Click here to [close]

Monday, February 19, 2018

Check Up! Free Jazz On Air with Tom Burris

If you happen to be in the Indianapolis area tomorrow (2/20) at 7 p.m. be sure to check out the debut of Check Up! with Free Jazz Blog's Tom Burris on 99.1 WQRT.

Tom is focusing on sounds from Chicago this time around. He says that the future may also bring the ability to stream the show online, along with some exclusive live audio content, and interviews. However, for now, if you're not in range of the station, the best we can offer is that you can try reconstructing Tom's playlist on your own.

Listen to the promo here - you may just decide it is time to head to Indiana after doing so ...

Jason Kao Hwang - Sing House (Euonymus Records, 2017) ****

By Brian Kiwanuka

The opening track of Sing House, "No Such Thing", begins with an angular melody which quickly breaks out into an entertaining chaos of rapid, seemingly free improvisation. This is a fitting introduction to the structure, though that word feels very limiting to describe much of the music here, of Sing House, Jason Kao Hwang's adventurous four-track album. Hwang has assembled a formidable quintet of past collaborators: Andrew Drury (drum set), Ken Filiano (bass), Chris Forbes (piano) and Steve Swell (trombone). Hwang is democratic in his band-leading, with each member given a moment in the limelight to showcase their talents throughout the record.  

The tracks are all extended enthralling journeys, with the shortest song, "WhenWhatCould", clocking in at just over 11 minutes. When the aforementioned chaos of "No Such Thing" subsides, after a brief, high octane drum solo from Drury, the theme is restated and leads into a second, much darker mood, which is introduced by the piano and the bass. The energy here is impressive, with Hwang delivering a fantastic solo towards the end of the fourth minute. What is key here is how the track weaves in and around the boundary between the straight-ahead and the avant-garde, Forbes' skillful solo starting out relatively tame before upping the ante.

In contrast to the often bombastic "No Such Thing", "Dream Walk" is a much more spacious affair, beginning with an abstract pizzicato-piano conversation between Hwang and Forbes. Forbes’ gorgeous piano is the highlight of the first few minutes, employing a great use of dissonance in his chords as Drury's cymbals ring in the background. Eventually a motif, which serves as the separation point between each solo, is introduced by the violin and piano before the violin rises to the instrumental equivalent of a relentless scream and starts an intense solo.

Hwang plays viola on "WhenWhatCould", a tune which, like "Dream Walk" introduces itself with sparsity. The viola and bass combine with ominous bowed notes that transition into captivating languid interplay. After the pace picks up a bit, Forbes and Filiano introduce a strong driving set of notes which form the basis of the rhythmic theme of a large portion the composition and accompany part of another abrasive and thrilling Hwang solo. In the latter half of the track, after some quality hectic work by Filiano and Forbes, the song ends on a beautifully grim note, with mournful harmonies from the strings and trombone.

Similarly to the opener, the closer, “Inscribe”, wastes no time at all. The band immediately introduces the motif and springs into life with Filiano taking the lead with a forcefully bowed solo. Forbes, whose playing is often erratic in all the right ways throughout Sing House, comps combatively behind an unhinged trombone solo by Swell. Though the track, like the rest of this album, can be quite aggressive, it also has a surprisingly catchy section. In the seventh minute, the trombone steadily oscillates between two notes to back Forbes’ foreboding descending piano lines, briefly creating an unexpectedly hypnotic atmosphere.

With a title like Sing House, it is a bit ironic that the melodies here are quite knotty and don't stay around for long. Those who come to this record expecting it to "sing" in the conventional sense - have extended periods of singable melodies - may be left cold. However, this is a consistently engaging album - a listener looking for a quality avant-garde jazz record should not hesitate to give Sing House a play.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lunar Error - Sélène (Becoq, 2017) ***½

By Stef

In the same vein as "Dans Les Arbres", the ten musicians of "Lunar Error" create a sonic landscape full of vibrating sounds that exist and evolve organically. Individual instruments mesh together in a total sound, and there is no melody or rhythm to discern, just the shimmering sounds of many instruments resonating without any sense of direction or purpose other than to exist.

The album's title, Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, and the band's name, suggest images of endless grey landscapes, with little changes in relief, and a far omnipresent horizon against a dark sky.

The band are Matthieu Lebrun on clarinet, Mathieu Lilin on baritone saxophone, Gabriel Lemaire on saxophones, François Ella-Meyé on piano and zither, Claude Colpaert on gangsa gantung, harmonium indien, Thomas Coquelet on harmonium, vocals, mixing board, contact microphones, Léo Rathier on banjo and objects, Paul Ménard on electric guitar and effects, Pierre Denjean on acoustic guitar and gong, and Quentin Conrate on incomplete drum kit. 

Despite the size of the this band, the music is basically quiet in one endless flow of merged multiple sounds that sometimes increase in volume, density, and adding a sense of distress, then dissolving again, without ever too much disturbing the sense of calm intensity that is there from the start.

It's an EP, short but good. If you're interested in this type of music. 

You can listen and order via Bandcamp

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Susana Santos Silva - All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed, 2018) *****

By Stuart Broomer

This CD is a 42-minute duet between the trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and the Portuguese National Pantheon. Santos Silva is becoming increasingly well-known in free jazz and free improvisation circles, whether through her membership in the group Lama or a host of other projects made in groupings across Europe. For those who have not visited Portugal, the Panteão Nacional may be unfamiliar.

The phrase “obras de Santa Engrácia,” the construction of Santa Engrácia, is an expression in Portuguese that denotes a building project that will go on forever. The source of the phrase is Lisbon’s Church of Santa Engrácia, yes, the Panteão Nacional, located in the city’s ancient Alfama district and overlooking the Tagus River. Endless? The church’s state of incompletion was a constant through centuries of change, a symbol of upheaval. Construction of the first church dedicated to Saint Engrácia on the site began in 1568. The present church began in 1681 after previous ones on the site had collapsed. Construction proceeded for thirty years, until the building was abandoned by King Joao V, distracted by far more ambitious construction projects—an aqueduct, palaces, a cathedral, an opera house.

It was finally finished in the 20th century. In 1916, six years after the fall of the Portuguese monarchy and the launch of the First Republic, it was repurposed as a National Pantheon, a tomb for the country’s greatest figures. It was finally completed in 1966, forty years after the fall of the first Republic, four years before the death of the dictator António Salazar and eight years before the Carnation Revolution turned Portugal into a modern democracy (the “obras” and the construction dates come from the Wikipedia entry).

In recent years the profoundly resonant space—high, thick, dense stone walls; an almost circular space; a dome--has become the occasional site for concerts of a highly contemporary sort. The Variable Geometry Orchestra, a large-scale assembly of free improvisers led by Ernesto Rodrigues, has played there, and the guitarist Abdul Môimeme has recorded a fascinating solo concert there, Exosphere on Creative Sources (full disclosure: I wrote the liner note). The appeal of the space is immediate: it offers something like a 20-second time lag, making it an extraordinary medium for sustained pieces and the exploration of sonic decay.

Here, Santos Silva is literally playing the Pantheon with her trumpet, tin whistle and bells. The Pantheon takes her sounds and magnifies them, playing them back to her, extending them. When she plays succeeding tones a semitone apart, the echoes explode around her. When she (apparently) aims her trumpet in a different direction—sound (overtones), amplitude—change markedly. It would be remarkable if Santos Silva merely explored the sound of the space, its shifting echoes and durations, but she does far more. She creates a profound, subtly evolving work that engages the possibilities of the trumpet and the building as if they were paired, like the two resonators on a veena.

The music is open, the Pantheon is open, and you are invited to hear it any way you can or wish. Some selective thoughts:

At times Santos Silva will throw out a great burred, brassy blast; in contemporary terms, these are multiphonics; in architectural terms, they’re challenges to the Pantheon’s walls to respond in qualitative kind; in jazz history, these are almost rude noises, or maybe even more “dinosaur in the morning” than the sound of Coleman Hawkins thus described by the critic Whitney Balliett, in one documentary it is presented as the sound of the unrecorded Buddy Bolden. These signs point to the status of this concert as a kind of originary moment, intimately connected with multiple histories;

The Panteão Nacional has been almost exclusively a male residence. The first woman to be interred there was the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, in 2001. It is perfectly appropriate that a woman should make such a profound statement as All the Rivers at this site;

While the Panteão Nacional is an imposing, even intimidating space (an elevator ride to the terrace for a view of the Tagus involves squeezing into a confined space cut into one of the incredibly thick walls: the claustrophobia suggests “immurement”—to be entombed in a wall;

The CD jacket offers no images of the Pantheon, no suggestion of the power, the grandeur, the solidity, that distance that grows as you get closer. The cover of All the Rivers could not be more opposite: Santos Silva dedicates the CD to her grandparents; the front cover photograph, uncredited, presents an older woman holding an infant; pink wallpaper with an abstract arabesque suggests floral bouquets; in the photograph there is a statue on a pedestal of a boy in formal dress, perhaps from the eighteenth century, reading a book. These are intimate emblems, a personal history, a history as unlike as possible the history to which the Pantheon speaks; a history of the intimate and familial versus the history of church as state (resonating with Jose Saramago’s Memorial do Convento  [in English, Baltasar and Blimunda]);

Santos Silva’s performance in the Pantheon is a rich meditation on the nature of time, its expanse, its mystery and its construction in the moment, the necessary relationship between works and breath. If the Pantheon would seem to enclose time, to celebrate a permanence, Santos Silva opens it in a matter of 42 minutes. The strange history of the “obras,” that construction that ebbs and stops with the passage of centuries and the convulsions of politics, is scaled to the performance, the power of the transitory to find form that is lost to a stone monument.

Are time and timelessness different or the same? Is one the route to the other? Which one? Santos Silva and the Pantheon meet on the path of time’s riddle, a mobius strip. We are left blessed with these long tones, these multiphonics, these reverberant bells, these ceremonies of memory, exploration, freedom and reconciliation.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Latest Releases from Aural Terrains

The Aural Terrains label celebrates ten years of activity with several releases that affirms its mission of being “a creative space for exploratory contemporary music in its different manifestations” and “a platform for like-minded composers-musicians who navigate the different aural terrains and depths of sound with vigilance and integrity.”

Steve Noble / Yoni Silver - Home (Aural Terrains, 2017) ****

When Israeli bass clarinet player Yoni Silver relocated to London he began meeting with drummer Steve Noble for weekly sessions that lasted about two years and led to the recording of Home. The album was recorded during two session on April and July 2016 and is dedicated to Silver's newborn son Alexander Silver Schendar. Both Noble and Silver are clever and inventive improvisers, informed by free jazz but not committing themselves to any form or convention. Noble has played with innovative improvisers such as Derek Bailey, Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, Thurston Moore, and Joe McPhee. Silver plays in the Hyperion Ensemble of Romanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram, played with German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, recorded with Israeli metal-circus-core band Midnight Peacocks, and with composer Dganit Elyakim. Silver has developed a unique technique for the bass clarinet - instrumental prosthetics - that enables him to expand the woodwind sonic palette into the realm of electronics and noise.

The first two pieces begin as quiet rituals, almost meditative, with super-precise and hyper-detailed search of common resonating, buzzing and sustained sounds. Patiently, Noble and Silver expand and deepen their sonic palette, transforming the ritualistic interplay into an intense, tense and dense texture. The third and fourth pieces extend this quiet approach with an unsettling dynamics, still totally attentive and exploratory, but with a conflictual spirit, allowing their reserved sonic storms to intrude and clash with each other Noble and Silver conclude this sonic meditation with a full return to the to the ritualistic mode that opened this recording. But like the Zen Buddhist circle, Ensō, the return only symbolize the beauty of the transient, imperfect spirit of the moment.

More on SoundCloud.

Thanos Chrysakis / Christian Kobi / Christian Skjødt / Zsolt Sőrés - Carved Water (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***½

Carved Water brings together four sound artists - Greek, Belarus-based, Aural Terrains label founder Thanos Chrysakis who plays on laptop and live electronics; Danish Christian Skjødt (known from his collaboration with Danish guitarist Mark solborg on Omdrejninger, Ilk Music, 2017), on live electronics and objects; Hungarian Zsolt Sőrés who plays on a 5-string viola (laid on a table), contact microphone, effects, dissecting tools, sonic objects; and voice and Swiss soprano sax player Christian Kobi. These sonic explorers performed at the Sound Art exhibition ‘On the Edge of Perceptibility’ on October 2014, in Műcsarnok - Kunsthalle, Budapest.

The two pieces offer two different strategies of sound artistry. The first one, 39-minutes long, sketches peaceful, abstract textures where the weird, sparse sounds flow and and drift in a clear and quiet - almost ethereal- stream. The four musicians steer and carve this delicate, liquid kind of interplay in an economic manner but surprisingly sketch a rich and detailed texture. There are occasional, sudden outbursts of tense interplay but none lasts for long before the quartet resumes the emphatic, contemplative commotion. The second shorter piece, 12-minutes long, is more dynamic, intense and stormy. The quartet creates continuous noisy waves that keep spreading all over the space, almost tangible with its raw, disturbing substances.

Carlos Costa - Door of No Return (Aural Terrains, 2016) ****

Spanish double bass player Carlos Costa says that for a long time he was fascinated by the image of a 'Door of No Return', a symbolic title that captures the essence of his uncompromising, free-improvised solo art. A title that radiates his strong commitment, pushing through this imaginary door towards the unknown, towards freedom, and never going back. Being at the here and now and becoming “an instrument of pure sounds, harmonies of pain, rhythms of new times, melody of contemplation... chaos and harmony.”

Door of No Return is Costa's debut solo double bass album, recorded on April 2015. Costa's technique is informed by the innovative work of French classical double bass player Alain Bourguignon and American free-improvisers like Mark Dresser and Mark Helias. Each of the ten “Door”s investigates, in a highly disciplined, almost scientific manner, a certain aspect of the bull fiddle timbral spectrum - extended bowing technique, including using the bow or bows on the wooden body of the bass as a percussive instrument, resonating overtones, different kinds of harmonics, multiphonics and other weird sounds and noises. Costa plays the double bass as an observant explorer who maps meticulously uncharted, almost alien-sounding territories. His profound knowledge and understanding of the physical anatomy of the double bass as well as his sense of invention and searching spirit are highly impressive.

Edith Alonso - Collapse (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***

Spanish composer and sound artist Edith Alonso's career has encompassed many fields. She began playing classical music on the piano but soon grew interested in the guitar and saxophone and explored jazz and rock. In the early nineties she played the electric bass in a local punk-rock band. Later she studied electroacoustic and instrumental composition in Paris and discovered musique concrete with composers François Bayle and Pierre Henry. She composed music for many multidisciplinary formats - live poetry, audio-visual, dance and theater projects, improvised in a duo and trio outfits and composed music for "Docuficción en vivo" (documentary fiction - live) about the International Brigades in Aragon (during the Spanish Civil War).

Collapse is a four-part composition for prepared electric bass, recorded in May 2014, edited and mastered by Alonso a year later. Alonso transform the electric bass to an otherworldly sonic generator. She keeps producing from the prepared and mutated string instrument more and more bubbling layers of raw, industrial sounds until any conception of the electric bass spectrum completely collapses and drowns in this dense swamp. This demanding journey open with the aggressive “Collapse I”. “Collapse II” caress a distant pulse in its foray into alien-sounding terrains. “Collapse III” is more suggestive with its sinister, cinematic quality. The final “Collapse IV” mixes the distorted, processed metallic bass sound into an intense, fiery stew that threatens to erupt and melt anything on its course.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nate Wooley – Battle Pieces II (Relative Pitch, 2017) *****

By Daniel Böker

2017 is almost done (writing this review, you'll be reading it in 2018) and looking back I have to admit that Nate Wooley is one of the artists of the year for me. I discovered some of his back catalog this year for the first time, while also listening to new things like knknighgh on Clean Feed - every time I try to follow all the things he sings, talks and shouts with his trumpet. And I can't - which is amazing. And so, here is a new one: Battle Pieces II, on which, for the second time he colludes with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Matt Moran on vibraphone.

A quick sidebar ... I have to admit that I love the vibraphone. While it might not fit in the context of this blog but I recommend to listen to everything you can find by The Dylan Group, a band that was centered around the vibraphone. So, from the moment Moran comes in, I am no longer listening objectively. I love the sound and within this quartet, it fits perfectly.

Wooley starts of with a fine little melody in the first piece, then Moran comes along, and a few moments later Courvoisier adds some tones to it. It all starts very calm and relaxed. The four musicians take their time to start together. After three minutes already I've been taken into the music. I am tempted to stop writing (And I am not listening for the first time!) and close my eyes to just listen to what is going on - it is a lot.

With four musicians in a room, on a stage (the album was recorded live in Cologne, Germany.) almost everything is possible. If I have it right, Wooley composes a lot of little pieces, melodies or patterns for the different instruments and every one can play one of these at any time. The 'rest' is up to the improvising capability of the four. So I repeat with this concept and four musicans on stage, everything is possible and almost everything happens: there is silence and noisy outbursts. There are single voices and all four play at the same time. There is sheer power and restrain.

Having said all this I think I have to state my core impression of this album: it is lyrical and it is poetic.

For me a good poem dances on the thin line of open sound and word-play on the one hand and understandable words or content on the other. A poem needs different layers, and this album is full of layers. There are lines, melodies and harmonies I can follow easily. But theses lines carry me to places I have never been and don't understand. Just to assure me a few minutes later that I am not alone in this place and the lines I recognized return in a different mode and so on.

As it always is when writing about music, there is one sentence that comes to mind again and again: 'You should listen to it! You should listen to it to get what I mean. You should listen to it because it is worth every single minute.' Perhaps 'Battle Piece 5', the second track on the album, represents best what I am trying to say.

It starts with a little line by Wooley, who is then joined by Moran on the vibraphone. As I said before. From that point on I am not objective anymore. I am hooked!! Then Laubrock adds her beautiful sound. This is the perfect example why I think this album is lyrical. The melodic voice moves from the one musician to the next and together they take me to places I haven't been before. Six minutes in, the sound gets wilder and more vibrant. Laubrock and Courvoisier build an intense dialogue in the middle of Part 5. Then Wooley takes over with a solo part. If you have heard him play already you'll know what I mean. But before I get lost in that uncharted territory a melody occurs and "takes my ears by the hand". A beautiful piece of music.

'Battle Piece 6' starts with Courvoisier's piano, however, the first two minutes the piano sounds like a guitar as Courvoisier works inside the piano. Moran joins after two minutes with some scattered notes. This all takes place in a very calm vibe. Though all the others eventually join in 'Battle Piece 6' stays calm and ends again with the piano sounding like a guitar, joined by Wooley with an aspirated pattern.

I don't want to write about every piece in detail hoping that you start to listen to it on your own.

To end this review I only need one word, and I mean it:


P.s.: I don't know why such beautiful music is called 'Battle Pieces'. What I hear is a very respectful conversation and no battle at all. Is it exactly that? To contradict battle and all its ways? I checked the internet for a clue (as one does these days) and I found a book of poems on war by Herman Melville. Maybe that is a reference? I don't know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Udo Schindler & Ingrid Schmoliner - Blaublatt (Creative Sources, 2016) ****½

Schindler, Udo / Ingrid Schmoliner: Blaublatt (Creative Sources)

By Stef

Free improvisation is the art of close listening. It is the art of intense concentration on the part of the musicians to hear what the other one is doing, understand intentions, sentiments, pauses, room to interact, time to take a step back, time to challenge, time to encourage and expand on new ideas. The basic condition is that you, as the musician, have to know your own instrument inside out to be able to keep all these things in mind while performing. It requires openness of mind and the ability to decide.

The interaction between German clarinettist Udo Schindler and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner is exceptional in this respect. Schmoliner often sets the tone on these nine pieces that were taken from a live concert in April 2014 at the 44th Salon für Klang+Kunst in Krailling, Munich. 

Both Schmoliner and Schindler are true acoustic sound sculptors. The former uses all kinds of materials to prepare her piano, with changing percussive or scraping effects as a result, but she is as comfortable in playing the keys unaltered, and still managing to surprise us. The latter is her true companion in this. His clarinet multiphonics vibrate, oscillate and create deep murmuring sounds, sometimes accompanied by Schmoliners undulating voice, sometimes resulting in amazing effects as on the fifth track, "Münda-ichsagedir", when the clarinet manages some animal-like deep howl, amazingly enough immediately followed by a similar bending tone on a piano string.

Their pallet is broad, and single notes, silence, lyrical phrases, hammered keys, yodeling, dampened sounds, sustained notes, and well, yes, even chords on the piano. Despite all the avant-garde, and their willingness to go even beyond what that crowd expects, there is a kind of return to primitive folklore and deeper foundation of being that is brought to the surface, that is presented here, with beauty.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Permission – Sam Leak and Paula Rae Gibson (33Xtreme, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

For Permission, pianist Sam Leak ( Aquarium, Don Tepfer, Spike Orchestra, Sam Leak Trio among many more) has got together with vocalist Paula Rae Gibson (Sophie Alloway, Kit Downes and more) on this CD, released on the ever prescient 33Xtreme label.

Permission opens the CD with Paula’s vocals laying smoothly over staccato piano telling the tale of lovers giving themselves permission to do anything. The vocals are soft, sultry and oh, so, laid back with a hint of sexiness. Every word is crystal clear and backed by equally clear piano chords, responses and retorts it makes for engaging listening. There are some great chordal progressions in the latter half which blend well with the vocals over the top. ‘I’ll Catch You When You Fall’ is a beautiful track, with rich, emotive vocals over percussive piano explorations. The deep, full-throated rhythms struck out by the piano strings and echoed through the framework are amazing and their complexity off-set beautifully by the spaced out, clear vocals. Whilst Sam Leak works the piano into a frenzy, the vocals maintain their steady clarity and there are no meeting points yet this continual diversification works well. The lyrics are in perfect contraposition to the piano and the second half sees the piano and vocals both become more emphatic, the vocals introducing more breathiness and the piano ever changing rhythms, separate yet in a distinct dialogue. Sometimes the edge in the vocals is scary. Totally beautiful.

‘Deepest Down’ is about a sensual woman and the vocals about time searching for her origins. ‘She rules by seduction, this woman no man can hold on to’….’she lives to be desired’ the vocals stretch out the words over gentle chords from the piano. Just when the vocals are in the slightest danger of becoming a tad too predictable, the piano intercepts with trills and runs up the keys, in exactly the right places. This is an example of two musicians reading each other well. What is great about the track is the piano line in the second half where major and minor chords clash in the back ground under the vocal line. We are led, deep deep down before the final chords fade away. ‘Rather Make Believe Than Make Do’ begins with sonorous, deep thunking piano over which the vocal line enters. Here the caress of the vocals is answered every time by a piano which almost seems to speak in response. The vocals speak gently of tsunamis of love and intense feelings but the singing is soft, whilst the emotion of the words themselves is reflected by the piano, as if the piano itself gives voice to the lyrics. There is a lovely section where vocals and piano vie for the ears, both being so intense and engaging. Very clever and so listenable.  ‘Second Best’ begins with some open piano work from Sam Leak using the instrument to provide percussive under beats with off-set rhythms and lots of little plonks and twinks along with a thudding boom of the frame. The vocals are clear, relatively smooth against this lovely bit of xylophone-like work going on behind from the gremlin in the frame of the piano. Little by little the keys are introduced to strike the strings and the tone changes and we have chords, still over that repeated percussive rhythm. The echoes through the frame left in the recording are a stroke of genius as they add to the atmosphere.  

‘Lovely Rain’ is deep, dark and atmospheric, the piano bass notes emphasising the vocal line and slightly doom-laden lyrics. A tale of sadness and healing rain, this is poignant and an interesting track. The vocals have just the right touch of breathlessness to emphasise the sadness of the soul. ‘Full Blown Love’ is a song about being in love and wondering if it is real, the questioning, the wonderings, the healing of a broken heart. Under the vocals the piano is used to create a series of trinkling runs, rippling high strings and wonderful rhythmic interpretations, their disparity with the vocals only adding to the effect of the track. The warning ‘all of me or nothing’ in the lyrics is emphasised by a slightly manic episode from the piano, seemingly panicking and from there we go off into a delightful chase up and down the keys, never stopping, rapid fingers flitting up and down searching for perfect harmony but not quite getting there. Absolutely gorgeous. ‘Over Dark Waters’ is another number touched by the darker side in the lyrics, which sound like someone getting a good talking to. The piano supports with steady chords and rhythm which underpin and underline the vocal line. An interesting track to end the CD.

What is great about this CD is not only how the vocals and piano work together at times but also how for much of it they are in perfect contrast. The piano picks up and turns not only the theme but the lyrics in places, which is a marvellous piece of arranging. Paula Rae Gibson has a voice which lends itself to story-telling and the darker moments of life are brought alive by her interpretation.  At times there is enough of an edge to the voice to make you sit and take note, at other times she is subtle and always she is clear. There is an underlying sadness and almost an agony of the soul that appears now and again on the surface in the vocals, which is subtle but present. Tempered by the outlandish and sometimes boyish enthusiasm of Sam Leak’s playing, this is a match made by the musical gods. Sam Leak’s mastery and understanding of a piano is clear and he uses every last string and minutae of the frame which create this wonderful instrument to the full, from using plucked and brushed strings to thunking out rhythms and using the deepest corners to echo back the sounds, tempered with attractive tunes and chordal progressions.

This is a great CD – one to listen to again and again.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reverso - Suite Ravel (Phonoart, 2018) ****

Last week at the Jazz Gallery in Midtown Manhattan, Reverso served up an aural feast to a receptive crowd. The gallery space, located on the top level of an older compact five story building along Broadway at 27th street, may have been considered a loft back in the day, and still retains some rustic industrial charm, like the elevator where a sign implores that you do not dance or shake it while in motion. The atmosphere in the gallery space - which indeed hosts art shows as well - was the perfect setting for the American/French collaboration of trombonist Ryan Keberle (American) and Frank Woeste's (French) Reverso group playing the music from their debut release Ravel Suite, a set of original music that takes its inspiration from French composer Maurice Ravel’s music.

Woeste and Keberle met while working with trumpeter David Douglas in a sextet. Apparently a discussion between the two over Ravel, who at the turn of the 21st century famously remarked on the importance of American jazz, and whose influence on the modern jazz scene had not been given proper credit. Their response was to compose pieces that drew on Ravel's “Le tombeau de Couperin”, a suite for solo piano composed between 1914 and 1917. It was done more in spirit than in verisimilitude and paid particular attention to developing their music along the traditional Baroque suite style that Ravel had used. At this point, I must leave the Ravel references behind, as I am not familiar enough to speak with any real knowledge on it. So rather, while the concert featured cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Adam Cruz (both American), the album, which was recorded in France, featured Vincent Courtois (French) on cello and Jeff Ballard on drums (American ex-pat), making the album a true Franco-American collaboration.

Kicking off the concert, however, it was Friedlander who got things going. Against a wash of the drums, he began looping an arpeggiated pizzicato sequence and then bowing elongated tones over it. Woeste added a curt melody with one hand inside the piano damping the strings. Keberle then joined in with a brassy melody, helping bring on a crescendo. The cello and drums then picked up the pace, and Woeste comped uptempo and harmoniously - and the concert had truly begun. The song, ‘Ostinato’, which is also first on the album, just rockets past. The circular melody that outlines the general melodic approach is also quite an effective vehicle for improvisation.

The solo trombone melody that opened the second piece, ‘All Ears’, was rife with feeling, but it was Friedlander’s carefully plucked notes that really brought out the overwhelming sense of grounded melancholy. Woeste’s keyboard work tended towards the lush and supportive, while Cruz gave the right amount of insistence and restraint, ready to push the energy when the timing was right. The cello and piano at times engaged in lovely counterpoint, and the ballad really exemplified their music: restrained, melodic, beautifully thought out, and above all, played perfectly.

The album does not differ in terms of the principals: it too is provocative and melodic modern jazz with classical undertones. Moments of rock creep in as well, and certainly in concert some passages became heated. The last tune that they played in the first set was ‘Luminism', exemplified the creeping rock best, with strong syncopation. Friedlander and Cruz interlocked tightly into a fierce groove, and Keberle let loose with a tough and melodically strong solo.

Like Woeste and Douglas’ Dada People collaboration from last year, Ravel Suite is one of those rare albums that you could potentially play at a dinner party (for cool people), and fits in just as well as in the racks of the Downtown Music Gallery. Check it out!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018) *****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Like myself reeds player Mats Gustafsson grew up in the northern parts of Sweden, that is; the real northern parts of Sweden where, during the winter months, the sun just barely crawls over the horizon just to give you a cheeky look as to say: “did you really think I was going to shine on you today?”, before going back down. Winter months by the way means October to April. Mats and I grew up in different generations, but when listening to The Hands, I feel that he’s speaking straight to the part of my northern Swedish mind which, without being sad, depressed or melancholic states that when the horizon brightens it may very well be the deceiving light. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not have any tendencies towards seeing life on this planet as meaningless. I love the work of the late Hans Roslings ‘Gapminder’ and I think that we can build a better world together, however embracing that ‘no life without death, no death without life’ is also important. Understanding and not ignoring the darker side of life is crucial for our (my) existence.

I’m not trying to banter, but when Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin throws down the gauntlet on the title track The Hands’ I immediately feel like I understand exactly what they’re trying to say. The whole album is begging to be played at an excruciatingly high volume. I can hear a connection to Gustafsson's work on ‘A quietness of water’. Where Gustafsson/Evans/Fernandez were looking inwards to seek out sounds of an inner space full of feelings and emotions, Fire! is allowing the those sounds to come out in full bloom.

Gustafsson should be known to most readers here, having worked with…well everyone on the free jazz scene. He’s also doing regular work for the Swedish jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen, he has a vinyl trading website and a vinyl collection which carries more free jazz rarities than one can imagine. He’s touring with multiple groups and has also published a book about record collecting; Discaholics Vol. 1. Drummer and percussionist Andreas Werliin can be heard with Angels 9, Fire! Orchestra, and Tonbruket to just mention a few. Double bassist Johan Berthling is also a familiar name here and except his work on Angels 8 and 9, I’d like to recommend checking out Nacka Forum, again just to mention a few. This is indeed a very seasoned trio. ‘Supergroup’ has been said, and I can only agree.

The title track ‘The Hands’ has a thick carpet of drums and electric bass on which Gustafsson marches onwards without hesitation. He leaves it all out there. Nothings secret anymore. ‘When Her Lips Collapsed’ seems closely tied together with the first track, but at a slower pace. ‘Touches Me With The Tips Of Wonder’ allows the listener to breath and relax for a while, while the dark clouds pass by. But it of course deceiving. The manic ritual drum beat that follows to introduce the fourth track ‘Washing Your Hands In Filth’ takes us right back to where we started. This track is sure to shake a live audience in its foundations. It builds up intensity and I can only wish that it was a little bit longer. Maybe the live version is? ‘Up. And Down’ is a natural progression of the previous track and provides balance to the madness like a much-needed intermezzo. Yet half-way through, Gustafsson switches gears and increases intensity. That’s what he does. No compromises. The longest track on this album, ‘To Shave The Leaves. In Red. In Black’, is an emotional journey on which Gustafsson is given more time to tell his story. It’s very rewarding and it’s 9 minutes that speaks straight to my heart. The last song, ‘I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence’ is a naked and introspective walk on lonely streets. I’m not left exhausted, I’m left staring out the window, somehow content with the here and now. It’s all going to be alright….or it’s all going to hell.

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

With their sixth album, it’s a good opportunity to reflect Fire!’s work so far. In 2009 Mats Gustafsson (saxes, electronics, Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (bass, organ) and Andreas Werliin (drums, percussion) started with You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago, introducing their idea of music at the interface of jazz, blues and rock. Their sophomore album Unreleased (2011) - which was accompanied by the sister 10’inch Released - added new colors to the sound of the debut. Berthling changed to electric bass and the trio invited a guest musician - Jim O’Rourke on guitar. With their third album In the Mouth a Hand (2012), they elaborated this concept, this time they were augmented by Oren Ambarchi (guitar, electronics). The band focused more on drones and noise, without neglecting their roots - up to today this is my favorite Fire! recording. One year later the band put the rock influences in the center of their music, Johan Berthling delivered gloomy metal riffs on (Without Noticing) while Mats Gustafsson on electronics and Fender Rhodes shows the more meditative side of the band. Two years ago She Sleeps, She Sleeps brought Oren Ambarchi back and - as a another new sound element - Leo Svensson Sander on cello, but the album wasn’t as excessive as In the Mouth a Hand, it was rather a masterpiece in reduction and monotony, a heart-breaking yearning for something that’s been lost. Now, The Hands concentrates on the plain sax, bass and drums formation.

Once again, the album presents the band’s usual mix of heavy, sombre, and intense psych blues rock. Yet, while She Sleeps, She Sleeps and (Without Noticing) indulged into the first two Black Sabbath albums, this one rather refers to bands like Blue Cheer and Mountain, Berthling’s distorted bass guitar even to grunge rock veterans Green River and Mudhoney here and there - great requirements for another superb album. And The Hands starts promising: the title track is a real rock burner with a catchy, colossal three-note bass riff and a straight beat, Gustafsson’s sax replaces the lead vocals, howling and yelling in his typical manner. It’s just pure fun! Additionally, the album has more of this stuff to offer: "When Her Lips Collapsed", "Up. And Down" and "To Shave the Leaves. In Red. And Black" use a similar compositional matrix, they just decelerate the tempo. The remaining three songs reveal a different approach, they build the bridge to She Sleeps, She Sleeps: "Touches Me With the Tips of Wonder","Washing Your Heart in Filth" and "I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence" have a balladesque and reflective note, an almost funereal character. Especially the latter is a captivating ultra-slow blues (here with Berthling on double bass), in which Gustafson’s qualities as a melodist come to shine.

However, The Hands can’t quite compete with (Without Noticing) or other classic Fire! releases, because it somehow lacks the emotional depth and the variety of sound of these albums. Also, I’ve always liked the fact that Werliin and Gustafsson were able to dance around Berthling’s rock-solid bass figures, that he allowed them room for various sound excursions. Here they seem a bit restrained, especially Werliin often concentrates on playing time instead of going astray.

The Hands is a very good album, no doubt. It’s a great start for Fire! beginners, you aren't overwhelmed by it (like a typical 1960s rock album it’s just 37 minutes long). But if you want the real deal I would rather suggest She Sleeps, She Sleeps or In the Mouth a Hand.

The Hands is available on vinyl and on CD. you can buy it from the label or at

Listen to the title track here:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

James Gilmore - Bag of Tricks vol. 1 (Out & Gone Music, 2017) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

When you try, as we on the Freejazzblog do, to support the small totally independent labels, you get to meet people from every part of the world. This way you familiarize yourself with the joys of connecting with other human beings sentimentally and in a collective way through music. You also become aware of this constant effort to do everything by yourself. The many hours on the internet spent “promoting” your art. Many times this amount of time is much bigger than the time needed to actually produce the music. What can you do though? Freedom does not come for free. It’s a constant struggle.

I've had the chance to listen to the wonderful releases by Out & Gone music following some nice coincidences. Having already reviewed Scratch Slice Jag by Jeb Bishop and Dan Ruccia, the only pattern I see is that there isn’t one. The same goes for this release. The musicians that participate (James Gilmore on electric guitar, Laurent Estoppey on sax, Vatel Cherry and David Menestres on double-bass, Shawn Galvin on percussion) follow an improvisational ethos that does not succumb to any predetermined gestures.

What surely stands out is their choice of including two bass players. Always a choice of risk, not too many great jazz recordings (Bill Dixon comes first in my mind for this) have followed this path. Being a listener and not a musician, I guess that this choice of instrumentation encapsulates the danger of grounding the music into the lower levels of sound. At the same time, due to the percussive nature of the double-bass, the general sound flow of a recording might not be flexible, unable perhaps to enjoy the multidimensional approach that other instruments allow. Thankfully, the outcome makes my fears go away.

There’s a constant discussion between the musicians throughout this cd. They certainly and willingly leave their egos behind, not so much during the process but right from the start. There’s a warmth in their choices, a feeling that is capitalized in achieving a collecting sound. Their work is collective, while the guitar of Gilmore stands out at some points, offering notes and melodies, suggesting other routes, contrasting the low-end path of percussion and double-basses. Many times I found myself feeling that the saxophone was the melody provider, it’s tone overpowering melodies. An ambiance provider, even.

Mentioning above my - so called - fear of the low-end sound, the percussion work of Galvin really stands out, while his bond with the bassists are clear even to the untrained ear. Their path is that of second generation European improvisation, yet there are also melodies. They follow a non-linear trajectory, while building the five tracks of the cd. They seem to work their way into each track with no preconceived ideas, providing crescendos like the one found the middle of the magnificent 'Live Up to High Vibration'. It is then, at their highest of volume that seem to be at their best with a solid –free playing percussive backbone- a gnarling tough guitar and a rawer sax playing. But tradition is not neglected too. 'House on Legs-Making the Essential Challenges' is more boppish with fluid lines from the saxophone and an electric guitar that pays homage to the guitars that shaped jazz in the 50’s. You cannot feel disappointed from all this.


Friday, February 9, 2018

Syrinx Effect - A Sky You Could Strike a Match On (s/r, 2018) ***½

By Wendy Eisenberg

On Syrinx Effect’s first full length album, A Sky You Could Strike a Match On, the Seattle-based duo deftly explores the spaces between pop music and improvised music. Trombonist Naomi Siegel and soprano saxophonist Kate Olson skillfully play with gulf between the registers of their instruments, filling it with a universe of drums and looped samples. Though Siegel’s trombone is typically low, grounding the record with a consistent, melodic presence, the two don’t fall into the particular trap of “melody instrument” and “bass instrument.” This duo would rather play with passing melodies around a groove, using loops and beats to recontextualize the modern roles of trombone and saxophone, of melody and groove.

Siegel and Olsen have created a unique slice of experimental, instrumental “pop” music, and it’s clear that their compositions, sense of range, and sense of reference will continue to deepen and expand. Their charming EP Snail Songs from 2014 was a beautiful beginning to their more pre-composed work, but this record makes clear how deeply the duo has developed their arrangements, and strengthened their melodic sensibilities. With the help of producer and drummer Eric Eagle, this duo has polished their strong compositions for their most "studio" record yet.

A few standouts: The wonderfully orchestrated "Bankrobber Song" seems particularly dedicated to creating musical “worlds” for the listener to inhabit, juxtaposing chase music with chorale-ish moments of peace and a beautiful group improvisation at the end. Its equal and opposite, Super Soaker’s infectious beat gives Olson in particular a chance to stretch out, her soprano sax reverberant and uplifting over a lush choir of looped trombones and electro-acoustic effects.

It is rare for an experimental duo to be so dedicated to making such lighthearted, beautiful sounds, and rare for a pop duo to be so dedicated to experimentation. Let this joyful approach to unconventional instrumental songwriting inspire and uplift you.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sirius - Acoustic Main Suite Plus the Inner One (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Stef

Here is one more album for which to applaud the Clean Feed label. I think Pedro Costa is one of the best scouts of good music around, and at the same time willing to give unheard voices a chance. 

The band is called Sirius, but it's actually just two guys, Yaw Tembe on trumpet and Mister Trinité (Franciso Trindade) on percussion. 

Yaw Tembe is a 28-year old from Swaziland, but living in Portugal, and amonst others member of the IKB Ensemble, one of minimalist improviser Ernesto Rodrigues' bands, or the Variable Geometry Orchestra. or even Zarabatana, all bands reviewed earlier on this blog. He is also a sculptor, video artist, and does projects with theater.

Mister Trinité is 70 years old, who lived in France for many years and returned to Portugal with a good deal of new insights to share with other musicians in Portugal.

Their duo album is exceptional. It brings sparse sounds, with lots of reverb and resonance for the trumpet, high-pitched and volatile, supported by the percussion that does not provide rhythm as much as accents. Rob Mazurek comes to mind at times, but also Bill Dixon, both in their more limited line-ups. There is no sense of urgency. Just a calm decisiveness to enjoy the beauty of sounds. It is the sound of dawn. The song to welcome the day. An ode to beauty and life. The sound of unencumbered freedom. Pure being. Pure postivism. An almost wise innocence. A conscious striving for simple and profound aesthetics. A spontaneous outburst of inner depth. That's how it sounds.

The last track is a 10-minute solo trumpet piece that even lifts the album a notch higher. It expresses a kind of longing, of deep melancholy.

We have quite a list of "trumpet drums duets" in our reviews, but few are as light, open-textured, joyful, melancholy and spiritual as this one.

And all that is not bad for a first album as a leader (for both men, actually).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Paint (Hotcup Records, 2017) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

A few years back Pennsylvania based pianist Ron Stabinsky joined the Pennsylvania-philic Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Around the same time, long term member trumpeter Peter Evans left and the group began featuring expanded line-ups (though not all recorded) with musicians like guitarist Brandon Seabrook, trombonist David Taylor, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, and on occasion trumpeter Thomas Heberer. However, 2017's Paint signals the biggest shift yet - a stripped down piano trio version of the band.

And what a piano trio it is - band leader bassist Moppa Elliot and drummer Kevin Shea do more than a yeoman's job supporting Stabinsky's melodic and puckish playing. As expected, the song titles continue the long running tradition of name checking towns in PA, but they take it to a new level as each one is also a color name ... like paint I suppose.

The opener 'Yellow House' certainly kicks off with some bright blues. Small shifts in time and tempo keep the music from flowing too easily, reminding attentive listeners of the MOPDtK modus operandi, but they can be so subtle they could slip by the inattentive ones. For a band that has built its reputation on tweaking tradition by say recreating classic album covers, recording Kind of Blue note for note, and brilliantly picking apart slick 80s jazz, Paint is a fantastic evolution - or perhaps just an intriguing side trip.

We heard Stabinsky's unbridled talent on his recording Free for One, a delightful solo outing from 2016. On Paint he again brings the whole jazz vocabulary to bear, from blues riffs and avant-garde tonal cluster on 'Orangeville', to pure blissful harmony on the Duke Ellington tune 'Blue Goose'. The track 'Black Horse' is pretty damn perfect melodically, and its infectious drive showcases not only Stabinsky's virtuosity but Elliot's composition skills. The bass solo during the track is excellent as well - it's rather straightforward while drum and piano hits threaten to derail the tempo but also adds much to the vitality (a trick they pull on 'Blue Goose' as well, where tempos and pulse become at times disorienting). The closing track 'Whitehall' is a fun major key burlesque-like romp but with an unexpectedly sticky prog-rock middle passage.

MOPDtK trio edition is no less fascinating than its bigger versions. The trio format presents a more musically cohesive side of the group, but not without their sly and oft meta humor intact. If their history has proven anything, it's best to simply enjoy this slightly subversive take on the piano trio oeuvre, next time we hear from the band they will most likely be something all together different.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

John Russell & Paul G. Smyth - Ditch School (Weekertoft, 2017) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Take the title as an imperative, if you wish. Occasionally, I think of it as the name of a school about ditches, either digging them or studying their history, geology, charting best practices, and so on. It’s the effect of John Russell’s guitar and Paul G. Smyth’s piano playing, each performance sounds like one thing and its other, often at the same time. I’ve remarked on this kind of disorientation in reviews of other Weekertoft albums, it’s woven into the fabric of the music. And the fabric of Ditch School is finely woven, indeed.

The title track, “Ditch School,” opens with Russell and Smyth duetting on strings, Smyth playing inside the piano and Russell at the edges of his guitar. There’s a physicality to the performance, straight away, that adds substantial weight to the improvisation. To say “Ditch School” accretes over the course of its 37 minutes is a slight mischaracterization. Rather than building towards a point near the end, Russell and Smyth seem to be exploring space in a thoroughly thought-provoking manner: at times, there’s not enough, as tones clash uncomfortably; other times, stretches of near-silence marked by delicate tremors create an amazing, sustained tension. There’s a section, near the very end (it’s around the 32:00 mark), where Smyth and Russell’s simultaneous runs provide the listener a distinct feeling of release. Tension, having built for over half an hour, feels as if it’s about to be set free, and yet. A hallmark of both Russell and Smyth’s styles, a countermove going where you least expect. Instead of settling, the duo improvisation continues, unbroken, layering tension upon tension, teasing out the very upper registers of guitar and piano and ceasing, rather abruptly, considering.

The briefer second track, “Kinneigh” (presumably named for a village in County Cork), opens in a mellower mood. Russell strums lightly, as Smyth improvises a line that could easily be repurposed for a through-composed melody. His playing here is also slightly more open than on “Ditch School,” reflecting the emotional shift from track to track, perhaps reflecting too a shift in the audience’s mood. In some ways, it’s hard to tell because the music has kept me at the edge of my seat each time I’ve listened. Moments, like the final minutes of “Kinneigh,” I’ve held my breath for absurdly long times, not wanting to upset the balance in my ears.

Ditch School
was recorded live in 2014, at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, part of a run that had Smyth in duo performances with saxophonist Alan Wilkinson and trombonist Sarah Gail Brand. One (I mean me, of course, but hopefully you, too) hopes that as Weekertoft continues, eventually these, and other, performances will see light of day.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Paula Shocron, William Parker, Pablo Díaz - Emptying The Self (Nendo Dango, 2017) ****

By Paige Johnson-Brown

Nendo dango is a human-made clay seed ball used to revegetate devastated lands. Nendo Dango is also the Buenos Aires-based record label founded and led by pianist Paula Shocron, drummer Pablo Diaz, and saxophonist Miguel Crozzoli. Their mission is “to show a way of construction in favor of the collective. We believe that sound is like a nendo dango capsule: every breath of each artist is crossed and transmuted, being one towards oneness.”

Paula Shocron and Pablo Diaz come together with William Parker, legendary bassist of the New York free jazz scene, on Emptying the Self, the label’s 11th release and a beautiful manifestation of the Nendo Dango principle of collective oneness. Shocron, Diaz, and Parker take turns maintaining structure, through harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic phrases that repeat and expand, leaning on each other to explore the reaches of their instruments.

Drums open the record’s first track, “The Eye,” with a hollow rattling across the shells and rims. This draws forth the bass and the piano in seamless succession, each entering with great care and rising to meet the drums, the bass echoing the rattle then jaggedly following along the piano’s melody as it blossoms in a lilting counterpoint. Together, the bass and piano unwind a spinning, concentric-feeling harmony across the drum’s increasingly feverish rattling as it spills over into the cymbals, tom, and snare. Their counterpoint flourishes, the piano’s melody thickens into cluster chords, and the drums soften into raining percussion before drifting back to the full kit, the rattling now full, frantic hits gathered within and around the piano’s chords. They carry on until the piano’s final chord hovers, pulling the bass and then the drums clattering into silence, going tacet in opposite succession to the order in which they entered.

“Independence Day,” the third track on the record, brings the trio together in impressionistic harmony. The drums’ crashing cymbals and cavernous rolling ring out against the piano’s unending, escalating trill while the bass winds, piercing through with intervals, hover around the piano’s low end and drift toward and away from a sorrowful, walking melody. As the piano leads the trio in circles, repeating the same phrases until they are dizzy, it grows a melody that moves through the revolutions and rises, drawing the harmony upward with it and mounting the bass and drums’ into a frenzy that lifts into clarity. The bass hooks the final note of a melody from the piano and uses it to pivot into a fully fleshed realization of the sorrowful walking line it was dancing around before, luring the drums and piano into a straight swing and resurfacing the origin harmony.

Shocron, Parker, and Diaz pull from all stretches of their instruments, the most melodic and beautiful to the most inaccessible and harsh. They each play and move between different roles, sometimes leading the collective along, sometimes providing support for others to take the helm. In true nendo dango fashion, their multiplicities intertwine to weave together lush, dizzying music.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Lina Allemano Four - Sometimes Y (Lumo Records, 2017) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

If you’ve kept up with trumpet player Lina Allemano’s career, you’ve likely read or heard about her two main groups, Lina Allemano Four and Titanium Riot. And you’ve probably seen the two tagged with something like “more traditional” and “more experimental” labels, but you should absolutely resist this dichotomy. It’s a short-sighted view of Allemano, ascribing traditional to a pianoless acoustic quartet and experimental to an improvising electro-acoustic quartet. In both, elements of tradition and experimentation collide, fascinatingly.

Start with the second track, “Kanada,” for a look at how brilliantly the quartet interacts. Nick Fraser provides staccato, percussive fills, as bassed Andrew Downing first teases the melody. Allemano and alto saxophonist Brodie West quickly snap to, hitting the succinct melody before coming to a quick halt. An extended, sprightly improvisation leads to another statement of the theme, before the group pivots to an spacious middle section. It’s a propulsive and dynamic tune, constantly evolving and circling back on itself. It’s worth noting Allemano and West are a superb front line, but I don’t want to dismiss Downing and Fraser in any way. Reflecting the name of the group, the four are truly interacting in concert, with solo and duo statements spinning off in all directions. All four musicians display an openness and sensitivity to the other members.

“Cowlick” opens with bright, symphonic blasts from Allemano and West that recede just as Downing and Fraser step forward. During a slightly deconstructed call-and-response section in the middle, Fraser’s percussion accents underline his skill at both directing and augmenting group improvisation. On “Marina and Lou,” the group takes a ballad theme and extends it into some moving improvised territory.

From this latest release, it seems Allemano could take the group anywhere, possibly even expand to a quintet or sextet. It would be interesting to hear a vibraphonist in this mix, a la Nate Wooley’s quintet or Harris Eisenstadt’s Canda Day quintet. Even with all that’s happening in the music, there’s more than enough room for more voices and ideas.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017) ****½

Image result for Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017)
By Stef

Two years ago, trumpeter Lina Allemano's first album with Titanium Riot ended on my end-of-year list with a five-star ranking. On this album she continues the experiment with Ryan Driver on analog synth, Rob Clutton on electric bass, and Nick Fraser on drums.

It's hard to categorise the band's music. The album's five tracks all move in the same sonic universe, one that is both familiar and unfamiliar. Allemano's trumpet-playing is very warm and voiced, while Driver's synth playing is disruptive and bizarre. There are no apparent melodic lines or harmonics structures or fixed rhythms, and the music moves as in a dreamlike state. You recognise the approach, the tone, the approach, the phrases, as if you try to understand and know what is going on, but then it is that little out of wack that makes it interesting and fascinating, like a good dream. It's a little bit like a Murakami novel. All the ingredients are present for the familiar, but then something happens that you can't really put your finger on that makes it beyond recognition, beyond the familiar. 

In that sonic world between two worlds, many things happen, but always with an element of surprise and wonder. The music hesitates sometimes, as if not daring to go where it is going, or phrases end with question marks, increasing the pitch ever so slightly, in strange anticipation of what might happen now. And it is only after having listened to this album many times, and wondering about the question marks, that I saw that they were on the cover of the album. There is no sense of urgency in the music. There is no urge to prove anything. The music flows. It flows full of contradiction and contrast, but warmly, gently, despite the atmosphere that something strange is going on. Strange and pleasant. 

You can listen and download the album from Bandcamp

Watch a concert by the band in Ulrichsberg, Germany, exactly a year ago. 

Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot - Squish It! (Lumo Records, 2017) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

It’s been two years since trumpeter Lina Allemano’s last record with her electro-acoustic Titanium Riot (Kiss the Brain, reviewed here by Stef). Personally, I consider this quartet is a cousin to Peter Evans Quintet, with Ryan Driver on analog synth, Rob Clutton on bass, and Nick Fraser on drums. At first glance, and listen, the album has a distinct variation-on-a-theme aspect. Squish It! begins with Allemano unaccompanied, setting the mood, as it were, before Allemano, Clutton, and Fraser’s punchy thematic opening to “Squish It” proper. On “Squish It Now,” Fraser plays foil to Allemano early on, with crisp snare and trumpet describing arcs along the melodic path. Meanwhile, Clutton moves laterally through the music, calmly urging the group forward, then suddenly dropping octaves to layer in a deep, almost loamy richness to music.

“Squish It Nicely” highlights Driver’s fascinating synth with Allemano’s more experimental playing. Having spent time abroad studying with Axel Dörner, Allemano’s techniques are amplified (or, more accurately, dampened) by her homemade mutes. Most of the track reads as an negative exposure of “Squish It Now,” with Clutton and Fraser hanging back for most of its runtime.

Allemano and Driver play a fantastic duet, augmented by Fraser’s spacious interpolations, on “Squish It Forever.” As a group, Titanium Riot plays with space and dynamics in fascinating ways, reminding me at points of some John Stevens’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Allemano is in peak form here, with a remarkably piercing yet languid melodic line. One last time, on “Squish It Again,” the thematic explorations are flipped on their head. This closing statement also serves to close the loop of the album, with Titanium Riot recapitulating some of the ideas surfaced in “Squish It” and “Squish It Now.” My 2017 favorites list did not include this album, only because I had not fully caught up with it. It’s a remarkable set, and very highly recommended.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Irreversible Entanglements - s/t (International Anthem, 2017) ****½

By Brian Kiwanuka

Throughout the history of recorded Black American music, there is not one generation that lacks what Amiri Baraka might have called "social activist" music in response to the trials and tribulations of Black America. One could say that today, the majority of contemporary mainstream Black American music seems increasingly focused on escapism in lieu of social commentary or confronting manifestations or effects of white supremacy - a look at the current Hip-Hop or R&B charts gives substantial ammo to this argument. Despite this, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and Solange's A Seat At The Table, records that undeniably have a black socio-political focus, still rose to be two of the highest selling and most critically acclaimed albums of their respective years.

In a 2003 Village Voice Interview "Fire Music" which included Abbey Lincoln, who classified herself as "socially active", Baraka described the difference between what he viewed as "political" and "social" activism:
"A political activist talks about election politics. A social activist, to me, is someone who takes a stance about issues that might have a political dimension to them, but do not necessarily enter into the processes that trigger political action. What’s political action? Yes or no—vote. Jones or Smith—vote. Socialism or capitalism—vote. Social activism is ‘We don’t like this.’"
The very ethos of Irreversible Entanglements, a free-jazz poetry band that came together in 2015 to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality concert, is rooted in the social tradition Baraka spoke of in 2003. The urgent spoken word of Camae Ayewa is backed by the fire music of Keir Neuringer (alto saxophone), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet), Luke Stewart (bass) and Tcheser Holmes (drums). Though the ensembles combined attack is quite distinct from past examples of the fusion of poetry and black music, such as Baraka with the New York Art Quartet, Gil Scott Heron’s recordings or Haki R. Madhubuti's work with the Afrikan Reveration Arts Ensemble, the group undeniably pulls from this tradition.

Irreversible Entanglements' exciting debut is filled with Ayewa's direct lyrics and visceral poetic delivery. The poet weaves together compelling accounts of current and generational black trauma as the thunderous band skillfully reacts to her intensity. The four track LP starts with Holmes' drum rolls of "Chicago to Texas" and ominous, lightly blowed trumpet playing from Navarro. As the song progresses, the rhythm section - especially Holmes, who is magnificent throughout the record - becomes increasingly more furious to accompany a seething Ayewa. The unrelenting bass line, subtle trumpet and extended cries from the sax join in as she rips through hard hitting lines about "the way they make you FIGHT for every inch of grace", "lynched bod[ies] swinging to the tune of American justice", and how "sometimes you can get lost in the rhythm of oppression."

The second track, "Fireworks", features Ayewa focusing on violence over a catchy bass line during the first three minutes before stepping out of the spotlight for the horn section. She addresses the listener with harrowing questions on topics including how the cruelty of slavery severed the ties between African Americans and their original African cultures ("did it break your heart when you learned you was only southern?") and the often cited excuses for police brutality ("were you forever changed when she got chopped down by an axe by a man who said he was afraid? are you afraid?"). After Ayewa's grim lyrics, the long lines from the sax and trumpet over the rapid drumming act as an extended lament for those who have fallen to the "fireworks", the word used here as a metaphor for gunshots.

Though the entire record is full of passionate performances, in terms of abrasiveness, the beginning of "Enough" is where things reach their peak. The tune begins with a hectic barrage of notes from the sax and trumpet, which is joined by Ayewa, whose panicked voice rises to a frantic scream. Nueringer and Navarro's dirge-like playing leads into powerfully animated solos that are followed by Ayewa wearily reading out the names of Black Americans who have been unjustly murdered ("Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride enough enough enough enough").

The album closes with Ayewa speaking from the perspective of the child of an evicted mother in the 15-minute-epic "Projects". The song opens up with an eerie soundscape with languid horns before the entire band - particularly the rhythm section - becomes more vibrant near the end of the third minute when Ayewa enters, bleakly announcing that "eviction day is here." Bursts of energy from the horns fill the atmosphere as Ayewa, now evicted and outside with her mother wonders what "[they] are going to do with all this extra space." She growls through heavy lines ("motherfuckers got machine guns can't even KILL A MOTHERFUCKER AND BE DONE WITH IT!") as the ferocious horn section groans and shoots off like bullets in the distance. The song, which has extreme soloing by the horns in its second half, is a testament to the band’s narrative talent. Despite the fact that only a few lines are used to describe the family's situation, the combination of Ayewa's words and the instrumentation creates an extremely tense atmosphere of danger and uncertainty.

That a recording of this high caliber is their first project - which was recorded in one six-hour session - shows that there is great chemistry within Irreversible Entanglements. Clocking in at only 44-minutes, odds are that those who are receptive to this specific brand of jazz poetry will be clamoring for more. The band knows exactly when to wail and when it's best to employ a more restrained approach to get the most out of Ayewa's brilliant poetic diction. The furor of Irreversible Entanglements stands out in the contemporary jazz landscape, and above all, in a socio-political climate crying out for fiery uncompromising black music, the unbridled rage of this energetic free-jazz poetry set is more than welcome. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

John Butcher: Restless Imagination, Tireless Innovation

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three recent albums of British great sax player John Butcher that stress the breadth, resourcefulness and imaginative scope of his sonic vocabulary and improvisational strategies.

Haino Keiji / John Butcher - Light Never Bright Enough (OTORoku, 2017) *****

Butcher has played only twice before with Japanese guitarist-vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Keiji Haino, both times in 2016. In July of that year, the first time was at the Empty Gallery in Hong Kong and the second time at Cafe Oto in London, the second which was captured in this recording. Haino and Butcher met five years ago when Butcher opened for Haino’s group Fushitsusha at Cafe OTO. Both are innovative improvisers have much in common, expanding the vocabularies and the sonic scopes of their respective instruments beyond any conventions of genre or style, and in a completely personal and uncompromising manners.

Each of the five explorations on Light Never Bright Enough creates a distinct atmosphere. The first one searches for common ground through brief, thorny guitar lines and clear, short sax blows. On the second piece, they sketch out a poetic texture that alternates between Butcher’s warm, melodic lines and Haino’s precise-percussive punctuation of these lines. This collaboration eventually leads Butcher to experiment with feedback noises and humming overtones that match the disruptive guitar. The third 18-minute piece is the most complex and tense one. Both Butcher and Haino wander freely through different, compelling sonic universes, often colliding ones. Butcher explores a dense string of multiphonics and resonating sounds while Haino methodically fortifies his metallic walls of sounds. Eventually these alien universes blend into a quiet, gentle ritual coda. The fourth piece begins with Haino improvising a folksy theme on a flute, answered by Butcher’s playful and colorful bird calls, immediately reciprocated by childish, electronic sounds from Haino. The last 17-minute piece is the most enigmatic and poetic one. It develops from Haino’s quiet and vulnerable wordless vocalizations and the distant feedback noises of Butcher. Slowly, it shapes as a kind of a secular, abstract plea, bringing together seemingly weird, threatening sounds - Haino’s explosive feedbacks and disturbing drones crisscrossed by Burcher’s sax flights - still, both determined to set a compatible, compassionate meeting point throughout these unwinding sonic collisions.

And a little more on Soundcloud...

John Butcher / John Edwards / Mark Sanders ‎– Last Dream Of The Morning (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****1/2

Butcher has worked extensively, and in many contexts, with double bassist John Edwards, most often as a duo over the last twenty years, and a bit less frequently with drummer Mark Sanders (check their duo album, Daylight, Emanem, 2012). Edwards and Sanders are, obviously, an ace rhythm section that have served many great improvisers such as reeds players Evan Parker, Tony Bevan, Dunmall, Frode Gjerstad, and pianists John Tilbury and Veryan Weston.

Fortunately, and finely, Last Dream Of The Morning is the first recording of Butcher, Edwards, and Sanders together, captured at The Fish Factory studio in Willesden during November 2016. Naturally, the chemistry between these master improvisers, with such long-term relationships, is immediate and profound, but it is also clear that the trio is not going to rely only on close affinities. All three musicians draw upon their experiences to let the music flow. Simultaneously, the trio operates as a vigorous, tight unit and on complete, parallel courses, they explore new dynamics and textures and keep challenging and surprising themselves without losing focus, cohesion, or tension. The longest pieces “Sand Dance” and “Gridlocks” present this trio's rich arsenal of improving strategies. They shape, shift and morph their interplay in an instant and organic manner, building layers upon layers of shifting rhythmic patterns. They fly from high turbulent skies into sparse abstract atmospheres, search for weird, alien yet engaging sounds, and always sound eager to take it as far as they can possible go.

Stray - Into Darkness (Illuso, 2017) ****

Butcher has performed in recent years few times in a trio with double bass player Dominic Lash and guitarist John Russell. This trio became a quartet in 2015 with the addition of Norwegian drummer-percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg and began calling itself Stray. Solberg began playing in a duo with Butcher and recorded So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain (Clean Feed, 2016), and he also plays regularly with Russell in both a duo and in a quartet with double bass player John Edwards and pianist-electronics player Steve Beresford (check out Will it Float on VaFongool).

Into Darkness is Stray's debut album, recorded at Iklektik, London, in December 2015 and it features one, intense, 51-minutes free-improvisation. Stray wastes no time before entering an uncompromising, restless mode that leads the quartet into endlessly uncharted, labyrinthine territories, forcing all to shift and adapt strategies constantly. At first Stray sounds as if they are enjoying a non-hierarchical, muscular-propulsive free jazz moment, but then Russell’s distorted-noisy guitar interventions lead to more open and abstract textures, shifting the dense and intense interplay into contemplative, free-associative ones that stress Butcher's most lyrical and engaging side. Later, Russell and Butcher sketch a minimalist, poetic dance that occasionally boils to some explosive eruptions, but soon cools down into another series of fragmented and searching interplay. Finally, Russell leads Stray to an electric, stormy conclusion that propels everyone's sense of sonic invention and draws on ever deeper reservoirs of energy.