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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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

By Gustav Lindqvist

Line-up:
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: http://www.nottwo.com/catalog

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

Stasis

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 https://www.rudreshm.com/products/agrima.





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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Free Jazz On Air Returns!



Free Jazz on Air: Martin Schray is making radio great again with host Julia Neupert this Friday at 11 p.m CET on German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

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

It will contain music by:

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

The show will be broadcast in Friday, 12th of Jan., 11 p.m. European Standard Time on SWR2, and will be available online for a week following the broadcast.

More info

Agustí Fernández - Celebration Ensemble (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Following 2015’s River, Tiger, Fire set, which featured pianist Agustí Fernández in four different formats—solo, two trios, and orchestra—he returns to the large group setting with Celebration Ensemble. An octet, accompanied on stage by dancer Sònia Sánchez, Celebration Ensemble debuted onstage in Barcelona in 2015. The group features Fernández on piano, Frances-Marie Uitti on cello, Mats Gustafsson and Pablo Ledesma on saxophones, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Joe Morris on guitar, and Ingar Zach and Núria Andorrà on percussion, performing an extended improvisation that moves effortlessly and beautifully.

Opening with Fernández on piano, Wooley and Morris quickly join with something of a duet, set against Fernández’s slow and patient rhythmic explorations. In fact, much of the album exists in this acoustic liminal space, where shades, textures, and tension intersect, occasionally clashing, occasionally harmonizing. Uitti’s cello and Morris’s guitar are particularly instructive, as both players bend and stretch, creating some of the dynamic underpinning that drives the octet’s collective improvisation. There’s a really excellent, atom-smashing push by all eight performers in the middle of “Part 2” (the improvisation is divided into 10 parts “to facilitate the navigation through the CD” as Fernández notes). This is followed by Fernández and Morris in a thrilling, almost balletic, duet. Later, in “Part 4,” Gustafsson, Ledesma, and Wooley come together for a rich, symphonic fugue that foregrounds the lushness of their playing. Leading into the sparse opening of “Part 5,” with its blocky, minimalist winds, which are followed by another dramatic Fernández run, augmented by drums and winds and reminiscent of his other notable trios. Deep into “Part 8,” Gustafsson trades breathy tones, pops, and crackling high-pitched runs with Fernández’s bright, tumbling piano. The two have developed a long, fruitful relationship, and, bookended by the octet’s rich collaboration, the depth of their collaboration is nicely highlighted in this duet. After the piece ends with Fernández in a lengthy decrescendo, the audience applauds for two whole minutes. By this point—after an hour of such dense, high-wire performance—I had nearly forgotten the piece was recorded live, but it was also refreshing to hear the audience’s appreciation for this excellent album.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Itaru Oki, Nobuyoshi Ino, Choi Sun Bae - Kami Fusen (NoBusiness Records, 2017) ****

By Nicola Negri

"Kami Fusen" is the second volume in the ongoing collaboration between NoBusiness and Chap Chap Records, after the excellent "The Conscience"by Rutherford and Toyozumi.

This time, all the musicians come from the Far East: Itaru Oki was one of the first Japanese musicians to explore the free jazz idiom in the early Seventies; Nobuyoshi Ino comes from the same country and musical scene, even if he has often played in more traditional contexts; similarly, Korean trumpeter Choi Sun Bae has often worked in different, and often contrasting contexts.
Kami Fusen (“Paper Balloon”) documents the concert held by the trio in 1996 at Cafè Amores in Hofu, Japan, and comprises inventive originals by Oki and Ino, as well as classic jazz standards like "I Remember Clifford"or "Tea for Two". 

"Pon Pon Tea" opens with busy bass lines in direct contrast with the theme's long unison lines, the trumpets soon engaging in a frenzied exchange of high register runs and brief interlocking melodic statements. Ino's trajectories are hard to anticipate, a muscular solo might lead to a tight walking bass to support the call and response of the muted trumpets, or dissolve in disjointed stuttering. Oki and Choi follow the lead with exquisite aplomb, always ready to ride the rhythmic flow or explore less familiar terrains.

Ino's strong arco work delineates "Yawning Baku"'s structural frame, until the trumpets enter with a beautiful, relaxed unison theme leaning on an elongated bass vamp that gently pushes the piece forward.

"Ikiru" is a sonic postcard from the outer limits of sound, all clanging and shrieking, with flute and bass slowly building a menacing soundscape, eventually leading to a lyrical double trumpet solo over bowed bass.

"Kami Fusen" returns to the episodic, yet carefully crafted structures of the first pieces, adding unexpected latin flavors to the mix.

"I Remember Clifford" is a solo trumpet showcase for Choi Sun Bae, his ability to work around the melody, delineating the theme just enough to be recognizable, on full display; while the duo of Oki and Ino approaches the final medley of "Old Folks" and "Tea for Two" with equal doses of respect and inquiry. 

In a sense, innovation is the only constant in the jazz tradition, despite the conservative tendencies of the mainstream, and Kami Fusen brilliantly embodies this contradiction, as the musicians approach the performance with evident affection for the jazz language without losing their adventurous edge.

Itaru Oki – trumpet, bamboo flute
Nobuyoshi Ino – bass
Choi Sun Bae – trumpet

Monday, January 8, 2018

Alex Ward - Proprioception (Weekertoft, 2017) ***½


Earlier this year, Alex Ward started a blog for exploring the music of Cecil Taylor in depth. There’s a great deal of excellent writing here (please join me in prodding him for additional posts), in particular Ward’s close listening of Taylor’s use of motifs and patterns, recurring across multiple compositions, never in quite the same way. Through Ward’s writing, I’ve come to think of Taylor as more of an iterative composer and improviser. This isn’t to suggest that his writing provides a specific guide for listening to Proprioception, his new solo album, but it does give some sense of the level of precision Ward brings to any project.


“Vestibular” and “Tiptoes” feature Ward on clarinet only, while “Chasm” has him on clarinet with amplification. The two sets, for lack of a better term, were recorded nearly a year apart. “Vestibular” and “Tiptoes” were recorded in June 2016, and “Chasm” in March 2017. The immediacy of the release transfers somewhat to the recording itself, which feels urgent and necessary. I liken Ward’s solo improvisations to a cross between narrative and a kind of meiosis, with Ward taking cellular blocks of notes, breaking them into pieces, and subsequently breaking them further apart until he has moved onto an entirely new block of notes.


Everything about this album seems to represent self-reflection, from the title to track names, but Ward’s playing feels quite outward-facing, inviting its own close listening. On “Tiptoes,” where Ward plays some of the quietest and most extreme unamplified clarinet, the instinct is to lean in and listen more closely. The graceful denouement has a calming effect, which prepares you for the delicate opening of “Chasm,” which takes its time stripping the clarinet apart and wrecking your brain. I mean this as a compliment, there are stretches that sent my dog and cat into far corners of the house. The distance traveled from the open, acoustic playing on “Vestibular” to the fearsome experimentation of “Chasm” is striking, and the album plays best as a whole, allowing listeners to experience the full range, from soaring to searing.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Guitars! (Part 2 of 2)

By Paul Acquaro

Part two of my guilty pleasure. There just may be a third on the way too, but not before I get to a few other items on my list.

Ross Hammond - Mason Lawn (Prescott, 2016) ****½


Typically when I am listening to an album for review, I am on the way somewhere, maybe to work, maybe to a concert, on a train, in a car, on the go, in the busy throes of life and work. However, when I finally got to guitarist Ross Hammond's duo record with percussionist Jon Bafus, it was early on New Years Day and I was taking a spatziergang in the German countryside. Long rolling hills, open fields, bare trees blowing in a gusty and sometimes rainy wind; however, with blue skies on the horizon, the first tune just felt like the perfect soundtrack to a new year. On 'Like Being Kissed by God Herself', Hammond's acoustic resonator guitar spills forth with purposeful motion, riding on Bafus's insistent yet feather light beat. It's like being swept along by music itself, open and chiming, hope and creation is woven deeply in its melodic simplicity and forthrightness. The next track, 'On the Incline', Hammond is on the electric guitar, a sound we haven't heard from for a while on record, several of his latest recordings have focused on the solo acoustic guitar. It's a good sound. Hammond prefers a slightly distorted sound and saturated in the type of Americana jazz-rock that takes cues from both Neil Young and Bill Frisell and makes it entirely his own thing. The track itself unfolds slowly, building vistas with care and patience. The title track begins with a dark blues riff from the open tuned lap steel guitar. Bafus's percussion is hypnotically repetitive, providing a groove for Hammond's evocative and slightly sinister melodic ideas.

Masonic Lawn, is a mesmerizing musical statement from the always searching Hammond. His focus on American folk and blues, and synthesis with improvisation and jazz elements has yielded musical treasures before, and it seems like he may have hit a mother-load here. A perfect soundtrack for a walk in the country and most likely, anywhere else.


Eric Hofbauer - Prehistoric Jazz Volume 4 (Reminiscing in Tempo) (Creative Nation Music, 2017) ****


Boston based guitarist Eric Hofbauer has been on my radar for a bit of time now, his Prehistoric Jazz series - named after a Leonard Bernstein description of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps - has been an exploration of early 20th century modern classical composers such as Shostakovich, Webern, Ligeti and Machaut. On Volume 4, Reminiscing in Tempo, Hofbauer takes on the through composed piece that Duke Ellington wrote in honor of his mother. With his quintet of himself on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on Bb clarinet & bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello and Curt Newton on drums, the guitarist shifts around the tonal arrangements and discovers parts of the piece that allow for improvisation and expansion doubling the length of the original song to 24 minutes.

The start of the song feels very traditional, almost reverential to the original, but listen closer and Hofbauer's clean clear acoustic guitar is doing something else. There are breaks in the cadence, and a later break down that may have you thinking of Derek Bailey, especially his late career take on standards. It's a musical jungle gym for the guitar fan, a close listening to Hofbauer's note choices and abstract connections to the song's structure is absolutely required listening. This short album is packed tight with ideas. Check out the other volumes as well!



Rob Price - All Regions Player (Gutbrain, 2017) ****



I ran into guitarist Rob Price a while back at the Stone in NYC. I cannot recall what the show was, but it was a guitarist ... maybe Frisell or Ribot ... either one would make perfect sense. Anyway, I had been a fan of his earlier works - 'At Sunset' and 'I Really Do Not See the Signal' - both smart and adventurous works with a crack quartet touching on many musical styles. I asked what he has been up to and he said he was working with a trio working out post-surf guitar takes on soundtrack themes, often playing the music set to film projections. Then, last year (2017) he released a special 100 copy run of an album from the trio, All Regions Player, which indeed sounds just like his description, a spaghetti western imbued set of tracks that draws on both Morricone and the Ventures. This is a really fun album, from the opening arrangement of 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' to the fantastic version of the theme from 'The Taking of Pelham 123' - the song reflecting the barreling of a runaway train in full blown jittery glory. 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' takes an approach that stretches the anthem way beyond its natural shape.

This set is certainly not free jazz, but it is full of imaginative arrangements of soundtrack music that has been molded into a highly enjoyable power trio fusing a love of film music and surf music. The trio is, in addition to Price, Ben Gallina on bass and Andy O’Neill on drums. Price is also long time figure in the Downtown New York City scene and is donating the proceeds of the album to support the Downtown Music Gallery. So, two great reasons to buy this CD: excellent and fun music, and supporting the beating heart of free music. (Check out the DMG event calendar, they have live music every week, including shows by Price). Buy here.




Samo Salamon - Free Sessions Vol 1: Planets of Kei (NotTwo 2017) ****½


Before digging into Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon's Planets of Kei, I did a little research on the blog. My colleagues Chris Haines and Conor Kurtz covered two different Salamon recordings of recent vintage and both similarly remarked on how the guitarist himself had the least amount of play-time on the recordings. On Free Sessions Vol 1: Planets of Kei this seems to be fully rectified. Salamon delivers a health dose of acoustic guitar on this album, in full free interplay with Szilard Mezei's viola and Achille Succi's bass clarinet and alto sax. The lack of drums and bass, and the use of only acoustic instruments, may seem to suggest a somewhat quiet album, and to some extent that is true, but it exhibits more than a few moments of fire and intensity that seems to be inspired by the sparseness of the instruments rather than held back by it. Right away on the opening track "Trio 1", the three are a-buzz, literally. From the rattle of the acoustic guitar stings, to the fizz of the bass clarinet, and the rub of violin strings, there is a crackling energy emanating from the group. To break things up, the next track is entitled 'Duo Achille & Samo', which is just that, the guitar and bass clarinet in a complex rhythmically interlocking dance. Salamon's lines grow longer and filled with chordal tones, while Achille plays elongated notes behind him. A later track 'Duo Samo & Slizard' begins in a similar fashion, but now with the guitar and viola. The two engage in a spirited melee, the viola often producing melodic lines spiraling out, while the guitar delivers staccato rhythmic figures. The track 'Trio VI', may be my favorite on the album. Starting with a repetitive finger picked figure on the guitar, the saxophone soon joins with an entropic melodic snippets. The free lines are quite interesting to follow, and the trio is adept at utilizing the spaces between their notes as much as the notes that they make, to propel themselves, especially in the final moments of this track where the friction between the three starts smoking.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Guitars! (Part 1 of 2)

By Paul Acquaro 

Oh, I've been taken to task for my Guitar Weeks. They say, "why single out the guitar? Why not have sax weeks? Why not a euphonium fortnight?" Well, I have no excuse except that I love the instrument and have a bunch of albums with the guitar at the center that I'd like to share with you...

Miles Okazaki - Trickster (PI Recordings, 2017) ****

One of the albums that has been on my mind for a bit but haven't written about yet, is Brooklyn based guitarist Miles Okazaki's album 'Trickster'. Okazaki is a fleet player, steeped in the language of mainstream modern jazz guitar (I hear hints of Abercrombie in his spaciousness, and Scofield in his blues) and the avant leaning (he works with Mary Halvorson on Paimon: The Book of Angels Volume 32). Knotty lines are festooned with finger twisting passages, but they never lose their melodic core. Tracks like 'Box in a Box' find the guitarist engaged deeply in a funky give and take with pianist Craig Taborn, and the opening 'Kudzu' is indeed as fast growing and enveloping as the plant its named after. Playing in bursts, bassist Anthony Tidds lays down a fluid and propulsive structure and the tight drumming of Sean Rickman nails it together. Trickster is a great album, and Okazaki melodic crisp and clean tone is a treat to the ears. 



Jessica Ackerly Trio - Coalesce (s/r, 2017) ****


The opening measures of this album may have you have thinking Mary Halvorson perhaps adopted an alter ego but that moment is fleeting as the Brooklyn based/Canadian transplant Jessica Ackerly proves to have invented her own angular and modern approach, and Halvorson is simply a touchstone. The opener 'Clockwork' has a captivating openness that expands in several direction simultaneously, free but melodic, you can hear Ackerly thinking with her fingers. 'Discoid' also allows for a lot of space, but takes a more deliberate  and plodding approach that gets into some clean skronk - perhaps more like Marc Ribot or maybe Elliot Sharp at this point. A short solo track appropriately tiled 'Solo Guitar' showcases the guitarists use of open voicing and suspense. The trio is Matt Muntz on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. They give Ackerly the space and support that this guitar driven music thrives on, and it's a blast. 



Elliot Sharp, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson- Err Guitar (Intakt, 2017) ****


How the hell did I not write about this one immediately? Three of the top avant-garde guitarists on one album? Maybe my only excuse is that it is too much of a good thing ... raised expectations? Preconceived notions? Well, I finally dove in, and what an experience it was. I immediately thought of the trio Nels Cline had been a part of, The Acoustic Guitar Trio with Rod Poole and Jim McAuley, when the first track 'Blindspot' began with the clean guitar chord tones and tight strumming, but soon the preconceived notions melted and the exploratory, arrhythmic, and unanticipated took over. I stopped trying to discern the individual players (though all three have enough distinct approaches that it's not impossible to guess) and enjoy the adventure. The call and response of the track 'The Ship I am On' leads the trio up to a peak that is shot through by some familiar pitch bends, used to great effect by Halvorson. 'Wobbly' is neat track that features an acoustic guitar, and expertly demonstrates the intriguing balancing act between the askew melodies and atypical chord voicing that permeate the recording.

If you are looking for a new Halvorson or a Ribot or a Sharp album, keep looking. Err Guitar is something entirely different and for guitar fans seeking new approaches and fresh ideas, you could not do much better. 



Scott DuBois - Autumn Wind (ACT, 2017) ****


Autumn Wind is New York based guitarist Scott DuBois' second release on the Munich based ACT, which like another famous Munich based label, is highly curated and meticulous, with a strong interest in modern jazz. On Autumn Wind, DuBois tries to capture the visceral and metaphorical feel of autumn, employing a group that features in demand bassist Thomas Morgan (currently working with Bill Frisell), drummer Kresten Osgood, and reed player Gebhard Ullman. For a portion of the tracks, DoBois has as string section for which he has written arrangements. 

DuBois has an approach similar to the spaciousness and judicious intensity of John Abercrombie and his writing is strong throughout. The first track, 'Mid-September Changing Light', begins with a throb of bass and DuBois' carefully placed notes, building into a full but delicate duet of bass and guitar. Moving along to 'Mid-November Moonlit Forest', lush string passages give way to a rocking moment, like emerging from the cradle of a tree covered path into a clearing full of a bright star filled night sky. Hints of Americana and Ullman's earnest reed work follow that moment in 'Late November Farm Fields'. 'Early December Blue Sky and Chimney Smoke' is an upbeat and vigorous melody like a crisp cold day while wispy clouds hang effortlessly in a baby blue sky.

Evocative, moving, and successful in it's mission, DuBois' concept is mature and meticulous.


Vitor Rua - Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

Its simply a fact: Clean Feed is fucking incredible. I do not believe that any other small label is as prolific, releasing recordings by veterans like Joe McPhee, welcoming new voices like Chris Pitsiokos, and providing a platform for important multi-faceted Portugese artists like Musical polymath Vitor Rua. Rua is primarily a composer whose main instrument is the guitar. Early on in his career played in the rock group GNR, and has been involved in free improvisation, classical and minimalist composition, and even opera. Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars is a fascinating look at both the minimal and jazz-rock side of Rua.

In this two disc set, the each CD features the same set of compositions, the first set played solo with over dubbing on guitar, the other set with the band The Metaphysical Angels featuring Rua on guitars, Hernâni Faustino on bass, Luís San Payo on drums, Manuel Guimarães on piano, Nuno Reis on trumpet, and Paulo Galão on clarinets. The first track 'The Amazing Worm' on the solo CD begins with acoustic guitar playing a single line melody, soon a brittle distorted electric guitar creeps playing chords like Ribot on Tom Wait's Rain Dogs, and soon the track is becomes an intertwining mass of melodic vines. On the group CD the same song features clarinet and drums taking the electronic guitar lines. Electric guitar delivers the same chords, but the jerkily rhythmic melodies carried by the different instruments lends a totally different feel. Both versions have a feeling of chic decay, a crumbling delicate beauty, held together, but barely. The track 'Flamenco is Dead' is a quick shifting of textures from electric slashing and skronk to the smacks of bass strings, and musical shavings cluttering the floorboards. The group version? Well the mayhem is spread across a broader tonal pallets and sprays shards of musical debris everywhere. The lovely faded elegance of the title track evokes a past future, with skeletal melodies and distorted accompaniment on the solo side and an even more delicate full band version.

Rua's album is a fascinating report from an artist drawing from all his interests: rock, classical, and experimental influences abound. Rua presents an exciting juxtaposition of solo and group takes of the same song, presenting both the drafts and expansions of his work simultaneously. Very interesting and well worth the double listen!




Friday, January 5, 2018

Willem Breuker Kollektief - Out of the Box (BVHAAST, 2017) *****



By Lee Rice Epstein

I recently put on a disc from this new 11-disc Willem Breuker Kollektief retrospective, and my wife quickly acknowledged that, while the musicality was impressive, she never wanted to hear the group again. This was disc 6, Umeå 1978, a previously unreleased concert features the group in one of its many peaks, playing classics like “Antelope Cobbler” and “Florida.” The fact is, this was her first exposure to Breuker, and it’s not an easy one to jump into. For all the density of his composed music (more on that in a bit), the jam-packed, theatrical live performances by the Kollektief can be difficult to follow if one is just coming and going from the room, tackling various chores, and attempting to have casual conversation with one’s spouse.

That said, Out of the Box, as a whole, is a really fantastic primer of mid-to-late career Breuker. At least five of the 11 discs on Out of the Box contain previously unissued recordings. In addition to the Umeå set, there are two discs featuring Breuker’s radical score to F. W. Murnau’s Faust and two discs from the group’s 2012 tour, following Breuker’s death in 2010. The remaining seven discs are compiled from various releases, some of which are now out of print, organized into thematic groups: Big Chunks, Songs and More, Plays and Movies, Heibel / Fuss, and Strings. The final disc, Angoulême 1980, compiles highlights from a Fou Records double-disc release.

Out of the Box makes a strong case for Breuker as a preeminent composer and arranger. Much can be made of the remarkable “Rhapsody In Blue” from Strings, but Songs and More features a 12-minute reading of “Night and Day” that must absolutely be heard to be believed. With knowingly torch-song vocals by Greetje Kauffeld, the Kollektief pivots from nightclub backing band to free swingers for an extended middle section. Here, it’s followed by Kurt Weill’s “Song of Mandalay” and a fabulous rendition of Breuker’s own “Potsdamer Stomp,” with strong soloing by trombonist Bernard Hunnekink. It’s Hunnekink, along with bassist Arjen Gorter, who compiled this set, and their work is to be commended. In keeping the Kollektief alive, they’ve not only continued to release new albums, but they kept touring and playing live through 2012, a final tour captured on Happy End I and Happy End II.

The two sets that make up Happy End showcase a band that, for nearly 40 years, took on the high-wire feat of performing Breuker’s music. The breakneck speed and Dadaist mashup of Breuker’s music live and breathes here, beginning with the one-two punch of “Husse II” and “Steaming,” and extending into the “To Remain” suite, and deep cuts like “Ricochet.” If these final shows were meant to serve as a kind of honorific, there’s no diminishment of the playful theatricality that reigned throughout the Kollektief’s history. “Hallo, Hallo,” with its cheeky tempo change and ringing phones, is a particularly fun highlight.

But the strongest of all highlights may be the two-disc score to Murnau’s Faust, originally released on DVD in 2005, the score has not previously been widely available in an audio format. It’s a magnificent work, with Breuker stretching out, stitching together folkish rhythms, Tin Pan Alley melodies, carnivalesque modes, Weill and Berg references, and a range of pop, jazz, funk, and rock motifs. It’s a heady mix, a total trip. I’ve never watched the film synced with the score, but I understand Breuker uses a lot of odd juxtapositions between sight and sound. But, knowing Breuker’s music, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Speaking with Jon Pareles for The New York Times in 1983, Breuker said, “'People never fall asleep when they listen to us… The music is like a bird going from one branch to another. I like to make these cuts, changing subjects and objects all the time. Or I might do something for a shock effect, or the feeling of having two record players on at once, or of changing channels on the radio.”
One of his greatest accomplishments was combining humor and music, bringing an ironic slant to a sometimes self-congratulatory intellectual music. Breuker brought all his intellect and training to bear on his riotous and clashing compositions. There is richness and depth in the many interpolations that combine to make a Breuker score. Out of the Box celebrates all of the different expressions of this, extended, brief, majestic, kitschy, and seriously fun.

Available direct by mail order.