of 10 (!) hand-numbered CDs. Luckily, the music is also available digitally via Bandcamp

The sound is not different than on the other albums: a great spontaneous interaction of two musicians who are fully comfortable with each playing. Ughi is a master at keeping pulse with an open rhythm, allowing Carter's natural lyricism on his various instruments the freedom to evolve and develop, while once in a while picking up the rhythm in his phrasing. Carter switches instruments, which keeps the variation high, even if his natural preference and strength lies with the sax. 

Andrew Barker, Daniel Carter ‎– Polyhedron (Astral Spirits, 2018) ***½

On Polyhedron, Daniel Carter and drummer Andrew Barker play tribute to their friends and musical partners Roy Campbell, Sabir Mateen, William Parker and Charles Waters.

It's the second cassette released by the duo, the first one - Common Soldier - already dating from 2001. Andrew Barker is known from his work with the Barker Trio, the Gold Sparkle Band and William Parker's Little Huey Creative Orchestra (in which Mateen, Waters, Campbell also performed).

On Polyhedron we get four improvisations of twelve to fourteen minutes, alternating between calm explorations and wild interplay (and Barker offers some real powerplay on the second and third track). The album offers everything you can expect from two artists with their background. The playing is excellent, with Carter primarily playing sax, except on the last track, which starts with spiritual and peaceful flute-playing, and turning more melancholy when Carter switches to trumpet.


Maxime Petit & Daniel Carter (Lurker Bias, 2018) **½

This cassette release shows again a the versatility of Daniel Carter, now performing - on sax only - with French electric bassist Maxime Petit. The latter's style is more rooted in rock and noise than in jazz, and hence more direct and explicit, but nevertheless both musicians find a common language to dialogue. The result is surprisingly gentle, with soft-spoken and intimate musical conversations.

The amount of music you get is short, with six tracks totalling less than twenty minutes. And maybe that's good, as I had the impression that everything had been said by then.

Only for completists of Daniel Carter's oeuvre.

Daniel Carter, William Parker, Roy S. Campbell Jr., Rashid Bakr - Other Dimensions in Music (Silkheart, 2018 re-issue) *****

This is one of my all-time favorite free jazz albums, and it is great that Silkheart made it now also digitally available. The original album was released in 1990, and it still sounds so incredibly fresh.

If you don't know it yet, check it out: mandatory listening!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Daniel Carter, Demian Richardson, Matthew Putman, Dave Moss, Federico Ughi ‎– The Gowanus Recordings (577 Records, 2018)

A re-issue on vinyl of the CD that was released in 2009, obviously shorter in length.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Latest Releases from Jacob Anderskov

By Eyal Hareuveni

Danish pianist-composer-educator Jacob Anderskov (an associate professor at Copenhagen’s acclaimed Rhythmic Music Conservatory) always searches for new means of expressions that challenge his artistic vision. His discography encompasses modern jazz with his own Anderskov Accident, experiments with electronics, compositions for piano, strings trio and percussion, abstractions of Radiohead songs, and collaborations with American Chris Speed, Michael Formanek and Gerald Cleaver and German reeds player Frank Gratkowski. Anderskov’s new albums with the ZAV and KINETICS trios suggest different sides of this remarkable pianist.

ZAV - Out of the Spectacle (Ilk Music, 2018) ****1/2

ZAV stands for three singular Danish free-improvisers from three generations. Z is for alto sax player Jesper Zeuthen, one of the heroes of the Danish jazz scene since the late sixties, known for his collaborations with pianist Carsten Dahl, guitarist Jakob Bro and trumpeter Kasper Tranberg. A is for the generation-younger Anderskov, and V is for the youngest, drummer Anders Vestergaard, known from the power trio Yes Deer and the like-minded Laser Nun duo. The ZAV trio was recorded live during the Copenhagen Jazz Festival at Koncertkirken on July 2017.

The free-improvising set of ZAV highlights its strong sense of expressive, quite sensual synergy. Anderskov and Vestergaard begin the first piece with restless, abstract sonic games with the piano strings and and fractured pulses, but when Zeuthen joins with his clear, emotional singing tone, ZAV dynamics adapts itself to the course suggested by Zeuthen. The interplay remains totally free and leaves enough room for personal detours but the charismatic presence of Zeuthen acts like a powerful magnet. Again and again, with every phrase of him and with a perfect sense of timing, Zeuthen anchors this energetic, risk-seeking comrades trio in a gentle, often ethereal and and always emotional terrains. You may wonder how come you still don’t have many more albums of this great musician in your home.

Anderskov and Vestergaard begin the second piece with playful, rhythmic games, soon intensified by Zeuthen who brings the dense and restless interplay of the trio to a climax. The last and longest piece of this spectacular but only 40-minutes long captures ZAV at its best; a trio that not only presents different generations but also strong, opinionated approaches to free-improvisations. These improvisers know how to feed and challenge each other, but are totally attentive to any nuance of their comrades. Anderskov adds the cerebral angle with his complex, multilayered piano solos, Vestergaard insists on an open, fractured patterns and infectious levels of energy and Zeuthen cements the powerful synergy with his kind of Ayler-ian love cries. Close to this piece coda, Anderskov translates one of Zeuthen cries to an exotic, lyrical solo, playing with his piano strings like a Japanese koto. Zeuthen answers with a whispering tone, almost as if adapting a shakuhachi flute vocabulary to his alto sax while Vestergaard colors this brilliant conversation with a ritualistic pulse.

Jacob Anderskov - KINETICS live in Köln: Mysteries (Ilk Music, 2018) ****

The KINETICS trio feature Anderskov on piano, Adam Pultz Melbye on double bass and Vestergaard on drums. The trio released its debut album, Kinetics (The Path) as part of Anderskov’s Habitable Exomusics trilogy (Ilk Music, 2015). Anderskov applied for KINETICS a concept of mechanics - forces on bodies in motion, transforming the bodies-in-motion metaphor to a sonic journey between constant-shifting pulses. The title of KINETICS sophomore album, Mysteries, refers to a spiritual dimension beyond the physical one, “into our interpretations of the forces behind the physical phenomena. It suggests an opening towards realms bigger or more incomprehensible than ours. To phenomena that will exist when we are no more here”.

Mysteries was recorded live at The LOFT, Köln on March 2017 at the end of the KINETICS European tour, that began in London where the trio hosted Evan Parker. The KINETICS has developed a different aesthetics of the ZAV trio. This trio interplay is more structured and disciplined, still, alternating naturally between textures with strict pulses to an abstract, pulse-free improvisations, keeping a delicate balance between the beat and freedom. Anderskov composed all the pieces and he is the obvious leader of the leader, with a perfect control on the trio intense, physical energy, powerful flow and the carefully built momentum.

Side A of this vinyl (plus download options) captured the end of the first set of KINETICS, emphasizing the trio telepathic flow between structured forms, muscular energy and abstract expression of touching lyricism. Side B captured the opening of the second set and moves from even looser expressions of chamber jazz on “Pull Up, including a most arresting solo piano at the end of title piece, to a powerful, swinging eruption on “Snap, Pans”, and concluding with the dark and melancholic, chamber “Origami Megalith” .

Two More Guys

Here we have two duo albums on double bassist Barry Guy’s Maya label. The other guys are familiar, having performed and recorded with him previously: trumpeter Peter Evans with the Guy, Evan Parker, Paul Lytton trio, with Guy and pianist Agustí Fernández, and as part of Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble; and percussionist Ramón López as a member of the Aurora Trio with Guy and Fernández. They’ve both also featured in his Blue Shroud Band. With that kind of form expectations are raised and met in recordings occupying very different dimensions.

Peter Evans & Barry Guy ‎– Syllogistic Moments (Maya, 2018) ****

This is a performance by Guy and Evans from Uster, Switzerland at the PAM-Festival in November 2016. As to the title, the notes provide the following definition of a syllogism – “a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two given or assumed propositions.”, for example: all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. The analogy is that the various moments which make up each piece are entailed by the dispositions of the two players at that stage of the performance. Aristotelian logic is abandoned beyond the album title however, and each track is named after a colour pairing, according to Guy, neutral in not evoking metaphor or imagery beyond the listener’s own imagination. (I think he missed a trick here and should really have named each of the pieces using the mnemonic terms given to the different forms of syllogism by medieval logicians: “Barbara”, “Cesare”, etc.)

More tellingly, Guy mentions the athletic nature of the improvisations, the musicians delving into minutiae with intense listening and decoding of intentions, keeping their minds and bodies in high alert. Certainly, anyone who’s seen Guy play will appreciate the visceral engagement with his instrument, generating fizzing textures and dizzying shifts like a tornado animating and absorbing all around it. His playing is so heavily loaded with tangled complexity that you can feel the sheer thrill of extremity, a near physiological affect. Yet behind this lies an acute intelligence – studied but spontaneous, rarefied but grounded in the materiality of instrumental texture – a musician deeply versed in a wide repertoire with a firm understanding of the nuances of string sonority and how to thoroughly integrate the diverse idioms which attract him. Likewise, with Evans who’s an equally commanding presence employing a virtuosic range of trumpet techniques that have an immediate, sensual impact.

The result is a muscular, highly volatile duo which is almost permanently unstable, operating not so much in dialogue as through an extended series of galvanic reactions and endlessly changeable configurations. The exploratory aims of such music-making inevitably challenge our notions of congruence, the way things fit together, like examining the mechanism of a watch for anyone other than a watchmaker. Interest is maintained and rewarded not just through recognisable locutions and areas of affinity – bright-toned fanfares, resonant bowed double stops, microtonal glazes – but because there are hyper-speed exchanges and compressed layers impossible to parse or pin-down. During ‘Green White’ the instruments sneak and dance about each other, jerky and graceful like a pair of wobbly tightrope walkers. Equilibrium is eventually reached in Evans’ subdued trumpet coda, one of several quiescent passages amid the crackling currents. ‘Red Green’ switches between recurring spurts of energy and static tension, and ‘Red Grey’ concludes with waves of saturated trumpet and meaty, arco chords.

One of the advantages of musical mazes, with no obvious entrance or exit points, is that many paths are available. ‘White Red’ flows with highs and lows, divergences and little surprises, and in the final piece, ‘Grey Blue’, the pair scuttle in criss-crossing trajectories, wayward yet directed according to some inner logic.

Ramón López & Barry Guy ‎– Sidereus Nuncius — The Starry Messenger (Maya, 2018) ****

Recorded at López’ suggestion during the downtime of a studio session in Paris in November 2017, the album is named after Galileo Galilei’s astronomical treatise (1610). According to Guy, Lopez’ drums and cymbals prompted thoughts of a metaphorical planetary system, with the studio microphones acting like a telescope, “bringing details of our own musical cosmos into sharp definition, illuminating the sometimes craggy terrain of our deliberations, but also observing the more spacious musical topography”. The reference to scale is significant; what counts as large or small, surface or detail being largely dependent on perspective and context. These thirteen relatively brief episodes reveal a musical universe contracting in size and expanding in particularity: studies in microscopic activity rendered macroscopic where any element, however small, can become central.

The duo charts this space in a variety of forms. López’ percussion consists primarily of cymbal washes, deep pulses, snare rolls and a ticking hi-hat, a measured backdrop as Guy picks and saws his way into Lilliputian sound worlds, full of refined textures and subtle gradations. In ‘Gravitation’ his bass focuses on tiny scrapes, bounces and shivers, rising above throbbing drums then dragged down again. ‘Particle Waves’ opens out a knotty, modulated landscape whereas ‘Time Loop’ consists of minuscule movements, barely articulated twinges, thrums and taps. ‘Sigma Orionis’ moves from frosty bowed harmonics to increasingly elaborate pizzicato arabesques and ‘Sundrum’ is a succession of slow-motion shockwaves initiated by López’ percussive shudders, as if offering an exploded view, paused and rotated as a three-dimensional structure. By way of contrast, in the following ‘Expansion’ Guy skims and flickers creating a stream of diaphanous vapour. ‘Occam’s Razor’ – the medieval philosopher’s famous maxim of ontological parsimony, that entities should not be multiplied without necessity – is suitably pared-down to essentials, with plucked arpeggiated chords spread across different registers, accompanied by simple brushes. ‘Extraterrestrial’ stands out as a meditative interlude, its drifting Baroque harmonies referencing another of Guy’s musical passions.

Both albums can be previewed and downloaded from Maya Recordings’ Bandcamp site, including hi-res files (96/24 and 88.2/24, respectively) which vividly capture the timbral richness and dynamic weight of the two duos. Well worth exploring.