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Monday, January 22, 2018

Meet The Experimental Vocalists #2

Six vocal artists, each explore this unique artistry in his own, highly creative and personal way, and all remind us how much the voice itself - naked, manipulated and processed - is still one of the most powerful means of musical expression.  

Beam Splitter - Tough Tongue (Corvo Records, 2017) ****½

Beam Splitter is the duo of Chinese-American vocalist Audrey Chen, who also plays the cello and electronics in other projects, and Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. The duo began working in 2015 and has toured extensively since then on both sides of the Atlantic, often collaborating with other improvisers as vocal artist Phil Minton, electronics pioneer Bob Ostertag and trumpeter Lionel Kaplan. Tough Tongue, Beam Splitter’s debut album, was recorded live at the Viennese Rhiz club, at Caffeine Asperto in Ljubljana and in Berlin’s Weincafé, all during 2016. It is released in a limited-edition of 300 red vinyls plus download option.

Chen and Munkeby Nørstebø explores the spectrum between expressive, abstract vocals and the trombone as an instrument that channels pure bubbles of air and streams of breathes, intertwined in dense dialogues. Despite the abstract nature of Beam Splitter's aesthetics, Chen offers highly emotional and suggestive territories with her urgent, wordless lingo while Munkeby Nørstebø embraces gently her vocal forays with raw, tactile breathes, and serene drones. Both move organically, keeping a highly intimate, conversational mode, with their own senses of pulse and narrative development. The last, longest piece, “Sweet Nothings”, captured in Berlin’s Weincafé, introduces  rough elements of conflict and confrontation to Chen and Munkeby Nørstebø dialogues. These elements add a deeper, vulnerable dimension to Beam Splitter's intimate mode of sonic relationship. This 22-minutes piece concludes with newer, sweeter and compassionate understanding between these unique individuals.  

Redox - Orbitals (Creative Sources, 2017) ***½

Redox is the trio of Austrian, Graz-based vocal artist and electronics player Annette Giesriegl, pianist Katharina Klement and Croatian, and Brussels-based marimba player Kaja Farszky. All are performers of contemporary music as well as bold improvisers. Redox was formed in 2014 and Orbitals is its debut album,  recorded live in the Austrian town of Kumberg and in Croatia’s capital Zagreb in 2015 and 2016.

The term Redox - reduction-oxidation - refers to the process of transfer of electrons between two bodies, and redox reactions are used to power smartphones, laptops etc. Orbitals is the mathematical description of the wave-like behavior of electrons in atom. These elaborate, scientific terms do capture the essence of this trio. Redox operates in a busy, very vivid process of sharing, sculpting and charging voices and sounds with shifting elements of expressiveness, energy and momentum. The trio employs a wide arsenal of sounds - acoustic ones, extended ones with different vocal and breathing techniques as well as assorted piano and marimba preparations, and subtle electronics. Giesriegl, Klement and Farszky exchange roles constantly, each one intensifying the tension, the fragile pulse and narrative in her own distinct, eccentric manner. The nuanced and mysterious textures are developed in a methodical manner, insisting on an uncompromising investigation and experimentation with timbres and dynamics, with almost no attempt to suggest emotional release.    

And on Soundcloud.

Not On The Guest List - Free! Spirit! Chant! (Gaffer, 2017) ***1/2

Not On The Guest List consists of the Norwegian, Copenhagen-based drummer-percussionist Ole Mofjell and vocalist Natalie Sandtorv, a couple also in real life. Sandtorv is also an accomplished singer-songwriter who released recently the acclaimed album Freedom Nation (Øra Fonogram, 2017) and Mofjell is in-demand drummer who has collaborated with pianist Jacob Anderskov and sax players Tobias Delius, Anna Högberg and Aram Shelton.

Sandtorv uses her voice as an ecstatic, even hysterical instrument, sometimes dueling, often dancing passionately with the propulsive, schizophrenic drumming of Mofjell. Their deep, immediate understanding and almost telepathic connection allows Not On The Guest List to move instantly, back and forth, between highly intense and powerful free-improvised outbursts to delicate and soft stream of improvised lyrics, while holding their tight and focused interplay. Obviously, and quite often, Sandtorv and Mofjell improvisations sound as restless emotional conversations of two opinionated soul-mates, but both manage to keep the tension and surprise with their urgent and colorful spectrum of sonic references.  

And on Soundcloud.

Tomomi Adachi & Jaap Blonk - Asemic Dialogues + Jaap Blonk - Irrelevant Comments (Kontrans, 2017) ****½ / ***½

Dutch vocal artist-sound poet-electronics player Jaap Blonk needs no introduction. Here he performs with lost twin, Japanese vocal artist Tomomi Adachi, who like Blonk, has performed contemporary works, collaborated with numerous improvisers, among them Akira Sakata, Otomo Yoshihide and Jon Rose, and adds electronics to his unique palette of vocal sounds. Blonk and Adachi performed together few times in the past but Asemic Dialogues is the first document of their work, capturing their live performances at Berlin’s Lettrétage on July 2017.

The title of this album says it all. No words or semantics are needed, but tons of verbal-emotional information is exchanged. These eccentric, restless twins dive immediately, head-on into noisy conversations that sound as secret, fragmented transmissions of two out-of-tune-aliens with extremely short spans of attention. These terrestrial creatures are clearly deeply in love, demonstrating great affinity for Dadaist vocal games and primitive techno beats. The second dialogue is even wilder than the first one and it seems that the beloved and adventurous vocal explorers were lost somewhere in deep, noisy space. These irresponsible anarchists show no sign of interest in return to mother Earth.  

The ones who are still novice in the art of Blonk may want to check his Irrelevant Comments, a sort of overview of all the things that Blonk can do: Musique concrète, beats, sound poetry, minimalist techno, horrific soundscapes and even weirder stuff. 16 pieces, dating from 1996 to 2016, recorded at Blonk’s home at Arnhem, Netherlands.

Native Instrument - Camo (Shelter Press, 2017) ***½

If Blonk toyed with "minimalist techno", Native Instrument explorers "insect techno." This Berlin-based duo of Norwegian abstract, minimalist vocalist Stine Janvin Motland, known from her past collaborations with drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg, and Australian field-recorder and sound-artist Felicity Mangan uses vocal and electronic adaptations of wildlife audio recordings originating mainly from the Australian and North European fauna. Native Instrument mixes the rhythms of the animal calls, add digital effects, radio recordings, and vocal imitations until the distinction between rural nature, electronics, and the human voice becomes ambiguous.

Camo is the debut EP release of Native Instrument. The four fascinating pieces entwine organically the natural voices with precise and subtle vocals and electronics layers. It doesn't take long before you begin to visualize the dances of frogs on acid, sweating in some steamy tropical ambience, jumping recklessly along some bug beats or experiencing the amphibian trance. Highly intoxicating stuff.

And on Soundcloud

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Winter Jazz Fest '18: New York City

This year's 14th annual Winter Jazz Festival - now a sprawling eight day affair featuring over 600 musicians - was themed "Social Justice Engagement," and indeed, there was a sense of urgency in the air. The message was carried by the musicians in projects like Marc Ribot's Songs of Resistance, captured in talks like "The Long March" with Archie Shepp, and encapsulated in many of the performances throughout the week.

Friday, January 12th

Matt Mitchell (p), John Hollenbeck (d), Anna Webber (f + s)
I begin here with first 'marathon' night on Friday ... the festival had already been in progress since Wednesday, but the marathon nights on Friday and Saturday are the ones where something like 100 bands play at venues throughout the East and West Villages and some even further downtown. It's not easy to chart your path - some folks choose a single venue and stick to it, or like me, they careen wildly between as many as they can, hoping to catch all they can. I caught five shows, starting with Anna Webber's Simple Trio at a New School stage. Working off her complex charts, the saxophonist/composer, along with pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer John Hollenbeck delivered a brilliant and energizing open set.

André Roleighten (s), Gard Nilssen (d), Petter Eldh (b)
Next, I wandered over to The Bitter End for Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity. The trio from Norway, with a recent devastatingly good triple live CD on Clean Feed, demonstrated what makes them so devastatingly good: a deep connection with classic free jazz and the technical proficiency to take it several leaps beyond. Saxophonist André Roleighten playing is both melodic and fiery, drummer Nillsen leaves no musical space unattended to, and bassist Petter Eldh is a propulsive powerhouse, yet he proceeds with nuance and texture. It was a quick set, 45 minutes flew by without pause before I found myself trekking back up to the New School for Marc Ribot's Songs of Resistance. 

James Brandon Lewis (s), Briggan Krause (s), Domenica Fossati (v,f), Marc Ribot (v,g), Shahzad Ismaily (d)
The guitarist was fired up. In addition to his guitar and vocals, the band was James Brandon Lewis and Briggan Krause on saxophone, Domenica Fossati on vocals and flute, and Shahzad Ismaily on drums, who all served as critical support to the set of original and borrowed protest songs. The inspiration, Ribot explained, came from his participation in last year's Women's March in Washington. Tonight, his guitar playing took back seat as he mostly strummed a gorgeous antique Guild acoustic or tiny Raquinto. His cohorts made up for it, Lewis laid down often blues-tinged lines, and Krause filled in the spaces that Fossati left between her lush singing and moving flute work. Citing the recent politically motivated arrest by ICE of immigrant and activist Ravi Ragbir, Ribot launched into a tune that began as a lullaby but turned into an angry screed. An Italian resistance song was the piece de resistance of the set, after which a collective sigh from the audience followed. They closed with an original, 'Donny's No Good', for which Ismaily delivered a funky backbeat as Ribot's provided a lyrical psychological breakdown of the titular character.

Mara Rosenbloom (p), Sean Conly (b), Chad Taylor (d)
Now charged up and ready to fight as well, I dropped by pianist Mara Rosenbloom's trio set in progress to cool off. With Sean Conly on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, Rosenbloom played a lyrical set. Steeped in a traditional jazz vernacular but pushing the edges, a palpable joy radiated from Rosenbloom, especially when she dug in and let the moment carry her.

Luke Stewart (b), James Brandon Lewis (s), Jamie Branch (t), Warren Trae Crudup III (d), Anthony Pirog (g)
My plan next was to head to the Lower East Side to catch Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition, but weekend subway work proved to be insurmountable. I ended up at the nearby Zinc Bar instead and caught James Brandon Lewis' "Unruly Notes" set featuring trumpeter Jamie Branch. I will not complain, fate landed me at possibly the night's highlight show, as Lewis and Branch tore up the place with the punchy rhythm section of Warren Trae Crudup III (drums), Luke Stewart (bass), and Anthony Pirog (guitar). The first tune was a holy-Coltrane crescendo, Branch's trumpet cutting through and Lewis seeming like he could go on forever. But he didn't, Instead they slid into a complex syncopated groove. As the trumpet shot notes like a nail gun, it really felt like something was happening.

Tuesday, January 16th

I missed the second day of the marathon, but I thoroughly interrogated several attendees, and I’m confident that it was another good night of music. I rejoined on Tuesday for Tyshawn Sorey and Nicole Mitchell at Le Poisson Rouge. 

When I arrived, there was already a packed house for the aforementioned panel discussion, "The Long March," moderated by Ras Moshe Burnett, on the past, present, and future of the role of jazz in protest. Interestingly, the timing of festival overlapped both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the disturbing report of Trump's "shithole countries" remarks, and the panel had a lot of ground to cover. Saxophonist Archie Shepp’s closing words are still reverberating in my ears: "Freedom is something that you must guard very closely ... I'm afraid today that we are losing ground."

While a bit of a heavy ending to a charged conversation, spirits were high for Sorey's solo set, which had been advertised as "a solo percussion and synthesizer set, in his own idiosyncratic display of sonic Zen koans, Dadist gestures, and master displays of intensity and restraint." The stage was dark and the focus was on the percussionist, as he began creating an atmosphere. Throughout the sometimes patience testing set, which was one evolving piece, there were many captivating moments, like for instance the hypnotically repeating, but never the same, glockenspiel melody as the start and end, and the minimalist piano passages underscored by occasional throbbing synthesizer. 

Flutist and composer, Mitchell, who was the artist-in-residence for the festival, performing several times over the week, was this night leading her current Black Earth Ensemble octet. It was a great, wide-ranging performance, though marred a bit by tinny sound. Mitchell's Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds was one of 2017's more celebrated albums (it certainly figured highly on this blog's top 10’s) and her group, with outstanding musicians like violinist Rene Baker, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vocalist avery r young, performed it with passion. Set in the fictional context of a utopian island within a planet beset by a warring, polluting, and dying civilization, the text asks questions of reconciling technology and nature. Though I didn't follow the narrative closely, I enjoyed the range of instruments and moments of searching leading to other moments of exhilaration. 

While the festival was not an all-political event, as there were many concerts that made no mention of politics at all. One of the features of the festival is the amount and diversity of music to choose from, drawing both mainstream and progressive listeners together into an interweaving array of events. Among the other events, was a tribute to the late pianist Geri Allen and a concert with post-rock band Deerhoof with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. What I was able to attend was adventurous and ear-opening and but a small sliver of the Winter Jazz Fest's program. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Aalberg, Kullhammar, Zetterberg, Santos Silva – Basement Sessions Vol. 4 (The Bali Tapes), (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Gustav Lindqvist

All compositions on this album is by Espen Aalberg, except the third song, which is based on a Javanese traditional song. The album was recorded at Dewa Berata´s garden, in Ubud/Bali/Indonesia.

In preparation for this review I reached out to saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar to ask him a couple of questions about Basement Sessions in general and this fourth volume in particular. The “interview” was done over email and is shown below, translated straight from the email answer. Jonas Kullhammar who, part from running his own record label ‘Moserobie’ in which he’s doing everything from producing, recording and mastering to packing and shipping records to customers, is involved in a number of interesting projects as a musician. After his own quartet (Jonas Kullhammar Quartet) disbanded, Jonas has resurfaced in solo projects, with a new group (New Kids on The Rock…) and of course kept working with ‘Basement Sessions’. Kullhammar has an interest for all kinds of instrument and is one of relatively few owners of a sopralto braithophone – George Braith’s invention where a soprano and an alto saxophone is joined together – very simplified of course. Read more here. We are not hearing it on this album but it seems Kullhammar’s determined to play more braithophone in 2018 at least.

Fellow Swede and bass player Torbjörn Zetterberg and Kullhammar goes way back from the days of the Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, and has his own very nice catalog of albums that we’ve seen getting some well-deserved praise here on FJB. Life and other transient storms, one of my favorite albums from 2016 has Zetterberg playing and he’s recorded a great duo album with trumpeter Susana Santos Silva (Almost Tomorrow, Clean Feed, 2013). Zetterberg has also played with vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl, drummer Jon Fält and many more. I think I’ll have to do a ‘special’ on Zetterberg in 2018…

Norwegian Drummer Espen Aalberg is perhaps most known for his work with ‘The Core’ who released 8 albums between 2004 and 2010, and who’s work with ‘Basement Sessions’ I really enjoy listening to. And then we have volume four’s special guest; Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santos Silva. She’s well known here on FJB and is involved in multiple projects and groups; Mats Gustafssons Nu Ensemble, and Fire! Orchestra. She’s part of the quintet ‘Life and Other Transient Storms’ who was on of several FJB reviewers top10 lists of 2016, but there’s lots more – Santos Silva has been increasingly busy in the past years and has very impressive output. I highly recommend checking out Stef’s series ‘The various faces of Susana Santos Silva’ Part 1, Part 2 and also this exclusive interview from 2015… and of course her music.

I was so excited to hear the trio together with Santos Silva, but even more so interested in what the subtitle “The Bali Tapes” meant in relation to the quite balanced albums released so far. Balanced in a way that there’s always an elegant nod to hard bop heroes of the past but also always surprising free and improvised elements that has put a smile on my face many times.

Before going more into the details of the music on this album, let’s see what Kullhammar has to say:

Jonas, this is the fourth volume in the ‘Basement Sessions’ series, can you tell us a bit more about the background of this series?
  • “The background was that Espen Aalberg from Norway was visiting in Stockholm for a couple of days some years ago. As both Tobbe (Torbjörn Zetterberg) and I had played with him on different occasions and setups, and I had just gotten my own studio set up in my basement, with took the opportunity to play and record together, but without any plans for a specific project. Same thing happened a year or so later. The recordings were just left for a while and I had no plans on releasing it on Moserobie (Kullhammars own label, Gustavs comment), nor had I played it for anyone. Later on I had been collaborating with Pedro Costa, who’s running Clean Feed in Portugal, and I played the recordings to him without specific thoughts on releasing it, but he went mad and since we already had 2 albums recorded those became the first volumes called Basement Sessions, since they were recorded in my basement. The following 2 volumes, 3 and 4, are of course not.
How does this fourth volume relate to the earlier ones?
  • “Both volume 3 and 4 are different from the first two since we’ve had a guest musician on both. Basically, we’re a trio, but we’ve planned gigs with the Bali-concept in mind so Susana’s set to attend those.
The presentation of this album is quite different from the other 3, soundwise that is, tell us more about the somewhat special set of instruments used. (Gamelan! 😊 )
  • “Espen Aalberg has lived on Bali with his entire family in periods, and has studied for some of the gamelan masters there, so he’s the mastermind behind volume 4 entirely, even if the rest of us have contributed with our own ideas as well. As we recorded this album on site at one of the gamelan masters we had access to fantastic instruments. Lots of big gongs and other very cool percussion instruments”
Jonas, you’re involved in a whole lot of projects as a musician, but also running your own label, I know you’ve got more hours in a day than the rest of us – what’s behind this enormous output of yours? As an example I can see the differences in producing, mixing and running the label - with its own up- and downsides and learnings, but I can also see that many of the projects that you’re playing on has quite the different character, how does Basement Sessions relate to your other projects in that aspect?
  • “Hard to say, but I’m that kind of person that feels best when I’ve got multiple things running in different directions. The biggest challenges have been to make sure the financials hold up, but I’ve never took on more than I could handle in that aspect. I’m still running my ‘warehouse’ at home, my office at home and my studio at home, to minimize costs. Sometimes the artists will pay for everything on their own if the projects don’t fly. I guess the best answer I can give is that I love music, meaning the music that I like. That’s the common denominator for the entire Moserobie catalog, as some have felt that it’s a bit straggly. But it’s music that I like, with people I like.
Will there be a volume five, and will we in that case hear more from the braithophone?
  • “Nothing’s planned for right now as volume four is just out, but I sure hope so. As for the braithopone, that’s on my list of new year resolutions.”
Now, what about the music?

We have Kullhammar on sax and flute, Zetterberg on bass, Aalberg on drums and percussion and Santos Silva on the trumpet. Furthermore all musicians are playing gamelan.

Basically, and in brevity, the traditional south east Asian set of instruments gathered under the name “gamelan” can be presented as a group of percussive instruments (gongs, drums, metallophones) but I’ve learned that there’s bowed and plucked strings as well. There’s also different styles often depending on where, geographically, the gamelan is played.

The music on this album consists of 5 tracks, spanning from 6½ minutes up and almost to the 11 minute mark. We start off with Slow Ostinato. There’s a theme repeating itself while the quartet paints quite a melancholic picture over vibrating bells and murmuring gongs. The increasing screeches of Kullhammar and Santos Silva blends very nicely with the almost scary, and at times very dark gongs tolling in the background. There’s lots of smaller percussive sounds all around. Listening with headphones was a surprising experience with sudden bells heard almost behind me. I looked over my shoulders more than once. Bursts of notes, chirping sounds over the beat of Aalberg and the gamelan heard all around, and then we’re back to the theme. A very nice, yet surprising start to this album.

Next up is the relatively short sub 7 seven minute songs ‘Dewas Dance’. It has a rhythmic beat which makes me think of the recent work of Goran Kajfez Subtropic Arkestra. It fits perfectly with the gamelan percussion. Santos Silva travels away from the beat for free excursions outside and inside of the melodic line, and so does Kullhammar in his distinct way of playing. He’s got a meaty, rich and fat sound which wraps itself around the beat, finally finding its way to close the song.

The third track ‘Ilir Ilir’, a Javanese traditional, has Zetterberg starting off beautifully before Santos Silva and Kullhammar plays the melody line. Then Zetterberg plays together with the gamelan and it’s of a meditative and searching character. I think there’s also very large gongs at work in the background. Santos Silva comes back bending the melody outwards as the percussive sounds increase in intensity. Kullhammar joins in and we’re moving towards the improvised style with, again, a lot of micro details and nuances. ‘Irama Berat’ the fourth song on this album, startar with Aalberg giving a nice solo and then we’re off. Again, it’s a song that, similar to the others, evolves over the beat of Zetterberg, Aalberg and the gamelan. The album finishes with ‘Suling’ that has rattling and other gamelan sounds; gongs and hand drums used to build the story. Santos Silva and Kullhammar work together, and like to the opener of this album, it’s a dark piece of music.

I really like this album. It blends styles and instruments in such a nice way. Curiosity is the word that comes to mind. And it makes me wonder what they will do for volume 5. I’m hoping for more braithophone and to hear more work done with Santos Silva. But first we get to enjoy this one.

Aalberg, Kullhammar, Zetterber, Santos Silva - Basement Sessions Vol. 4 (The Bali Tapes) (Clean Feed, 2017) ***½

By Derek Stone

The last time we heard from the illustrious trio of Espen Aalberg (on percussion), Jonas Kullhammar (on saxophone and flute), and Torbjörn Zetterberg (on double bass) was in 2014, when they released Basement Sessions Vol. 3 (The Ljubljana Tapes) - that recording featured the inimitable tenor saxophonist Jørgen Mathisen, whose powerful and driving style meshed well with what the Clean Feed website refers to as the “mutated hard-bop” of the core trio. Like that previous release, Vol. 4 finds the group teaming up with a fellow explorer of jazz’s past, present, and (possible) future: the endlessly prolific Susana Santos Silva. Santos Silva has built up a considerable discography over the past few years, with albums like Life and Other Storms and Impermanence serving to draw ever more attention to her formidable compositional prowess. While Aalberg is the author of the five pieces on The Bali Tapes, it is nevertheless an exciting prospect to hear the ways in which Santos Silva augments and interacts with the hard-hitting style that the Aalberg/Kulhammar/Zetterber trio have cultivated in their five years together.

“Slow Ostinato” begins with tentative stutters from Kulhammar and Santos Silva and an evocative wash of cymbals from Aalberg - and for four minutes, the group engages in a sparse exchange, with the Kulhammar’s saxophone and Santos Silva’s trumpet wandering through various timbral permutations and tonal manipulations. It’s curiously hypnotic, moreso because of the somber and resonant shades of gamelan percussion that gradually rise to the surface. Yes, being in Bali, the quartet availed themselves of the opportunity to perform with the various mallets and drums that comprise the island’s most well-known traditional music. In the latter half of the piece, Santos Silva and bassist Zetterberg construct a sonorous, yet simple, thread of rhythms with the gamelan, while Aalberg’s patterns become increasingly complex.

“Dewas Dance” marries the rich melodiousness of the gamelan (once again, from Zetterberg) with Aalberg’s driving, rock-inflected rhythms, and the result is a joyful mash-up of sorts. As the title suggests, the piece is centered around a pulsating, toe-tapping beat, and, in the same way that traditional gamelan relies on repetition for its shimmering, moving-while-standing-still effects, “Dewas Dance” hinges on countless restatements of the main “theme,” with occasional eruptions into a more conventional head. Atop all of that repetition, Kulhammar and Santos Silva take turns, snaking their way through solos that run the gamut from hot, to blistering, to just plain feverish. The opening of “Ilir Ilir” recalls Jimmy Garrison’s work with late-period Coltrane, with Zetterberg taking a break from the gamelan to engage in a (much too brief) minute of soloing that serves to immerse the listener into the ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere that hangs about the track. The spare and abstract clusters that Aalberg coaxes from the gamelan mallets only increase the narcotizing effect of the piece, and when he transitions into loose, indefinite drum-work near the six-minute mark, far from solidying the piece’s dreamy abstractions, it makes them all the more transfixing. That same dream-like quality is carried over to “Irama Berat,” but here it acts as something of an undercurrent that wafts just below Aalberg’s strutting, mid-tempo cadences and Kulhammar’s near-frenzied shrieks. “Suling,” the final piece, opens with deep, gong-like intonations, a curious rustle of percussion that almost sounds like running water, and somber, twin incantations from Santos Silva and Kulhammar. As the tempo picks up, those latter two diverge, with Kulhammar going on to offer a series of susurrations that, considering the mirage-like quality of the track, sound more like half-murmured chants than the notes from a saxophone.

While previous volumes of the trio’s Basement Sessions have had their fair share of surprises, Vol. 4 is, by far, the most adventurous; sure, there are times here when it would have been nice to hear the rollicking, upbeat sound that the group developed on previous outings, and the high-energy playfulness of “Dewas Dance” had me longing for more fleshed-out takes on its gamelan-infused hard-bop. Nevertheless, Vol. 4 is rife with exploratory structures, idiosyncratic instrumentation, and entrancing rhythms that reveal the remarkable range of the Aalberg/Kulhammar/Zetterberg trio. At times transportive, at times irresistably rousing, Basement Sessions Vol. 4 (The Bali Tapes) is a fine example of jazz’s ability to not only recreate emotional states and moods, but to send you to new, as yet unknown places.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp – Live In Brussels (Leo, 2017) *****

By Martin Sekelsky

I remember the sunny spring day, traveling to Brussels to see Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone) and Matthew Shipp (piano) perform in – much celebrated (here, here, here, here, here, and here) – duo format. Timely arrival secured me a spot at the bar to the side of the stage with first line view of the keys. The venue, an art-deco style bar and art gallery, was soon stacked to the brim with both enthusiastic familiar faces and curious individuals. The duo would perform two sets, we were in for a treat.

Perelman and Shipp took the stage as one voice. Both musicians radiated an enormous understanding of and feeling for each other. Shipp modulated between melodic and percussive phrases, instantly replied by Perelman. Vice versa, tenor saxophone added exuberant color or intimate feeling that were keyed in musical imagery. Both musicians initiated musical motifs and explored and extended each other’s phrases, forming a coherent whole of sound. It was so breathtaking, this listener could not move. Most remarkably, both musicians truly enjoyed conversing to each other in the language they have been practicing together for many years. The duo even got so carried away the first set extended beyond its planned duration, finishing with a big smile on their faces. Quoting Ivo Perelman: “He (read: Matthew Shipp) just kept on playing.” Both sets were loudly applauded by the audience. Applause that was answered with modesty by the artists. This was true musicianship, they made it look so easy. Highly recommended, so happy this performance was sharply documented and released. Pick this one up, if you haven’t already.

This listener admits that he has only recently unlocked Ivo Perelman’s rich discography. Ignorance turns into bliss with every new, unearthed gem. Therefore, no extended comparisons were possible with other outings by Perelman-Shipp ± others.

P.S.: Top 10 list was already submitted before this one could be included.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Arashi - Trost Live Series 001 (Trost, 2017) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two years ago the prolific Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love began to sell at his gigs limited-edition discs of his performances. Peter Brötzmann, who played on these recordings, contributed the spartan, minimalist design. Only the name of the musicians and the performance place were mentioned - a trio with Brötzmann and South-African trumpeter Claude Deppa from Cafe OTO in London and a duo with Brötzmann from Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv. Nothing else. No names of the performed pieces, not even a label name.

Nilssen-Love’s initiative was adopted in 2017 by the Austrian label Trost. The first release of this new series of live dates keeps Brötzmann minimalist design, and it features another group of Nilssen-Love, the trio Arashi, with legendary Japanese reeds plater Akira Sakata and Swedish double bass player Johan Berthling, who have collaborated before with Nilssen-Love in the trio of Swedish pianist Sten Sandell. Arashi's performances was captured at Stockholm’s Fylkingen club in May 2017. Again, it is a limited-edition of only 200 discs, sold only at Arashi performances, plus a download option.

The word Arashi - 嵐 - means storm in Japanese, and this recording justifies Arashi's reputation as one of the most powerful, exciting working groups. Sakata introduces the first piece with an intimate, gentle solo on his alto sax, but it takes only one minute before Nilssen-Love colors this searching sax solo with a nervous pulse, and another minute until Berthling anchors the commotion with even tougher rhythmic mode. Then Arashi storms - literally - with an uncompromising force and intensity, as if its own energy produces even more addictive kind of energy, leading to an ecstatic and thunderous tour-de-force.

Berthling introduces the second piece with dark and deep-sounding arco solo. Sakata deepens this contemplative mode with his warm-sounding clarinet while Nilssen-Love adds subtle percussive touches. Arashi incarnates itself now as a chamber trio who suggests a surprising, emotional interplay. But this restless trio morphs its interplay again. Now, Nilssen-Love slowly and wisely ups the temperature with fast-shifting polyrhythmic drumming, while Berthling keeps bowing his bass, both offer a perfect sonic decoration for Sakata to deliver his eccentric, free-associative throat-singing. In this segment Arashi charges this piece with an mysterious, story-like narrative. But then Nilssen-Love begins an explosive drums solo and directs Arashi for the last series of fast, super intense assaults until these assaults melt in his ringing cymbals.

Fantastic trio, fantastic performances. Please, more of this right stuff.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor – Live in Krakow (Not Two, 2017) ****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Jon Irabagon - tenor and sopranino saxophones
Joe Fonda - bass
Barry Altschul - drums

Following the 2015 5th place album of the year here at FJB, Tales of the Unforeseen, here’s a live album from this great trio, recorded live at the Alchemia club in Krakow, Poland (December 4th, 2016). Long time jazz drummer Barry Altschul is joined by bassist Joe Fonda, again a veteran who’s played with Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith and Archie Shepp – just to mention a very brief selection. Again, an artist and composer of the highest order. Jon Irabagon is a new voice for me personally. I know of his playing on Mary Halvorsons 5-star album ‘Away With You’ but I must admit that outside of that and his work with Altschul, I don't know too much. Any pointers to other albums would be much appreciated.

The concert starts with ‘Martin’s Stew’ (from their first album). A 3+ minute drum introduction builds up to a boiling point, Fonda joins in and we’re off. Saxophonist Irabagon’s got a meaty sound that leads the way through this first song. There’s a theme which is twisted and turned inside out. The trio is insanely tight. Fonda switches to bow alongside the beat of Altschul and we’re treated with some very nice bass playing. I’m waiting for another explosion and sure enough – Irabagon comes thundering back in with that same theme, but this time it travels on top of Fonda’s bass. Exquisite!

‘Ask Me Now’, being a Monk standard, also heard on the trio’s sophomore album is treated very well and is presented in a balanced and elegant way. Up next is For Papa Joe, Klook, and Philly Too’ a nice nod to giants from the ‘drummer’s guild’. It’s hard bop on steroids with everything included, yes a very cool bass solo as well. The fourth song, ‘Irina’ is another mellow song which is one part Irabagon and one part Fonda, who’s beautiful and lyrical playing seduces me, until Irabagon comes back in. The rest of the song continues more like a serenade, but I suspect the 3Dom factor has another punch up their sleeve.

Indeed. The closing number, the 14-minute-long ‘The 3Dom Factor’, is how I’ve learned to enjoy this trio the most. Like a well-oiled train they’re steaming and flying across the stage at a blistering pace. Suddenly there’s three unique voices making themselves heard, going in and out of each other’s ideas. Suddenly the trio comes to a change of pace, and I almost expect the song to come to a halt, but it’s all planned. Increase of pace and they’re off again. Irabagon charges onward for another run of stuttering notes, Fonda takes a turn together with Altschul. A dissonant balancing act immerses. There’s such an amount of detail in this song. Irabagon surprises me with reinventing the tune again and again, and Altschul and Fonda are truly up for it. Altschul’s charging onward, forward, upwards. The song seems to run out of its own notes and this great live performance album is over.

I’m hoping to hear more from this trio soon, this live performance demonstrates a trio in very nice shape and form. I can also highly recommend their 2 studio albums, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from Irabagon!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hans Peter Hiby/Michael Bardon/Paul Hession - Roots (NotTwo, 2017) **** ½

By Martin Schray

Saxophonist Hans Peter Hiby is one of the great mysteries in Germany’s free jazz scene. He grew up in Wuppertal, in the kindergarten he met Caspar, Peter Brötzmann’s son, they were like brothers. He spent a lot of time at the Brötzmann’s home, where he came into contact with jazz. Peter Brötzmann got him his first tenor saxophone, took him to his concerts, and Hiby was fascinated by the sheer energy and ferocity of free jazz. Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Brötzmann himself, became his major influences.

In 1988 and 1995 Hiby released two very good albums, The Real Case with Paul Hession (drums) and Live in Bremen with Johannes Bauer (trombone), Marcio Mattos (bass) and Martin Blume (percussion). He played with a lot of great musicians like Peter Kowald, Sirone and Louis Moholo, he was up and coming. But then there was an abrupt stop.

Hiby chose to focus on his family, he decided that it was better to work in “regular“ jobs. In the beginning he tried to play and work at these jobs, but he soon realized that this was impossible. He even stopped going to concerts because he couldn’t stand watching others play. He says that these were hard times. In 2013 the kids were old enough to lead their own lives and Hiby wanted to try making music again. At the beginning of 2014 he rent a small practice room but playing was tougher than he thought. He had lost his embouchure, his fingers were stiff and he had a biceps tendon rupture that caused pain when he tried to turn his arm for certain half-tones. Yet, he was persistent and after one and a half years he played his first concert after the break, a duo with Martin Blume. Then he was offered to play with a trio at the Wuppertal Jazz Meeting, so he asked bassist Dieter Manderscheid and his old pal Paul Hession. Hiby was unsure if a trio could work, but the gigs (the following day they played at the Loft in Cologne) were great. Here at the latest it was clear that he couldn’t live without making music - preferably with a trio.

In September 2016 Paul Hession organized a small tour through Great Britain, but unfortunately Dieter Manderscheid had no time. Hession suggested a young, talented Leeds-based bassist with whom he had played several times - Michael Bardon. The tour went fine, the music was immediately intense and tight. So they decided to record an album at the Loft in Cologne in June 2017.

And what an album Roots is. The music is completely improvised, Hiby only said that he also wanted some shorter tracks, not just an endlessly long session. On the one hand there are the full throttle pieces like “Riff-Raff“, the opener, “Ding an sich“ and “King Falafel“. Hiby ejects smeared phrases, crassly overblown lines and vibrato-drunk notes as if he wants to express everything that’s been in him for the last 17 years. There’s no time to grab a breather, it’s 100% pure joy, breakneck speed, real fire music. On the other hand there are the balladesque and contemplative ones, “Roots“, “Timeless“, “P.J.“ (dedicated to Hiby’s son) and “Noumenon“. These tracks are clearly influenced by gospels and the blues, even the melodies of Brötzmann’s later albums shine through. Hiby is rather playful here, the band oscillates between spirituality and a certain cool nervousness. “The Worm“, the largest track, brings the two worlds together - the scintillating sounds, blurred themes and motives that rise from the low registers to jubilant screams. All this is accompanied and supported by Bardon and Hession, who protect the ballads from getting too dreamy by setting sharp counterpoints and support Hiby’s runs with feverish arcoing and rumbling rhythms during the wilder tracks.

Roots is my comeback album of the year, it’s a real treat for fans of Dave Rempis, Mats Gustafsson or Ken Vandermark.

You can buy the album from the label website:

Listen to “Timeless“ here:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mark Dresser - Modicana (NoBusiness, 2017) ****½

By David Menestres

Modicana is the new album from the legendary bassist Mark Dresser. If you’re a fan of free jazz, or a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably encountered his playing. Dresser was one of the members of Anthony Braxton’s legendary quartet from 1985-1994 and has played with an impressively long list of master musicians including Nicole Mitchell, Myra Melford, Marilyn Crispell, and hundred (thousands?) of others. And thankfully, Dresser took over teaching duties when the master Bertram Turetzky retired and is now influencing another generation of players at the University of California San Diego.

Modicana is a record of solo bass, following in the tradition of Dresser’s earlier solo work like Guts: Bass Explorations, Investigations, and Explanations (2010) and Invocation (1994). Two of the tracks on Modicana were recorded live at the Umea Jazz Festival in October 2016 (“Inocation Umea” and “Threaded”) and the rest were recorded in mid-February at UCSD.

The A side starts with the opener “Invocation Umea” which does exactly what the title suggests, setting the stage for the rest of the album, developing a few ideas to their extreme over the course of its eleven and a half minutes, showing the listener that the path ahead won’t be easy but will be highly satisfying.  “For Glen Moore” is as beautiful a tribute as you’d expect for the bassist mostly known for his playing with the group Oregon. The melodic content is strong and unexpected, warping around the fingerboard, twisting in unusual ways, fluttering like a leaf on the wind.  “Threaded” closes out the A side with an intense exploration of bowed bass.

The B side of the record starts with “Hobby Lobby Horse,” a deeply political track that first appeared on last year’s Sedimental You album (which featured one of the best septets ever recorded). The tune itself is relatively straight forward, but this new version is anything but. Dresser covers nearly the whole range of the bass in a wide variety of ways, and the absurd political content is perhaps even more apparent in this solo iteration.

The rest of the B side is comprised of a three track suite: “Modicana Teatro Greco,” “Modicana Shakeratu Non Zuccheratu,” and “Modicana Panettiere.” “Teatro Greco” features Dresser’s beautiful arco playing. “Shakeratu” features pizzicato, digging deep into the bi-tones Dresser has been exploring for decades, plus the briefest of prepared arco work that almost sounds like electronics. “Panettiere” close out the suite with moments of intensely quiet and distorted beauty .

An impressive album, recommended to all fans of adventurous music.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


By Dan Sorrells

For decades there has been a porous relationship between indeterminate composition and improvisation. Some improvising musicians have taken detours from contrapuntal, dialogic improvisation in favor of exploring indeterminate scores and concepts. Rather than embracing the creative freedom to “do whatever one wants,” these musicians sharply limit themselves, and instead embrace the micro-variations and imperfections that arise as they attempt to innovate (or struggle) within their tightly-defined boundaries.

The result is drone-oriented music that rejects some of the familiar procedures of other minimal improvisation like lowercase or EAI: there is no need to emphasize silence, negative space, or quiet sounds. What these types of improvisation do share is restraint, an emphasis on ensemble over individual, and a Schaefferian prioritization of sound “in and of itself.”

Here are three recent albums that stretch how far one can go without seeming to go anywhere at all.

Tom Chant – Stripped Abstract (Hairy Ear, 2017) ***½

Saxophonist Tom Chant’s latest, the first release on his own Hairy Ear Records, is a 45-minute “exploration of one single vaguely defined state.” Recorded with a percussion-heavy septet (three players each focus on a single element of the drum kit: snare, bass drum, and cymbal), Chant claims that the music “is a description of the state, through sound.”

The paradox of a performance like Stripped Abstract is how it is able to simultaneously convey movement and stasis. It feels alive and bristling, but also unchanging, as though each musician played a single energetic note that hangs indefinitely, divorced from time. As the piece wears on, one starts to get the eerie feeling that maybe the music wasn’t generated by seven human beings at all, but instead by a deep cosmic vibration pervading a collection of objects, some clattering and rattling (the percussion instruments), the remainder humming and ringing in the long tones of sympathetic resonance (soprano saxophone, ebowed acoustic guitar, arco double bass and no-input mixing board).

The piece simply evaporates at the end, which ironically may be its most effective moment. After three-quarters of an hour rewiring your neurons to the frequencies of the “vaguely defined state,” its sudden removal is a weird inversion of air rushing into a vacuum: the something of silence rapidly filling the void of sound. An intriguing exercise that I hope we’ll hear more of.

Carl Ludwig Hübsch – Rowetor 04 | Rowetor 03 (Tour de Bras, 2017) ****

German tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch describes Rowetor as a “musical concept inspired by Keith Rowe.” The purpose is to “explore” and “maintain” one static sound in the ensemble, and to interact with “care and openness for…change.” Rowetor is probably closest in conception to Giacinto Scelsi’s famous “Quattro Pezzi,” in that the ensemble largely limits itself to a single note and all development in the piece is relegated to the realms of timbre, density, dynamics, etc. Where Scelsi notated all of these changes, Hübsch’s ensembles explore them via improvisation.

Rowetor’s two discs each contain a long performance, recorded about nine months apart in Cologne. It’s a valuable document because it illustrates how a strategy that on its face seems very limiting can still generate incredibly diverse outcomes. This is because the performances feature different musicians and different instruments, although about half of the musicians were present for both. The 13-strong “Rowetor 04” (which is presented first) trades several wind instruments from the 14 member “Rowetor 03” for two guitars and a piano.

“Rowetor 04” feels like the soundtrack to a suspense movie, the underlying drone conveying dread and impending danger signaled by swells into higher registers. Perhaps inevitably, the piece lurches towards a modest crescendo, peaking in volume and density a few minutes before the performance concludes. “Rowetor 03” is more focused on high tones, with scraped metal and feedback intermingling. Overall, it’s rougher and louder in character than the more polished “04,” but it also feels more precarious: trembles and vacillations betray the fragility within many of its tones. Much of the tension is driven by a “string quartet” within the group: Sharif Sehnaoui’s acoustic guitar, Ralph Beerkircher’s electric guitar, Achim Tang’s electric bass, and Elisabeth Courdoux’s cello. Both pieces are effective reminders of just how much musical information is conveyed through elements other than the usual suspects of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

The Pitch – Frozen Orchestra (Berlin) (Arbitrary, 2017) ****

The Pitch are the quartet of Boris Baltschun on electric pump organ and “function generators,” Koen Nutters on double bass, Morten J. Olsen on vibraphone, and Michael Thieke on clarinet. At times, they expand for their “Frozen Orchestra” performances, as on the hypnotic Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam) released by Sofa in 2015, and here, in a Berlin performance from 2013. Joining them in Berlin were Chris Heenan on bass clarinet, Matthias Müller on trombone, Biliana Voutchkova on violin, Johnny Chang on viola, and Valerio Tricoli’s subtly psychedelic echo-loops, courtesy of a Revox tape machine.

The Pitch is concerned primarily with slowly transforming “pitch constellations,” so while timbre is part of the equation, the ensemble is largely engaged in generating enormous, transmuting chords. As the melodic progressions unfold at a glacial pace, the listener perceives only the warm ambience of their rich, consonant harmonies. Tricoli adds an air of unreality to the proceedings, seemingly making the entire ensemble waver like an illusion just when you’ve settled in comfortably with their presence.

Despite showcasing a single performance, Frozen Orchestra (Berlin) was slightly edited and divided into four tracks for release as a double cassette. One could argue that something is lost by slicing up the concert, but there may be a benefit, too. The forced gaps actually make it a bit easier to perceive just how dramatically the music changes during the course of the performance, despite often feeling like it hasn’t been moving at all. Side D has the most noticeable development, with some prominent pitch changes and Olsen eventually shifting from bowed tones to single, ringing notes. The piece ends by slowly blinking out, like a battery drained of energy, or something slowly sinking into the blackest parts of the sea.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Some statistics - Our readership keeps growing - Thanks for the loyalty

Last month we had a record viewership with 195,558 page views. On a normal day like yesterday, we had 4,953 page views. These statistics do not reach back to the early days of our blog (which started in January 2007), but the trend is increasing. Some years ago I thought we had captured the entire universe of global fans of free jazz and free improvisation, but that's clearly not the case, unless the number of fans is increasing, which is even better news. Since these statistics were started in May 2010, we have had no less than 7,546,926 pageviews. That is a lot.

We want to thank all readers for their loyal daily visits, the musicians for the great music we receive, and the labels and agents for sending us new music on a daily basis. We also wish to thank the reviewers for their enthusiastic writings.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@freejazzblog).

Lotte Anker - Plodi (Klopotec, 2017) ****½

By Stef

I like albums to have one single concept, instead of a collection of loose pieces, just joined together to fill the space of the CD or LP. So usually, this lack of unity gets sanctioned by one star less in the ratings. Except for this album. Why? Because it is so good, and because Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker is so good. 

The whole album is recorded at the Brda  Contemporary Music Festival in Smartno, Slovenia in September of 2016. The first three tracks are solo performances by Anker in the local Saint Martin's church. The next four tracks are duo performances between Anker and Slovenian master percussionist Zlatko Kaučič at the House of Culture. The duo is then joined by Polish musicians Artur Majewski on trumpet and Rafal Mazur on acoustic bass guitar for the last track. 

The solo performances by Anker are by themselves already worth the purchase of the album. In a little over thirty minutes, she demonstrates her skill of improvising compelling, emotional and lyrical sonic little stories. The first one agitated, the second more intense yet subdued, the third is technically really special with deep and high tones alternating. 

Her solo performances get my preference. Her tone is so expressive, beautiful and it contains all the vulnerability and hesitancy that is relatively unique to free improvisation. There is no need to hurry, and the pace is great, and Anker takes the time it needs to explore her initial concept, expanding it, increasing the power and the depth without loosing focus. No doubt these are among the most beautiful sax solo pieces to be heard. 

The dynamics change in her duets with Kaučič, with shorter bursts on the horn, the tone more abrasive, more violent, definitely in the first and third piece. The second is more cautious and sensitive. It shows a different facet of the same musician, challenged by the percussionist in a variety of ways, including many different objects, a zither, different ways of hammering his drumkit, and despite the intensity, she remains intrinsically lyrical. 

The third facet is to be heard with the quartet. The approach is real free improvisation, without conceived notions or structural foundations. Notes collide, explore and challenge, tentatively in the beginning, trying to find a common ground to move forward on, and the way it organically grows is interesting to witness, with increased momentum, intensity and cohesiveness, with both horns relentlessly propulsed forward by the bass and the drums, and all four musicians really go for it. Great to hear. 

But we have come a long way. We've travelled a journey in different steps from the initial intimacy, fragile and sensuous to the exuberant power of the quartet. A radical change in a too short period of time, but then each part is really good. For once, I will accept the conceptual breaks. And feel free to listen to the different parts separately. 

Without a doubt Lotte Anker's music is under-recorded. It would be good to hear more of her. 

Listen to Free Jazz on Air

Listen to Free Jazz on Air with Martin Schray with host Julia Neupert, broadcasted on German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

The show: "Free Fusion - Jazz rock in the Spin Cycle of Post Modern Times"

Contains music by:

Nels Cline Singers
Ava Mendoza
Mary Halvorson
Johnny Kafta Anti Vegetarian Orchestra
Carate Urio Orchestra
Kate Gentile
Flying Lotus ... and others.

And is available here until the end of the week.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Martin Küchen - Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben (Sofa, 2017) *****

Martin Küchen knows how to pick titles. It already starts with the title of the album; “Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben” or in English: Dear Savior, let us die. 

Küchen has furthermore selected titles for the tracks on this album with great care for choice of words and with a seemingly poetic intention. 

The Cathedral in Lund (small city in the south of Sweden, 20km north-east of Malmö) was consecrated in 1145, however the crypt which is considered to be one of the ‘oldest rooms’ in Sweden and the recording place of this album, was actually in use already in 1123, and built in 1121. The crypt is pretty much intact since its construction. I’m hoping to one day return to live there as the years living in this culturally and academically rich city was some of the best years in my life. 

You can walk around in the crypt ‘virtually’ if you head over to this website.

Reedist Küchen and sound engineer Jakob Riis went in to the crypt of the cathedral on an evening in May to make this album. It can be summarized as a journey inwards. It’s a calm space and a haven from a world that doesn’t have answers to the big questions of life and meaning anymore, yet seems to have no patience for the spaces in between words spoken. I feel that Küchen and Riis with this album opens the door to a room for reflection and with what’s heard on the album I’m offered time for contemplation and perhaps also thoughts about the big questions. The perishability of life is ever present, and accepted. Cheese and wine needs time to become tasty, interpersonal relations also need time to deepen and to become multidimensional. The sounds, screeches, breathing – even the ambience heard from around the cathedral – all fit into this concept of sounds happening there and then, but created in a historical context that is about 900 years old. I’m sharing my personal thoughts about how feelings I get while listening to this album. 

The album starts off with the title track ‘Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben’ which immediately sets the tone for this album, with breath meeting a sacral melody line. It’s then followed by ‘Music to silence music’ which also has almost congested breaths moving alongside clicks and notes. The droning sound effects in ‘Purcell in the eternal Deir Yassin’ is calming and soothing. There’s an anticipation of something that I can’t put words to, it’s hard to explain. 

I first had a part in this review about how Bach’s “Ich ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ” (I call to you…) meets “Küchens Ruf zu mir Bezprizoni” (Call me…) but when editing and re-reading it, I found that this was mostly a conversation in my head. Küchen manages to get me to drift off in thoughts about how songs, music, sounds and titles fit together and what that means.

But in the last song ‘Atmen Choir’ (Atmen means to breathe in German) the cathedral bells start to ring, and I realize it’s not for me to draw lines between titles, historic facts and feelings. I’ll leave that to you. And pick this one up, it’s a fantastic release from Küchen.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition – Agrima (Self-released, 2017) ****½

The first two cuts from Rudresh Mahanthappa’s latest release, Agrima, give one the impression that the music will be following the path taken by earlier records like 2008’s Kinsmen  or 2011’s Samdhi.  Both albums bore the unmistakable traces of Mahanthappa’s deep immersion in Indian classical music, with his hurtling alto sax tracing devilishly complex lines over energetic Carnatic rhythms.  So when Mahanthappa’s meditative, yearning phrases emerge on “Alap,” the album’s opener, and Dan Weiss’s tabla enlivens the fast-tempo “Snap,” we think we know what to expect.  But while there’s certainly a strong continuity between this release and Mahanthappa’s previous work, at the same time a more assertive rock-oriented sensibility is found on Agrima that gives the music a grittier, harder-edged feel.  Indo-rock fusion, one might call it.  And it succeeds wonderfully.

In contrast to the aforementioned records which featured fuller combos augmented by percussionists, Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition is just a trio, with the same personnel that were featured on the group’s previous release, Apti (from 2008): guitarist Rez Abassi and drummer Weiss.  Even with the absence of a bassist or additional percussion, the music is rhythmically infectious.  Some of the credit is due to Abassi, whose tough riffs and power chords lend a lot of musical drive to the proceedings; but just as crucial is Weiss, who gives equal time to the tabla and his conventional drum kit.  When he makes the shift from the former to the latter midway through “Snap,” it becomes quite clear that the trio is committed to rocking out.  Mahanthappa’s melodies throughout the album remain rooted in Indian classical motifs, and his improvisational chops are stunning as always, but they’re conjoined seamlessly to the powerhouse rhythmic foundation provided by Abassi and Weiss, and the resulting synthesis is irresistible.

The trio’s well-honed chemistry is critical to avoiding the monotony that can plague fusion-type records.  Whenever a straightforward rhythm is established, Weiss helps shake things up, as he does on “Agrima,” where he teases and displaces the beat from time to time in order to keep things interesting.  And the group seems able to shift meters at will, giving each track the feel of an open-ended journey.  The implementation of electronics is also done creatively, sometimes looping Mahanthappa’s parts or creating additional textures that allow for a richer, larger-group sound.  Imaginative choices abound, so there’s never a dull moment on the album.

It’s also worth noting that this recording involves some chance-taking on Mahanthappa’s part, as he’s opted to release it himself rather than work with a label—a path much more common among musicians still on their way up than for those nearing the peak of their powers and recognition.  As of this writing, one can download this music directly from Mahanthappa’s website for a mere $2.50: an unbelievable bargain in this reviewer’s humble opinion.  (For audiophile types, high-definition download and vinyl versions are also available.)  One certainly wishes Mahanthappa luck in this venture, as inventive marketing approaches have increasingly become an imperative for most creative musicians.  This is music that deserves to be heard, so hopefully this effort will expose it to an even wider audience.

For more info on Agrima, visit