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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Schnell - Live at Sowieso (Clean Feed, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

“Schnell“ is the German word for “fast“ or “quick“ and in this case the band’s name says it all. According to the liner notes, Pierre Borel (saxophone), Antonio Borghini (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums) use the “bebop tradition as a starting point to investigate speed, stasis, trance, intuition and limits“. The music of the trio resorts to masterpieces of the bebop era such as Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology“, Art Pepper’s “Susie The Poodle“, Sonny Rollins’ “B. Quick“, and Stan Getz/Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Stitt’s “Be-Bop“, being a resource or a prototype which is newly interpreted with today’s musical possibilities. With speed as the basic principle, the music is always in danger of being a simple means to an end. Here however, the players explore the limits of playability of motives and the structure of the classic bebop form by inventing new patterns, including abrupt harmonic changes and studies of over-revving.

“Schnell I“ can be used as evidence for this thesis. In the first three minutes a motif is repeated almost 70 (!) times, the band introduces, modulates and extends it constantly. This saxophone head lasts just one second at the beginning, at the end of the introduction it’s expanded to three seconds. While the sax remains relatively static, bass and drums offer more variations. Lillinger plays time, and especially in the first minute, he just adds fuel to the fire on his cymbals. Like Borel, he makes slight changes, but when he does, it’s like a real break, for example when snare rolls replace the cymbals before a strict snare timing takes over. Borghini’s bass follows a similar pattern but goes astray much faster, swaying to and fro between alternated riffs, staccato notes and free passages. So much as to “speed investigation“. In the following swing part, Borel quotes jazz classics galore, everything’s still hurled out at sonic speed, as if you played a 33 record at 45 rpm. On the one hand the trio retains that energy, on the other hand they don’t fall prey to the frenzy of speed either. They take care of breathers in a clever and elegant way. In the middle of the piece Borel drops out and Borghini bows his bass, gliding into ultra high notes, while Lillinger whirls on his cymbals. Tension is created and finally relieved by a new saxophone riff (reminding me of Katchaturian’s “Sabre Dance“), again repeated several times. During the whole piece, various heads are constantly introduced and dumped, the trio swings almost traditionally, gets lost, changes dynamics, and starts from the beginning again. Usually, the heads in traditional jazz are used as anchors, as safe havens during the improvisational process. In Schnell’s approach you’re never safe, the riffs ricochet through the room unpredictably. Even Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing“ is transformed to a spooky ballad, rather reminiscent of a weird version of John Coltrane’s “Alabama“ or Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit“.

In the end, the music shows how you can present outstanding musicianship without getting boring or showing off. Bebop has sometimes been accused of being too self-sufficient and aesthetically stale with the improvisational process becoming less soulful. For Schnell improvisation is still the fundament, they play it on the edge of breathlessness, ultra-fast, with intuition and feeling as core essentials.

Watch a part of an earlier gig at the same venue:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fish-Scale Sunrise - No Queen Rises (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

“Melodious skeletons, for all of last night's music / Today is today and the dancing is done"

This short poem of Wallace Stevens, “A Fish-Scale Sunrise”, captures the spirit of Dutch reeds master Ab Baars' new trio. Baars titled his new trio after Stevens’ poem, and like the poem, it features some melodious skeletons, nocturnal themes and a few beautiful dances. Fish-Scale Sunrise began working in 2015 and is now releasing its debut album No Queen Rises, recorded in November 2017.

“Dew lies on the instruments of straw that you were playing, / The ruts in your empty road are red”

Fish-Scale sunrise signals for Baars a broadening spectrum of possibilities for compositions and improvisations. Baars wanted to explore new timbre, dynamics and sounds. He employs for the first time in his ensembles a pianist - Slovenian, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler, who collaborated before with Baars in her Octet - introducing a new weight of nuances of timbre and dynamics as well as new harmonic horizons. Canadian, Stockholm-based double bass player Joe Williamson completes this drummer-less format and positions the bass with a unique role. Baars wrote seven compositions and the other two are free-improvisations

“You Jim and you Margaret and you singer of La Paloma, / he cocks are crowing and crowing loud”

These experienced musicians know how to weave a complex, captivating stories with few strokes of imaginative sounds, austere yet elegant, subtle but full of nuances. “Endless” visits Far-Eastern, terrains, flows in a balladic narrative and matures in a touching, playful dance of court and spark between Baars, playing the clarinet, and Draksler. “For Toby” suggests a complete different dialog between Baars and Draksler. He sings gently with his tenor sax while she pounds the piano keys in a hyper-dramatic manner while Williamson bowed bass stands in the middle. Baars and Draksler return to the minimalist dance mode on the lyrical, emotional “Now”.

“And although my mind perceives the force behind the moment, / The mind is smaller than the eye”

“Catch the Moon” is a joyful, melodious game between Draksler, Williamson and Baars, all chasing the reflection of the moon, mirrored in their playful, concise gestures. The trio paints the sparse, free-improvised “Receding Mountains” with gentle, subtle touches of rich colors, allowing this free-form texture to remain mysterious. The austere, minimalist atmosphere of the last pieces, “The First Sea” and “There” tells volumes despite its haiku-like profound restraint. No Queen Rises has powerful, suggestive impact. It challenges, teases, and occasionally comforts the listener, but always compensates with masterful performances and inspiring music.

“The sun rises green and blue in the fields and in the heavens. / The clouds foretell a swampy rain”.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Clarice Jensen - For This From That Will Be Filled (Miasmah, 2018) ****

By Stef Gijssels

It's amazing that musicians release solo albums as their first album ever. A daring undertaking, but Clarice Jensen wouldn't be the first one. It's a courageous adventure: you're on your own. Any comment or criticism touches you, and you only. There is no escape behind an ensemble or behind others.

Clarice Jensen is a classically trained cellist from the Juilliard School, and artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). She is equally comfortable playing Bach's cello suites as recording and performing with pop idols such as Paul McCartney, Nick Cave or The Arcade Fire.

On this album, she does something else entirely, using effects and loops which hide the performance of the single instrument in long, almost ambient and drone-like developments.

The first track was co-composed with the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and offers slow, almost meditative cello sounds, to which additional layers are added, some higher, some lower, creating a very spacious atmosphere. The second track, "Cello Constellations", blends no less than 25 multi-tracked cellos intersecting computer-generated sine waves, yet despite this, there is no wall of sound, but rather a fragile fabric of gliding tones, that slowly, very slowly develops and gets more momentum and power. The last two tracks, "For This From That Will Be Filled", are again carefully construed, with sounds that swell and subside like waves, mimicking the deep resonance of a pipe organ, majestic and massive, with repetitive cello phrases piercing through the backdrop, meditative and insistent, shifting into again a multi-layered foundation for its second part, intense and dark, slow and majestic, and out of this dense mesh, for the first time on the album a single cello improvisation can be heard, discernible and pure, accompanied by announcements from New York's Grand Central terminal.

Even if it's not remotely related to jazz, Jensen's musical vision, and her deliberate intent to create some new listening experience, will probably also please quite a number of our readers. It is meditative at times, and clearly inspired by composers such as Bach and Glass at moments, as well as modern ambient and electronics.

Worth listening to, alone, on a quiet evening.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chad Taylor - Myths and Morals (eyes&ears Records, 2018) ****

By Eric McDowell

Better than perhaps any other instrument, the drums embody tension—not the physical tension necessary for the production of sound but the push and pull between extremes: rhythm and melody, fragmentation and unity, ancient tradition and the cutting edge. And in this context, few drummers are better prepared to balance—and exploit—these tensions than Chad Taylor, whose talents have supported a catalogue of collaborators too long and wide-ranging to summarize here.

In a recent interview , Taylor discusses the title of his debut solo album, a reference to Joseph Campbell’s observation that “a myth is what we call someone else’s religion,” even though morals are more or less universal. “Instead of focusing on what unites us,” Taylor says, “we focus on what is different.” But the issue doesn’t quite accommodate a simple either/or: it’s about understanding how each myth shapes and is shaped by its believers and, at the same time, how they fit together (or reduce down) into a single, beautifully complex whole.

Call it polyphony—or better yet, polyrhythm. On Myths and Morals, these techniques are as much a matter of Taylor’s limb independence as they are his aesthetic approach, which gathers together heavy grooves, free improvisation, mbira melodicism, and electronic manipulation. To say these elements are in simultaneous suspension requires viewing the album as a whole; moment to moment, Taylor’s focus more often than not is on exploring individual details.

This exploration starts with the cymbal, as “Abtu and Anet” makes clear. The album opener showcases Taylor’s cymbal work from a number of angles—bombastic crashes, slinky patterns, and—for most of the track—spare articulations that draw out myriad shades of resonance and decay. “Carnation” and “Arcadia” take this work further with the help of the bow, the latter track croaking and wheezing to life before handing things over to another piece of metal percussion key to Taylor’s sound on Myths and Morals—the mbira. With the benefit of years of study, Taylor’s command of the complex thumb piano manifests in a range of sounds, from the tonal depths of “Arcadia” to the dessicated etchings of “Gum Tree.”

“The Fall of Babel,” halfway through the album, marks a transition from metals to skins as it moves gradually from delicate cymbal play to a no less nuanced tour of the kit—to a two-foot Latin ostinato over which Taylor pounds his well-tuned toms. Similarly, “Phoenix” shows the drummer building and dissolving an irresistible groove, oscillating between firm footing and uncertainty.

Where it all arguably comes together is the album’s centerpiece, “Island of the Blessed.” Starting with a mesmerizing mbira pattern and developing into a breakneck odd-meter workout, the nine-minute track highlights one other element of Taylor’s sound, electronic manipulation. Here we see Taylor’s ability not only to conceive a richly layered soundscape but also to go outside the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as percussion to bridge the gap between his varied musical inclinations. As the piece develops, giving Myths and Morals its center of gravity, boundaries between rhythm and noise, the organic and the synthetic, one Taylor and another dissolve into a single seamless whole.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Listen now: "There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals" on SWR2

Listen to Martin and host Julia Neupert on SWR2 for another excellent hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this time on festivals. It's called "There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals" featuring talk about the blog covering festivals (like Vision, Alarm, Kongsberg, and Blow Out), and music by Philipp Gropper's Philm, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp, Irreversible Entanglements and others.

The podcast is available until Friday the 21st.


Kidd Jordan, Joel Futterman, Alvin Fielder, Steve Swell – Masters of Improvisation (Valid Records, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I know of Kidd Jordan because of his work with musicians from Chicago and New York (at whose Vision Festival he made one of his few public performances this year), in scenes far away from his home city of New Orleans. Because of this, I have always considered him more of a musical denizen of the Lower East Side or its Third Coast counterpart (whatever that may be) than of Frenchman Street. And this is not just my own bias. Spending time at bars and other venues in New Orleans will expose one to many types of music, free jazz largely excluded.

Masters of Improvisation, recorded live at the Old US Mint in 2017, is a notable and welcome exception. The music contained on this disc is deeply satisfying, deeply emotive free jazz produced by four immensely talented practitioners. Accompanying Jordan are Joel Futterman on piano, Alvin Fielder on drums, and Steve Swell on trombone. Both Futterman and Fielder have a long, fruitful history of collaboration with Jordan. Fielder and Jordan have been playing together since the 1970s and have performed with Futterman in various configurations since the mid-1990s. For his part, Swell has worked with Jordan in several larger ensembles in the past, but, it seems, never in so intimate a setting. Still, as one might rightfully expect, this group is masterful.

The album’s first track, aptly titled “Expansion,” begins with a disjointed back-and-forth between musicians that almost naturally evolves into a spirited and cacophonous improvisational fanfare. After this climax, Fielder slows the tempo in a grooving two-minute drum solo that concludes the piece. The next song, “Residue,” begins with a spacious dialogue between trombone and percussion. Futterman, whose first few notes are sparse and easily missed, slowly steals his way in and soon fills the air with his characteristic frenetic piano flourishes. Then, Jordan breaks in and swings the music into the type of free, soulful groove that only he and a handful of his contemporaries (Coltrane, Noah Howard, and Sonny Simmons come to mind) could pull off so convincingly. The intensity wells and fades several times, as the musicians abandon linearity in favor of more fractured and inquisitive, though inspired explorations. The final track, “Sawdust on the Floor,” is the catchiest and, in a fitting homage to New Orleans itself, tempers its underlying joie de vivre with a cathartic rendition of “Summertime” that carries the piece to its end.

Jordan admittedly sounds older than he has in previous performances and recordings. That, however, is more of an observation than a criticism. On Masters of Improvisation, he has sacrificed some of the energy of his earlier days for an unvarnished, at times gravelly tenderness that only the wisdom and wounds of age can produce. Even with all the sheer talent surrounding him – Fielder’s resourceful and measured drumming; Futterman’s balance of horror vacui with an intricate, fractured melodicism; Swell’s controlled power and boundless creativity – Jordan nevertheless stands front and center. He clearly still has much to say, and the skills to articulate it beautifully. This recording is testament to that.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Solo bass - Celebrating 50 years of "Journal Violone"

By Stef Gijssels

In 1968, American bassist Barre Phillips recorded a solo bass performance as the basis for further compositions for Max Schubel, one of his friends, who thought the music could stand on its own, and that's how "Journal Violone", the first solo bass album, was released in 1969. The performance was straight, without electronic alterations, improvised, with Phillips using extended techniques to play alternative sounds, adding depth and resonance to his instrument, which was even more accentuated by being performed in a church.

Without knowing it, Phillips helped pave the way for the double bass to become a lead instrument in its own right, helping to get it out of its subservient role as a rhythm instrument. At the same time, he set the scene for many other solo bass albums to be released, some of which have been reviewed by us, and you can check them out here.

We're fifty years later, and that's a good moment to mention some of the more recent solo bass albums that were released this year and last.

We start with some of the masters, and Barre Phillips gets the credit to come first.

Barre Phillips - End To End (ECM, 2018) *****

Credit to ECM for releasing this album, although the initiative came from Phillips himself, who will turn 84 in October, and decided this would be his last solo album.

And the music is as you can expect it, offering the inventiveness and the wealth of ideas and approaches by someone who's lived it all, in studios and on stage, playing around the world in bands with very different styles from straight jazz to fusion and folk and avant-garde.

The thirteen relatively short pieces are little gems of bass playing, performed with uncanny precision and sound quality, both plucked and bowed, and all very intimate, personal, authentic. There are no grand gestures or moments of showing off. Quite to the contrary, it's a very introspective, humble love affair with the broad sound pallette of the instrument, as if the artist rejoices in every deep and subtle sound that resonates from the strings and the wood. At the same time the music is beyond exploration, it's like a homecoming from a musician who can create his music, actively.

"I play everything based on what my ear suggests that I play, with no objective editing. And my ear is fed by a pool of accumulated musical experiences stored in my memory, mental memory and muscle memory. My active role is to do the best I can to play on my instrument what my ear is suggesting. I hear my part almost as if it were already composed by someone else".

In the short pieces, Phillips gives himself completely, creating lyrical and rhythmic and physical moments of beauty. Even if only five ideas for the pieces existed beforehand, they all have a kind of structure that Phillips claims comes almost naturally to him, as a legacy from his classical training.

When you compare it with the other 'great' solo bass albums, it does not have the epic exploration of Paul Roger's "Being", or the physicality of a Peter Kowald, or the creative abundance of Joëlle Léandre, or the deep soul of a William Parker. Phillips treats his instrument gently, carefully, thoughtfully, even in the fast moments, which results in music that is restrained in its freedom, or free in its constraints, like Japanes haiku poetry. It catches a thought, purifies it, beautifies it, and brings it to a close. And within this shortness, magic happens.

The album is built in three parts, called "Quest", "Inner Door", and "Outer Window", like a suite delving deep into the artist's journey, searching for the right music, driven by feelings and insights, and sharing this with the rest of the world. Manfred Eicher, the wizard behind ECM turned all the improvisations into their strong and balanced sequence.

It may be his last solo bass album, but it should be in the library of every music lover.

Mark Dresser - Modicana (No Business, 2017) ****½

This album was reviewed by colleague David Menestres in January already, but because I like it so much, it's always good to bring it under attention again.

Dresser shows how brilliant technique and musical ideas can conjure up sonic universes that leave deep impressions. Throughout the album, he changes the atmosphere between the more gentle, maybe even playful pieces that are played with plucked strings, and the heavy, somber gravitas of the bowed tracks, which results in a balanced overall album, yet on the other hand it diminishes some of the coherence.

My preference goes to the bowed pieces. The opening track is dark, hesitant, changing in solidity and fluidity, adding silence when needed, altering the approach repeatedly, like in an evolving story, full of austere beauty and emotional power. "Threaded" creates a wonderful multiphonic narrative full of tension and unresolved yearning, a complex piece which is by itself already worth the purchase of the album. The same intensity is kept in the last three tracks, which come across as a suite. Silence, darkness, and the slow deep sounds are once in a while pierced by high agonizing tones, or countered by mute rumblings. The effect of the bowed pieces when listened to all in one go is amazing, at least to me. The bowed piece bring you musical art at a very high level. Don't miss this album.

Johnny Mbizo Dyani ‎– African Bass Solo Concert - Willisau Jazz Festival 1978 (Sing A Song Fighter, 2018) ****

Even if not entirely solo bass, this album is worth mentioning, because it offers the so far unreleased part of a concert with the great Johnny Mbizo Dyani, the South African bassist who was in exile in Europe, and died far too early at the age of 42.

In 1980, Red Records released his "African Bass", a performance with Clifford Jarvis on drums, and Dyani on bass, and alternating on piano.

This album is like a prequel or live version, performed and recorded at the Willisau concert in Switzerland on September 2, 1978, one year before the studio recording.

Like the studio album, the music is pure African jazz, but performed with the singular vision of Dyani, offering a wonderful mix of lyrical musical poetry, joy and deep spiritual roots in African folk music. The first track is his spoken intro, followed by a sung incantation, a beautiful and too short piano piece.

The solo performance on bass starts only on the long fourth track, called "African Bass". It begins hesitatingly, scraping a gradually rhythmic pattern on one string, and soft plucked murmured bluesy notes, with unexpected free improv inclinations until halfway the piece, it switches into the real rhythmic theme of 'African bass', carrying the whole tune on his own, letting his bass play the rhythm, sing and dance at the same time, changing the simple tune into a variation of alterations and expansions, to be joined by his glorious singing of a traditional African folk song. This is not the introspective music of Phillips, or the dark complexity of Dresser, but the expression of life itself, mournful and joyful at the same time.

Side A of the second LP has an equally long solo bass piece. It starts less extrovert as the first solo, with minute musings, little notes and carefully crafted improvisations, intimate and precise, until - again - it flowers open in a bass vamp as the foundation for Dyani's singing. Impossible to know what he's singing, but it's an absolute pleasure to hear. The last side has two very short pieces, one with drums, and the closing piece offers us another song accompanied by piano.

The album itself is quite unevenly balanced, and you wonder whether all the music could not have fitted into one LP instead of two, but maybe I'm more accustomed to CDs to judge this, and then what?

It's a fascinating album, and a wonderful effort by the label to have found this music in the radio archives and to have released it in the first place. It shows Dyani as he was: a creative and free spirit, conscious of his heritage and open to the world, and daring enough to go beyond the expected, crafting his own music and style in the most authentic way.

Copies are hard to find, but I can only suggest you keep trying.

Ashley John Long - Psi (FMR, 2017) ***½

Now we take a jump to modern times, with this solo album by British bassist Ashley John Long, born in the year that Johnny Dyani passed away. Long has incredible technique, as comfortable in moments that have the sound purity of classical music, and stretching his sounds then beyond the expected and the deemed possible, and luckily not as a demonstrating of showmanship, but with the sole intention of creating new music.

The album contains eleven pieces, mostly miniatures with their own unique and internally cohesive narrative: intimately plucked, darkly bowed, crisp and granular. A few tracks take the time to expand and develop the angle of approach, notably the long "For Peter Reynolds", in which a somber and deeply resonating atmosphere is slowly shifting in intensity and pitch to the extent of even becoming terrifying.

Ashley John Long understands his instrument and music. Even better, he feels both.

Marco Quaresimin - Sondes (Unrevenu, 2017) ***

Marco Quaresimin is a Venetian double bass player who moved to Paris in 2010. On the first track his bass is lying on the floor and is being played by the bow and various objects, with the audience also lying on the floor, experiencing the sound in a very 'grounded' way, feeling the resonance of the minimalist bowing in the space around them and the floor beneath them. Other objects are used and the strings resonate in the same frequency. In this way, the audience is treated to a 'sound massage'. The effect of the sound is mesmerising. The second track is equally innovative, played with two bows, which gives the impression of the use of loops or other electronics, yet the sound is purely acoustic. Its repetitive minimalism is not new by itself, but the effect is strong.

The video below will give an idea of his approach.

Marco Serrato - The Potter (Bandcamp, 2017) ***

Marco Serrato loves solo bass albums, and he's released almost one every year since 2014, as a kind of personal musical divergence from his more rock-oriented career as the bassist/singer of the Spanish doom metal trio "Orthodox". The music here is all bowed, at varying speeds, often exploring various timbres and sound colors. The digital album with only one track lasts not more than twenty minutes. The atmosphere is dark.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Mike Majkowski - Swimming In Light (Entr'acte, 2017) ***½

We've reviewed Australian Mike Majkowski's singular approach to the the bass before, described by Eyal Haruveni as "chilly electro-acoustic drones, all insisting on investigating methodically repetitive patterns, the subtle sculpting of fragile textures with only minute oscillations and mutations of the frequencies, as well as an exploration of the resonant timbral qualities of the acoustic instruments". That approach is further explored on "Swimming In Light", if the word "explored" can be used in such a minimalist context. Despite the title, the image the music portrays is one of dark calm seas with ominous and gloomy undercurrents. The tones may rise at moments to higher pitches, but without changing the overall structure of the piece or even of its mood. The second piece offers more variation, in the sense that the pitch changes more frequently, hinting at melody, and then, for the second part of the track, barely audible sounds shimmer just above silence, with a few slow bow strokes adding a sense of desolation and loneliness. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

VWCR (Ken Vandermark - Nate Wooley - Sylvie Courvoisier - Tom Rainey) - Noise Of Our Time (Intakt Records, 2018) ****

Ken Vandermark: Saxophone, Clarinet
Nate Wooley: Trumpet
Sylvie Courvoisier: Piano
Tom Rainey: Drums

The members of this supergroup hardly need an introduction here on FJB. Vandermark on sax and clarinet, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Sylvie Courvoisier on Piano and Tom Rainey on the drums.
Vandermark played with Wooley, Courvoisier and Rainey on the great Momentum 1: Stone release, in different settings and I’m happy to see them come together with their own album. We get 9 tunes 3-6 minutes long, which is kind of unusual for a Vandermark collaboration which often have extended performances with long improvised sections combined with composed ideas that are bent inwards, out, broken down and put back together.

Can enough be said in 5 minutes I wonder?

The first track, Counterpoint, has Vandermark blowing the introduction right of the bat – followed by Wooley and Courvoisier playing in sync and Rainey knitting the piece together. It kind of reminds me of Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense. Wooley’s elegant tone is perfectly accompanied by Vandermark’s which is more raw and edgy.

The second song, Track and Field, has a carpet of prepared piano laid out and Vandermark and Wooley traveling on each side and Rainey skipping in between. Until Courvoisier says it’s enough with a dark and fat block cord. Piano-Drum duo follows, and I’m thrown into a very rewarding improvised section. Vandermark joins in, and the chopped-up pieces are thrown up in the air.

On the track VWCR things gets really interesting, and it’s a highlight of the album. We get the grunts, the extended techniques, the pure power, great improvised sections and a build-up of energy that must come out eventually. It does and then rumbles into the abyss. On the last song, Simple Cut, we’re given an introspective conversation to end things off.

This is an album with great individual achievements from some of the best artists in the genre. One can’t deny the fact that we get to hear some of the most experienced artists on the scene playing together. Individual strengths and the personal voice is mixed with the extreme ability to listen to what the others are saying.

Noise of Our Time is to be released in September and I will pick up a copy immediately. I am, however, looking forward to hearing more from this group of musicians playing together – but knowing how busy they are in their respective projects I suspect it will be a while. But perhaps that’s also the way these musicians should be heard? As a hit and run before they disappear to push their individual projects and ultimately their own personal art, to the next level – wherever that might be. And yes, I believe enough could be said in 5 minutes. VWCR come in, they say what they have to say, and that’s it.

Perhaps, if you’re new to these musicians, this is a great point of entry. Listen to their individual voices and also how they collaborate. Then keep on listening, branching out to each of these great artists discographies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Latest Releases of Israeli Saxophonist Albert Beger and Double Bass Player Shay Hazan

Israeli sax hero Albert Beger and double bass player Shay Hazan are soul mates. The 30 years age difference between Beger, born in 1959, the mentor and teacher of Hazan, born in 1989, is totally erased when the two play together, in a duo or in their respective groups. Here are the latest releases from Beger and Hazan.

Ehran Elisha / Albert Beger / Dave Phillips - Heads (CIMP, 2018) ****

Every summer since 2010, drummer-educator Ehran Elisha, a disciple of drummer Ed Blackwell and close collaborator of trumpeter Roy Campbell, comes for a family vacation in Israel and spends much of it in free-improvised performances with local sax hero Albert Beger. In September 2012, Beger came to visit Elisha in New York, and after two rehearsals with double bass player Dave Phillips, the three headed to upstate New York to record at CIMP’s Spirit Room. The first volume of two, Heads, was recorded on the Jewish New Year Holiday, Rosh HaShana (Rosh, in Hebrew means literally is head). It will, hopefully, followed soon by the second volume of this session, Tales.

The trio interplay is that of a long-standing outfit. The trio does justice to one of Beger’s most beautiful and touching compositions, the ballad “The Way To Go”, dedicated to his late mother, originally recorded on Beger's trio album by the same name (Jazzis, 2014). The central piece is Elisha’s four-part homage to another mentor of his, "Trio Suite: for Milford Graves". This suite is a series of imaginative impressions that solidifies the cumulative, spiritual energy of this trio and its deep understanding of Graves' vision. Elisha navigates the trio between ecstatic, cathartic eruptions and lyrical, touching themes, always shaping the rhythmic layers and keeps challenging Beger and Phillips. Beger flies high with such rhythmic support and Phillips knows how to articulate his own rhythmic conception within Elisha’s powerful one. All this energy crystallizes in the final part of the suite, “The Motion Movement” where the trio forms an massive, polyrhythmic pulse that gains more and more emotional power. Phillips’ lyrical, gentle “Filomene” concludes this impressive recording.

Albert Beger / Shay Hazan - Black Mynah (Creative Sources, 2017) ***1/2

The Beger-Hazan debut recording as a duo focuses on a program of improvised pieces, recorded at Mishkenot Sha'ananim Studio, Jerusalem in January 2017. The atmosphere of Black Mynah is totally different from the urgent, dense one of Beger’s outfits or recordings. Beger and Hazan opt for a emotional and gentle form of improvisation, always focused on searching the melodic essence of the improvisations. Often this duo sounds like a local version of an ECM release, contemplative and lyrical, but with a warmer sound.

Beger’s tenor sax on Hazan’s chamber “Cycles” and the free-improvised, title-piece sounds as paying homage to to the the leisured tone of his hero, Lester Young, and even brings to mind the singing voice of early Jan Garbarek. Hazan stresses the dark, melancholic spirit of these pieces with remarkable, reserved bowing of the bass. Beger sings again with his rarely-played bass clarinet on “The Frog Dance” and even dances around the hypnotic, North-African pulse of Hazan’s guimbri on “Ritual”.

Shay Hazan Quintet - Domestic Peace (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ****

The Quintet is the main musical vehicle of Hazan's in recent years, featuring Hazan’s close friends - trumpeter Tal Avraham, tenor sax player Eyal Netzer, pianist Milton Michaeli, who also plays in Beger’s quartet, and drummer Haim Peskoff, another disciple of Milford Graves. The quintet performed tirelessly before recording its debut album at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 club in January 2018. The title, Domestic Peace, reflects many Israelis existential fear of the coming future, just by “looking outside a window one occasionally wonders what will happen next?”

Hazan's music is rooted in the spiritual, free jazz of the sixties with strong influences of the hypnotic grooves of North-African gnawa music. He knows how to employ the distinct voices of his comrades, and the quintet often sounds much bigger than just five musicians. The album begins with the elegiac, touching homage to Hazan’s friend who was murdered in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv two years ago, “New Year’s Eve”. Domestic Peace is concludes with the joyful, anthem worthy groove of “Who Owns MUSIC?”, that brings to mind Hazan's love of William Parker ensembles and South African free jazz - especially of Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath.

The main piece, the two-parts suite “Hybrus”, is an angry and urgent statement about Israel’s current political atmosphere, captured in the voice of racist member of Parliament, Oren Hazan (no family relation), who wishes to deport African refugees from Tel Aviv back to the “black continent”. Shay Hazan offers an alternative vision to the one of the despicable politician, a compassionate and all embracing vision that welcomes and feeds on the diversity of colors and cultures. Eventually this impressive composition challenges the supremacist hubris of the politician and asks if the Hebrews/Hybrus are so different from these Africans refugees or why we can not share the same, common ground. The quintet delivers Hazan humane vision with poetic passion, graceful elegance and lyrical power. Hazan adds that the performances of this composition trigger many insightful talks with the audiences.

Shay Hazan - Good Morning Universe (No Business Records, 2018) ***½

The 10" EP vinyl Good Morning Universe features an ad-hoc double trio - Beger and Netzer on tenor saxes, Hazan and bass player Nadav Masel, who plays here the custom-made 5-stringed cello called Hamsa, and drummers Peskoff and Ofer Bymel. This sextet was recorded at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv on February 2017.

Hazan’s four compositions offer different strategies for free-improvisation based on complex, layered rhythmic patterns. The first, passionate “Densho” (in Japanese: to pass to the next generation) begins with Beger and Netzer sketching a brief melodic theme but allowing the expanded rhythm section to keep shaping and shifting the restless pulse, before they all gravitate towards a powerful coda.  

“Compassion” offers a similar kind of loose interplay but this time rooted in a lyrical theme. The second side begins with “Courtesy”, where the intimate, talkative saxes of Beger and Netzer lead the sextet with a searching, chamber improvisation. Only on the last piece “Hope” the double trio builds a playful, burning groove.

Gal Atzur Trio (OutNow Recordings, 2018) ***

Alto sax player and painter Gal Atzur is influenced by the American fiery free-jazz of the late sixties and idolizes iconic sax players such as Albert Ayler, Charles Gayle and Joe McPhee. His free-improvised performances are based on instantaneous, burning energy. He began his musical career as a guitarist who played noise and metal music, but switched to jazz, studied under the guidance of Beger and later was mentored by another local sax hero, Assif Tsahar, who joins him in his new quintet.

His debut album, featuring Hazan and Bymel, focuses on Atzur’s strength - his boundless energy, which is often also his weakness. Most of Atzur compositions, all titled after colors, burst with immediate, powerful intensity, often also with a violent sense of urgency. These pieces explode with restless passion, but rarely rests for moments of reflection and contemplation. His most interesting pieces are the ones where he abandons this energetic comfort zone and explores a reserved and patient approach, as on “Orange”, “Red” and the surprising, lyrical “Pink”. On these pieces he sketches soulful melodies, builds cleverly the tension and weaves a poetic interplay with the always resourceful Hazan and Bymel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ben Hall’s Racehorse Names – The New Favourite Thing Called Breathing (Relative Pitch, 2018) ***½

By Chris Haines

To be honest, the first thing that drew me to this album was the cover. To be precise it was the cover of Ornette Coleman’s Body Meta that can be seen poking through the assorted paraphernalia of lemon, cactus, written hand note, and other items that initially drew my attention. After listening to the album I was interested to find out that the improvised pieces were actually open compositions, with each piece seemingly providing a sonic structure or context for the players to explore, whilst apparently providing enough ‘instructions’ (however the ‘composed’ element was written) to keep the group sound wedded to a particular idea. Each of the tracks on the album is called a ‘Spine’, being numbered by a factor of 2, found by multiplying the previous term. It’s a simple mathematical sequential idea that got me wondering whether any other such ideas might have found their way into the compositional element on some level? However, I get the feeling that the compositional element takes a more aesthetic or game-like (racehorses?) approach in guiding the sound of the final pieces. Nonetheless the concept and the slightly grey-area of the compositional part make it even more intriguing. The group that was put together to explore these ideas consists of Joe Morris (electric guitar), Mick Dobday (electric piano, organ), Anthony Levin-Decanini (electronics), John Dierker (reeds), Mike Khoury (viola, violin), and Ronnie Zawadi & Ben Hall (percussion).

Starting with ‘Spine 02’, the album opens with the sound of electric guitar and sax seemingly having already started, as if we’re joining them at a slightly later moment. Although it’s not long before they’re joined by the rest of the ensemble providing a multi-timbral and busy feel, which continues before giving way to a repeated organ motif and see-sawing string sound that gradually closes out the piece. ‘Spine 04’ starts with a similar organ motif to the previous track, with a string drone providing the harmonic base, whilst various tones, rubbing sounds, mouthpiece sounds, and percussive punctuations overlay the musical grounding. There is more space in this piece than the first one and there are some lovely moments where the various sounds combine. ‘Spine 08’ starts and feels like a typical free improv track, before the percussive chimes enter providing a window of more space into the proceedings before returning to form and then ending with handclaps that sound-like the initial material to Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. There are another three tracks ‘Spine 16’, ‘Spine 32’, and, of course, ‘Spine 64’ all with various multi-timbral colour combinations and different instrumental sounds and techniques that find their way into the labyrinthine textures. The music is very much a textural one, with the emphasis clearly on a group sound, although various instruments do rise to the surface of the musical soup at times, which enables the listener to hear their contribution to the overall sound before duly sinking back into the sonic mixture. It is not a hard free-blowing workout and clearly the compositional structures keep the group playing on cordial and democratic terms with no one taking a clear solo that might disturb the equality. There are no egos on show here and the group shows that it can operate within a musically individuated way within the complex whole. Overall the album makes for an intriguing listen, whether its the delicate guitar and drum interplay on 'Spine 16' or the fleet guitar and punchy sax in 'Spine 32', there is something to sink your ears into here.

Monday, September 10, 2018

BROM - Cardboard Sea (Tiger Moon Records, 2018) ***½

By Martin Schray

When you write about music you might know this: You’ve purchased an album and listened to it. You like it, yes, but then again, it doesn’t blow you away either. You listen to it casually, while you’re cooking or while driving. It’s nice, okay, but it’s difficult to write about. In fact, you don’t even find a starting point and in general you don’t want to sound too pathetic and repeat the same worn out phrases like “great interplay“, “surprising and unpredictable sounds“, “exploring new fields of music“, “unsettling dynamics“, “attentive and exploratory music“ etc. The whole shebang.

However, what it sometimes just needs is the right moment. The day before I wrote this review I came home very late from a jazz festival. I had to get up early, dragged myself through the day, drowsy, feeling hungover although I had no alcohol the day before. It was a full moon night, the city was numb after weeks of unusual heat and drought. I couldn’t sleep. I’d finished half a bottle of rosé wine and listened to BROM’s Cardboard Sea again, and all of a sudden the beauty of the music struck me.

BROM consists of Alexander Beierbach (tenor saxophone), Jan Roder (double bass) and Christian Marien (drums), all part of the flourishing Berlin jazz scene. Under this moniker they’ve released their debut in 2013. Mainly known as the leader of the exciting Absolutely Sweet Marie project (dedicated to the music of Bob Dylan), Beierbach has a more introspective side, though. BROM establishes him as a subtle melodist and mood-setter. Even if this line-up can be very brittle, his horn is rather elegiac here, as on “Chestnut“, or quizzical, as on the winding “Skizze #5“. What never falters is the freshness of his compositions. For this, he’s assisted by his distinguished company. Drummer Christian Marien is a master of small gestures (something he has already proved in his outstanding duo Superimpose with trombonist Matthias Müller), capable of painting a canvas with well-measured prickling on his snare. And Jan Roder reinforces his reputation as Germany’s best walking bassist (something you can check on JR3 and with Monk’s Casino).

My favorite track on this album is “Chasing Chimes/Joker & Thief“. In the center there’s a motif which is introduced by saxophone and bass in unison before a cautious improvisation is carved out. The piece almost gets lost when the bass drops out and the drums abandon any rhythmic framework, instead they’re just hissing around. This pattern is repeated in the second part of the piece as well, until the bass brings the music together. Beierbach’s composed parts serve as a basis for expansive gestures, however the improvisational reactions remain pleasantly down-to-earth beyond affected mannerism. A very atmospheric album that matures the more you listen to it.

Listen to BROM here:

You can buy the record on the label’s website:


Free Jazz Blog on Air: There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals

On Friday the 14th, Martin Schray will be joining SWR2's Julia Neupert for an new installment of Free Jazz on Air, an occasional series on German public radio.

It will be broadcast on Friday, 9/14/2018 at 11 p.m and is entitled "There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals". The topic is about the blog covering festivals (we've done bunch lately, check out Vision, Alarm, Kongsberg, and Blow Out). The broadcast will contain music by Philipp Gropper's Philm, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp, Irreversible Entanglements and others.

And speaking about festivals...

Improv 2014 (Peitz)

Wurzburg, Germany based Stefan Hetzel is an art music composer, jazz piano player, cultural commentary blogger, and the creative force behind a short documentary about the Jazzwerkstatt Petiz Jazz Festival.

We’ve written about the Peitz festival in pieces and Martin Schray reviewed a box set in 2013 in which he gave a quick history of the festival:
The “Jazzwerkstatt“  (jazz workshop) in the Eastern German small town Peitz was a legend in the former German Democratic Republic. From 1973 to 1982 Uli Blobel and Peter "Jimi" Metag organized concerts and workshops there and via word of mouth the events became something like a Woodstock for fans of free improvised music (it was adventurous to get there if you lived somewhere in the country but sometimes around 3000 people got together to listen to the various concerts). It is fascinating how committed (and naïve) the organizers were and what they achieved – Peitz became a Mekka for musicians from East and West, the line-ups were almost a Who is Who of improvised music. But in 1983 the GDR authorities refused to grant their approval for Jazzwerkstatt Nr. 48. In 2011 Blobel organized a re-launch of the event which now takes place every year in June.

In 2014, Hetzel visited the festival, took some great video footage of the town (which, in the intervening years has received a bit of a make-over) and sat down with some legends of improvisational music: Hamid Drake, Friedhelm Schönfeld, Wayne Horvitz and Gebhard Ullmann and asked them about what makes good for improvised music. It's an illuminating short film, so be sure to check it out:

Sunday, September 9, 2018

J@K@L (Keefe Jackson, Julian Kirshner, Fred Lonberg-Holm) - After A Few Days (Jaki Records, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

After issuing a pair of outstanding tapes in 2015 and 2016 the sax/cello/drums power trio of Keefe Jackson, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Julien Kirshner reunited last year for a spirited session of fiery free improv at the Windy City’s own Hungry Brain venue. Fortunately for those of us not present that night, the performance has been released by Jaki Records as After A Few Days. For anyone unfamiliar with the trio, Keefe Jackson is a prolific player in the Chicago scene, collaborating with the likes of Jason Stein, Josh Berman, and the Urge Trio (with Tomeika Reid and Cristoph Erb). Former Chicago resident Lonberg-Holm is a veteran player in the international scene; he’s a member of the Vandermark 5 and of Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet among his many other endeavors and is likely well known to the readers of this blog. Grounding the trio is the young percussionist Julian Kirshner, whose list of collaborators includes Sam Weinberg and Gerrit Hatcher (with whom he released the terrific Five Percent Tint last year).

 A Silt of Atoms begins with a rush of drums and strings, over which Jackson’s tenor stutters and growls. This action segues into rapid trills, staccato honking, and overdriven cello scrapings atop the rumbling percussion. Lonberg-Holm plays mounting lines, gruffly bowing out sinewy forms and glissando. Kirshner’s percussion is propulsive and exciting; he hangs a loose fragmented structure and adorns it with rapid snare roll clusters. Lonberg-Holm dishes a drone of octave pedal treated bowing and the drums quicken, Kirshner’s energetic rolls and washes of cymbal hiss drive the motion forward. Jackson utilizes a very reedy tone on both tenor and soprano and his powerful delivery is at the same time very controlled. Lonberg-Holm mixes it up with some traditional cello sounds now and again, but always greatly appreciated is the broad palette of sounds he brings to a group setting. Here we get some heavily chuffed bowing, pizzicato rhythm playing, effects-heavy free noise, and even some electric tenor guitar. All of this really thickens up the improvisations, allowing the sax and drums to explore more subtle avenues without the recording ever becoming too quiet. Creaking strings open up the relatively brief Some Rows Existed with Jackson producing tinny low pitched vibrations on his horn while Kirshner rattles off non-linear patterns. The honking sax hovers over the accelerating rhythm, and Lonberg-Holm wrings every type of string and bow sound imaginable from his instrument. The intensity of the track fades over the course of the final two minutes leaving only the droning cello, then nothing.

This is a very satisfying listen and is well proportioned sonically for an album with only two tracks (mainly due to the amount of space covered on the first track). The group works well together both in terms of ideas and their exchange, so it’s nice to see that they are still working together in Lonberg-Holm’s post-Chicago era. After A Few Days packs plenty of action into its brief-but-satisfying 34 minute run time and is sure to please fans of the combo’s previous endeavors.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dave Ballou and BeepHonk - The Windup (Clean Feed) ***½

By Derek Stone

Over the past twenty or so years that he’s been active, Dave Ballou has found company with some of the brightest lights in contemporary jazz - Satoko Fujii, Mario Pavone, and David Liebman, to name but a few. His own records as both a leader and soloist (last year’s Solo Trumpet being a fascinating entry-point into the latter work) have further established him as an intriguing voice in his own right. On The Windup, Ballou brings his singular vision to BeepHonk, a trio consisting of Anthony Pirog (on guitar and effects), Adam Hopkins (on double bass), and Mike Kuhl (on percussion). Recorded live at the Windup Space in Baltimore (hence the title), The Windup contains wild, incendiary shards, hazy stretches of stillness, and lots in-between; combining as it does the acoustic, the electric, and the occasionally demented (see: Pirog’s guitar effects), the album is a unique addition to Ballou’s catalogue and a fine beginning to BeepHonk’s recorded career.

A dizzying fanfare sets the pace on “Fluffer Nutter,” with Ballou and Pirog locked together in an exhilarating cascade of notes. That motif rears its head in fits-and-starts throughout the piece, but Ballou and Pirog never get too comfortable with it; instead, the two of them explore a variety of melodic paths and tonal mutations. Pirog, in particular, uses effects to extract shrieks, static bursts, and assorted other palpitation-inducing sounds from his guitar. Ballou doesn’t let the lack of electrical assistance slow him down - he careens through a jumble of ecstatic figures that bunch up, collide, and ultimately dissipate in the face of Pirog’s searing blasts.

“BeepHonk,” ostensibly the group’s theme song, is tantalizingly odd. Over the course of 15 minutes, the players systematically deconstruct the celebratory pyrotechnics of the previous piece, opting instead for erratic lurches and wobbles. Bassist Adam Hopkins opens the proceedings with a shambling solo, a drunken prelude that eventually tangles itself up into agitated knocks and scrapes. Likewise, percussionist Kuhl lopes along at a weary pace, his sparse taps and jangles serving as the barest of accents. As the piece unfolds, the pace quickens and more defined shapes start to emerge - Ballou becomes characteristically loquacious, Kohl twitchy and ornate, and Hopkins a sober rhythmic anchor. Pirog is perhaps the most interesting force here, manipulating and sculpting his guitar-tones into wheezing transmissions from an alien world.

“Nice Spot-Another Fool” is arguably the center-piece, taking up as it does half of the album’s runtime. Nevertheless, it rejects both the delirious explosiveness of “Fluffer Nutter” and the indirect excursions of “BeepHonk” for a more thematic sense of development. The first few minutes call to mind the final moments of some imagined spaghetti Western, with Pirog’s distant wails bunching up like clouds over bone-dry terrain. Hopkins’ use of arco is particularly apt, offering a somber counterpoint to Ballou’s lightfooted soliloquys. Kuhl’s subtly rolling pulses complete the scene. It’s undeniably lovely, but it’s not to meant to last - Hopkins soon transitions to a bustling pizzicato and Kuhl to a rapid clatter. This section is probably the most straightforward of the entire album, with its scampering sense of swing and forward momentum. The piece undergoes several such build-ups and subsequent dissolutions; it’s precisely this tension that imbues the composition with a kind of filmic scope - but there are no quick climaxes here. The sections that do resemble a clear denouement are quick to collapse back into more indistinct modes of expression. By the time the track ends, you may not be certain whether you’ve moved in a straight line, a circle, or traced out some other figure in the desert sands - but, like me, you’ll likely find it to have been a fascinating trek.

The Windup is a varied and engrossing blend of improvisation, composition, and soundscaping, and with each of these elements in just the right amount to ensure that all sorts of listeners find something to appreciate. Ballou and Pirog, in particular, bring an endlessly engrossing sense of adventure to the proceedings, exploring not only a wide range of melodic paths, but also (especially in Pirog’s case) delineating the boundaries and limits of what they can do with their respective instruments. A fine listen!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ken Vandermark, Klaus Kugel, Mark Tokar – No-Exit Corner (Not Two Records, 2018) ****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Recorded at The Alchemia Club in Krakow on December 12th, 2016

Vandermark, Kugel and Tokar are back at The Alchemia Club in Krakow, where they recorded Escalator in May 2016.

Since their last release, Vandermark’s been very productive. The Construct Series with DEK Trio has been finished, another monumental release with DKV Trio, the first and second release with his new group Marker, and the second and third album in the Momentum series. And this is just a selection.

Drummer Kugel has a very long background of collaborations with Peter Evans, Switchback, Rivers of sound ensemble, Jemeel Moondoc and many more. The latest release with him playing I believe is with John Edwards and Joe McPhee (Journey To Parazzar, Not Two Records MW975-2) and is definitely an album I look forward to hearing.

Bassist Tokar; Resonance Ensemble (if you find the massive 10-CD Resonance box, do not hesitate to pick it up), Ultramarine and various other collaborations.

This is classic free jazz of very high quality, which we have come to expect from anything involving Vandermark. It’s also a trio which sounds very closely knitted together, as a group.

'Left Sided Driver' is packed with energy. It has Vandermark blowing his heart and soul out, varying the theme endlessly. He’s bending, twisting and turning trying to find ways in and out of the music. Wave after wave rush over me but Kugel and Tokar knows exactly where to go. The end of 'Left Sided Driver' is an elegant study in leaving it all out there. Well, the end is more like a quarter of the song in which the trio builds up energy to the boiling point. It’s a feverish theme moving machine-like forward, stomping and crushing.

Appropriately enough, they follow-up with a slightly more introvert performance. Tokar gives us an extended presentation, or should I say conversation that has the resemblance of listening to people talking on the other side of a wall. Chimes and bells lead us to the next part which has an intimate Vandermark continuing the story-telling. But something is not right. There’s a mellow melody trying to reach through and explain. As always, Vandermark will keep it going until his companions joins him. Sure enough, the trio join forces and we get to hear a bluesy theme that propels the song onwards until the inevitable happens: it all falls to pieces, except for Tokar who I can hear keeping calm while Vandermark and Tokar takes off, at least to begin with. Excitement builds up and suddenly its over and we get a few moments to relax.

This is also how this great album continues, with tensions building up and being let go. With individual freedom always present, yet with Vandermark as the unifying force that brings it all back home. Kugel reminds me of Paal Nilssen-Love on this album, with a lot of emotions happening in the moment, whereas Tokar has a lyrical expression that I really appreciate. I will be keeping my eyes open for more albums where he’s playing.

If you’re in the mood for straight ahead classic free jazz in a trio setting – this is a great one.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Marco Colonna, Agustí Fernández & Zlatko Kaučič - Agrakal (Not Two, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The three Mediterranean musicians - Italian clarinet and baritone sax player Marco Colonna, Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández, and Slovenian drummer-percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, have played with each other before, but their performance at the Italian Novara Jazz Festival on December 2017 was their first ever as a trio. Colonna has recorded two albums with Fernández - Desmadre (Fonterossa Records, 2014) and the self-released, live Birth of Shapes (2016). Fernández also recorded duets with Kaučič, Sonic Poetry (Not Two, 2014), and played with him in a trio with Evan Parker. Colonna recorded with Kaučič and Italian bass player Giovanni Maier the self-released Impressioni Astratte (2016).

The titles of their albums together offer an insight for their shared mode of operation. All three musicians are masters of the art of free-improvisation and all have developed a highly personal and resourceful language. AGRAKAL invites all to experience this unique art of free-improvisation “where even voices have roots and take on color.” Colonna, Fernández and Kaučič don’t spend time on unnecessary introductions and the opening piece, the 22-minutes of “Waves of Perceptions” already demonstrate how this trio keep constructing and deconstructing, shifting and shaping immediate and urgent textures, without losing the focus or tension. The trio manages to form a new language where the extended breathing techniques of Colonna resonates organically with the inventive work of Fernández on the piano strings and the delicate cymbal work of Kaučič. The trio covers an impressive spectrum of moods, colors, rhythmic patterns and sounds, from the refined chamber interplay through the quiet and abstract to the tough and stormy.

The following pieces are shorter, but each one suggests a distinct improvisation strategy and all together the rich and nuanced new language of this trio. “Drops” deepens the dense, uncompromising and conflictual interplay explored on “Waves of Perceptions”. “Cellular” changes the dark and intense atmosphere with a playful game of inventive rhythmic patterns, where all the three musicians offer their own unconventional rhythmic angle. “From The Ground To The Sky” refuses stubbornly to settle on any course, pulse or clear structure and leads directly to “Textures of Nowhere”, that actually adopts a coherent texture, physical but also a lyrical and emotional one. This performance is concluded with another playful piece, the short “Coming Back” that shifts quickly from a sparse improvisation to a folk theme.

Hope that AGRAKAL is only the first document of this great trio.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Ahmed Ag Kaedy - Orion Congregation (Schneeball, 2018) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

The Orion Congregation is a group out of Berlin, a mix of Malian, Nigerian, and German musicians, which caught my ear recently when I was poking around at a small record shop off of Berlin's Boxhagener Platz. Ahmed Ag Kaedy, the Malian guitarist, is the group’s leader, and his group is Johannes Schleiermacher on synth and sax, Michael Wehmeyer and Jörg Hochapfel on organ (yeah, they've got a big sound!), Kalle Enkelmann on bass, and Mahalmadane Traoré and Bernd Oezsevim on drums and percussion.

The music has a jam band feel to it, in this case modal romps with electrifying organ, served up with a dense underbrush of percussion. Overall, it’s a big mash of world-music-improvisation-stew and it’s a lot of fun to listen to and simply let surround around you. The music is built on layers of energy, growing and compounding through repetitive rhythmic figures (the bass is insistent, though it's a bit submerged in the mix). The lyrical melodies act more like a rhythmic elements, adding texture to the music.

Some fav moments: the free-ranging organ solo in 'Arodj Dalen' (about 3.5 min in, it gets modulated and even funkier). Around the 6 minute mark, the whirl has become even more intense, the whistling and cheering audience is enthusiastic, and the groove is unrelenting. The saxophone work from Schleiermacher on 'Mani Mani', the last tune on the album, adds some refreshing variety.

Good good fun, a groove band with a world-music flair, and I suspect an excellent experience live.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Charles Gayle Trio - Solar System (ForTune, 2018) ****½

By Gregg Daniel Miller

In the best tradition of blues-based free blowing, Charles Gayle, one of the stalwarts (b. 1939), and his trio are captured live at the 12on14 Jazz Club in Warsaw, Poland in October 2016, (released in December of 2017). This is a very nice recording. The clapping and club sounds add to the immediacy without distracting from the sonic quality of the capture.

Gayle on alto saxophone is a master of soaring emotion and quick turnarounds. Gayle’s playing is just so lively. Not all is perfection and clarity; he uses the sax as a silver-quick conveyor of impulse. Musical idea flows into musical idea in quick succession. Try to keep up kids. Gayle’s two band-mates (roughly 45 years his junior) are up to the task. Double-bassist Ksawery Wójcinski (b. 1983) is energetic, often walking, giving Gayle that churning nether tone-world over which to delight. Drummer Max Andrzejewski (b. 1986) plays with vigor, keeping it together with taps on his ride cymbal, off-the-beat snare hits, and expressive toms. Andrzejewski’s solos are tasteful, communicating in paragraphs, not just words.

Named the Solar System, each of the 7 tracks in this set bears the name of one of our solar system’s planets. They leave out Neptune and Pluto, I get that Pluto’s status as a planet has been seriously undermined, but what’s up with Neptune?

'Mercury', the opener, sets the table: a trio of 3 strong players, each of them bringing a brash singing quality to collective improvisation. 'Venus' is a sexy, sultry thing, Gayle’s slightly flat tone in bluesy flight over and against Andrzejewski’s ringing, melodic tom fills and Wójcinski ’s mobile, cascading bass runs which then morph into a pair of brief but moving, rhythmic solos.

On the 3rd track, 'Earth', Gayle moves to piano and plays it like he plays sax: with passion just on the edge of instability. The tune toggles between mess-o-notes and poignant. A thumping, walking bass line enters to give the Earth its blues. 'Mars' is a war-like attack, why not? And then the calming piano peace that comes with understanding. 'Jupiter' opens with a Jelly Roll Morton-type piano blues, complete with some hollering---just right for drinking. The lengthiest tune, 'Saturn', opens with Gayle’s sensitive piano and then Andrzejewski’s solo brushwork. All romance and off-kilter. Then the sax and bass enter over the drums to definitively re-engage the 3-way conversation. The romance quickens to a walking bass and Gayle’s free crooning sax: a mix of 16th note runs and punctuated, multiphonic, or held notes – and then a release into the stratosphere of overblowing atop a drumming onslaught. Just beautiful.

I prefer Gayle’s distinctive soaring sax to his piano thunking, but there’s something here for everybody. So, so glad Gayle remains open for business.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh - Crowmoon (self-released, 2018) ***½

By Martin Schray

Peter Brötzmann’s collaboration with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh is often like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’re gonna get. Colin has seen a very good gig at Salford’s Islington Mill, while I witnessed a very mediocre one at the A’Larmé! IV festival in 2016 and a botched performance at the Enjoy Jazz festival the same year (admittedly also due to sound problems). The reedman and Leigh have released two albums so far: Ears Are Filled With Wonder , which I liked a lot when it came out, and Sex Tape, which in my eyes is one of Brötzmann’s weaker albums in recent years. Considering all this, I had no expectations for Crowmoon - and was pleasantly surprised.

Lately, Brötzmann is at his best when he is playing with first class musicians. His collaboration with Paal Nilssen-Love and Steve Swell resulted in three great releases, his live gigs with Full Blast and his duo with drummer Steve Noble were always superb (at least the ones I saw). At the age of 77 he needs a break here and there and can hardly play two sets in a row, his famous lung-busting attacks need to be well-measured. That’s why it helps when his collaborators can take over, which has sometimes been a problem with Heather Leigh. Her playing is often reserved, reduced, and even a bit simple, she just seems to accompany him. Then again, one might rather evaluate her contributions as the ones of bands like Black Bombain or Defibrillator - from a rock/noise perspective. Her textures are like a tapestry of sound to which Brötzmann can add dramatic, passionate outpourings, smeared fanfares with a certain melancholic touch, and lyrical, just beautiful melodies. Leigh’s playing on this album is very crispy and shimmering, more trenchant and less convenient, yet minimal and riff-orientated. There’s a moment which even reminded me of AC/DC (which is meant as a compliment). Brötzmann uses this circumstance to play shapely, lush lines in the great late phase Brötz style. The Wuppertal dragon is in tremendous form, especially at the beginning of the gig.

This is what happens on Crowmoon - on the one hand. On the other hand, the album is a celebration of Brötzmann’s qualities as a balladeer. He processes his “Master of a Small House“ theme, one of five or six motives he’s been using constantly in duo or solo outfits these days. Brötzmann introduces it twice, always after Leigh has dropped out. When he plays solo, his vibrato-laden style is put to the fore, producing singing harmonics, which is a real pleasure to listen to and worthwhile the purchase alone.

Crowmoon was recorded in Auckland/New Zealand in 2017. It’s available as a hand numbered limited edition of 300 copies. Brötzmann sells it at live shows. You can also get it if you write him an e-mail.