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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, Phillip Greenlief – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed, 2018) *****

By Nick Ostrum

I imagine guitarist Fred Frith needs little introduction on these pages. Pipe organist Evelyn Davis and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, however, may. At least, they were unfamiliar to me before I picked up this fine album. The result of this collaboration is grand and refined. It displays a patience, complexity, unity of purpose, and responsiveness that is quite impressive. And, it is deep. There are myriad threads and twists to follow, tangles to untie. If not careful or if otherwise preoccupied, it can be easy for the listener to get engrossed and lost in Lantskap Logic.

The first track, “Your ever loving arms,” begins with an organ, a swoosh, and a punctured saxophone drone. Greenlief weaves around the steady and welling low-tones as they repeatedly glissando and crescendo. The layers become denser and Davis’s organ comes to provide the steady, though subtly changing thread that provides the base around which Frith and Greenlief meander to powerful effect. Over the course of this track, it opens. The tones elevate. Rather than evoking gloom as some of the albums I recently reviewed have, this one evokes light and elevation. Rather than congestion, one feels space, motion, and, at the end, elation. Listening to this track is like travelling a path towards some abstract state of elation. The textures are deep, varied, and changing.

“With us or without us” begins with a gurgling and whistling, soon accompanied by a distant, repeating bass thump and augmented, metallic sounds. (I am not sure if Frith or Davis is responsible, but Davis is known for playing the interior of the organ as well as the keys.) Frith’s screeching guitar soon enters the picture as Greenlief’s saxophone settles into more idiomatic, elongated notes. These three musicians are conjuring something unique, here. This piece is heavier and more menacing than the first. The background bubbling and thudding lend a layer of portent to the otherwise industrial soundscape. About halfway through, the song approaches a brightness, but a persistent siren halts the progress. A droning hum and pulsing wisps and scrapes steer the track away from dawn, beyond twilight, and towards gloam. The sounds are still dense, however, and I wonder if I this is not also unsettling because of its luridness. This track in particular brings to mind a Utech records aesthetic, albeit not quite as metallic and despairing. Indeed, as the track turns with Frith’s broken trill and a Greenlief’s cavernous horn, Davis introduces a lighter progression of chords that, together, cut the tension. This track does not reach the level of ecstasy of “Your ever loving arms.” Still, it offers a glimmer of reconciliation, whether hope or acceptance, at its end. Absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

New Monuments – New Earth (Pleasure Of The Text Records, 2018) ***½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Following you own path is, most probably, the shortest way to become unpopular. It happens in real life and also in the music business. The three musicians that have just released the fourth statement as The New Monuments (Don Dietrich on tenor sax and electronics, Ben Hall on drums and C. Spencer Yeh on violin and electronics) seem to achieve exactly the opposite: making a career by just following their path.

I first listened to Ben Hall through the small rotation of musicians then called The Graveyards. The Graveyards had their moments of brilliance but they seemed determined to record and put out trillions of CDRs, cassettes and some vinyl. I might be a bit picky here, but if only their discography had been minimized to a third or even half, we would now be talking about one of the most important groups in experimental music for the 00’s.

There isn’t much to say about Don Dietrich that hasn’t been said or written. Even though I’m not a big fan, Borbetomagus radicalized free jazz, combined elements of noise with jazz before even the former term existed musically. Altogether they broke all boundaries.

I really enjoy C. Spencer Yeh’s denial of letting himself being confined to one genre or sound. First listened to him through his work will the mighty Flaherty-Corsano duo, but since then he has easily defied any categorization. Call it noise, jazz, electronic experimentalism, whatever you want.

All the above have delved deep into the New Monuments’ all-is-possible sound approach. This time, through Nate Wooley’s Pleasure Of The Text label, they put their electronic side up front and leave not so much to all of us sax aficionados. Do not get me wrong though. New Earth is, first and foremost, a free jazz blowout of high energy and pathos. Ben Hall struggles to follow the pace of the other two. His work on the trap set seems amazing to my untrained ears, a barrage of polyrhythmic mayhem equal (and that is something) to the saxophone of Dietrich. Maybe judging more from my jazz perspective I enjoyed all his gestures. His playing is certainly jazzy but in the loose way the free jazz tradition managed to liberate all percussionists. It sometimes seemed that there wasn’t enough room for him to breathe musically, so he constantly tried to make something of his own.

Knowing that this is an antithesis to their collective playing, I must comment that Yeh and Dietrich seemed to be the leaders in New Earth. They tend to dominate the trio’s sound with great use of electronics, which, to be totally frank, is to me the only disadvantage of this excellent recording. Sometimes the sound of New Earth is all electronics and drums, losing the organic unity they have achieved in previous recordings. Maybe it’s a new path they try to experiment with. We’ll just have to wait and see. Until then I really enjoyed New Earth, especially the parts were they seem totally loose, free and aggressive with their instruments and less with electronics. The parts, like most of the sixteen minutes of the opening track Old Monuments (now that it think of it, is this track a way to wave goodbye to their old sound?), were Hall’s percussion is matched with Dietrich’s tenor sax and the struggling screeches and noises of Yeh’s violin, are utterly satisfying.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Don Cherry Trio - Studio 105, Paris 1967 (Hi Hat Records, 2018) ****

By Kat Whatley

I dare you to listen to this record and not smile at least once. This record is light, enjoyable and full of Don Cherry. Just like Cherry at his best, it is fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is wonderfully free.

This record showcases Cherry at a point of change. He’s transitioning from the US to Europe—from the free jazz element to something approximating free, improvised world music. Spiritual jazz as some people have called it. His cornet playing is spot on, but so are his other more eccentric musical instrument choices. (Though I’m always cautious of the gong, its use in 'Infant Happiness', followed by a killer coronet performance is spot on).

This record is a veritable time capsule. It’s Paris in 1967 and Cherry and his trio are performing on French radio. A young Karl Berger, who would later become well known for his role in starting the Creative Music Studio, is playing vibes, marimba among other percussion instruments. Drums are performed by Jacques Thollet, known more for his work with the Palm record label, based in France, founded by Jef Gilson and active in the 1970’s. They are all at the peak of their game, laying the groundwork for the spiritual, otherworldly jazz that is to come a few years later. The pieces sometimes have an unfinished feeling, probably because it is a radio recording, but also because this is just the start of the inventive music to come in the years to follow.

The record is classic Don Cherry—fast, eclectic, with hardly any moment of rest. This performance’s music is bright, vibrant and full of fast paced texture. Though at times the coronet provides moments of solemnity, it’s invariably followed by a joyful explosion of colorful sound. And if there’s anything to criticize about the music, it’s that. The record could have had a few more moments of silence, quiet in amidst the frantic rhythms. But perhaps that betrays the music’s origins as a radio broadcast; it might have been easier for audiences via radio to have listened to a fast-paced piece, instead of a more contemplative textural drone, as some of Cherry’s later music is. And, the performance is a laboratory of sorts—the musicians are trying to get out everything they can.

Though I normally only listen to music at home, this time I happened to start listening to this record while wandering around the city, taking the train and walking around. Without even noticing, I had a kind of bounce, a skip in my step. It was the perfect music for a bright and sunny day, full of potential. It’s enjoyable and approachable and doesn't take itself too seriously. A wonderfully Cherry album.

Don Cherry: Cornet, piano, bamboo flute, gong
Karl berger: Vibes, marimba, paiano, cleste, percussion
Jacques Thollet: drums, bell, timbales

Monday, February 18, 2019

Three (more) from Christopher Hoffman

By Keith Prosk

Christopher Hoffman had a productive 2018. The cellist recorded on Henry Threadgill’s Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus and Dirt… And More Dirt as well as his own Multifariam and Arrow Of Light and Josh Sinton’s making bones..., the latter three of which are covered here. He’s already back at it in 2019, appearing on Anna Webber’s Clockwise.

Christopher Hoffman - Multifariam (Asclepius Records, 2018) ***

Multifariam is 16 vignettes across 37 minutes featuring the large cast of Aaron Kruziki (flute, bass, clarinet, loops), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Christina Courtin (voice, violin, loops), Michael Bailey (synths, loops), Michael Pitt (voice), Frank Locrasto (Rhodes, Juno, Arp, Panther), Jeremiah Cymerman (clarinet, loops), Ari Chersky (guitar, loops), Craig Weinrib (Drums), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) alongside Christopher Hoffman (cello, loops, bass, keys). Explicitly influenced by MF Doom, Miles Davis, Terry Riley, and John Carpenter, these electroacoustic sketches utilize loops and tone rows to approach a result that in turns resembles hip hop beat tapes and action film scores, or sometimes a jazz-rock that reminds me of Face Ditch and Caveman Shoestore. It’s a fun collage. But its glossy production aesthetic that sometimes sounds like bad blockbuster narratives read might be too cheesy for some listeners. I’m a sucker for the stereotypical cathartic end of films - that feel-good moment after the storm - and tracks like “A Ghost,” “Frontier Surgeon,” and “In Higher Frequencies,” with their delicate, lullaby-like melodies and minor-key drones and bowed strings, fit that mood perfectly. Another standout is “The Upper Chambers,” where a flute drowned in delay and chorus effects is met with Hoffman’s bowing, like an espionage flick in the near east. Given that Hoffman is an aspiring film-maker and making headway into the realm of film (touting relationships with Martin Scorsese and Michael Pitt, whose voice appears on “Quieting”), this is an interesting and worthwhile step towards what will undoubtedly be an increased emphasis on film scoring when he’s not playing premier jazz ensembles.

Multifariam is a digital-only release available here.

Christopher Hoffman - Arrow Of Light (Asclepius Records, 2018) ***

Arrow of Light is a short (4 tracks, 18 minutes) acoustic trio with Adam Hopkins (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums) accompanying Hoffman (cello). It almost feels staid. Hoffman’s often soloing over a fairly static rhythm section. “The Purge” and “The Election” are nearly head-improvisation-head structures. And the latter is an improvisation on “Oh! Susanna” teetering on the edge of feeling like a sterile Ayler take. However, the recording is nearly all bowed cello - pretty satisfyingly emotive bowed cello at that - which is a treat considering Hoffman more often plucks the instrument on most other recordings. And, despite my reservations previously stated, I find myself enjoying the “The Election” and “The Purge” most. The latter begins with Hoffman and Hopkins plucking a harmony and then some almost-eastern cello soloing over the rhythm section before moving to Hoffman and Hopkins bowing a harmony that transitions to bowed counterpoint before closing out with the plucked head.

Arrow Of Light is a digital-only release available here. Purchasing Multifariam from Hoffman’s site gets you a free copy of Arrow Of Light.

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio - making bones... (Iluso Records, 2018) ****

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio features the multi-reedist (on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet here) alongside Hoffmann on cello and Tom Rainey on drums, and it debuts on making bones, taking draughts, bearing unstable millstones pridefully, idiotically, prosaically . It’s 47 minutes across 9 tracks, recorded in single takes on a single day at Buckminster Forest. Sinton and Hoffman have recorded together before, on at least Yoni Kretzmer’s Months, Weeks and Days and The Tri-Centric Orchestra’s Agora, Questions of Transfiguration, Vogelfrei, and the synergy shows, with Hoffman often complimenting Sinton’s space when he’s not harmonizing with him. That harmonizing, like on “bell-ell-ell-ell-ells,” “unreliable mirrors,” or “propulse,” recalls the way harmony was used in the music of Steve Lacy, of whom Sinton is a disciple, except it will fluidly transform from and to counterpoint. Though it often seems Hoffman is playing with Sinton more than Rainey, rhythmic interludes on “bell-ell-ell-ell-ells” and “propulse” cast away any doubt that Hoffman/Rainey are a powerful rhythmic unit by the time Sinton returns to the fold. But the stand-out moments, of which there are several, most often come when the trio is playing all together or alone. Like the syncopated sax, punctuating bass drum, and bowed cello vamp recalling “Dogon A.D.” on “taiga” and hissed air notes and gurgling, bass rumbling, and plucked cello sounding like an insect crawling on “unreliable mirrors.” Or the sultry, multiphonic Sinton solos bookending the album - “mersible” on clarinet and “plumbum” on sax - and the fragile, plucked Hoffman solo beginning “a dance.” And, though complex compositions and bravura are present, the emphasis is always on emotivity. A very solid recording for each musician and the trio. Here’s to hoping the collaboration continues.

making bones is available digitally and on CD.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Universal Eyes/Wolf Eyes – Two Civilized Centers (Lower Floor, 2018) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

What can one say about Nate Young and John Olson, the binding elements of this split recording? Readers of these pages might recognize their duo (formerly a trio with Aaron Dilloway) Wolf Eyes through their 2006 collaboration with Anthony Braxton Black Vomit or their devasting 2004 breakthrough Burned Mind. Others who are more hardcore or just more informed than I might even recognize Olson and Dilloway’s work with Gretchen Gonzales Davidson in Universal Indians from the late 1990s. Two Civilized Centers is less aggressive than those releases, but, I think, nearly as potent.

It begins with a steady pulsing beat. Electrified sax and synth effects slowly build around the baseline palpitations and gradually layer into a surprisingly rhythmic piece of music reminiscent of early Krautrock a la early Sprung aus den Wolken or, in the periodic muted vocals, some of the more minimalist Sonic Youth side-projects. As has been customary with more recent Wolf Eyes output, the tension bubbles just under the surface. The overall effect is entrancing, until it disintegrates into a demented circus of fragmented techno beats at its end. Solid, compelling Wolf Eyes all the way.

The other side to this cassette and digital release is occupied by Universal Eyes. Two parts Wolf Eyes (Young and Olson), one part Dilloway, and one part Davidson. One can hear the similarity between this configuration and Wolf Eyes. Indeed, both sound as if they are writing a soundtrack for some desolate, postindustrial landscape. That said, the aesthetic effect is quite different. The first Universal Eyes track, “Civilized Two,” has no traceable rhythm or recurring beat. Rather, the backbone of the piece is a stream of interlacing hums. Partial melodies, electronic hisses, pumping gears, and electro-metallic echoes fade in and out of perception. “Civilized Three” consists of similar elements and evokes similarly bleak environs. The music is somewhat softer, but just as disturbing. One hears howls and fog-horns, metal clanks and various other drips, hums, and clangor. It is difficult for the listener to find consistent threads to latch onto. But, maybe that is the purpose. One must wander in search of something familiar on which to fixate. In this soundscape, however, one only finds the whisper of a melody, the remnant or premature abandonment of a steady beat, and the ghosts of a freshly departed (or at least unrecognizable) civilization. Then again, one also gets the sense that all of this is also a celebration not necessarily of that barrenness, but of the those who stayed behind to revel in the newly open musical space. In other words, this is not just noise. It has real nuance and vision, as one might expect from this seasoned group of musicians.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Universal Eyes – Four Variations On Artificial Society (Lower Floor Music, 2018) ****

When you look up on discogs for Four Variations On Artificial Society, you find it categorized as noise, industrial, free improvisation, free jazz and ambient. By immediately discarding the latter two musical styles, you definitely get an idea of what you are about to listen.

A few months back I attended the three day Wolf Eyes/Universal Indians and friends residency at London’s Café Oto and I must remind to all of you (like me) suffering from reviews overdose, that most of it was a blast. The line-up of Nate Young, John Olson, Aaron Dilloway and Gretchen Gonzales-Davidson (the same on this recording as well) put on a performance of industrial beauty more than once. I found Young’s surrealistic poetry a key element to all this, an element truly missing from Four Variations On Artificial Society.

I have to be honest and admit that since I’m a fan of Eyes’ music, it’s difficult to make truly subjective thoughts about their music and its impact and aesthetics. But, by watching them live for the first time, I realized that their lyrics play an integral part to what they do, a part missing from this recording. So, in case you missed it, I was being ironic and skeptical when I mentioned, in the beginning of this piece, that the music on this recording can be easily categorized.

Thankfully it’s not that simple and this recording, after repeated listening, has a lot more to offer. The cd contains of five tracks (unlike vinyl which has four side-long tracks), all of them named after their length. The first track, the longest one, marks a lazy start for the album. Its noisy atmosphere sounds like an aggressive power electronics group trying to imitate the Wolf Eyes sound. Sixteen minutes of atmospheric murk made by all sorts of electronic devises. As the tracks progress, the quartet seems more focused and relaxed. John Olson’s sax presents itself as a key element of their current sound. I hear harmony and melody in reverse. Another attack on normality maybe or even on categorizations.

A lot of feedback consists their current mood, while rhythmic machinery constitutes one of their most industrial releases in their entire career. On track three reverb takes over to alienate the listener from the warmth (i must remind you that I’m a fan) of their music. On track four rhythms coming from the early days of industrial music dominate over some distant dystopian voices and a sax struggling to be heard. But on track five the saxophone takes over completely, followed by reminisces of their early cheap electronic equipment (and they sound it produced) days.

I started this review by implying that this album sounded like a summary of their sound. Those were my early thoughts when I first listened to it. I felt disappointed. By the time I started to listen over and over I found myself in a position of realizing that their vision has not yet waned. It has just simply mutated into something else, a new vocabulary that consists more aesthetic choices than noise even though back then noise was urgently needed. Just put on more Young’s cut-up like lyrics please guys.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Steph Richards – Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher Records, 2019) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Fullmoon , last year’s formidable debut release from trumpeter Steph Richards, turned a lot of heads with its audacious concept and Richards’s stunning technique. Though barely over 30 minutes in length, that album, which featured Dino J.A. Deane in electronic dialogue with Richards in making sonic landscapes both transfixing and forbidding, put Richards on the map alongside some of the superior trumpet innovators of our day—musicians like Susana Santos Silva, Peter Evans, and Nate Wooley.

As good as Fullmoon is, it is perhaps an easier album to respect and to appreciate than it is to love; it has a very experimental aspect, and although it’s well-crafted and impressive in its execution, and even offers some fleeting moments of beauty, the overall mood of the record is rather cold and austere. All of which makes Richards’s sophomore release, Take the Neon Lights, so astonishing. For this music exudes a warmth that makes it a much more inviting record, even on the first listen. But the fact that it’s a more accessible recording takes nothing away from Richard’s artistry; indeed, what’s notable about this album is the way in which her creativity and imagination as a composer complement her fearsome instrumental technique so effectively, making music that is both virtuosic and beautiful in equal measure.

Richards draws deeply from her love of poetry here, and she’s taken inspiration from Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Allen Ginsberg among others for each of the album’s eight pieces. The title of the album and its opening track, for example, is taken from Langston Hughes’s “Juke Box Love Song.” Richards decided to use a quartet for this record, with conventional “jazz” instrumentation: pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Andrew Munsey. Although Carney uses a bit of prepared piano on a couple of the tracks and Richards employs a prepared trumpet on “Brooklyn Machine”—really effectively, I might add, as you will listen to this track at least two or three times in disbelief that there’s no overdubbing on it—that’s about the extent of the technical curveballs here. The bulk of the album is simply superb, top-shelf improvising around Richards’s fluid, open-ended compositions.

Some of the tracks jump right out at you: “Take the Neon Lights” and “Brooklyn Machine” at times possess an irresistible rhythmic momentum. But even these pieces don’t rest on melodic foundations as much as fragments and structures that can remain as malleable as possible: ostinato figures and thematic motifs come and go, rhythm and tempo contract and expand, and the result is music that is continually in motion, continually evolving. You won’t find yourself humming along to these pieces, but you will go back to them again and again to appreciate new dimensions of their engaging complexity.

Other tracks are just as riveting, albeit using a less direct approach to make their presence known. “Time and Grime” stays at a low simmer, with Minaie and Munsey keeping a loose pulse going as Richards and Carney exchange ideas back and forth, while the haunting “Rumor of War” is much more abstract, with Richards’s emotive trumpet floating ominously above the rest of the quartet’s elusive surface. But the lengthiest pieces, “Skull of Theatres” and “Stalked by Tall Buildings” are especially captivating, each at over ten minutes, giving the four musicians plenty of room to explore Richards’s capacious creations. They both have the feel of a long, winding journey, taking the listener through a range of emotional and rhythmic registers that never fail to sustain interest, and in which the four players work wonderfully together as a finely-honed unit.

Making quite clear that she is not merely to be regarded as an “experimental” musician, Richards’s Take the Neon Lights is sure to garner wider interest and visibility, and that’s all to the good, as her music has so much to offer.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

freejazzblog on air: One World, Many Visions. Jazz als Global Music

freejazzblog on air, the creation of Martin Schray and Julia Neupert is on air again - on SWR2 in southern Germany, broadcasting 11 p.m. CET on Friday the 15th, and online for the following week.

"One world, many visions. Jazz as global music". It includes music by Don Cherry, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society, Karkhana, Konstrukt, Gato Libre (feat. Satoko Fuji), Okkyung Lee and Switchback.

Listen now online here:

Heaven - IAPOE (Clean Feed, 2018) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Heaven is the duo of Danish tenor sax player Henrik Pultz Melbye, known from the avant-rock group SVIN, his experimental solo projects, and his free jazz trio, and Norwegian powerhouse drummer Ole Mofjell, member of the Scandinavian supergroup The Big Yes and a collaborator of Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov, Dutch sax player Tobias Delius, American guitarist Thurston Moore and various projects of vocalist-partner Natalie Sandtorv.

Heaven's debut album, IAPOE, titled as an abbreviation of the first letters of the five pieces - Is-A-Place-On-Earth (a title that echoes Laurie Anderson’s opening lines of her iconic song “Language is a Virus”: Paradise / Is exactly like / Where you are right now / Only much much / Better”), was recorded in Copenhagen’s district Vanløse in September 2017. IAPOE presents the first phase of this working duo while the duo is preparing its next one, a Scandinavian tour with trumpeter Nate Wooley in the beginning of 2019.

Heaven's music, as you may expect, is fast, dense and super-energetic, rooted in old and newer schools of free-jazz and free-improv from both sides of the Atlantic. But Heaven adds an interesting twist to the sax-drums format, introducing a sensual, playful Ethiopian vein to its muscular and urgent interplay, and intertwines fierce, powerful attacks with melodic call-and-answer themes. This kind of Ethiopian singing vibe sneaks naturally into Heaven’s explosive energy and spin the restless, in-your-face Albert Ayler-ian love cries back to Eastern Africa and back again to Northern Europe.

Pultz Melbye sets the tone of all the pieces with an authoritative and articulate flow of ideas and gestures, while Mofjell plays all over, often sounding like he's tapping into the infinite energy fountain of fellow Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The two best pieces here are the quiet and lyrical “Place”, which sounds like a humble homage to to the irresistible, big and warm singing sound of late Ethiopian sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya, and the 15-minutes free-jazz piece “On”. The latter piece has uncompromising Brötzmann-ian manic qualities, pushing tougher and wilder and then some, as this duo proves again and again that it is well-versed with the fast lane to the earthly heaven. 

And some more here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Joe McPhee & Hamid Drake - Keep Going (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018) ****

Keep going.
If you’re tired, keep going.
If you’re scared, keep going.
If you’re hungry, keep going.
If you wanna taste freedom, keep going.

Quoting these words by legendary political activist Harriet Tubman, Joe McPhee introduces this album and announces the direction of the music. This is a political statement. He quotes these words in a quiet but firm voice and then his saxophone sings a lament, a heart-felt blues, that emanates black history. In his typical way McPhee raises the level of anger and frustration with torn lines, then he literally shouts “Keep going“ three times, as if he wanted to encourage his brothers and sisters not to lose hope. But Tubman’s words are not just a political statement, they also describe McPhee’s music. Whenever he seemed to be stuck, he tried something new, he has believed in the idea that there are musical areas that still have to be explored, that the boundaries have to be expanded. This has to do with a memorable incident in the past: John Coltrane’s funeral. McPhee was there, it was a horribly sad moment, but the service was also a glorious affirmation of everything Coltrane was - for McPhee the funeral was a celebration of life, in which Ornette Coleman’s classic trio of the Golden Circle period and Albert Ayler's band played. This experience - that even if something wonderful has ended, something new will arise - has influenced his music to this day.

In November Joe McPhee is going to celebrate his 80th birthday. If you see him, you think he’s just 65. The man is full of energy, mentally and physically. I will never forget a scene from a gig in Weikersheim two years ago, when he took a short run and jumped onto the stage. These days he's making more music than ever before, he seems to be on a never ending tour and he releases new albums constantly. One of his preferred contexts is the sax/drum duo, for example with Paal Nilsson-Love, Chris Corsano and Eli Keszler. That’s why it's strange that he has only worked once with Hamid Drake, obviously an ideal comrade-in-arms - on Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement Of Freedom (Okka Disk, 2000) -, although the two have played in Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet. In February 2018 they finally found some time to record something new, and the new collaboration shows what we have missed. Keep Going combines the drummer's warm approach and unique sense of free swing with the saxophonist’s/ trumpeter's musicality and quest for social justice again. Five of the eight tracks directly refer to prominent figures of African-American history, social rights activists and politicians: the pieces are dedicated to Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Lucy Stone, John Robert Lewis and Barack Obama.

Keep Going
displays everything which makes Joe McPhee’s music so great. “Keep Going“, the title track, is the only one that highlights McPhee’s roots in blues and gospel so prominently. Pieces like “For Don't Let 'Em Drop Them Goddam Nukes On Us Lord“ and “Morning Star (for Lucy Stone)“ reach back to a 1960s- and 70s-tradition of free jazz, to musicians like Albert Ayler, Frank Lowe and Noah Howard. In these pieces McPhee hurls out angry, convulsive riffs, blurred, overblown messages, which are propelled by Drake’s nervous drum rolls. On three tracks, “Medgar / Malcolm / Martin“, “Makes Me Wanna Holler (For Representative John Lewis)“ and “Time Was (for Barack Hussein Obama)“ McPhee is on pocket trumpet. At one point in the latter piece he plays into an open gong, which adds otherworldly overtones to his music. This is the other side of his music, the introspective and meditative one, which is rather interested in sound excursion. All this is accompanied by Hamid Drake’s subtle and emphatic percussion, as usual deeply rooted in a black jazz tradition. On the one hand it perfectly supports McPhee’s traditional side, on the other hand it contrasts the experimental approach telling a very old story from a different angle.

Keep Going presents an attitude, it shows that free jazz can still be a political comment. It evokes the days of Sonny Rollins’s “Freedom Suite“, Charles Mingus “Fables of Faubus“ and John Coltrane’s “Alabama“. In these days, in which the situation of African Americans in the US seems to have become worse, it’s necessary.

Keep Going is available as a CD.

You can buy the album here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Zack Clarke - Mesophase (Clean Feed, 2018) ***½

By Derek Stone

On his last release for Clean Feed, 2017’s excellent Random Acts of Order , pianist Zack Clarke transmitted his unique musical vision by way of a trio - double bassist Henry Fraser and drummer Dré Hočevar. On Mesophase, his latest, the ante has been significantly upped; while Clarke himself handles piano and electronics, there is also Chris Irvine (on cello), Charlotte Greve (on saxophone, clarinet, and flute), Nick Dunston (on double bass), and Leonid Galaganov (on percussion, waterphone, and shakuhachi). With this expanded lineup comes a more exploratory and varied approach - drawing as it does from the wells of process music, minimalism, and contemporary classical, Mesophase slinks along at the outskirts of “jazz,” offering it a compulsory nod or two (see: “Reticence”) without ever being completely beholden to its conventions.

With its pastoral flute, burbling electronics, and snippets of birdsong, “Curtains” is a shimmering introduction to Clarke’s sound-world. When a series of convoluted piano figures finally burst through at the piece’s mid-point, though, it’s as if the titular curtain has been furiously brushed aside - while Galaganov’s busy percussion and Dunston’s rotund bass-lines roil underneath, Greve switches to saxophone and sends out a series of urgent, uneasy cries. As its title suggests, “Generative” is largely devoid of a clear-cut theme or a straightforward progression - Clarke’s aqueous electronics gurgle, Irvine’s cello whines, and Greve lets loose a harrowing clarinet soliloquy. After a rather cacophonous crescendo, the second half of the piece descends into a wash of digitized sound. “Tilted” is similarly hard to grasp; listening to the first half is akin to walking through a funhouse, with Clarke’s notes falling about in dizzying, claustrophobic cascades and Greve sounding like she desperately wants to find the exit. The second half is spacious and unsettling, especially the way in which Irvine’s cello skitters wildly through Clarke’s blanket of electronic noise. In “Infiltration,” similarly dense electronics threaten to consume Irvine’s haunting lines, while “Assimilate” finds Clarke using such sounds in more subtle ways - as jagged, slow-rolling pinpricks to cut through Greve’s effervescent flute.

In the midst of all this, “Beggar” acts as something of a palette-cleanser, with Clarke and Irvine engaged in a dialogue that is, when compared to the dissonance of some of the other tracks, quite pretty. Likewise, “Reticence” finds Clarke engaged in a pleasant romp of sorts, Dunston and Galaganov accompanying him with free-wheeling rhythmic support. Greve’s pastoral flute-work adds another layer of insouciant lightness. If not for the barely-there sheathes of electronic sound that murmur disconcertingly in the background, the piece wouldn’t be out of place playing in your local café!

On Mesophase, the group’s ability to effortlessly juggle free-form abstraction and, occasionally, more traditional modalities is admirable; nevertheless, I found myself wishing that the players would “let loose” more often. For the most part, they simmer and seethe, and I was left longing for a more prolonged outburst or explosion. In any case, what Clarke and his group have made here is equal parts enthralling and unsettling, and it’s an excellent example of the ways in which electronics can be used to shape and even distort the atmosphere produced by acoustic instrumentation.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Roman Nose –s/t ( Singing Knives, 2018) ***½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Singing Knives is one of those eclectic independent labels that deserve all the attention it can get. Coming out of Sheffield, UK, it has a small but very adventurous catalogue, you could describe it as a very typical (or certainly a-typical) child of the totally free second wave of British improvisers from the late 70’s and early 80’s. By owning a great part of the label’s catalogue, I’m pretty well steeped in drones, free jazz blowouts, folk experimentation and various improvisations. I definitely urge you to look them up!

Roman Nose’s first LP took a while in the making. The recordings that make the two vinyl sides were put on tape during autumn of 2014 and 2016. I’m easily led to think that the finances of the situation are the one to blame for this delay, as almost always. This new quartet consists of label’s head Jon Marshall on tapes and electronics, my current favorite double-bass player Otto Willberg, Sarah McWatt on flute, vocals and various others and Charlie Collins on drums, percussion and waterphone.

For some years now, centered around a rotation of musicians, Sheffield has been a hub of adventurous (thankfully not in the hip way that Wire would present it) experimentation and Singing Knives provides to all of us, living far and away from this idyllic city, a way to catch with the results. This LP is the latest statement. Having listened a lot to label’s group’s like Hunter Gracchus and Chora, I wasn’t surprised by the intensity of this recording or the way they build up their sound, second by second. When playing collectively (pretty much on the whole of the album) they tend to be loud and full of energy. Collins drumming works in two ways. It provides a very solid backbone to all the tracks, while it moves in different directions at once. He seems to be in a constant dialogue with all of his fellow musicians, either in pairs or (more often) as a quartet. Willberg’s double-bass is a humble and discreet presence (sometimes even inaudible) adjusting totally to the collective nature of the album. Marshall and McWatt fill the gaps and link the dots with their intensive and focused playing. During the many listens of the album, I often wondered how do they manage that and stay (or, at least, feel like ) really loose and playful. Maybe it is the interaction, which is always a promise of a great gig.

If I could nag a bit, I’d say that I heard a lot of crackles for a new record but since I’m not reviewing for discogs, I must admit that this is improvisational ethos for sounds is presented preferably live. So, guys, please come to Greece too.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

David S. Ware Trio - The Balance (Vision Festival XV +) (AUM Fidelity, 2018) ****½

By Martin Schray

Since David S. Ware passed away in 2012, the jazz world has had to deal with a major loss. For about ten years Ware had to live with peritoneal dialysis, because in 1999 he had been diagnosed with kidney failure and in 2009 the prospect of living on dialysis had finally reached its limits. Thanks to a donor Ware received a kidney transplantation and returned to the stage only five months after he underwent surgery. What also helped him was the fact that he dedicated his life to meditation (he came into contact with it in the early 1970s), which helped him recovering. What is more, meditating and looking for transcendence have not only been key features in his life but also in his music, it’s where his inspiration to explore music came from. David S. Ware was always looking for the divine.

That’s why The Balance, the album title, is just perfect. Ware was constantly looking for a balance in this life, which was the basis to create the jubilant music he played. Another form of balance was the Onecept trio Ware formed in 2009, the name being concept, a reference to his idea of life and music. “Rhythm-Harmony-Melody, Carbon-Hydrogen-Oxygen, A-U-M“, as AUM Fidelity label owner Steven Joerg puts it. Who better to invite for such a trio than his long-time collaborator William Parker on bass and drummer icon Warren Smith (he played for Gil Evans, Julius Hemphill and Muhal Richard Abrams, among many others).

The trio gathered for studio sessions in December 2009 and the result of these sessions, Onecept, was finally released by AUM in 2011. The Balance now captures the trio’s Vision Fest 2010 performance, Ware’s first time back on stage with a band since his kidney transplant the previous May. As an extra, the album also presents the four remaining Onecept studio out-takes: “Kama“, “Virtue“, “Bodhissatva“, and “Gnavah“.

But certainly the center of this album is the live performance, which is split into three pieces: “Vision Suite 2010 part 1 - 3“. Like Onecept it’s one of Ware’s rare entirely improvised outings and what you get is a best-of of his playing. Ware tends to shape his lines from series of short, forceful outbursts, his tone is ripe and full, warm and clear. This results in passages of great tenderness, transcendence and introspection. One could easily understand that the audience freaks out at the end of the concert when all the qualities of this excellent band have been displayed.

Ware leads the way, he controls the improvisation with extremely long lasting sounds, which he creates with circular breathing and which are like a signal to Parker and Smith. At the end of these sounds bass and drums fall into the music like a torrent (e.g. after two minutes when Smith and Parker only enter the improvisation or after four minutes when the introduction is over). These tones are like leitmotifs, providing orientation before something new emerges. Another feature are Ware's blatantly overblown passages, he stretches the tone sequences to the extreme as if he was blowing a balloon to just before bursting, which Smith also supports with whipping blows on the snare. Another striking feature is the fact that Ware, Parker and Smith take turns: usually two players follows rather bumpy musical path, while the third one takes over a more continuous, almost swinging part (in Ware’s case it can also be a bluesy melody). Both Smith’s and Parker’s support for Ware is very percussive and propulsive, in an almost orchestral sense.

If there has been a successor to John Coltrane’s throne, it has always been David S. Ware for me. That’s why I miss his music so much. But, as Ware puts it at the end of the gig, “we all have to pass on, but we all come back, too; everybody’s gotta go, but everybody’s gotta be born, too.“ I’m already looking forward to the next release of the archives, which Steven Joerg has promised to release in November 2019, on David Ware’s 70th birthday. Until then, listen to The Balance, take it in, breathe, feel free to absorb it, immerse in it. It’s just wonderful.

You can also buy it from:

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Two or Three Views of Laura Cole

Laura Cole - Enough (Discus, 2018) ****½

Laura Cole’s Metamorphic - The Two Fridas (Discus, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

I sat with these records for many months, attempting to pierce the veil, as it were. Not because British pianist Laura Cole’s music is obscure; on the contrary, her composition style is quite direct and open. Instead, I’ve been taking the time to pierce my personal veil, to pass through my initial surface impressions—extremely positive—to try and reach the core of Cole’s music. To call Cole merely thoughtful does a disservice to the purpose and message of her music: instrumental to her work is a mutually supportive community that strives and struggles collectively, raising each other up like sparks.

This year, Cole released two dramatically different albums. Enough is Cole’s first solo piano album, spanning two discs: “This Is Water,” a collection of compositions by thirteen different artists; and “As Warm As the Sun,” thirteen compositions and improvisations by Cole. The Two Fridas, a double album featuring Cole’s octet Metamorphic, with Kerry Andrews on vocals, Chris Williams on alto, John Martin on tenor and soprano, Ollie Dover on bass clarinet, Seth Bennett and Ruth Goller on bass, Johnny Hunter on drums, and Cole on vocals, piano, and Rhodes.

Despite the difference in sound between the two groups, the singularity of Cole’s musical voice clearly marks both. Metamorphic has been termed a folk/jazz group, though I think that designation may be a little misleading, depending on how you read those genres. It seems one only in the sense that John Stevens and Dave Holland’s 1960s-70s work was folkish. In fact, Stevens seems an important landmark in making one’s way through Cole’s music. Much of Metamorphic’s music brings to mind the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, especially the lengthy improvisations that emerge throughout this album. This is partly due to Hunter’s skittering, percussive style that’s reminiscent of Stevens’s sometimes loose, open playing. But also, there’s a clear through-line to draw from Stevens to Cole and Bennett’s roles in Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer’s ensemble, and that connection seems more pronounced on The Two Fridas than on past albums. Take “Charcole I” and “Charcole II,” two recordings of the same poem, on which Cole takes the lead vocal and the group performs radical, occasionally spiky improvisations.

In many ways, The Two Fridas calls to mind recent chamber-vocal albums by pianists Kaja Draksler and Cathlene Pineda. I had a chance to review Draksler’s octet album , but we did not write up Pineda’s Passing: A California Suite. All three artists create music that explores issues of motherhood and feminism, art and creativity, and the role of an individual within a community (there’s that inescapable word again!). And so when Cole interpolates “Little Wing” and “Lonely Woman” into “Little Woman, Lonely Wing,” the deftness of her composing places her nicely in line with Draksler and Pineda, two pianists who can be equally irreverent and moving.

What’s fascinating about Enough is the many ways Cole brings her community into a recording of solo piano. On the first album, “The Is Water” (its title referencing David Foster Wallace’s famous speech of the same name), Cole arranges and performs a set of compositions mostly from fellow players. To get a clear picture of the range, it’s worth sharing the full list of composers: Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Miles Davis, Ruth Goller, Nikki Iles, Sarah Jewell, Kim Macari, Robert Mitchell, Corey Mwamba, Julie Tippetts, Chris Williams, Alex Wilson, and Jason Yarde. Cole’s arrangements, and the warm, close recording by Spencer Cozens, brings each piece to life, her playing at times reminiscent of Don Pullen or Myra Melford.

Tracks like “Outgoing Vessels” and the bracing “The Two Fridas”—or the lengthy “forgotten letters; Bereft; Tears: bright grey” and “Digging for Memories”—take listeners to some deep spaces, inspiring and conveying both contemplation and introspection. The very slight difference between external and internal reflection implied there says much about Cole’s music: there is a consistent inside/outside perspective. One gets the feeling that Cole is both working through something and guiding us along, progressing towards a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world. Again, I’m reminded of Stevens, of the gentleness of even the most angular and challenging of SME’s recordings. Cole, like Stevens, makes it seem easy to be this open, but as close listeners, we know nothing is that simple.


The Two Fridas

Friday, February 8, 2019

Joëlle Léandre & Marc Ducret - Chez Hélène (Ayler, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Surprisingly, French innovative and most experienced masters of free-improvisation - double bass player Joëlle Léandre and guitarist Marc Ducret - have not recorded together before their meeting at the gallery 19PaulFort in Paris, in May, this year. The two must have criss-crossed each other’s long, winding, and genre-binding roads many times before, but began performing together for the first time only last year. Finally, Chez Hélène completes both discographies with this just and much needed duo.

The album was recorded live, captured beautifully by Léandre’s trusted sound engineer, Jean-Marc Foussat, who mixed and mastered the recording and also photographed this duo flaying for the front cover. The album is titled after a famous poem of Edgar Allan Poe, “To Helen”, written in honor of Jane Stanard, the mother of a childhood friend, and celebrating the nurturing power of all women.

And, indeed, there is a strong sense of mutual nutrition in this duo that absolves common differences of gender, masculinity or feminine identity. Léandre and Ducret converse like two attentive, tireless searchers, standing close to each other.. Both have strong personalities and are passionate about their trade but very eager and curious to experience and learn more from their colleague. At first, on the opening piece “Observation”, both are still hesitant and respectful, attempting to set some playful but inventive ground rules. But already on the second piece, “Ponctuation”, both Léandre and Ducret dare more, injecting more energy and and take more risks as both tease each other with nervous, confrontational strategies.

The third piece “Vibration” begins with a solo from Léandre but soon Ducret intervenes with provocative, metallic attacks, challenging her to counter his aggressive tones. Léandre sticks to her contemplative course and manages to channel Ducret into her quiet, sonic territories. Léandre and Ducret completes each on the last and best realized duet, “Invocation”. On this piece both dive deep into a dense, free-associative and highly invigorating interplay, that still succeeds to sound intimate and compassionate despite its powerful intensity.

More, please. Much more from this beautiful, right stuff.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Larry Ochs & Gerald Cleaver - The Cave (RogueArt, 2018) ****½

By Stef

John Butcher has used special spaces to create the right resonance for his instrument, Jean-Luc Guionnet has used instruments to make people appreciate space better, and this album is possibly a mix of both. In 2014, Larry Ochs was invited to perform in a private cave in the south of France that contained some 150 prehistoric rock paintings. It took some time before the actual recording was made, and Ochs insisted to have a drummer with him, and Gerald Cleaver took up the challenge. You can read the full story of the performance in the cave on Larry Ochs' website, a story of uncertainty, challenges and doubts, but also of great music.

The question is: can you hear the cave? The question is how it affects two musicians to play music deep underground in a slippery and rocky and risky place, without audience, in a small circle of light surrounded by total darkness, no air movement, a constant cool temperature and a high level of moisture, and in the presence of the artifacts of people who visited this cave some 24,000 years ago, and created art. You hear it. You can hear the cave.

Ochs describes a difference with playing in a huge enclosed space such as a cathedral, which dominates and rules the sound and its resonance: "In the cave, the cave didn’t rule. It allowed us to take all kinds of improvised angles; it was rather an equal partner, and a generous one at that since, at least speaking for myself, the cave made everything easier, and I felt like everything sounded good, physically speaking, at least". 

The album has eight tracks of free improvisation, with a sound that really goes deep, catching at the same time the existential 'angst' that our long-term ancestors must have felt in the place: fear, reverence, and the need for a collective sonic effort to express oneself and to control whatever powers rule the place: by praying and chanting and demonstrating submission, by asking for strength and health. Music as expression and as a sacrificial offering. The need for art in its most brutal, simple and authentic form. The cave participates, not only as a closed humid sound box that resonates, but also as a bridge, as a witness to something timeless, a kind of universal human sound. Ochs and Cleaver capture that brilliantly. 

There are no pyrotechnics here, no fireworks, no artificial things. They respect the place, they use the space, they invite the cave to join. Some pieces are raw and violent, trance-inducing, painful yammerings or ferocious howls and thundering percussion. On one track, Cleaver uses only bells, because there is no need to be all over the place. The only thing is to be real, and to connect: the reeds and the drums, the musicians and the cave, the past and the present, the humans and the gods. Two instruments offering music with many dimensions. 

A fascinating album. Don't miss it!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

New Sounds from Argentina

By Alexander Dubovoy

I cannot say that, prior to writing this article, I was familiar with the Argentinian scene. I can now say that this ignorance was sorely to my detriment. NendoDango Records is playing an instrumental role in documenting the careers of exciting artists out of Buenos Aires. This music demonstrates vibrancy and creativity at the highest level.

Paula Shocron - Los Vínculos (NendoDango, 2018) *****

Generally, when I review albums, I like to go in cold for the first listen, without reading the liner notes. You can imagine my surprise when, upon putting on Los Vínculos, I was greeted by a quiet and warbling recording of the aria from J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. As it turns out, this album is a dialogue between present-day Shocron and a series of recordings of a young Shocron practicing the Goldberg Variations. Hence, the title can be translated to “the links” or “the ties” between the present and the past.

The concept is truly brilliant, and the practice recordings are strangely contemporary. While they are certainly Bach, they are also full of repetitions, as Shocron practices passages in search of perfection. They are replete with silences, as she stops and reviews a phrase. They are, furthermore, permeated by everyday noises and anything but audiophile. Shocron heightens the unusual character of these recordings through sonic manipulations, including what sounds like a low-pass filter on El Recuerdo and fast-forwards on Caos. The result is endlessly fascinating and strangely compelling.

Present-day Shocron’s playing is similarly stellar. At some points, present and past Shocrons play separately, inviting her to compose what are essentially new movements within the Goldberg Variations. At other times, the two play together, ushering in dizzying moments of four-handed counterpoint. On probably my favorite track on the album, El Espacio, Shocron fills the awkward gaps in her practice recording with faint extended technique noises. Her playing extends from barely audible strums inside the piano to bombastic, fiery passages. I never quite know what to expect, and I am grateful for that fact.

When thinking about piano overdubbing in the jazz tradition, my mind immediately goes to Bill Evans’s Conversations with Myself. Similarly, Brad Mehldau’s After Bach is a dialogue between a contemporary jazz pianist and J.S. Bach. The nature of Shocron’s conversations on Los Vínculos, however, is entirely different. Sometimes, when revisiting a place I went to in my childhood, I am shocked that there is any continuity between that person and the one who now writes this article. Shocron creates a beautiful artistic statement out of this cognitive—and now musical—dissonance.

Luis Conde, Paula Shocron, Cecilia Quinteros, Andrew Drury, Pablo Díaz - Geograficciones (NendoDango, 2018) ****½

Luis Conde, alto saxophone & clarinet
Paula Shocron, piano
Cecilia Quinteros, cello
Andrew Drury, drums & percussion
Pablo Díaz, percussion

Geograficciones documents an exchange between some of the most exciting artists from the Buenos Aires scene and American percussionist Andrew Drury, an interaction made possible by a partnership between NendoDango, Different Track Recordings and the Continuum Culture & Arts International Cultural Exchange program. The music develops in fascinating and unusual ways that remind me of the experience of exploring a new environment. Perhaps, the title, a portmanteau of the Spanish words for “geography” and “fiction” makes sense in this context.

The first track, “Now” begins with quiet conversations between percussion and prepared piano. I love Shocron’s playing here, which explores the timbral and rhythmic possibilities of a single note. As with much of the album, the music is often extremely quiet. It forces us to listen to the breathtaking impact of small textural changes. Quinteros joins on cello and demonstrates her supreme command of the instrument’s range and upper registers. Conde only begins playing about two minutes into the track in a stunning entrance, bringing with him power and intensity, as well restraint.

One of my favorite tracks, “Sur”, alternates between breathtakingly quiet interactions between cello and percussion and more bombastic piano-led passages. As with elsewhere on the album, the music develops as though through its own internal logic. Often, the changes are barely perceptible, and yet they are still profound and undeniable.

This powerful improvised music constantly surprises. It strikes a difficult balance between the most minute sensitivity and inflammatory intensity. It is a journey worth taking.

Yves Arques, Miguel Crozzoli - Drops of Sun (NendoDango, 2018) ****

Among the albums reviewed here, Drops of Sun is possibly the most melodically-driven. That is not, however, to say that timbre does not also play a key role in its musically development. I was at first hard-pressed to believe that there were only two musicians playing, Miguel Crozzoli on saxophone and Yves Arques on piano and “elements” (including prepared piano and percussion).

At least according to the track titles, the album seems to follow a process of spiritual awakening. It begins with an exploration of a drone note that both sets the tone and establishes a harmonic center. As the album progresses, however, it moves further away from more traditional modes of musical development. On “Whispering truths of unknown durations”, the music grows quieter, characterized often by breaths into the horn and timbral work by Arques until it concludes with a gong hit.

On “Until consciousness fall apart, overwhelmed by its limitless reality,” the music returns to some of its prior harmonic spaces but with newfound intensity and sonic potential. It resolves in “Letting all be dreams to be dreamed”, where Crozzoli’s beautiful tone brings new expression out of the horn until it lilts quietly away, accompanied by the high harmonic registers of the piano. The impression it leaves is lasting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Escape Lane - Escape Lane (Vent du Sud, 2018) ****

By Stef

As regular readers know, 'the Bridge' series, is an initiative which creates ad hoc bands of American and French musicians. Escape Lane are Jeff Parker on guitar, Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, Joachim Florent on bass, and Denis Fournier on drums. The original band, formed by drummer Denis Fournier had Marquis Hill on trumpet, but he who was not available for the 2017 tour in Europe, and hence for their sophomore album.

The vinyl edition is twice a little over twenty minutes long, as you can expect, and a real joy from beginning to end. The French rhythm section turns the fully improvised concert into a rythmic post-boppish performance, joyous and intense at the same time, with sad bluesy overtones, especially at the end of the first side which continues on the second side, with a very moving trumpet solo by Lamar Gay.

But our attention goes to Jeff Parker, a very eclectic and versatile guitarist, who is as comfortable in traditional jazz guitar, and modern jazz as he is with the post-rock of Tortoise and the post-jazz of the Chicago Underground Quartet/Orchestra. On this album he again demonstrates his skills, as a solid accompaniment for the rest of the band, with wah-wah funky ideas and atmospheric moments on the second side of the album, but more importantly with a wonderful slow and equally bluesy solo on the first side. He is one of those guitarist who prefer precision and phrasing over speed. There is no showing off, no need to do anything but make great music.

And that makes this entire performance so great: it's nothing spectacular, not ground-breaking, but you listen to it as if you are part of the audience. It's intimate - with the occasional hesitation and a sound quality that is not always perfect, and maybe that's even an advantage, like old blues music where authenticity gets priority over sophistication - and the four musician go deep in their jazz history to bring a performance that is at the same time fun to listen to, modern, entertaining and very moving, with lots of space for individual soloing, which accentuates even more the strong collective interaction.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Eric Dolphy - Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance Records, 2019) *****

By Stuart Broomer

Last year’s archival releases included John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album a previously unknown 1963 session; however, Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet, essentially a reissue of recordings from the same year, may have a certain priority. The sessions that originally produced Conversations and Iron Man (now supplemented with a CD of alternate takes, two takes of the previously unissued “Muses for Richard Davis” and the formerly released but misidentified “A Personal Statement” by Bob James with Dolphy and countertenor David Schwartz), marked a unique opportunity for Dolphy to document something of the breadth of his musical interests, with the freedom to record originals and standards in settings that ranged from solos and duets to groups of five to ten pieces.

Eric Dolphy led one of jazz history’s truncated lives; like Clifford Brown, Scott La Faro and Booker Little, he died shockingly early in his career. Though Dolphy managed to get to 36 while the others made it to their mid-twenties at best, he had only emerged from the shadows of Watts and Charlie Parker around 1958 when he was 30 years old. In the next few years he would be an indispensable figure in the free jazz revolution. A singular presence on: Charles Mingus’sCharles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus; George Russell’s Outer View, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz; and John Coltrane’s major works of 1961, Africa/Brass, Olé and the Village Vanguard Recordings. Dolphy was a key figure in the making of all of them, on some the precipitating figure. For Mingus and Russell, among the most formally visionary composers of the era, Dolphy seemed to become their voice; for Coleman and Coltrane, the highly distinct and central horns of the time, Dolphy managed the strange trick of being utterly distinctboth more and less traditional than either—from both.

After he moved to New York in 1959, Dolphy began to record with great frequency. His first recordings as leader were with Prestige, the label recording him as both sideman and leader, usually in relatively conventional quintets (only Out There, a quartet with Ron Carter on cello, deviated from the norm). The label was still releasing live recordings from the Five Spot and European venues in 1964 when Dolphy died. The only studio recordings he made under his own name between Far Cry (December 21, 1960) and Out to Lunch (Feb. 25, 1964) were these sessions from July 1 and 3, 1963, supervised by Alan Douglas for the FM label. It is the greatest concentrated body of his own music that Dolphy ever recorded, and only circumstances of release and copyright have kept it from being recognized as such.

Producer Alan Douglas was a genuine visionary who made great jazz records, sometimes by simply putting together great musicians. A year before the Dolphy sessions he had produced Bill Evans and Jim Hall’s Undercurrents and the Ellington-Mingus-Roach Money Jungle . This would apparently be the only time that Dolphy recorded his own music without to some extent fitting into a record company’s favored format. The first day’s recording was a session of duets with Richard Davis, producing enough material for an LP, a brilliant, ground breaking duet LP, a format that would be unlikely to appear in the Prestige and Blue Note catalogues and that here stretches both the language of the instruments and improvisation itself.

Two days later, Dolphy gathered 11 musicians in groupings from quintet to tentet to record pieces ranging from Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” to Dolphy’s own raw and explosive “Iron Man” and “Burning Spear.” While Prestige and Blue Note seem to have avoided recording standards, Dolphy relished them, and here he gets to cover several, including “Alone Together” and “Come Sunday” with Davis and an unaccompanied solo version of “Love Me” with startling leaps between registers and keening end to end runs (among Dolphy’s great performances of standards is a version of “Stormy Weather” with Mingus that presses expressionism to psychodrama).

* * *

Time interacts in numerous ways with our perception of a piece of music: the circumstancesmacro and micro—of our first and subsequent hearings; the duration and intensity of our listening; the seemingly ceaseless improvisation of memory. In a different way, there’s also the specific impact in time and a work’s general reception, its scale and assessment. For me, these Eric Dolphy recordings, essentially based on two original LPs, Conversations, released in 1963, and Iron Man, released in 1968, have different degrees of significance.

I heard Conversations when it was initially released, late in 1963 or early 1964. It would be the first record I ever reviewed. I gave it to John Norris, the editor-publisher of Coda to consider. He didn’t print it, explaining that Coda only reviewed records sent to them for review, but I was enlisted as a regular writer. Had the teeming horns of Iron Man appeared around the same time, I’m pretty sure I would have responded even more enthusiastically, the way I had toFree Jazz, the way I would to New York Eye and Ear Control, but I suspect FM (a minor label that released commercial folk music and mainstream jazz singer Chris Connor) was putting out the least “exceptional” material, just as they couldn’t figure out how to get an “outside” jazz record to its audience, given that Coda was just part of a larger scene, a welter of regional, marginal, committed outlets that FM wasn’t linked to (and that ESP would discover so magnificently a year later).

The significance of marketing now comes full circle with the three CDs and extensive booklet of the Resonance reissue. Dolphy is now a “Genius Rediscovered” on the cover of DownBeat, a major event in jazz media that need “mainstream” geniuses even if, like Dolphy, they were driven out of America 55 years ago, a musical brother to Bird and partner to birds, admired by Garvin Bushell—present on these recordings--who had played with Jelly Roll Morton, yet derided in the jazz press as “anti-jazz.” It would be nice, however, if there wasn’t something a little reactionary about this package, nice if there were a little room for a fact checker or a reality checker in the deluxe packaging.

Here’s a passage from an excerpt from a 2008 McCoy Tyner interview with John Kruth discussing the addition of Dolphy to the Coltrane quartet: “Jimmy, Elvin and I felt that we had built something and were still on that journey. We didn’t exactly understand where John was going in terms of adding Eric…Olé was one of the highlights of Eric’s presence.” In the daily hive of performance, it’s unlikely that a working musician will be intensely aware of chronology, especially 50 years later, but someone writing about the era might have some idea of the Coltrane band’s evolution. At the beginning of 1961, Steve Davis was still the quartet’s bassist. He was soon replaced by Reggie Workman who appeared consistently until the end of the year. Art Davis frequently appeared as a second bassist and was on Olé (recorded May 25) along with Dolphy (famously identified as “George Lane”), Freddie Hubbard, Workman and Davis. That same month (two days before), Coltrane, Dolphy and Tyner were recording portions Africa/Brass and putting scores together, with chords provided by Tyner and orchestration and conducting by Dolphy. On May 23, Paul Chambers was the second bassist; on the second session, June 7, it was Art Davis. “Jimmy” (Garrison) begins alternating with Workman during the marathon October-November stay at the Village Vanguard, but Workman is the bassist on the fall ‘61 European tour that included Dolphy and bassist on the last 1961 Impulse studio date (earmarked for Ballads). When did Jimmy Garrison have time to resent Dolphy’s sudden intrusion?

Robin D.G. Kelley’s detailed notes refer to a Fort Worth tenor saxophonist named Dewey Redmond, perhaps the father of the more famous Joshua “Redmond”? Much of the booklet consists of a long string of short interviews in which reed player after reed player, from Sonny Rollins to David Liebman, expresses great admiration for the practice regimen required for Dolphy to maintain his technique on his three very different instruments. Few--Marty Ehrlich among them--seem keenly aware that Dolphy was producing extraordinary music. Joe Chambers takes the opportunity to recall the endorsement of Stanley Crouch, of himself, not Dolphy particularly, (“The avant-garde was really what you were doing”) as opposed to the music Chambers refers to with “not to name names, but that certain other people who were known as revolutionaries were playing.”

A brief biography of another interview subject (the sole European) bears quoting: “Han Bennink is a Dutch jazz drummer who has performed with a number of American jazz greats in the 1960s including Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins.” Notice the weird tense, “has performed…in the 1960s,” as if the decade is still here. Not to trouble anyone with the idea that there is any post-Dolphy music out there, but what, one might ask, has Bennink done lately, in, say, the 55 years since Dolphy died? I don’t think I’m flattering the FJB readership by assuming anyone reading this has a pretty clear idea, from a half-century of the ICP to perhaps thousands of ad hoc formations including almost every major figure in free jazz and the free improvisation movement. But of course, Dolphy’s music, for many of us, wasn’t an end but prophecy that has fed much music since, embodying what Evan Parker named so succinctly in an album title “The Ericle of Dolphi.”

This conservative presentation echoes what happened to Dolphy and FM records the first time around. Conversations emphasizes the compositions of others, the small groups and the abstract interplay of Dolphy and Davis. There’s joy in Prince Lasha’s “Music Matador,” a Caribbean explosion with Dolphy’s bass clarinet whooping over the riffing woodwinds of Lasha, Sonny Simmons and Clifford Jordan, and it continues with “Jitterbug Waltz” with Bobby Hutcherson and an 18-year-old Woody Shaw making his recording debut. The second side of the LP presents Dolphy’s solo on “Love Me,” and an extended duet between bass clarinet and Richard Davis’s bass on “Alone Together” an astonishingly “free” duet that well might, with the Giuffre 3’s Free Fall, stand as a signal achievement of third stream and free jazz finding a common ground that continues to develop.
The music becomes far more intense with Iron Man and the appearance of the nonet and tentet (likely Dolphy’s only opportunity for large-scale orchestration following his brilliant beginnings with Coltrane’s Africa), but Iron Man didn’t get to reveal its riches until 1968, four years after Dolphy’s death, when record bins were stuffed with 1961 “Memorial” recordings, three years after the release ofOut to Lunch, as many years after Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity and Sun Ra’s more challenging music, even a couple of years after the release of Coltrane’s Ascension, the kind of saxophone maelstrom that Iron Man foreshadowed. None of Dolphy’s 1963 work will ever be commonplace, but in the rapidly evolving musical language of the times, Iron Man arrived in an utterly different context than that in which it was recorded, his radically visionary work seemingly only current.

Though this significant part of Dolphy’s music was effectively taken out of the active dialogue of ‘60s free jazz (it’s unlikely that the big band ever appeared publicly), that it’s now available, in one place, with its alternates and optimal sound, should still be celebrated.