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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Naked Wolf - Ahum (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

When Charles Mingus released his classic album Ah Um almost fifty years ago it was perceived as homage to the elders of jazz. In a similar way, the Amsterdam-based international quintet Naked Wolf’s sophomore album follows Mingus legacy. Not only because of its title or a song that quotes a seminal composition from Mingus’ album. More due to the untamed, creative manner that these Naked Wolf blends the free jazz spirit with catchy and open song structures, twisting the eccentric Zappa meets Captain Beefheart humor with raw, primitive riffs and balancing between free-improvisation and fragile lyricism.

Naked Wolf was formed by ex-The Ex's acoustic bass player Luc Ex, the only native Dutch in this group, and features Australian trumpeter-vocalist Felicity Provan, who also sings in a combination of commanding phrasing and a spoiled-melodic Australian accent; Finnish guitarist-vocalist Mikael Szafirowski, whose also sings but his voice sounds as surfacing from inside a dark and smoky bar; Brazilian reeds player Yedo Gibson, and Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger. All five musicians contributed songs to Ahum, two with the help of former vocalist Seb el Zin.

Naked Wolf’s versatile, open interplay enables the quintet to jump fast between different, eccentric poles. Naked Wolf feels at home with the playful and dadaist “Wugiwoo”; the urgent and dramatic “School Der Poëzie”, based on the poem of Dutch avant-garde poet and political activist Lucebert; the chaotic, punkish roll of “Trust Don’t Rye”;  the poetic, spoken-word of Provan on “Coloured Gold” or the catchy “Herrie van de Schonenberg”, where Provan shouts for and seeks a “trick to insanity”. All these pieces enjoy enough room for expressive, immediate solos, mainly by Provan, Gibson and Szafirowski.

Other instrumental pieces like “Untuna but Still Shark”, the funky “Nudge” and the title-piece stress Naked Wolf affinity for free-improvisations and experimenting with free-formed, fast-shifting settings. “Erik Wolfy” may summarize best Naked Wolf aesthetics. It borrows the catchy riff from Mingus’ “Fables Of Faubus” (from the Ah Um album), letting Gibson and Provan pay the obvious debt to Mingus’ close partner Eric Dolphy influential sound, but Naked Wolf charges the catchy theme with tons of electricity and punkish-funky rhythm.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima (Libra Records, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Satoko Fujii is a phenomenon: in 2018 she has embarked on releasing an album a month celebrating her 60th birthday, and in 2017 she released several albums with her different projects, e.g. Aspiration with Ikue Mori, Wadada Leo Smith and husband Natsuki Tamura, 如月 = Kisaragi, another duo recording with Natsuki Tamura, Neko with Gato Libre and finally Fukushima with her Orchestra New York. This ensemble has been together since their 1997 debut South Wind (Leo Lab/Libra) and has recorded ten albums so far, most of them containing excellent music like Summer Suite (2008, Libra) or Fukushima’s predecessor Shiki (2014, Libra). Fujii keeps several orchestras all over the world, in Berlin, Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, all of them including tremendous musicians, but the Orchestra New York is her oldest and most spectacular large ensemble. It’s a super group by any standards, it has remained largely intact over the course of twenty years - around longstanding members like Dave Ballou (trumpet), Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Herb Robertson (trumpet), Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Joey Sellers (trombone), Joe Fiedler (trombone), Curtis Hasselbring (trombone), Oscar Noriega (alto sax), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Tony Malaby (tenor sax). New on this album are guitar mastermind Nels Cline and drummer Ches Smith, and they really make a difference.

Fukushima is a suite about the nuclear accident in 2011, the five pieces are simply named “Part 1 - 5“. “Part 1“ opens with the simple sound of air passing through instruments, resembling the sound of human breathing, creating a sense of the fragility of human life, before Nels Cline's guitar and Andy Laster’s baritone saxophone entangle each other. Then Ches Smith’s percussion crawls in, preparing the way for the other reeds, the whole piece increases in intensity. The transition to “Part 2“ is seamless, and you can immediately hear the difference to the other albums of the orchestra: With Cline and Smith there’s a greater focus on rock structures and heavy sounds. In the middle of the track, when majestic, elegiac and highly emotional themes are contrasted by litanies of dissonance, warped guitar sounds and the relentless rock grooves we become aware of the full power of the orchestra. “Part 3“ includes the use of electronics reminiscent of Geiger counters, the breathing from “Part 1“ is also back. Moanful duo performances - trumpet and trombone, sax and drums - are interspersed amid anxiety and darkness. “Track 4“ quotes the opening of the album again - just to be followed by shock. Cline shredders his guitar sounds, they are contrasted by monstrous horn statements. The tenor saxophone and trumpet dig their way out of the chaos with a melancholic melody, but their is no sweetness, the straight rock rhythm prevents it. The final three minutes of the 17-minute-track are the most structured ones. A series of fanfare-like themes emerge, Japanese folk tunes are processed, heavy metal riffs are propelled by Stomu Takeishi’s bass. Oscar Noriega is responsible for the epilogue in “Part 5“, its beauty seems to offer closure and a certain degree of hope, although we’re very well aware that the world will have to live with the consequences of the disaster for a very long time.

When the orchestra had a dress rehearsal in Brooklyn’s i-beam in May 2015, I was lucky to be there. Listening to the performance (which was a bit shorter than the ultimate recording) the music first sounded programmatic, but Satoko Fujii said that it was nothing like that at all. The music is to reflect the feelings she has about everything that happened in Fukushima that day - anger, frustration, grief, desparation, disappointment, helplessness. It took her five years to process all these emotions, the music is her internal response. The result is this hour-long-suite, moving, tight and expressive.

Fukushima is available as a CD. You can buy it from or from the label

Listen to “Part 1“ here:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cannibal – s/t (ultra eczema 2017) ****

By Daniel Böker

At the Sonic City festival in Kortrijk in Belgium I bought an album from the band Cannibal. The band consists of Dennis Tyfus, Cameron Jamie and Cary Loren. The first two did a set of 20 minutes at the festival and I was rather impressed by the intensity with which they performed.

On stage it was their voices and some electronic devices to loop and change the things they sang, said and shouted. On the album they are a trio and are more instruments: at the start there is a slide guitar, and in the middle of side A, I believe I hear percussion and flute, though they might be sampled or realized with some kind of electronics. At the center of the two tracks, simply called A and B, the voice is predominant, and electronics and sampling are used to exploit all of the possible sounds.

Track A begins with some guitar tones, no chords just single distorted notes supported by some sampled trumpet sounds after a minute or so. Then, in comes the voice: at first it is just voice, which means there are no words or lyrics to listen to. The voice accompanies the guitar as a very fine match. Single tones screamed into a microphone are changed and distorted after a few moments. As the guitar changes into an undistorted manner, the voice also gets clearer and they (all three of them are vocal artists.) start to tell a little story in a spoken word manner.

During the third part of track A, the musical possibilities of Cannibal come together: the instruments and the electronic sounds are back (as I said in the beginning, there might be some percussion or some sampled percussion and flutes.), the voices sing, shout, speak words and get changed and looped by all the electronic devices Cannibal has at hand.

Track B opens with electronic sounds. Listening to it, it might be based on vocal sounds. They almost create some kind of beat or at least rhythm with these sounds. The voices are the main instruments,  without telling a story in words. This track is the more uneasy track, there is a tension and a restlessness in the music that Track A didn't have. After five minutes the mood changes completely: A kind of piano sound comes in and the voice (again I don't know whose) starts to sing with only a little alienation.

Sounds like from a computer game of the nineties come in and the different voices sing and shout with more changes to them. Again some kind of percussion complements the sound. Change after change. It is not easy to listen to it as a "song". It is rather a kind of live compilation of a lot of different ideas. The listener is often taken by surprise. These changes create the tension I mentioned before. But while listening to it I realized that this tension finds its relief in a kind of humor the music of Track B carries with it.

So especially the second track brings something into the improvised music (and this is what it is - improvised music, recorded live in Brussels) which is, in my opinion rare to find: a solid kind of humor. It is not subtle, it is not just some kind of fine irony (you can find that more often I suppose.) That does by no means say that the music is easy or unintentional. But I found a humor in that music I really enjoyed.

Listening to the music of Cannibal on track B, I almost can see the three of them smile and laugh. Which does not mean that they don't take their art seriously. Because they do. That's what I saw on stage. But there is fun in the different ideas and the surprising turns they take.

Maybe you won't listen to it every day or in every mood. But it is a great album to listen to in a light mood. It is a great album if you are ready for some humor.

Here you can see them at work:

The Rubik's Cube is not just a forgotten toy from the 80's. The fact is that it's even more popular than ever before. You can play with this great puzzle on this link.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Terror and the Beauty

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two releases of European groups that redefine 'free-improv meets free-jazz' as a brutal and noisy genre that matches sonic terrorism with rare beauty.

FS Massaker - s/t (Interstellar Records, 2017) ***½

The origins of the Austrian trio FS Massaker (no connection to the legendary Massacre trio of Fred Frith, Bill Laswell and Charles Hayward) can be traced in the sonic terrorism of local, infamous groups Sex On The Beach and Regolith. These groups of drummer Werner Thenmayer and analog synth player and label owner Richie Herbst focused on harsh walls of noise. The current phase of FS Massaker - with the addition of sax player Michael Masen - expands the raw aesthetics of former groups and suggests dense improvised soundscapes that blend the powerful, Ayler-ian school of free jazz with dark, deep drones.

The self-titled debut full-length of FS Massaker is released on cassette with a Bandcamp download option. The first improvisation is dedicated to Nigerian visual artist and actor Masai Bolaji Badejo, best known for his role of the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film by the same name. This 30-minutes piece stresses the new phase of FS Massaker as a unit that can shifts quickly from delicate, lyrical segments to a brutal flow of raw noises, then explore super-fast, intoxicating tribal pulse and still manages to charm the frightened listener despite the urgent, electric storms and toxic sonic bites. The second improvisation is dedicated to another cinematic hero, the late Eddie Powell, a regular stunt for Christopher Lee and an actor who played Dracula and the Mummy. This improvisation offers a looser structure that highlights the emotional, powerful sax flights of Masen above the robotic drumming of Thenmayer and the windy synth noises of Herbst. But, as on the first improvisation, FS Massaker still feels at home when it is crisscrosses some turbulent storms and fuses occasional blasts, even if it is doing it in much more civilized manner this time.

Boris Hauf / Martin Siewert / Christian Weber / Steve Heather - The Peeled Eye (Shameless, 2016) ****½

This pan-European supergroup also adopts its own aesthetics of sonic terrorism, inspired by the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock who wanted to “find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song”. This, unfortunately, only release of the doom-jazz, noise-core The Peeled Eye - first issued as a limited edition of 300 yellow vinyls, then later on disc and as a Bandcamp download option - featured four unique, experienced improvisers: British, Berlin-based, baritone sax player Boris Hauf, known from his Chicagoan group that released Next Delusion (Clean Feed, 2012) and who also runs Shameless Records; Viennese guitarist Martin Siewert, known from the groups Radian, (Fake) the Facts (with Mats Gustafsson), and Trapist, and who has played with Hauf in the minimalist electro-acoustic group efzeg; Swiss electric bass player Christian Weber, known as a double bass player who collaborates with American sax players Oliver Lake and Ellery Eskelin or Swiss Omri Ziegele but also experiments with German turntables player Joke Lenz or Viennese vocal artist Christian Reiner; and Australian, Berlin-based drummer Steve Heather who also played in efzeg and recently in Ken Vandermark’s Shelter quartet.

The interplay of the democratic The Peeled Eye is urgent, dense and heavy, bursting with impossible rushes of intensity and sheer power, as if all four musicians had tons of ideas too little studio time. Still, the frequent confrontational, violent onslaughts of Hauf, Siewert, Weber and Heather flow with great focus and tight coherence, sometimes even enjoying massive, addictive pulses, as of Sharrock’s supergroup Last Exit and often its raw interplay brings to mind the naked brutality of Sharrock’s Last Exit partner, reeds player Peter Brötzmann. But this quartet can do even more. “Heavy Quarters” suggests a threatening, enigmatic soundscape that can fit easily in a gory horror film. “Diiiiisko” matches organically skronky noise rock with screaming free jazz and “Nog” offers a delicate guitar solo between the explosive, distorted eruptions. Real shame that this is the only release of this great quartet.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ian Brighton/Henry Kaiser – Together Apart (Fractal, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

This is an interesting album, and good to see (and hear) Ian Brighton on another recording after his comeback album Now and Then from 2016 after a nearly forty year lay-off. On this release each player recorded their parts individually, sending them to one another so that they could then overdub their parts over the existing track, with Henry Kaiser being solely responsible for mixing together the final product.

For an album of improvised duets, it actually starts with two solo pieces, ‘In Memoriam – Jack and Rose Brighton’, and ‘Spoonful’. Brighton’s dedication to his late parents is a beautiful piece full of bell-like harmonics, sustained tones, ethereal sounds and sharp attacks that gradually fade away. This is followed by Kaiser’s solo contribution, the blues piece ‘Spoonful’, which I had doubts about on seeing it in the track listing and on hearing the all too familiar opening strains. However, throughout the course of the piece Kaiser juxtaposes the prominent riff against more angular and fragmented phrases that just about pull the piece in line with the rest of the album.

So to the duets, starting with the aptly titled ‘Getting Started’, a tour-de-force of string harmonics creating an intricate web of rhythmic interplay involving hocketing lines moving from one part to the other. Other highlights for me out of the nine duets include, ‘Sounds of the Soil Pt2’ (dedicated to Tony Oxley, the legendary British jazz and improvising drummer/percussionist) a piece exploring noise based materials such as scraping, rubbing, tapping, and buzzing strings, creating a very direct sounding piece. Then there’s the resonant ‘Cathedral Voices’, with a nod towards ‘The Chapel of Splintered Glass’, a track on Brighton’s first album Marsh Gas from 1977 that also exists within it’s luscious reverberations, although this time utilising studio effects to create the sustained delay and not being recorded in-situ like ‘Splintered Glass, which was recorded at Chelmsford Cathedral. Also, ‘175 & H’, (a reference to the Gibson ES 175 guitar that Brighton uses) a sparring piece that is characterised by it’s cutting attacking notes and sounds, which nearly slips into a fragmented melody with chordal accompaniment structure for the middle section.

One would think that with two very different guitarists that have highly distinctive individual styles the pieces might jar or at best be reduced to a collage only texture, especially due to the way it was recorded. But actually for most of the recordings the individual parts are sympathetic towards one another and blend well as would be hoped for within a duet context. Only the final track ‘In the Last Place’, for me, fails to work as a coherent piece, with Kaiser’s trademark distorted guitar, full of dive-bombing notes, and rock tremolo arm histrionics sitting uncomfortably against Brighton’s much cleaner, direct and honest style. Overall Together Apart is a success with it’s swirling menagerie of harmonics, dissonant fragments, volume swells, and twanging strings that have been freely utilised, mainly within an empathic and sympathetic set of pieces that work, most of the time, with each other’s playing.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D’Agala (Intakt, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier is back with her trio, Drew Gress on bass and Keith Wollesen on drums. Courvoisier has been on a roll these past couple of years, with a number of superb partnerships, numerous supporting roles, and many collaborations. D’Agala is only the second album with this trio, following 2014’s Double Windsor. When she released that album, on Tzadik, Courvoisier wrote, “John Zorn had been asking me to do a piano-trio record for ages, but I always felt the great history of the piano trio was so intimidating.” This time around, she digs deep into her personal history and turns out a dramatic and sensitive album, filled with emotional and uniquely thoughtful music. This is due, in part, to the way Courvoisier, Gress, and Wollesen each seem to draw music music out of, rather than playing music on, their instruments. It’s a subtle difference, but the opener, “Imprint Double (for Antoine Courvoisier)” showcases this beautifully: Courvoisier begins in a stride mood, a nod to her father who plays piano and taught her to play boogie and shuffle. It’s not long, however, before the trio goes to some very different, inspired spaces beyond dixieland.

I have no theories on why this is, but it seems like some of the best tributes to Ornette Coleman recently have come from piano players, ironically, since he eschewed the instrument for most of his career. Aki Takase released her great double-album with Silke Eberhard a few years ago, and on “Éclats (for Ornette Coleman)” the trio pays tribute to Coleman with a brisk head-improvisation-head structure referencing much of his earliest work. Gress, and Wollesen dive headfirst into a blues, something that always lay at the heart of Coleman’s work. Gress and Wollesen open with more of a Haden/Higgins feel, but channel Izenzon/Moffett during an extended free workout in the latter half, before Courvoisier circles back to the melody. Throughout the album, there’s a lightness and humor that brings the whole performance to life.

“D’Agala,” the title track, is dedicated to Geri Allen and is an incredibly evocative, dynamic performance. Courvoisier and Gress double on the melody, as Wollesen plays a soft, percussive textural pattern. Gress takes the first solo, an emotional, thoughtful reflection on a great artist lost. Courvoisier’s solos for a short while before imperceptibly sliding back into the melody. The somber, reflective mood is revisited on the finale, “South Side Rules (for John Abercrombie),” another tribute to a master who recently died. Gress opens with incredible runs, accented by Courvoisier’s searching lines. Wollesen keeps the whole piece moving forward with nicely harmonic cymbal playing. He’s mostly off the drums, proper, throughout the piece, instead mixing sticks and wire brushes on cymbals to great effect. In the final seconds, the whole trio rapidly comes together for a dramatic punctuation mark of a riff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thurston Moore / Adam Gołębiewski - Disarm (Endless Happiness, 2017) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Iconic experimental guitarist Thurston Moore explained recently what is his own Rock n Roll consciousness, the title of his recent solo album (Ecstatic Peace, 2017). Rock n Roll consciousness is actually about sex. When Moore’s defunct group Sonic Youth visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, he learned that the term Rock N’ Roll was an African-American slang for having sex. It took Moore some time to absorb this kind of realization and in a recent interview to Rolling Stone he already identified with this kind of logic: “sex is nature, and nature is everything, and then rock & roll is everything.”

Moore brings this kind of Rock n’ Roll consciousness to a series of free-improvisations with Polish experimental drummer Adam Gołębiewski. Indeed there is no doubt that they were channeling the passion, emotional intensity and the totality of the experience in the halls of Warsaw and Gołębiewski’s hometown, Poznan, in May 2014, when these sessions were recorded.

Moore and Gołębiewski met and played together for the first time in 2013, in a trio with Yoko Ono. Gołębiewski had already played with innovative improvisers as reeds player Ken Vandermark, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and Moore’s frequent collaborator, sax titan Mats Gustafsson. Like Moore, Gołębiewski seeks to extend and expand the sonic possibilities of his chosen instrument.

Moore sets the atmosphere of the first piece “Disarm” with free-associative, series of thorny, feedback-laden sonic collisions. All Gołębiewski attempts to discipline this abstract flow of fast-shifting collisions with some loose, rhythmic coherence fail and this improvisation heads into more physical and more brutal confrontations. But Moore and Gołębiewski did not lost faith in each other. Soon on the following “Distend” both calibrate on an immediate, noisy frequency and act as one wild, freakish entity that threatens to crash all on its way. The short and sparse “Disturb” serves as a suggestive, teasing interlude before Moore and Gołębiewski race after each other in another set of intense physical collisions, some explosive ones, others surprisingly comforting and caressing, all totally exhausting. The last piece, “Dislodge”, summarizes the essence of Moore and Gołębiewski's interactions - stormy, dissonant and noisy but at the same time attentive, curious and urgent.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Han Bennink, Steve Noble, Alexander Hawkins - 11.8.17 (Otoroku, 2018) *****

By Sammy Stein

Out on Otoroku 11.8.17 was recorded live at Café Oto, London. The first track Bennink-Hawkins has Han Bennink and Alexander Hawkins engaged in what at first sounds like a playground free for all. We have scales, we have polyrhythmic challenges and responses and we have, by the end, a seemingly effortless synergy where the two musicians seem to pre-empt the other before they play the notes, sometimes coming in with almost perfectly symmetrical timing. This is a track to listen and enjoy for its development and there is one gorgeous passage where Bennink simply crashes out a cymbal rhythm whilst Alexander Hawkins goes nuts – in a most controlled and musical manner – just what you need if you are ever find yourself wondering how improvised music works – here’s how!

This music grabs you hard and fast, frenetic episodes followed by laid back, almost silence-filled periods and there is such communication here, the flying energy is almost touchable. Alexander Hawkins makes the piano speak, sigh, shout, sing and the call and response references are here almost without the players being aware. For just over half and hour the two deliver completely engaging listening and there is a classical influenced section too with Hawkins masterfully incorporating Mengleberg-like and then Bach-like chordal progressions, before returning to his home base of improvisation, while Bennink reads him perfectly, ever controlling the percussive intonation and additions. There are so many changes and rhythmic alterations here and each time one of the musicians changes speed, tempo or reference, the other follows. Around the 18-20 minutes mark there are some wonderful changes and musical chases, which is just one of the reasons why this music is so listenable. It is about listening to each other, responding and engaging the listener – and it works. At times Bennink is ‘crash bang wallop’ and Alexander responds every time, giving an almost child-like competitive edge to some areas with a trace of humour and this also makes it easily referenceable and accessible. Other times, Bennink sets up deep, thrumming rhythms over which Hawkins improvises and extends his arms to include nearly the entire length of the keyboard at some point or other. Then, there is a bit of swing, with a (sort of) version of ‘Once in A While by Green/Edwards (I think) which is followed by enthusiastic applause before the pair return for a bit of improvised mayhem and enjoyment to finish the set. This is some of the most engaging and innovative playing I have heard for a long time. As the recording is live, there is some great banter and interaction as well.

Then to Bennink-Noble ( track 2). Introduced by Bennink with some jokes and gentle humour. The humour is just about all that can be described as gentle here. The incredible sound of Bennink and Noble fills the very essence of the air. This is noise, this is soundscapes, pictures created by the percussion talents of two of the most powerful forces in rhythmic escapades of today. Bennink delivers his characteristic heavy thrumming whilst Steve Noble plays catch up for a time before delivering his own leading rhythmic counter, which Bennink immediately throws back his way and so it goes on. Two drummers at the forefront of music – and it shows. At times the pair seem so in tune it sounds like a single, very intense drummer. Bennink then explains to the audience (and Steve) the intricacies of a drum roll – its difficulty and how it seems like a box of peas and a hailstorm (listen and you will understand). Noble duly delivers an extended roll and then we are off again, the noise coming in waves and rolls, beautifully controlled yet unplanned, unfettered and played with a freedom of spirit. An almost perfect storm is brewed by the two drummers playing together, apart, together, listening, together, apart and so on. Absolutely wonderful to listen to, the rhythms ebbing and flowing, changing, remaining, changing – you get the picture. It is hard to get across within the limitations imposed by narrative just how incredible the sound is – the loudness, the control and the generosity each players gives the other. Bennink has a habit of bringing out the best in himself at performances but also in others and here, he delivers in spades. Steve Noble is totally up for anything Bennink offers and then some. Two drummers, one aim, one total wonderful recording.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Introducing Swedish Guitarist Finn Loxbo

Swedish guitarist Finn Loxbo is known as one of the two guitarists on Mats Gustafsson’s Fire Orchestra's Ritual Incarnation (Rune Grammofon, 2016), where he sketched noisy, thorny textures with French guitarist Julien Desprez, or from his role as aggressive electric bass player in the power trio Doglife. His solo albums offer a completely different side of his playing.

Finn Loxbo - Eter (Gikt, 2018) ***½

Eter - ether in Swedish, is Loxbo's second solo album but it is totally different from his debut Lines, Curtains (Kning disk, 2012), that featured him as a dreamy singer-songwriter, coming from the school of Nick Drake. Eter, the first album on Loxbo's newly founded label Gikt, was recorded in 2015 and focuses on a disciplined exploration of the sonic scope and timbral range of the acoustic, steel-stringed guitar.

Each of the seven pieces stresses a distinct mode of playing. “Slutet var nära redan då” is a methodical game of overtones created by touching gently the resonating strings, letting the gently ringing, metallic sounds extend and blend in each other. On “Dribblingar” Loxbo tunes the guitar as an exotic harp, sketching a melodic texture and on “Klockspik och märlor” he turns the guitar as an ethereal percussive instrument. He experiments with rubbing and scratching of the strings and the guitar wooden body on “Ont gott blod” and “Delirium”, offering nuanced and restless, industrial-sounding drones. “Land och sjövädret” is a free improvisation that links Loxbo to the pioneering work of Derek Bailey. This beautiful, free-associative improvisation slowly turns into an imaginative, lyrical composition. The last “Sa dom met” is a gentle, folk song that may originated in the sessions of Lines, Curtains.

Finn Loxbo / Erik Blennow Calälv - Snow Country (Creative Sources, 2017) ****

Loxbo's collaboration with bass clarinet player Erik Blennow Calälv, from the experimental quartet The Schematics, focuses on contemplative drones. It is one of Loxbo'a duo collaborations in recent years that also include sessions with pianists Lisa Ullén and Karin Johansson. The five pieces on Snow Country, recorded on April 2017, feature Loxbo creating fleeting, resonating tones on the acoustic, steel-stringed guitar and the musical saw, while Calälv adds shakuhachi-like, deep breaths that echo and blend within the guitar sounds. Both patiently suggest ethereal string of overtones that keep flowing around, almost embrace you gently.

The highly disciplined dimension of these pieces has a ritualistic-meditative quality, emphasized with a piece titled “Ryoanji”, after the famous Japanese Zen garden in Kyoto, that inspired before an ionic composition from John Cage. Just like in a meditative state of mind when all senses are suspended for a while only to experience these sense later on in all their intensity, Snow Country suggests a new listening experience. Loxbo and Calälv explore new, subtle qualities, colors and dynamics within the sounds themselves, just like the snow that comes in many shapes, textures and names in these Northern territories.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Anton Hunter - Article XI (Efpi Records, 2018) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Guitarist Anton Hunter’s compositions build, layer by layer, like a solo performer adding instruments on a multitrack in their bedroom. Except here, it’s eleven players recorded live, at the Manchester Jazz Festival on 24 July 2014 and again at London’s Vortex three days later. The effect forces listeners into a patient, meditative mode. Take, for example, “Innards of Atoms”: after washing over you for roughly seven minutes, a brief, free call-and-response section leads into a brassy coda, infused with the rough-edged funkiness of early fusion. Credit here goes to drummer Johnny Hunter and bassist Eero Tikkanen for the rhythm and feel. Meanwhile, the melody sings from the front line of saxophonists Sam Andreae, Simon Prince, Mette Rasmussen, and Cath Roberts, trumpeters Graham South and Nick Walters, and trombonists Seth Bennett and Richard Foote.

Following the mesmerizing “C# Makes the World a Better Place,” the group launches into what’s essentially the title track, “Peaceful Assembly.” In the album notes, Hunter includes the group’s namesake, Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.” The resulting ode is a literal assembly of ideas, not to mention a really excellent performance, showcasing the Hunter’s somewhat cinematic approach to composition and conducting. Horns are layered in a deep depth of field, with each player crisp, leaving you to choose whether to zoom in on a particular sound or let the whole picture play. Just as suddenly, the horns will merge into a gorgeous melody, gradually pulling focus from one soundscape to another.

The inherent push-pull tension of composition and improvisation, and all the nebulous space between, give “I Almost Told You” a dramatic undercurrent. As Hunter spreads the melody across about half of the group, the solos traded in the latter half keep hinting at the resolution the title indicates will never come. The opening of “Not the Kind of Jazz You Like” provides a bit of clarity, as Hunter separates the horns into tonal layers, with Roberts leading Bennett and Foote in a swinging melody, as Andreae, Rasmussen, and Prince stack one set of blocky chords alongside South, Walters, and Hunter’s stack. It’s gorgeous, reminding me in many ways of David Murray’s big band take on his own “Dewey’s Circle.” The result is very much the kind of jazz I (and probably you) like, as, much like Murray’s big band, each member not only shines but clearly contributes to the whole. In jumping from duos and trios up to a big band, Hunter’s made a grand leap forward on Article XI.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The New Old Luten Project

photo by Christian Hüller
By Martin Schray


When pianist Oliver Schwerdt met the young and energetic drummer Christian Lillinger in 2004 he immediately knew that he now could realize his idea for a band that was supposed to play classic free jazz of the 1960 and 70s. Schwerdt imagined the East German improvisation icon Ernst-Ludwig (Luten) Petrowsky on saxophone and clarinet, because he’s always loved the man’s seminal trio with Klaus Koch on bass and Günter “Baby“ Sommer on drums (once again I can only recommend Selbdritt on FMP). Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger finally met for the first time in 2006. In 2008 they recorded White Power Blues (Euphorium Records) and in 2009 they had a gig at the Leipziger Jazztage with two bassists (Barre Phillips and Michael Haves). Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger were pleased with the outcome and in 2011 they decided to continue their work as a quintet, only with Robert Landferman and John Edwards on the basses. Although Schwerdt (in this context he uses the moniker Elan Pauer) initiated the band, the focus is clearly on Petrowsky. He’s the link to the golden age of free jazz, his powerful style sputters off so authentically that according to Schwerdt he’s like “the lead singer in a pop group, always in the foreground of a specific sound space“. From the very beginning, Schwerdt planned to record the full monty, and albums like Tumult! and Krawall! are wonderful intermediate results. The following triptych is the last effort of this outstanding project.

The New Old Luten Trio - Radau! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****

The trio of Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger refers back to the beginning of the original idea, a bass-less trio in the tradition of Cecil Taylor’s early Unit with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray. Like the great role model, the trio dives pell-mell into music without metric boundaries, opening a lucky bag of possibilities. Schwerdt is a keyboard dervish, a magician of improvisation. Compared to White Power Blues his playing has become much more sophisticated and refined, more lyrical and percussive at the same time. He makes extensive use of clusters and parallel runs, that’s why the music is very dynamic. Petrowsky’s alto blares against the thunder of Schwerdt’s piano, he indicates the direction of where the improvisation goes. Around the 14-minute mark of “Letzter Radau!“, the only track on the album, Petrowsky throws in blues and bebop riffs just to come up even fiercer and more uncompromising. The whole improvisation is pushed by Lillinger’s drumming, Paul Lovens might be an influence here, especially the toms propel the music relentlessly. The album is another example of his enormous versatility, he’s just the most interesting drummer these days. The last four minutes surprise with a complete break - Petrowsky pulls out his flutes, the track becomes more world-music-like, Lillinger’s bells and Schwerdt’s prepared piano open the door to a different universe.

The New Old Luten Quintet - Rabatz! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****½

With the addition of two basses (John Edwards and Robert Landferman) Schwerdt, Petrowsky and Lillinger dynamise harmonic dispositions in the improvisation and bow to albums like Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures. By demonstrating enormous spontaneity and constructionism the quintet proves that the freedom of free jazz does not mean the complete absence of musical organization. The 46-minute “Letzter Rabatz!“ presents the band consciously selecting from a seemingly infinite pool of individual abilities to create musical structures that balance emotion and intellect, energy and form. The two basses are both elemental driving force and mysterious sound texture. The band embodies superhuman velocity and febrile delirium, they’re dissolving musical syntax while re-building it at the same time. Petrowsky ejects lines of a crude beauty and graceful ease. Like on Radau! the last part (about nine minutes) is cut off from the rest of the piece, now Petrowsky is mainly on the clarinet, the band gnarling in the background. Schwerdt puts in a wild barrage of thrillers, the piece swells and ebbs away. Petrowsky abruptly ends it with a single 35-second tone as if he was letting steam off a kettle. What a performance!

The New Old Luten Septet - Remmidemmi! (Euphorium Records, 2017) ****½

The extension to a septet was a side effect from a concert with Axel Dörner (trumpet) and Urs Leimgruber (sax) the following day. Schwerdt says that he was attracted by the idea of two powerplay saxophones for the band since it reminded him of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. He said that he had the idea of Leimgruber as a sort of effect machine for Petrowsky, but of course the Swiss saxophonist is much more than that. Remmidemmi! is different from the very beginning. It starts with a massive bass drone and prepared piano, another sound color is added to the brew, it’s an eerie but meditative note. Dörner's trumpet floats over this ocean of sound, the saxophones scribble into the track and give the command to raise intensity. Lillinger’s role is also different, he bows his cymbals, stressing the fact that the piece is more about sound than rhythm, it’s rather a cacophony of different voices. However, the piece also picks up certain elements from Rabatz! and Radau!, like the piano crescendos that prepare the ground for Petrowsky’s savage excursions. “Letztes Remmidemmi!“ drags itself through the mud, panting, gasping, heavily breathing, but also exuberant with enthusiasm. Once again, the last part is the quietest one, although Lillinger has a little solo here and the intensity is still high. Remmidemmi! is my favorite of this triptych.


These albums are both conclusion and outlook. Unfortunately, it seems like they will be the last with Luten Petrowsky, since he’s really ill and might not be able to perform again (he’s 84 years old and had to undergo a difficult surgery last year). However, Peter Brötzmann replaced him for a gig in Leipzig (bassist John Eckhardt filled in for Robert Landferman) and Oliver Schwerdt said that at least this performance will be released. Maybe there’s even more to come.

Radau! is available as a mini CD, Rabatz! and Remmidemmi! are available on CD. You can buy all three albums from oliverschwerdt +at+ euphorium +dot+ de.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Andrew Lisle & Alex Ward – Doors (Copepod Records, 2018) ****½

By David Menestres

Doors is the new album from the duo of drummer Andrew Lisle & clarinetist/guitarist Alex Ward. Lisle has been based in London for the last few years, Portugal for a couple of years prior to that, and performs with many people including John Dikeman, Dirk Serries, and Colin Webster. Ward has been active for a few decades performing with a wide variety of musicians including Derek Bailey, Simon H. Fell, Duck Baker, Eugene Chadbourne, and countless others. In addition, Ward is also the leader/co-leader of many groups under his own name as well as groups like Predicate, Forbrace, and Dead Days Beyond Help. Ward is probably the more familiar of the two to readers of this blog as a quick search returns over twenty results.

Doors is comprised of four tracks, all between sixteen and eighteen minutes. “Front” and “Open” are clarinet and drums, “Back” and “Closed” are electric guitar and drums. Ward’s clarinet sound is delicious, at times warm and lush, at others severe and spikey, like a bear pleased with himself for stealing honey from a hive, only to discover he has a stomach filled with angry bees trying to get out. His guitar sound is equally complex, from lush single note runs to screaming, distorted madness. Lisle’s drums are equally expansive, crisp and clean when called for, aggressive and angry when necessary.

“Front” opens the album, quickly establishing the dynamic: two musicians, engaged in the endless battle of listening and pushing each other forward. The single note guitar lines of “Back” eventually give way to crashing chords before devolving in slashes for noise. Lisle’s playing reminds me of the French term for percussion “batterie” which always makes me think of the English homonym “battery,” defined by the US Department of Defense as a “tactical artillery unit.” Lisle reigns down the destruction much like the US Military unfortunately does around the world.

“Open” has Ward returning to the clarinet, playing in an almost traditional sounding manner (or as close as Ward comes to the tradition, which is still fairly far from what most would consider traditional) up until about half way through the track when the duo begins to explore moments of intense quiet. “Closed” ends the album with the further exploration of the guitar/percussion duo.

Doors is a wild ride, highly recommended for anyone interested in creative improvised music. Doors is available as a digital download or CD. In an ideal world, this would make for a beautiful double vinyl release, but we all know what that costs versus what sales are like for this kind of music.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

John Edwards, Mark Sanders, John Wall - FGBH (Entr'Acte, 2017) ****

By Sammy Stein

In 2009 John Edwards, Mark Sanders ( Double bass, Drums respectively) were recorded by Paul Richardson at the Welsh Chapel, London. Now the recordings have been released as a CD, reworked and edited by John Wall.

The collaboration of musicians and a skilled computer editor means the listener gets the complete sounds distilled into around 20 minutes of music. The improvised music was originally 8 pieces A to H but the release comprises just four -F, G, B and H

'F' is intense, with the driving bass of John Edwards coupling very nicely with the percussive instrumentation of Mark Sanders, the electronic enhancement of the resonance giving the music a different and high energy life. At one stage the little pops and tinkles which feel introduced over and under the percussion seem out of place but suddenly, they make sense, challenging the ears just when the repetitive nature of the bass and drums was easing you into a sense of expectation – the timing is right and the overall impact is interesting and effective.

'G' begins with electronic rustles and is quickly joined by the percussive delights produced both by the body and strings of the bass and drums. John Edwards is well known for his full usage of every possible tone from the bass and here he excels with Mark Sanders picking the perfect antidotal percussive sounds. Adjusted and re-worked by the computerisation, this track is neither music nor noise in any sense of normality – an interesting track. The driving middle section where the strings thrum over a repeated drumming is particularly effective and tempered by a sudden quietness into which various sounds are pitched and thrown, creating and ever changing musical narrative.

'B' begins with a quietude which is misleading. The ticks and tocks from the percussion are over ridden soon enough by powerful and intricate electronic sounds, at one time travelling across from one side to the other, through the speakers like a wave, that wave carrying the listener towards a soundscape strange and yet engaging. There is stimulation into overload here and some complex painting is created by Mark Sander’s percussive decisions. This number is so textured, it feels physically alive – the electronics picking out and placing sounds into every conceivable space.

'H' again feels close up and personal, the musicians could be in front of you. It begins with heavy, grinding strings and echoes form deep within the body of the bass, electronic enhancements and additions increase the intense energy and high pitched bells sounds occasionally come to the fore – in a slightly irritating way. It feels as if the electronics literally surround the instruments here and it is a joyful moment when the drums and bass can be clearly heard. John Edwards has a lovely, resinous , graty style at times and uses the bass to create some ethereal and unusual sounds. Couple with Mark Sanders own dialect with the drums, these two make for a formidable pairing of improvisers. The track grows in texture and depth.

I have seen Mark Sanders perform and John Edwards has long been a musician whose work I enjoy. He came and played at the London Jazz Platform which I curated in London last June and whether solo or in a group he is always interesting.

This CD demonstrates the synergy between electronic sounds and those produced by actual instruments and with the careful use of the electronics so as not to distort or overwhelm they add rather than detract form the quality of the music. The commonality of the language of expressive sounds unites the three composers, whether they are handling something physically tangible or investigation sounds which can be created and added on a computer. There is a balance here which I perhaps was not expecting and I was glad to hear how electronics and musicians can work together to create sounds which are engaging and intriguing. In many ways the experimental and investigative quality of the electronics makes a great ally to the music of these improvisers because they are doing the same. This is surprising, inventive and engaging music with a power behind it that has nothing to do with electronics.

Personnel : Mark Sanders – percussion
John Edwards – Double bass
John Hall – Laptop
Mastered by Jacque Beliol

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tyler Wilcox, Works for Two Chapels (Caduc, 2017) ****½

By Rick Joines

“But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.”
—Don DeLillo, Point Omega

When I first listened to Tyler Wilcox’s Works for Two Chapels, I was reading Don DeLillo’s spare, late, novel, Point Omega. Its opening section is narrated by a man who becomes obsessed watching Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, which is projected onto a free-standing translucent screen, at two frames per second, in a small room in the MOMA. These three works of minimalist art, therefore, began to speak to each other about each other while I watched, read, and listened.

Each of these artists “sculpts time” within a specific space: a chapel, a gallery, a novel—all of which also exist in consciousness. Things that might escape the usual habits of our natural attitude take on heightened significance: textures of silence and human noise surrounding notes of music, the turn of a head, or a gesture of the hand. What is, and how we apprehend and think what is, alters as the pace slows. By alienating us from what we normally misperceive as “normal,” we begin to think what rarely gets thought.

Tyler Wilcox’s Works for Two Chapels has two tracks: the twenty-minute “Octet (for four trombones and string quartet)” and the twenty-three-minute “9.11.13.” The “Octet” is played in the Church of the Annunciation, Brooklyn, New York, by the Guidonian Hand Trombone Quartet (Mark Broshinsky, William Long, James Rogers, and Sebastien Vera) and the Ensemble Indexical (Rachel Golub and Mario Gotoh, violins, Victor Lowrie, viola, and John Popham, cello). “9.11.13” is played by Tyler Wilcox on the pipe organ in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents at Bard College, Annandale on Hudson NY. Developed as part of The Music for Contemplation series (, Wilcox’s pieces contain a sustained note, or notes, whose attack and duration is determined by each player, each time. If one feels the need for an orienting comparison, the pieces fall somewhere between John Cage’s “4’33” and drone played on classical instruments. Uncredited players include those who, during the duration of the performance, contribute a variety of noises as integral as the playing—those who coughed, shifted their chairs, honked their horns, revved their car or bus engines, sounded storm alerts, and generally made the sorts of racket people are wont to make in the everyday course of life.

In the “Octet,” the sustained moments of silence of the musicians (amidst the noise of the world), begins to affect how we experience time. The music is suspended in time, time is suspended by the music, and it all takes on an element of nearly Hitchcockian suspense. The music is dense, then sparse, then absent, then, like the sun, it rises into harmony again. It is meditative, drifty, conceptual, abstract, and it is unwilling to assert an interpretation or reach a conclusion. While it is “music for contemplation,” contemplation does not necessarily imply something “peaceful.” This might be music nearly at a standstill, or composition of extended duration and subtle variation—a music of stasis—but besides implying stability, inactivity, or equilibrium, “stasis” always necessarily includes strife, for that momentary state of balance is achieved between forces equally opposed. Thus, buried deep in the archeology of this word στᾰ́σῐς is the memory of weighing, or the stance of a boxer, the position of a litigant, a dialectical argument of a philosopher, a seditious political faction, social division, radical dissent, a good party, and even a band. Within stillness, there is important motion.

Wilcox’s music is challenging because it creates a space within time to reveal consciousness. There is not much happening on the surface. What happens is internal, subterranean, at the level of thinking where thinking is unsure how to think in an age adrift in uncertainty, catastrophic terror, tragedy, danger, and rage.

In Point Omega, DeLillo writes, “It takes close attention to see what is happening in front of you. It takes work, pious effort, to see what you are looking at.” His characters are “mesmerized by this, the depths that were possible in the slowing of motion, the things to see, the depths of things so easy to miss in the shallow habit of seeing.” His novel, Gordon’s achingly slow rendition of Hitchcock’s film, and Wilcox’s music invite us to hear, see, and think about the phenomena of time, motion, and sound in ways that our conventional, workaday, manner misses. Listening to Wilcox reminds me most often of the moment in Point Omega where the characters stare across what seems like an infinite expanse of California desert—a place where nothing is—while talking and contemplating: “We sat out late, scotch for both of us, bottle on the deck and stars in clusters. Elster watched the sky, everything that came before, he said, there to see and map and think about.”

This is art about “time that precedes us and survives us.” It is worth your time.

Please listen to Works for Two Chapels, and purchase it here:

For other information about Tyler Wilcox and the Music for Contemplation Series see:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Two Ways of Using the Guitar: Thurston Moore and Loren Connors

Thurston Moore & Umut Caglar – Dunia (Astral Spirits, 2017) ***½

Loren Connors – Angels That Fall (Family Vineyard, 2017) ***½

By Daniel Böker

Two ways of using the guitar. I brought these two very different approaches together because there is a wide range of sounds and aspects that keep the guitar interesting, even after all these years. Maybe there is a connection to my own biography as a listener. First there was a-ha, I have to admit. Then there was the music my elder brother listened to, funk and soul. That had a great influence on me. But my next great influence, and that has never stopped was the sound of a guitar, and the fascination still sticks with me, always searching for new sounds. This brings me to the two albums here that I chose to write about.

First, Thurston Moore & Umut Caglar – Dunia. It is first and foremost a Thurston Moore album. An album as we know it. Just type his name in the search button on the Freejazzblog and you will find a whole bunch of reviews. That is because he is all over the place. He cooperated with almost all the 'big names' in the improvised music scene, and it is a pleasure to see or hear him play.

His sound, his way to treat and play his guitar is recognizable. That is with both his 'incarnations' with the song-oriented pieces with Sonic Youth and on his solo albums and with the improvized music, along with all the other 'heroes' like Mats Gustafsson, The Thing, Merbow, Joe McPhee, John Zorn, to name a few.

As I said his sound is recognizable, and this year for the first time I was bored, at least with his new solo album Rock'n'Roll Consciousness. I heard nothing new, nothing surprising. So I was a bit skeptical when I had the chance to review his collaboration with Umut Calgar. Would I meet just the same familiar sounds and structures?

On the one hand it is exactly that. It is, as I said in the beginning, a Thurston Moore album and following the question of what the guitar can sound like, Moore formed his answer years ago. He is in most parts refining the grammar and the vocabulary at this point, but he won't learn a new language.

While I listen to the album Dunia, I realize that it is not necessary to learn a new one. The one he is capable of is in this case sufficient to keep me listening with interest.

Caglar and Moore seem to speak the same language. (And from now on I will leave this image behind.) The two guitars fit together well.

The first track 'Kensaku' starts off with a lightness of sorts. The two guitars start with some high tones, some scratching over single strings and the more like that. That gives both players the opportunity to show their different sounds and their ways to play. As in a good movie (to pick another arbitrary image) you often know the end beforehand and the interesting question is how the protagonist will get there.

It is already clear in the beginning that the duo will reach a state of sheer noise and will build a so called wall of sound. And so they do. So the interesting question is, how will they get there? And in this respect they both do a good job. Especially with the first track.

The second track 'The Red Sun' is almost already there when it starts. Maybe it is too harsh to say that the variations in the wall of sound are not that big. I don't know how it feels to play such sounds. For me as the listener to this noise the power is very impressive but after a few minutes I realize that I am searching for changes. There are changes. of course, but the dominating impression it leaves with me is the power, the wall of sound, the end of the story without telling the beginning.

So Dunia is an album played in the language Moore developed throughout the years. It adds some words to it. And that is worth listening to it.

Second: Loren Connors – Angels that Fall. Connors on the other side chooses a completely different way of using the guitar. The album reviewed here is just a short detail of his output. Short because it is only one track of 17 minutes, a one-sided vinyl. And 'only' because it is one of his latest releases and we try to be as near to the present as possible with our reviews.

But writing about this album is also writing about Conners and I admit I like his sounds, his music a lot. It is a completely different and sometimes it sounds as if the guitar of Loren Connors was a total different instrument than the one Thurston Moore is playing. (I guess that is exactly what I've always liked about the guitar, it has an almost unending wide range of sounds and possibilities.)

There is a lot of echo on this album, also with other recordings Connors has released. There is a lot of echo and a lot of space. It is not silence exactly, but he has the time to wait for the next tone, the next sound, to add

There is a calmness to the music of Loren Connors that is almost unique. On Angels that Fall there is a constant swoosh of a background noise. Listening carefully you can hear him work his guitar. He uses the strings (of course) but also the corpus of the guitar. And he uses the silence in between.

Writing about all the calmness and silence it would be wrong if I created the impression of a slow or even boring album. (Album might be a huge word for just one track. This is actually one reason why I didn't rate it with four stars.)

Exactly that waiting for the next tone for the next thing to happen creates a great intensity. Near the end of the track there are percussion like sounds and the whole track gets louder and stronger, and then for a few last notes he changes the instrument and plays the piano with the same concentrated calmness he's played the guitar.

For sure Connors also has his own language he developed with and for his instrument. And with this language his sound is recognizable. But it is a total different language. He builds tension through calmness and it carries a dark notion with it sometimes.

His work is definitely worth a try.

And for me the guitar is still one of the most interesting instruments.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Anna Högberg: The Reviews II

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Young Swedish sax player Anna Högberg already proved that she can play in the league of the toughest and loudest free jazz musicians. She played in former incarnations of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire!Orchestra, joined The Thing in few gigs and guested on thier last album. But she is a much more than just a fiery blower. She leads her all-female sextet Attack!, now preparing its sophomore album, playing in the power trio Doglife, the free jazz quartet Se och Hör and the jazz-pop group Pombo and an excellent improviser. 

Doglife - Fresh From the Ruins (Omlott, 2017) ****½

The sophomore album of this punk-free jazz-power trio, following its self-titled debut album from 2014, features the same personnel - Högberg on alto and baritone saxes, Finn Loxbo, who also has played with her in the Fire! Orchestra on electric bass, and drummer Mårten Magnefors. There no revolutions in the life of this nervous dog. Doglife keeps doing what it has done so well on its debut album, but now doing it much better.

Doglife keeps exploring and pushing its uncompromising, high-energy mode into even more intense, tougher, thorny and darker terrains. Each piece focuses on a different strategy. On “It Gives Me” Högberg chants a repetitive, rhythmic pattern on her baritone sax through the the swampy mayhem that Loxbo and Magnefors produce, slowly bursting out of this dense noisy mayhem with a surprisingly lyrical solo, followed by Loxbo's effects-laden, fierce solo and concluding with another gentle solo from Högberg. “Zughi” sound like an attack of a three-headed shapeshifter monster that is all over the place, leaving nowhere to escape. On the title-piece, Loxbo suggests a threatening electric storm, quickly sliced by Magnefors' hammerings and Högberg's cries, but soon Doglife forms a massive rhythmic pattern, still nightmarish one but one that demonstrates some coherency, deep into an ocean of distorted sounds. Now even a piece titled “Nothing to Break” sounds quite gentle, despite its brutal, minimalist pulse, with only Högberg attempting to charge this pulse with an elaborate interpretation. The last “Courbette” is a kind of doom-metal anthem. Loxbo and Magnefors offer a take-no-prisoners metallic tsunami, letting Högberg surf on it with a manic, urgent solo. You had better surrender to Doglife's music. The sooner the better.

Se och Hör - Se mig, hör mig, känn mig (Signal and Sounds Records, 2017) ****

Se och Hör - see and hear - is a free jazz quartet featuring Högberg on alto sax, trumpeter Niklas Barnö, who has played with her in the Fire! Orchestra but also known from the groups Je Suis! and Snus, bass player Emil Skogh and drummer Dennis Egberth, augmented on this album by guest vibes player Mattias Ståhl. Se mig, hör mig, känn mig - see me, hear me, feel me - is the sophomore album of the quartet that began working in 2011, following its debut, Hör och häpna - lo and behold (Ljup Musik, 2014). This album is released on a limited-edition of 300 vinyls plus download option.

Se och Hör specializes in catchy, ecstatic form of free jazz. The compositions are based on strong and smart melodic themes, expressing how Se och Hör is well-versed with the legacy of modern and free jazz on both sides of the Atlantic. These themes are articulated brilliantly by the charismatic frontline of Barnö, Högberg and Ståhl and their tight, passionate interplay. All three exchange fast, sharp solos, charge the dramatic tension and often bring Se och Hör close to an explosive meltdown. Skogh and Egbert anchor this intense commotion with their propulsive, massive pulse and contribute impressive solos on “Sparven” and “Gasen i botten”. There is no way to know where and how Se och Hör will take its original pieces since this quartet-turned-quintet knows no boundaries. It even surprises on the last, playful “Brorsan” with joyful singing of the mantra “from the bottom of our hearts”. You all should thank Se och Hör from the bottom of your heart.

Anna Högberg: The Reviews I

Se Och Hör – Se Mig, Hör Mig, Känn Mig (Signal And Sound Records, 2017) ****½

By Gustav Lindqvist

Se Och Hör is back! This time the quartet has Swedish vibraphone phenomenon Mattias Ståhl joining the group, and what a quintet they become on this their sophomore album!

Niklas Barnö — Trumpet
Barnö can be heard in different constellations, but most recently with Fire! Orchestra. His contribution to ‘Anders Ahlén Unit’s album ‘Lines And Dot’ is also worth checking out. Ahlén who’s also running the small record label Signal And Sound Records, which happens to also release this new album by Se Och Hör.

Anna Högberg — Saxophone
Anna Högberg, the Swedish free jazz alto steamroller! The past two years she’s been involved in so many highly regarded albums and I get the feeling Anna’s only getting started. With her own group Anna Högberg Attack we got run over by their self-titled debut in 2016, free jazz trio Doglife released their sophomore album ‘Fresh from the ruins’ just before the new year, Paal Nilssen-Love’s Pan-Scan Ensemble also released a new album with Anna on the alto, and of course her work with Mats Gustafssons Fire! Orchestra.

Emil Skogh — Bass
Double Bassist Skogh plays on the Anders Ahlén Unit’s album Lines And Dot, but is also a pianist. I’ve heard and seen him with Musikerförbundet playing live at Brötz together with Lisa Ullén on piano and Lise-Lott Norelius on drums.

Dennis Egberth — Drums
Egberth can be heard playing many different styles, most recently on the pop/rock/indie album (it’s difficult to put this album in one single genre) ‘The Blood Is Full’ with ‘The Hanged Man’. He’s also a member of Saigon which is sometimes electronic and sometimes pop and sometimes in between.
Mattias Ståhl — Vibraphone

I need to do a final count, but discogs says I’ve got 14 albums with Ståhl playing. There’s Angels 8, Angels 9 & Ståhls Trio. There’s also his highly recommended work with saxophonist Fredrik Nordström and Per Texas Johansson. The full discography of Ståhl is extensive, and very much worth checking out in detail.

First of all. The addition of Ståhl to the quartet is brilliant. The pure madness which Se Och Hör deliver from time to time is perfectly balanced by the cool vibraphone. However, Ståhl is a master of all trades. He can be fierce and with a sense of urgency but also sugary sweet and mellow.

On Se Mig, Hör Mig, Känn Mig, Se Och Hör presents 7 tracks, with the longest one being just shy of 8 minutes. There’s a very broad mix of different sceneries being presented. From the dissonant circusesque theme in the closing song ‘Brorsan (Bro) to ‘Om och om igen’ (Over and over again) in which the feeling of sitting in a kitchen watching the rain pouring down outside is distilled to around 4 minutes. Then there’s the playful feeling of Sparven’ (Sparrow) with Ståhl playing a beautiful solo in the best Milt Jackson style that one could ever ask for, and on ‘Gasen i botten’ (Full Throttle) not only do we get an extended cool double bass intro, we’re then off into a playful collaboration between Högberg and Barnö. There’s a lyrical conversation happening which naturally gets my thoughts to the Ayler brothers.

In summary this is an album which has many colors, many emotions and a scene which allows for anything to happen. It’s music with feelings, it’s playful and free. The more I listen to it the more I realize that it’s an album that works for the whole day. From early morning having tea to late night having a party. In ‘Sparven’ I like them best. It goes from playful to madness to playful again.
Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Anna Högberg: Interview

Swedish sax player Anna Högberg returns this year with several strong releases. The leader of the sextet Attack has just released new albums with her power trio Doglife and the free jazz quartet Se och Hör, augmented now by guest vibes player Mattias Ståhl, and planning to release later this year the sophomore album of Attack and a debut solo sax album.

What is it about Anna Högberg Attack that made its debut album so successful? What was the secret sauce?

It really became a great record and I'm so happy that it has spread around the world. I would never have guessed. We recorded it during two cold days in November 2015 in Stockholm at Studio Pannhuset, a simple one room studio together with Joel Danell. The owner of this place passed away suddenly and way too young just before this. So our album was one of the last to be recorded there. So because of the tragic circumstances it was a really special and respectful atmosphere in the studio. We had two days there and one of the musicians had a newborn baby wanting our attention, so we didn't do that many takes of each song and it felt very fresh and focused when we played. The recordings are mixed by me and Henrik Alsér in my living room in Gothenburg, because it would have been too expensive to do the mixing in a studio. Alsér also mastered it at Svenska Grammofon Studion. So, the mix of putting together musicians you really want to play with, some ideas of songs to play and then some great sound and mixing where you can even hear the atmosphere in the room, could be a lead for the secret sauce.

What will come next from Anna Högberg Attack? Where does the group go after  such a statement, such amounts of sheer power and all kinds of emotions?

This band is like an addiction for me. From the beginning it was only a one concert project. The Stockholm jazz festival asked me to put together a new band for the 2013 edition and i wrote music and put together this group and thought it was going to be for this show only. The concert was a success so I planned a tour which I thought was going to be the last thing we were going to do together. Then we made a record and one more tour and it has just continued. After the release of the debut album I thought, let’s quit while we are at the top. But now we are working on our second album and are almost finished with a music video. This year we will play outside of Europe and I'm also planning a bigger version of Attack. It is a great band and I’m always surprised after every concert of how it turned out. It’s never the same to play with this band. We are also like a big family now and love to hang out so I guess we’ll do this a little bit more…

Doglife. Photo by Micke Keysend
How do you manage your different musical engagements, how they relate to each other? Anna Högberg Attack, for example, holds no bars from start to finish, whereas with Se och Hör we hear more of the playfulness and a lyrical side. Is it deliberate or simply a coincidence?

I feel that I have different needs in music and maybe an urge to play with different people that I like. Sometimes I try out new collaborations that sometimes leads to becoming a band or that only becomes a temporary project. It’s always interesting trying out new collaborations and new music and it always gives me something. But when it feels really good to play together, then it’s probably a good combination of interesting and challenging music and nice musicians to play with, and a good atmosphere where I feel that I can play and be myself, then it’s possible to continue as a group. I play in a lot of bands now, Pombo for ten years, Doglife for six years, Se och Hör for eight years and Anna Högberg Attack for five years, and of course I do a lot of other stuff too. But the reason I am still playing in this bands is because I get the opportunity to play different music together with musicians I really respect and with great friends I want to hang out with. Being a professional musician in experimental music is not an easy thing, it becomes more of a lifestyle than a job. It’s very tough economically and you work all the time so for me it’s important playing the music that I love, and together with people I love, because i don't have the energy for anything else.

How is the temperature of the Swedish free-improvised scene these days? Will you stay based in Sweden, or  plans to relocate in order to be able to create and perform?

The Swedish free-improvised scene is alive and rising, I would say. There are a lot of small organisers, often driven by the musicians themselves, organising concerts and festivals. I’m involved in an association called FRIM that organises concerts in Stockholm and we are trying to build up a regular concert series with free-improvised music that can offer a broad program with local and foreign musicians. We are also trying to reach out to schools where we do concerts to show the kids that this music exists.

I think I will stay in Sweden because I am homesick and want to live close to family, and here we have a good environment of musicians working together, playing together and there are still so many musicians here I haven't really played with yet. Instead of moving abroad I think that I’d rather stay to fight for the music here, to keep on inspiring and spreading the music to new places and to people who never been exposed to the free music before. Then off course I will continue to travel and do new collaborations abroad.

What are your habits of practice and study. Whom you were studying or practicing with, and so on?

I have studied music in different schools and the last one was the Royal College of Music which I had to leave in 2012. I have tried to be a good student but have always failed because I wanted to go in my own direction, I didn't want to be shaped by someone else's vision. I realised through the years that I learn best from playing together with others and when I practice by myself I learn the things I feel that I need to know to play the music I like. I practice when I have time, and I really like routines but its very hard to get if you play a lot which I do. I would like to practice for two hours every day, but that’s a utopia.

Can you speak about you or other, young, female Scandinavian sax players as  Mette Rasmussen and Julie Kjær, as artists who are really doing a lot to support fellow women musicians?

I’m a musician and I play the saxophone, I play with musicians that I like, feel inspired by and feel comfortable with. I don't choose the musicians by the gender they identify with. I’m so tired of being judged, reviewed or being seen as a ”female musician”. When, for example, Anna Högberg Attack is out playing, we are often being introduced before the concert as an all-female band and that the concert is a tribute to women in jazz, without even asking us first. What if the same thing would happen to an all-male band, and they were being asked the same kind of questions that we get? They would laugh. Questions like: If it was an active choice to play with only men? How does it feel to be a man playing jazz? The difference of being a women in music is not about the sound, it’s to be treated as something else. Traditionally women has been held back or they haven't been encouraged to play, to make noise or take space, and the music scene has been dominated and ruled by men. So I guess female musicians has to fight more to become accepted and it’s difficult to develop if you don't feel accepted. Now it is 2018 and I don't think it’s more than fair that the music scene becomes more equal, why haven't it happened earlier.

Anna Högberg Attack. Photo by Petra Cvelbar
Who were your role models, not necessarily female ones. Do you see yourself as a role model in a world that is still considered, even ruled by men (label owners, festival managers, reviewers etc)?

Role models and inspirations can be so many things. I know so many great musicians and artists and friends that inspires me a lot but one of my biggest role models and who reminds me of what’s important in life is my grandmother. The warmest and most generous person I ever met. A person that really sees people and enjoys the simple things in life. She was in her younger days an athlete. She loves sports and was out running every day regardless off the weather and she has kept on all her life. She is a person that never compromised with her passion. She is today 94 years old and she’s still burning and she is my biggest inspiration. I want to continue to play the saxophone and to care for the love of music in the same way she kept on running in the trails of the forest and loving it.

What was the role of Mats Gustafsson, as the leader of Fire! Orchestra, who endorsed Anna Högberg Attack debut album and who invited to play and record with The Thing.

Mats is a very important person for me and has been through the years and has become a really good friend of mine. He is a big inspiration in the way he explores new techniques on the instrument and also with his unstoppable energy and curiosity. I contacted him for the first time when I was very upset about music and not sure if i would go on playing or not. I had no idea if he would reply or not but with his generosity and enthusiasm he really encouraged me. I was at the time studying at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and didn't feel that I could develop in that environment. Mats and I started do discuss music sending recordings to each other and after we met for the first time he invited me to play in Fire! Orchestra and that was actually my rescue. For the first time in a long time I felt accepted in an environment and with musicians that I really respected and had listened a lot to. I felt that I could play and be myself and that I was accepted and appreciated. That changed me a lot and my self confidence has risen, which gave me a lot of energy to go on playing. So I have played with the Fire! Orchestra since the beginning until its last version. I’m very happy for these 6 years of playing and touring with the Orchestra in its different shapes.

Would you like to recommend something?

I would like to recommend the triple solo album Piano Works of Lisa Ullén that will be released in April.

What are some of the dream musical projects that you would like to work on? People to work with certain music to perform, venues etc?

I have so many dreams, people to play with and music to make...I  can not mention everything but right now my nearest project is to record a solo saxophone album. I will record in March so we will see what happens.

Future collaborations

I always have a lot of projects going on but for now I'm focusing mostly on the solo saxophone. I will do some recordings in the end of March with Mikael Werliin in Göteborg.

I will continue to work in the band I play with. Pombo is working on a musical about a crayfish-party… it may sounds a little bit weird and it is, it’s great. Anna Högberg Attack have some plans for the fall, we are trying to organise a tour in the north of Sweden and try to reach an audience that never listened to this kind of music before. We will also do some gigs abroad. I will also play with Per Åke Holmlander’s group Carliot – Its Never Too Late Orchestra in Italy and in Sweden, it’s a great band with musicians from Scandinavia, Poland and the US. I have a lot of things coming up so I can not mention all of it but i promise to keep the Free Jazz Collective informed.