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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tony Buck & Massimo Pupillo - Time Being + Unseen (Trost, 2018) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Australian, Berlin-based drummer-percussionist Tony Buck and Italian electric bass player Massimo Pupillo are restless musicians who are always ready to explore new sonic frontiers. These masters of all aspects of rhythm, pulse, and groove are members of now legendary and seminal trios - Buck for more than thirty years with the Australian experimental, free-improv The Necks, and Pupillo for twenty years with the Italian power-punk-jazz trio Zu. Both are busy with many other projects. Buck works with partner Magda Mayas in the Spill duo, released a solo album (Unearth, Room40, 2017), and collaborated in recent years with Fennesz, John Butcher and Frank Gratkowski. Pupillo has worked in recent years with Oren Ambarchi and Stefano Pilia, Alvin Curran and Cindytalk (aka Gordon Sharp). Time Being and Unseen are the compact vinyl and the extended, disc versions of Buck and Pupillo collaborative, haunting ambient work, recorded in Berlin on August 2017 and wrapped by the suggestive artwork by Sara d'Uva.

Time Being begins with the mysterious, atmospheric soundscape of “Strange Luminant” that slowly drifts into a deep, quiet space, but is still attuned to the subtle and delicate rhythmic patterns of the electronic noises of such journey towards new sonic frontiers. The longer “Exhale” deepens the absorbing, atmospheric vein and dives into more sparse and ethereal regions. This piece produces dark, threatening tension as the ringing vibes and processed, abstract electronic sounds float in thin air but carefully envelope the unsuspecting listener.

The pieces of Unseen are much longer, denser, and richer. The 22-minutes “Psithurism” offers an urgent and volatile atmosphere, constantly distracted by waves of cryptic noises. These noises produce in their turn a claustrophobic feeling, but one that is layered with slow, monotonous yet highly addictive groove that only gets more distorted, more sinister, and stronger. The 46-minutes “Entrainment” expands the disquieting, dramatic spirit, and is comprised of fast but delicate percussive noises and electronic treatments, which blend in a dark and impressionistic drone. Slowly this drone evolves into a sonic monolith with many nuanced and darker morphological layers of minimalist, delicate sounds and pulses. Later this drone morphs again into an intense detour into deep space of clattering, pulsating noises, adding to its dense mix of clashing pulses a new layer of distorted and mutated tough bass line, and finally drown within quiet and surprisingly peaceful, symphonic ripples.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Comet Is Coming - Trust In The LifeForce Of The Deep Mystery (Impulse, 2019) ****

By Sammy Stein

The Comet Is Coming are a UK group who have previously released on the Indie label Leaf but now make their Impulse debut with Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery. A band which defies genre definition, this is spiritual music, modern yet old and with more than a smattering of Mr Herman Blount. Impulse's president, Danny Bennett has said when he first heard the group he knew he was 'in the presence of greatness that was bound to shake the foundation of music. ' Label speak maybe but there is definitely something unique about this group. They fit with Verve ( Impulse's parental home) well because Verve seek to push boundaries in music - and they do. The music is co-written by the three musicians and the composition has a structured yet spiritual bent to it. King Shabaka of the band says, "We are able to catch glimpses of this life-force energy during our music-induced trances, and in doing so can contemplate our position as a human species in the context of the vastness of space and the epic scale of its workings."

'Because The End Is Really The Beginning' is synthesised atmospherics to begin before the oft- repeated 5 note riff dominates and the percussion introduces swellings of cymbal and rhythmic under currents. All is gentle and quiet with sax adding its own melody, while the percussion increases the intricacy of rhythm, particularly under the higher notes. ' Birth Of Creation' works around a repeated theme, with synthesizer picking up the bass melody which is worked around across the track, and returned to frequently. Deeply resonant synthesiser notes emphasise the middle section, whilst the saxophone creates scaled lines in the background and the drums maintain a relentless rhythm, until the final section when sounds merge, the sax squeals its protest and a chaotic momentum with an off kilter beat from the percussion and sax is maintained to finish the track. ' Summon The Fire' is interesting with echoed sax over double time percussion. The theme is strong, repeated again and again and the sense of speed in this track is engaging as it builds and drives forward. This is intense, high-energy, gender defying music.

'Blood Of The Past' is a pulsating, spiritual, energy encapsulating delivery with Shabakah leading on sax over a swelling and receding rhythm, the sax speaking loose-reeded and persuasive musical volumes but then is usurped by guest vocalist Kate Williams as she delivers a state-of-the-universe-address that summons up the spirits of the past and the potential mistakes of the now and future, the essence of innocence in her delivery contrasting with the mature, well honed music behind. The sax is at times unhinged in the best way and verges on the anarchic over a steady and entrancing beat pounded out by the drums. Glorious.

'Super Zodiac Comet is Coming' begins with synthesiser, soothing and blissed out before any sense of peace is destroyed gleefully by the rapidity of the rhythmic emphasis changing and the temp is upped. Suddenly we are on a hell-for-leather driving, helter skelter, chasing the vivid textures of the sax which, though repeating the riff many times, each delivery is emphasised slightly anew. Best track yet.

'Astral Flying Comet is Coming' starts with the final note of the last track and eases into a different and spirit-led exposition of musical dialogue, with the synthesizer at its heart, ' The last minute has deep throated sax over light, free flowing synthed notes and offers a cool contrast to the first two thirds. 'Timewave Zero Comet is Coming' is a bit of a genre mash-up with wonderful percussion supporting syrupy sax which works in and out, until the gloriously beautiful central section of just sax and percussion, which is a delight. ' Unity Comet is Coming' is weirdly disconcerting with its interplay of rhythms provided by sax and percussion over flitting, jittery synthesisers and a Caribbean feel to the rhythm - you can even hear cymbalic waves in the background if you listen and harmonics introduce almost a vocal choral line at one point. '

'The Universe Wakes Up Comet Is Coming' is a full blown narrative in itself with a slow yawning opening, a slow burning middle section with sax melodies singing over steady synthed chords before the sax goes spacial and off unto a world of its own making - beautiful riffs, short melodic plays on the key notes and finally a repeated, repeated (repeated) sequence of notes delivered at mad-cap velocity.

I was not sure what to make of this album even on the second, third listen and it is difficult to say whether all the hype is justified. It is good - it is just not sure of what it wants to say. The PR notes tell you that on track 4 Kate Tempest delivers an address that evokes the 'gone-but-not-forgotten spirits of William Blake, Ian Dury, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, space travelers all' - it doesn't for everyone. There is also the message their music is redolent of John Coltrane, Sanders and Alice Coltrane - not really, apart from the fact they are on the same record label now and there are some familiar essences but really, this is pure The Comet Is Coming. The vague and disjointed titles do nothing to explain the music and in many cases is hard to relate to at all. However, what this is, is original and they should go with that. There is here a divine combination of spirit-led imaginings with superb musicianship and for this alone, the album is worth everything. It is great to hear them not adhering to any genre entirely but introducing elements of African, Latin and classic jazz beats. The music is predictable to the extent that there is scaffolding of oft-repeated riffs and melodies but it is how they alter the delivery and build around the framework which is impressive.

Descriptions of the band in the PR material includes lines like , "'The Comet Is Coming' are here to apply a salve to the wounds of the world and offer succour to the spiritually deprived. To do so they have delved into their collective sub-consciousness during months of studio experimentation to bring back these souvenirs of astral and auditory travel. " There is much talk of the intergalactic connection, astral planes and their mission statement is " The Comet is Coming to destroy illusions. It will manifest new realities, perceptions, levels of awareness and abilities to coexist. It is a musical expression forged in the deep mystery. It is the overcoming of fear, the embracing of chaos, the peripheral sight that we might summon the fire. Through the transcendent experience of music we reconnect with the energy of the Lifeforce in hope of manifesting higher realities in new constructs. Because the end is only really the beginning." Really? Far better is when Shabakah describes the album simply as, 'an acknowledgement in the midst of all the darkness we see of those who trust in the imagination". Aaah...

The originality is great and the music is superb, the sax driving and completely engaging whilst the percussion and synthesiser control and create guidelines ( actual musical ones). This is interesting - and at times, quite beautiful.

Personnel: King Shabaka ( Shabaka Hutchings) : saxophones; Danalogue (Dan Leavers): keys/synth; Betamax ( Max Hallett) : drums; Kate Tempest: spoken word on track 4.

Friday, April 19, 2019

John McCowen - Mundanas I-V (Edition Wandelweiser Records, 2019) ****½

By Keith Prosk

We’ve covered composer and clarinetist John McCowen’s Solo Contra and 4 Chairs in Three Dimensions, noting his awe-inspiring approach to multiphonics, dimensionality, and resonance with the clarinet family. Mundanas I-V is five compositions for two clarinets that further explore those elements, performed by McCowen and Madison Greenstone across 33 minutes. Greenstone is a promising, newer voice that appears to mostly dwell around the sphere of avant-garde classical performance for the moment and can also be heard on Morgan Evans-Weiler & Michael Pisaro’s Lines And Tracings. McCowen has doubled down on his multi-faceted mode before, with the sublime Clarinet Quartets nos. 1 & 2, which is more traditionally, beautifully musical but seems less skilled in technical performance and extended technique as well as sound engineering than this recording - it feels as if what two could do in the quartet is done by one in this duo. Additionally, McCowen has recorded a “Mundana no. 2,” appearing on HUMANA/MUNDANA, but this is a separate solo composition that is not the “Mundana II” intended for duo performance found on this recording.

The word mundana refers to Boethius’ De institutione musica, in which the Roman philosopher outlined musica instrumentalis, musica humanas, and musica mundanas. Instrumentalis refers to music as we know it, from both tools and the voice. Humanas is the unheard harmonious spiritual vibrations between people. Mundanas is the inaudible vibrations and resonances of the natural world. It makes sense then that the complex close-mic’ing to capture otherwise unheard vibrations and resonances of a vessel with wind blown through it might be closer to mundanas than instrumentalis. And this duo might be closer to two trees communicating through a mycorrhizal network than two musicians improvising with each other.

Much of “Mundana I” and “Mundana V” sounds like sine waves shifting in and out of sync, amplifying and resonating, like staring at a ceiling fan in and out of focus; this is cut by multiphonic, tense, glassy purrs that also phase in and out with each other. They are both multi-tiered, complex commentary on counterpoint and harmony, as every composition here seems. “Mundana II” switches out the synthesizer-like sound waves for an alien melody and “Mundana IV” is exotic bird calls and responses and warbles and gurgling. “Mundana III” is contrasted against the drones and dense sonic spaces of the other pieces by utilizing pronounced rests, silence, though every piece is so quiet that the steady streams of circular breathing and key clicks are part of the music. It’s more cognitive than body music, but it’s deeply resonated with my spirit. Absolutely enchanting.

Mundanas I-V is available digitally and on CD.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

William Parker – Flower in a Stained Glass Window/The Blinking of the Ear (AUM Fidelity, 2018) *****

By Nick Ostrum

William Parker is a composer and bassist of incomparable skill. (OK, that may sound either self-evident or trite, but the accolade fits.) When he releases a new album – especially one of the many boxed-sets that he has been producing lately – I am always tempted to listen. I am never disappointed. To reference a brief conversation in the comments section of an earlier post , Parker ranks among Hamid Drake and Joe McPhee as one of the most soulful artists in free jazz today. And, much like those two musicians, his music is somehow always a welcomed surprise, whether because it is so innovative, or just because it is so damn good.

This double album is fittingly a departure from his previous efforts. At the same time, however, it fits beautifully into his oeuvre. Moreover, it is laden with soul, albeit in differing articulations.
The first disc, Flowers in a Stained Glass Window features Steve Swell on trombone, Abrahama Mennen on tenor sax, Isaiah Parker on piano, Kesivan Naidoo on drums, Dave Sewelson and Nick Lyons on alto sax, William Parker on bass and drums, and the inimitable Leena Conquest on vocals. As much as Parker’s presence, both in composition and playing, make this recording the unique object that it is, Conquest’s vocalizing of Parker’s poems lends Flowers its potency. (NB: I am not always a fan of Parker’s poetry, at least when written. These words, however, work perfectly in this context.) Composed in homage to Martin Luther King, Jr., these tracks examine the history of race relations, war and peace, capitalism and democracy, and the myriad shortcomings in the contemporary quest for justice and equality. The music is powerful and Parker and his band are in top form. Conquest, however, plays a singular role. Even when quiet, she makes Parker’s words resonate throughout the mournful and hopeful improvisations that follow.

This disc consists of a satisfying balance of shorter pieces - including a particularly moving wherein the name of “Emmet Till” is repeated over a discordant tapestry of wailing horns and eerily calm bass and piano progressions – and longer instrumental tracks bookended by poetry. For their part, “Children” and “What is That About?,” resemble Parker’s Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield project in their energy, melodicism, and emotive effect. One of the most surprising standouts is “I Had a Dream Last Night,” a longer, bluesy, borderline imagist meditation on a dream about a feminine Jesus’s second coming in the present day, backed only by rhythmic claps and what sounds like tambourine.

The second disc, The Blinking of the Ear, takes a completely different tack. Along with long-time collaborators such as Daniel Carter (trumpet and saxes), Steve Swell (trombone), and Eri Yamamoto (piano) and a newer musical comrade, Leonid Galaganov (drums), The Blinking of the Ear also features the mezzo-soprano AnneMarie Sandy. This produces an unconventional marriage of downtown jazz and classical that affirms the classicality of the former and emphasizes the spirituality and continued poignancy of the latter. Parker himself dubs this the achievement of “universality tonality.” I find this description quite appropriate.

In “Meditation on Freedom,” Sandy makes her first, unannounced but absolutely gripping entrance just over six minutes into a driving post-bop track. Her first words, “freedom, freedom, freedom,” unlock a meditation that had hitherto been entrancing, but meandering. The rhythm then slows; the melodies elide and quiet. The track takes shape as the groove slows and continues, without Sandy. The next track, “Without Love Everything will fail,” begins with Sandy and Yamamoto, soon accompanied by Parker, Swell, Galaganov, and, eventually, Carter on trumpet. Melodies float on, along, and through each other in a soothing but irregular interweave. “Dark Remembrance” begins as a hymn with the plea, ”Lift my soul up into my heavenly, heavenly home.” Several minutes in, the lyrics take a jarring turn to describe a lynching. The melody, progression, and description evoke an abstracted “Strange Fruit” and, in the process, draw an unsettling connection between the past and present, and provocative links between blues and classical traditions. The two-part “Heavenly Home Meditation on Peace,” however, is the heart of this album. These pieces sound at times Ellingtonian and composed, at others dark and Weberian, at others liked a pared-down Mahler, at still others lyrical and post-bop or abstract collective improvisation. (For the latter, think of a less groove-driven, progressive Double Sunrise over Neptune or a lost companion to For Those Who are Still .) This, however, is hardly a hodge-podge of musical forms. Instead, each element is cleanly integrated into an effective, narrative whole. Regardless of the moment’s inspiration, the pieces are bound by an arc of moods, textures, and feel that is utterly compelling. This, of course, is not Parker’s first attempt at grand scale compositions. His experience and vision, as well as those of his fellow musicians and the stunning Sandy, shine.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Marion Brown/Dave Burrell: Live at the Black Musicians' Conference, 1981 (NoBusiness, 2018) ****

By Kian Banihashemi

When thinking about Marion Brown and Dave Burrell, I rarely gravitate to anything of this period. In fact, there isn't much of it even recorded or issued; compared to the fire music of the 60s. So, my lack of listening experience with this musical period resulted in mixed emotions, mainly excitement and worry that it would not live up to my expectations for these artists. Dave Burrell has always served as a very capable sideman, and his leading role on the BYG actuel released album Echo was where I first became engulfed into his skillful musicianship. Echo is a large outing with some of most well-known and respected names in free jazz at the time, and it really is no surprise that the album is quite difficult to get into. The musical partnership between Burrell and Brown was revealed to me through some of Brown's first releases, including Juba-Lee and Three for Shepp. While their previous musical partnerships had been rewarding and unique, I never saw their connection at a level of say that between Coltrane and Tyner. I’m glad that this performance displays the closer and more dynamic sides of Burrell and Brown, isolating them from other musicians’ input of ideas. While their relationship is not completely equal, I believe it’s important that the playing not be so leveled out. Having music contain various dynamics and narratives makes it much more interesting and democratic. Even if it can sometimes be individualistic in what directions are taken, there’s a clear sense of collaboration and conciseness in the music.

The setting itself seems to be very intimate, a respectful crowd and varied set list makes this performance a standout in the catalogs of both artists. A couple pieces composed by Brown, three by Burrell, and interestingly enough, two Billy Strayhorn covers. I noticed that there was a tendency for the composer of their respective pieces to be the leader as well, guiding the other musician by setting a well-crafted stage to jump off. The recording quality can be shoddy at times, but never gets in the way of the emotional outpour that this album is able to muster up. Brown and Burrell have gone past their fiery walls of sounds that was sometimes present in their earliest recordings. The passion in Brown's playing cuts through from the first few seconds of the opening track, "Gossip / Fortunado", and continues throughout the rest of the near eighty minute performance. Each note blown is carefully chosen and carries a great weight with it; Marion Brown shows that even in his middle ages he is able to push forward and successfully play "in" and "out" of the pocket. A lot of these songs are in the ballad vein with a clear soulful and bluesy influence. Brown is the elder statesman, showing off his experience while staying true to the tradition. Most of the tunes end up having a clear melodic theme that is easily hummed and remained in my head throughout the day, and while he goes on during his fluid outward playing, Burrell keeps that theme in check for when it's time to come home.

Dave Burrell is much more on the conservative side for the majority of this album, with his compositions taking on a noir atmosphere, without any of the perceived pretentiousness that may accompany such a description. One of the beautiful aspects of Burrell's playing is the diversity he maintains within it. Whether it be the early swingers, or Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor; Burrell can establish himself using the variety of the jazz world around him. In this recording he leans on his more traditional learning, taking Brown along with him for the ride. All three of his compositions play one after the other, these being "Punaluu Peter", "Pua Mae 'Ole", and "Crucifacado". These three songs grant a change in pace that is not only interesting but comforting, like meeting a long-lost friend. On the flip side, the weakest portions of this performance are within the two Billy Strayhorn covers, "My Little Brown Rock" and "Lush Life". There's some interesting moments and it stays very warm and true to form, yet it loses some of its memorability and impact on me. Even though these couple of tracks cut through the flow of what's going on, their inclusion provides a look inside the unbothered and loving minds of these two free jazz giants.

This album has taught me a couple things; first, that I should be on the lookout for more recordings of piano and saxophone duos (a couple of my favorite instruments) and second, to explore and enjoy the later works of jazz musicians. This may be a great place to start within the discography of these two artists, as it mostly increases in intensity the further back you dig. The interplay between them is strong, yet kind and gentle. Brown and Burrell show a definite sense of respect and restraint around each other; their decades of working together accumulate here to create something truly wholesome and gorgeous. Those at UMass Amherst were lucky to able to witness such a musical partnership, and although it only reaches us now through this imperfect recording, this album still feels like a surprise gift that you never knew you wanted. There's a sentimentality in the playing that becomes more familiar as the music progresses, especially if you're already familiar with the music of these artists. This may not be my go-to album for these artists, but it serves as a great reminder of what they're capable of and how well they aged during their tenures as some of the world's greatest musicians.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Anthony Shadduck - Anthony Shadduck Quartet/Double Quartet (Big Ego Records, 2019) ****

 By Lee Rice Espstein

Bassist Anthony Shadduck’s new album presents itself with a kind of low-key humility. Aside from the nod to Free Jazz in the title, there’s a straightforwardness to the album that belies the depth of cleverness and delight hidden within. Of course, my “local boy makes good” spin on this album, recorded at and released by Long Beach’s own Big Ego, might be seen as a brag (only a bit), but I’m always keeping my eye on the SoCal scene, which is filled with magnificent players.

The first half, recorded with a first-rate quartet, features three covers (by Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian, and Chris Schlarb) and one original. On the opener, Coleman’s “Law Years,” Shadduck pairs pianist Cathlene Pineda and guitarist Jeff Parker on a radical re-voicing, doubling chords where Coleman often removed them completely. The group slows the tempo and lowers the fever, but Pineda and Parker are dynamite improvisers. Where Shadduck seems to be channeling Charlie Haden, Pineda provides a Don Pullen or Anthony Davis–like voicing, with drummer Dylan Ryan at times channeling Bobby Battle. If it sounds like this quartet is a loving callback to 1980s DIW and Black Saint/Soul Note sessions, that seems to be what’s happening here (which is meant as a compliment, naturally).

On the flip side, a double quartet goes full tilt on a pair of uptempo swingers. The lineup has Shadduck and David Tranchina on bass, Danny Frankel and Chad Taylor on drums, Alex Sadnik and Phillip Greenlief on woodwinds, and Kris Tiner and Danny Levin on brass. Shadduck has the writing credit for “One” and “Two,” but, as with side one, it’s his subtle direction on the improvisations that gives the pieces their structure. The tracks are brisk, totaling 20 minutes, but there is room enough for each player to take centerstage. And really, that’s the most notable element. Shadduck’s been leading a Ornette-inspired double quartets for nearly a decade , so he has a clear vision for how to arrange and balance these groups.

Available on limited-edition vinyl and digital at Bandcamp

Monday, April 15, 2019

David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019) *****

By Stef

It is one of the characteristics of great artists to develop a recognisable sound and voice, and then to challenge it again, and re-invent it. From his earliest albums guitarist David Torn has worked on developing sonic landscapes, complex, compelling and somewhat mysterious, yet even from his first ECM record "Best Laid Plans" in 1984, going through all the changes and renewals he created, his project has not changed. His music is not real fusion, and even if his guitars can wail in the best of rock traditions, they remain always focused on the music, not the instrument.

"Sun Of Goldfinger" is without a doubt his best. The trio with Tim Berne on sax and Ches Smith on drums works to perfection. The music is grand, expansive, dramatic, epic and violent even, dark, compelling and beyond what you've heard before. In terms of sound and mood it is possibly close to "Prezens" (2007) or going even further back to his work on "Lonely Universe" (1990).

The first track, "Eye Meddle", starts hesitatingly until Berne's sax enters, with determination and a strong presence, over a background that does not seem to be improvised at all - even if it is - but reworked in the studio, which increases the eeriness and the density of the sound, further emphasised by the industrial sounding rhythm, that is going full blast somewhere halfway the twenty-minute track. Things turn into a wall of sound, with layers upon layers being added to the mix, increasing the power and the inherent violence of the piece. While Berne gets repetitive and frantic, repeating the same phrase over and over again, Torn's howling guitar increases the sense of agony and despair, using lots of feedback, not shying away from lacing his sound with harsh wayward outbursts, again more focusing on the overall effect itself than on instrumental pyrotechnics. It's a complete volcano erupting. Moods shift with the density and intensity, sounds diminish and return in force then fade again into strangely altered shimmering industrial clanging.

The second piece, "Spartan, Before It Hit", is composed, and the trio is expanded with Craig Taborn on electronics and piano, Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira on guitars, and with the Scorchio String Quartet consisting of Martha Mooke on viola, Amy Kimball and Rachel Golub on violin and Leah Coloff on cello. The texture of the intro is lighter, sensitive, with even some playful elements included in the pizzi parts, yet darkness soon arises from some deep undertones. The composition itself moves constantly and integrates almost any musical genre conceivable, with classical elements, eastern harmonics, jazz and rock, all glued together in a weird psychedelic atmosphere where every new bar holds changes and surprises. Unlike most compositions, this one never repeats itself, there are no patterns, just developments, again full of dramatic effect, thundering crashes, and eery screeches and soft improvisations in empty space. The brilliance of the composition is equalled by Berne's performance here, soft-spoken, vulnerable, fragile, barely audible, like a lost voice in total emptiness and in utter desolation. The sentiment of the 'lonely universe' somehow returns here, accentuated by the hovering strings and the occasional scraping electronics. There is a feeling of rest and serenity, but then one that is tight with tension.

The last piece, "Soften The Blow", is built around a high-pitched moaning phrase on the alto, sounding mad because of its relentless repetitions, with electronic guitar textures weaving weird worlds of quiet sound, amplifying space in a way, expanding the cosmos in which Berne's sax mourns and muses and laments. Again the track lasts more than twenty minutes and this kind of quiet cannot be maintained and it gradually picks up speed and density and violence, with Torn's guitar entering a raw power duel with the sax, underpinned by massive blows by Smith on his drums. This is doom, this is apocalyptic. Torn's guitar uses a multiplicity of pedals to generate effects - delays, pitch changes, reverb, sustain and what have you - overdubbing some more guitars into the mix for good measure, but slowly, slowly, in a measured, well-paced way. When Berne returns, his sax turns violent and even madder than before, Smith goes berserk and Torn adds even more layers of dense guitar work, yet somehow they manage to avoid too much of a cliché ending, chosing to end in almost silence with Berne's lonely sax weeping ...

This is not free jazz. This is not jazz even. It is too organised, too manipulated, it is too much crafted, too worked, it is not enough the immediate expression of authentic feelings. Yet that does not matter. It is Torn's vision on music, and the result is brilliant. It is massive, dark and compelling. It is mysterious and overwhelming. It's possibly one of the most amazing listening experiences you will hear this year, and possibly for years to come.

The album gets this equally dark and ominous quote:

"Long road wants me to abandon short-sight
But what kind of place is this
Where I'd once believed we might rest?"

Indeed, there is no rest to be found here. But take the road. You will love it.

Listen to a promo video:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Arrington De Dionyso/Ben Bennett – Live at China Cloud 1/12/2018 (s/r, 2019) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos


I first came across Arrington De Dionyso not through his jazz-punk group Old Time Relijun, but through his visual art. And became obsessed with it. Arrington’s artworks chanels raw energy, sexual freedom and transcends a vision of a society (especially not the modern version of it) free of hatred and most of the –isms. Like racism and fascism. His music – be it free jazz, trance music from Eastern Asia or solo vocal blowouts – is the audio equivalent of his visual art. Ben Bennett is a below the radar drummer/percussionist who is gradually building a high quality discography partnering with important musicians like Michael Foster (another man who is working below the radar) and the great Jack Wright. I especially suggest his solo album from 2012, Spoilage.

This live recording comes from early 2018 at China Cloud venue in Vancouver, Canada. While it is certainly a high energy free jazz duo, it also encapsulates both musicians’ assets. Arrington is on tenor sax, bass clarinet, bromiophone and vocalisations and Bennett on drums and percussion. Right on I must admit that the quality of the music, plus the recording’s, is so high, that it’s a great pity few will listen. All of you interested you can listen to the recording through Arrington’s bandcamp.

As for the music itself, it never ceases to impress the listener. Every moment of the little more than 40 minutes recording is worth listening intensely. Their work as a duo sees them react to the challenges they face and overcoming them easily. It’s a high energy affair that both musicians add up to this energy flow while the two tracks evolve. They are in high form to say the least. De Dionyso’s playing seems focused on the audio colors he produces. From reeds playing up to his raga style vocalizations, he ensures that the organic flow of his vision never stops. Bennett’s playing is impeccable. He uses everything he can use on the drums, sometimes he leads, at some points he is laid back to ensure there’s time and space for Arrington. He seems that he is filling every inch of the venue’s space with his polyrhythm. Amazing even to someone’s untrained ears…The constant flow of sounds, notes, on the spot improvisations and short timed blowouts is a pure joy, a listening that will free your mind and brings solace to your soul from normality’s small atrocities.

 @ koultouranafigo

Michael Attias - Solo & Quartet at Greenwich House, New York on April 6, 2019

Michael Attias
By Eric Stern

Michael Attias appeared at Greenwich House as part of the Sound It Out series with the announced intention of celebrating the release of his new solo album ḗchos la nuit. He opened, unaccompanied at the piano bench, playing his alto sax into the body of the piano. This is an interesting idea which I have seen a good number of others utilize. The vibration of the piano's strings generates a ghostly feeling as the notes slowly decay. In addition, Attias played duets with himself using his right hand on the keyboard and his left on his saxophone. Much of this part of the performance assumed a languid pace that felt introspective. I assume he uses this technique to compose.

The solo set felt intensely personal. I heard that one review of his new solo CD suggested he needed a better partner. Snark aside, I enjoyed having the opportunity to see his compositional praxis in this intimate setting.

Kris Davis (piano), Attias (sax), Sean Conly (double-bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums)

 The second half of the show was his quartet with Kris Davis (piano), Sean Conly (double-bass) and Satoshi Takeishi (drums). I preferred the quartet set to the solo set. Simply put, the solo set felt like more like sketches for the type of music that the quartet would then fully bring to life.

I always enjoy Takeishi’s playing. He is not a show off, but his use of brushes, mallets, and sticks creates an impressive variety of sounds. He clearly thinks about adding to each song rather than just keeping a beat. On this evening he and Attias appeared to be very comfortable with the new music being presented. The show ended with a sax/drum spotlight where Attias raised the intensity level and displayed a bit of fire. This was the highlight of the set for me.

The performers were working from sheet music, and there were few solos. The structure of the songs allowed for an intriguing interplay between the group members, and all the players got an opportunity to showcase their contributions. We can only hope they get a chance to tour this and become more familiar with the material. Good as this show was, I am certain that this would lead to even better performances as each player gets a firmer footing within the framework of the compositions.

A note on the venue: Greenwich House has good sound. With its high ceilings and West Village townhouse aesthetic, it is visually pleasing and physically comfortable. The audience the venue tends to draw is clearly there for the music and is respectfully quiet during performances. The space is known for possessing good pianos. While the venue is flat, it has no physical obstructions to sightlines.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Diagonal (Jeff Parker/Jeb Bishop/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Luther Gray) Filter (Not Two, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

The Diagonal is a recently formed group consisting of Jeff Parker on guitar, Pandelis Karayorgis on keys, Nate McBride on bass, Luther Gray on drums, and Jeb Bishop on trombone. This quintet of exciting and celebrated musicians converged on the Boston area and produced an excellent set of melodic free jazz for this release on Not Two. The ever-prolific Jeff Parker had another big year in 2018, adding his touch to records by Makaya McCraven , Armen Nalbandian, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Anthony Shadduck. His playing here is warm and prickly, exuding the confident aura of an artist in his prime. The Greek pianist Pandelis Karayorgis likewise had a busy 2018, bookending this release with a pair of trio records on Driff Records , one of which includes the rhythm section of McBride and Gray. McBride, in addition to this record and the trio with Karayorgis and Gray, played on the outstanding Eugene Chadbourne disc “Let's Get Weird but Comfortable” with Jorrit Dijkstra, Curt Newton, and Jeb Bishop. The prolific drummer Luther Gray, a member of Bathysphere and Lawnmower, has played extensively with Joe Morris, Dave Rempis, and Ken Vandermark and provides the rhythmic backbone for this release. And finally, trombonist Jeb Bishop who always seems to be in more releases than I keep up with, had a most productive 2018 appearing on releases by Polyorchard, Eugene Chadbourne, Mars Williams, and the Chicago Edge Ensemble, as well as issuing his first solo trombone album, the wonderfully inventive Three Valentines and Goodbye.

“Four in the Evening (Intro)” provides an airy start to the record, finding Parker's guitar drone joined with stretched tones from Bishop and rumbling bass and cymbal chatter from McBride and Gray. Karayorgis adds a warm ambience with his Rhodes that the group begins to coagulate around before the piece suddenly fades out. The next track “Carrier” provides a step-change in energy starting with Parker's overdriven intro. The scene switches to solos from Karayorgis and Bishop as Parker scrapes out wild guitar textures that lend some intensity and a dynamic twist to the solos. Gray is a tremendous drummer and he particularly shines here, lending a powerful sense of momentum to the piece. The song then devolves into Parker's noisey skree momentarily before the group again reprises the opening theme. This is followed with the call and response interplay that introduces “Later That Evening”. McBride and Gray play a straightforward walking rhythm over which Karayorgis and Parker consecutively lay down concise, angular solos. There is a particularly nice albeit brief duet between McBride and Bishop towards the end of the song, which concludes with a reprise of the intro melody. “Never Had a Star” is a disquieting piece of low key jazz where Parker and Bishop play around and through each other, their lines tangling into aural knots before dissolving. Karayorgis adds a feeling of uncertainty with his delayed, pointillistic Rhodes technique. McBride and Gray merely highlight a structure for the group to play over that remains more of a suggestion than anything that swings. “Freakadelic” is built off a truly funky electric bass vamp that evolves as the song progresses. Bishop underpins the entire first half of the song, providing growling, honking lines that are accented by Karayorgis’ moody Rhodes stabs. Parker and Karayorgis then solo consecutively, piling on funky licks and doubling McBrides bass line at times all to good effect.

“LA Visitor” features a walking 4/4 rhythm, over which the theme is stated on piano and trombone. Parker and Karayorgis’ then solo together, sounding superimposed, as they accent and contrast each other effectively throughout. The piece closes with a similar style solo from Bishop and Karayorgis. “FOC” utilizes an intensely laid back and lyrical approach (most of the album does, but I think it peaks here), with a slight post-bop vibe. There's a subtle swing that underpins all of the solos, with Parker's being particularly excellent here. The swing continues with “Unsquozen”, though ratcheted up a notch. Karayorgis plays his most assertive and forceful solo on this piece, followed by Bishop and Parker. Bishop's playing is almost scat-like while Parker's is subtle and muted before dropping out for an extended solo from Gray. On “Wild Turkey Scratch” Parker finds his overdrive pedal again, doubling lines with Bishop and Karayorgis on this dynamic piece. Similar to “Carrier” Parker adds bits of skronky guitar texture in as Bishop and Karayorgis solo. This induces a sense of urgency in the music, and yields perhaps the freest sounding piece on the record. About halfway through McBride also finds his OD pedal, imparting a plodding, scuzzy rhythm for Parker to unleash his guitar pyrotechnics. The closer “Four in the Evening (Full)” is slow to start, with washes of cymbal, bass, and Rhodes before the guitar comes in with warm chords and staccato runs. Bishop growls to life over the second half of the piece, playing a bluesy, breathy accompaniment to close out the album.

This is a very well built album that will find favor with fans of these musicians. If I can find a fault with the album it's only that it comes off as a little formulaic. It sounded exactly as I expected it would given the personnel involved, and I found the sequencing to lack a bit in the middle of the album where the overall laid-backness borders on tedium at times. This could possibly have been remedied with the inclusion of another burner like “Carrier” or “Wild Turkey Scratch” near the midpoint. Also noteworthy is that the compositions and arrangements were provided by all members, which may add to the overall homogeneity of the album's mid-section considering their similar playing styles. I loved the aforementioned 'burners’ and the almost-ambient-jazz of the “Four in the Evening” tracks. “Freakadelic” is also a standout and may have been intended to be that lively middle track; it just wasn't highly peppered enough in my opinion. Overall this is a great record from a quintet of absolutely superb players.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Sol Sol – Unaccustomed Soil (Signal And Sound Records, 2019) ****

By Gustav Lindqvist

The small Swedish label Signal And Sound Records releases their sixth album; Unaccustomed Soil with the newly formed quartet Sol Sol. This one was recorded in the famous Swedish studio Atlantis by the legendary Janne Hansson, and there’s a soft and smooth sound that flows through my headphones as I see the sun set as I go for an evening stroll in a city far away, listening to this for the first time.
But first something about the personnel on this album.

Elin Forkelid (formerly Larsson) is a reedswoman that you should immediately put on your radar. Similar to Anna Högberg, who we have covered and interviewed here on FJB, Forkelid’s got a tone and style that will go from sugary sweet to razorsharp and from joyful to drenched in tears, in seconds. She moves effortless through different styles as she plays the different horns. On FJB she’s most recently mentioned as a member of Anna Högberg Attack , but I would like to recommend checking out the albums she released with her group Elin Larsson Group too.

David Stackenäs on guitar is a seasoned artist who’s played in the Lina Nyberg Band, The Ägg and Seval just to mention a few groups -but also solo, most recently on the Clean Feed release Acoustic Guitars.

Mauritz Agnas on bass – not to be confused with his brother Konrad Agnas (who can be heard on Orakel, and on the five-star album De Långa Rulltrapporna I Flemingsberg), can be heard on Agnas Bros on which Mauritz plays with his three brothers, but also together with drummer Sebastian Voegler and trumpeter Thomas Caudery on the 2018 release Gröndal.

Last but not least, drummer Anna Lund, who like Forkelid plays with Anna Högberg Attack. She can also be heard with her own group on the album Hurrakel from 2017.

There’s a nod to maqam, a wink to hard bop, a wave to free jazz and a dance with the standards. The album starts with the slow-paced title track Unaccustomed Soil. It’s a soft start that searches for ways in and ways out. Both Stackenäs and Forkelid follow each other up, up, up to where the air is thin. Stackenäs somewhat reminds me of Mary Halvorson and it blends well with Forkelid’s lyrical way of playing.

Lund and Agnas seems to enjoy each other’s company as they gently travel together through the songs. Lund travels outwards and back, across and above Agnas. On Our Mobile Home a cool lounge beat is accompanied by Forkelid who at first seems to just enjoy the ride, but soon drifts away to the place where she clearly has a lot to say. And as Agnas, Stackenäs and Lund keeps cool, Forkelid has a sense of urgency and a deep need to finish what she came for. And then we’re back on the beat. There’s that middle eastern vibe again. This is music for the mind and for the soul.
Unaccustomed Soil is a balance act between the composed and the free. It’s Scandinavian Noir, it’s the summer that disappeared without a warning, it’s the sun going down. It’s the scavenger hunt, it’s the happy moments but also the cracked mirror.

I like Sol Sol absolutely best on Gotta Get Out where the Lunds easy going and relaxed beat is spread wide across the sound stage and Forkelid drops the gauntlet and just lets her horn scream! But I really enjoy hearing Stackenäs back there, not hidden in the mix, but just a little bit lower. It provides a vibe that Forkelid can use to bounce free form against. Stackenäs takes over the scene and has cut-off notes

On the final song Valparaiso Stackenäs gives us a James Taylor-esque introduction and then a soft and sweet melody ends a beautiful album that gives me hope, and a smile on my face. Sometimes walls mustn’t come down completely. Sometimes balance is good. And sometimes the world just needs some good music.

Unaccustomed Soil will be released on April 13 and can be purchased on Signal And Sound website, I’m told the webshop will be opened soon; - Signal And Sound. You can also listen to a little bit of the album here:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Trapper Keaper - Meets Tim Berne and Aurora Nealand (ears&eyes Records, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I caught half of this quartet live a few months ago. Tim Berne, a musician I had strangely never seen during my years in greater New York, headlined, accompanied by some local musicians. One of these was Aurora Nealand. Although Berne was amazing, I was already expecting big things from him. Nealand was the real discovery of the night. She played accordion, electronics, vocals, plastic cup, sax, chain, and, quite likely, a few other objects I am forgetting. She was responsive (as was Berne and the bassist that night, James Singleton). And, she converted simple colloquial sounds – the crushing of a plastic cup, the rattling of a can, the scrape of a chain, the howl of a voice – into a rich tapestry of sound that simultaneously felt playful and serious.

With that night in mind, I was pleased to come across Trapper Keaper Meets Time Berne and Aurora Nealand. Trapper Keaper is a New Orleans “space-funk duo” featuring Marcello Benetti on drums and Will Thompson on keys. On this recording, Berne contributes his sax and Nealand, her aforementioned bag of tricks.

The first track, the aptly titled “Boom,” begins with Nealand’s wailing vocals, soon accompanied by a driving dance beat and Berne’s soulful lamentations. This track is brief but evokes a surprisingly refreshing combination of Water Babies-era Miles and contemporary electronica. Already, the listener can deduce they are in for a wild ride through a series of layered and fragmented, but almost danceable and pervasively energetic sound-worlds. Tracks such as “Unidentified Flying Objection” is slower and softer than the first two pieces – though energy and tension burgeon beneath the surface - and features sax hummings and mutterings, vocalized melodies, and Trapper Keaper’s fragmented grooves. Subsequent tracks fluctuate between a manic energy and the rich textures. At times, the latter pieces approach ECM-styled production (albeit with a little more vigor) as Berne lays down smoky, downtown phrasings, Trapper Keaper drive the rhythm with their contorted rhythms and pitter-patter drums, and Nealand contributes everything from yowls to amplified chain-rattles to manipulated bubble-sounds. “Flame Among the Ashes” is a richly textured exploration of stilted psychedelia, that evokes Branford Marsalis’ work with the Grateful Dead. And, just when it feels like the music is getting too loungey, the music shifts to more abstract and entropic territory. The final piece, “Amarcord (Fellini Memories),” begins with a solitary whistle, then a soft, hummed lullaby. Sax squeals, bird chirps, spacey electronics soon fade in, followed by a bluesy saxophone and a sparse, muted drum. This is one of the least intense tracks on the album. It is also the most curious, directed, and haunting.

This is not normally the type of album I would seek out. That said, I am glad I gave this one a chance. Although a few tracks seem to end before they begin, these pieces are overall compelling and, when taken together, cohesive. Cheers to Trapper Keaper, Berne, and Nealand for pulling this off so well.

The album releases in CD and digital formats on April 12th

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Claudia Solal, Katherine Young, Tomeka Reid, Benoit Delbecq - Antichamber Music (The Bridge Sessions, 2019) **½

By Keith Prosk

This particular bridge between the French and American improvising communities joins Claudia Solal (voice) and Benoit Delbecq (piano) with Tomeka Reid (cello) and Katherine Young (bassoon, effects) for 9 tracks across 39 minutes. Solal and Delbecq have not recorded together previously but have a duo due out (at the time of this writing) later this year on RogueArt. Reid and Young have recorded together on Anthony Braxton’s Trillium E and Trillium J operas as well as a reversed transcription of Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void” performed by a 10-piece jazz orchestra called From Beyond. This is the first time the French and American players have recorded together.

The words on this recording are from James Joyce’s Chamber Music, a collection of 36 love poems known for their accessible lyricism, facilitating their frequent use in music. For the Antichamber Music project, the poems aren’t necessarily used in order of the collection, or in full, or even linearly. They can be sung, spoken, or perhaps just intimated. This freedom in choice of material allows Solal to improvise along with the musicians. The project appears to have specific goals, of associated timbres, imaginary quartets and scores, threads, a breadth and bridging of genres, but the information surrounding it is so vague that it seems like it really just stems from a desire to explore the interaction of improvised narrative with improvised instrumentation.

The narrative definitely dominates the interaction. The voice is loud in the mix. Solal might wait for space or allow space but there is very little communication from voice to instrument except for the “mmm-mmms” and “ooohs” mimicking the cello and bassoon in “O Cool is the Valley Now/Sweet Imprisonment;” more often than not, Reid and Young will react and briefly harmonize with Solal, or Delbecq will match her cadence. Except for some some “mmms” and “ooohs” on the aforementioned track and “Forget me Not,” the voice is completely narrative with no extended technique and sung or spoken in a kind of sultry lounge style with no affectation reflecting the content of the material or fragmentation of it. The music bubbling beneath the voice is often sparse and austere, reminding me of Maneri/Maneri/Phillips or the chamber music of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa. Delbecq has a glassy, delicate, shimmering style until he reaches inside the piano to create a sound closer to mallet instruments (or strum a few beautiful glissandos). Reid appears to move through this space most comfortably, playing arco, plucking, or drumming the body with her fingers like rain on bamboo and readily communicating with every member of the quartet. Young seems particularly restrained on this recording, but her playing is simultaneously soulful, jarring, romantic. The music is bewitching, yet its potential feels unrealized as it must more often play around the voice than with it. “O Cool is the Valley Now/Sweet Imprisonment” and “Forget me Not” are good tracks, and the first and last minutes of the release are sublime, with many glimpses of beauty in between.

Antichamber Music is available digitally and on CD.

Rouba 3i + Tony Buck live at Borderline Festival (Athens, April 5 th, 2019)

Rouba 3i + Tony Buck

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Borderline Festival, now in its 9th year, is a commodity for Athens. Only a handful of people are willing and able to pay the expenses so that musicians, of any kind of adventurous music, can come to Greece and perform. It is a pity that for the past couple of years the festival seems to be turning its back to free jazz and free improv music in favor of building a more “contemporary” image for itself. Thankfully for the financial wealth of Onassis Cultural Center, prices are low, allowing many people to get to know artists and performers that in many other cases they would not.

This year saw Borderline collaborating with another important festival of Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Irtijal. Forging relationships is always the best thing to do when it comes to any kind of social behavior. It would be far more important, though, if these bonds would stand not only for and from the music. We live in an area shattered by wars (not only in Syria), baffled by the oppression against the Palestinian people. We are watching, thousand by thousands, refugees with no papers trying to flee war and oppression from all over this sea. I really would be much happier if all those were to be reminded (in any way) throughout the festival’s venues and actions. The only implication from this collaboration is that music brings people together and smashes borders. Thankfully it does.
The occasion of this collaboration is another fruitful proof of the above. Although it seems like an antithesis to talk about music from Lebanon while two thirds of the Rouba 3i (I’m not exactly sure about Sharif Sehnaoui) live outside Lebanon. Their trio with The Necks drummer, Tony Buck, was a gig to catch. As you can clearly see, their positioning on stage had the warmth of a friendly occasion. Seated very close to each other, the four musicians produced a unified sound with no solos. Their playing was cohesive interaction during the (must say we wanted more) forty minutes they performed.

Everybody’s approach was the one of collective improvisation. Christine Abdelnour’s sax lines and notes were long and sustained, keeping her instrument on the verge on inaudibility. The same cannot be said for Mazen Kerbaj’s trumpet, an instrument that is gradually becoming more and more percussive in his hands and mouth. Sharif Sehnaoui’s gentle approach to his acoustic guitar added flair to their, sometimes, low timbre and rugged audio results. Even though it’s contradictory to talk about individuals on this set, Buck’s playing was a joy to see and listen to. His use of almost everything in keeping the rhythm of this rhythmless (sic) performance, made me even more frustrated by not having caught The Necks live yet…

They achieved a continuous flow through their set and this is never easy. The quartet’s performance was palpable with small improvisational gestures. Everybody was eager, willing and able to leave room for the others, while, at the same time, their overall performance was always energetic. I was left with the impression that this fluidity of means and noises needed more time to breathe and most importantly to present its fruits.

@ koultouranafigo

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Free Jazz Festival Saarbrücken

By Martin Schray

For the fourth time, Stefan Winkler and his team succeeded in organising an exquisite free jazz festival in Saarbrücken (located on Germany’s border to France and Luxembourg). Last year they were supported by the Bundesstiftung Kultur with 20,000 Euros and there was a feature article in the big German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, which also drew attention to the festival. This year, it was more difficult to raise money because the federal funding was cancelled and local and private donors had to secure the financing. There were also other imponderables to overcome in the run-up to the event. First of all, the Lithuanian guitarist Juozas Milašius had to cancel his  appearance in a duo with Sabir Mateen. However, the festival organizers were quickly able to find a very suitable replacement with Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopez. But when two days before the festival start Charles Gayle had to be hospitalized, it became difficult*. The fact that the FMP legend Michel Pilz could be engaged for the festival program spontaneously speaks for the improvisational talent of the organizers, because the actual motto of the festival (“Celebrating the 80th birthday of Charles Gayle, Trevor Watts & Joe McPhee“) could at least partly be salvaged - Pilz is actually already 83.

As always, the festival began with some preliminary events, among others with the wind quartet of Nils Fischer (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, double bass clarinet), Hartmut Oßwald (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Frank Paul Schubert (soprano and alto saxophone) and Andreas Krennerich (sopranino, soprano and baritone saxophone), and the NuBand, the quartet around the legendary 83-year-old saxophonist Mark Whitecage, with Joe Fonda (bass), Lou Grassi (drums), and Thomas Heberer (trumpet).

Trevor Watts quartet

The festival properly began on April 5th with Trevor Watts' quartet with Veryan Westan (piano) and the rhythm twins John Edwards (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). And to anticipate it: the first concert was already one of the highlights of the festival. In addition, a leitmotif of the presented music became clear, namely the eventful playing with intensities. Watts' quartet intensified their improvisation just to let it go again, something which happened almost imperceptibly. Above all, Mark Sanders was the driving force here, he almost playfully shifted up a gear and then back again. Watts, on the other hand, was leading the improvisation towards small highlights that worked like cliffhangers - the audience was always curious to see where the whole thing would go. Even quiet passages were extremely intense because the rhythm section literally disassembled the melodic and harmonic material. Especially Edwards’s springy double pizzicati (he plays them on the upper and lower part of the bass neck simultaneously) harmonized excellently with Westan's tonal clusters and Watts' squeezed runs. The whole set resembled an accumulation of mass, which was then taken apart again. Here, European Free Jazz tradition became transparent, capturing a state of the art moment of music situated between new classical musical influences and traditional free jazz.

Luis Lopez (g) and Sabir Mateen (s) 
Next on the agenda were Sabir Mateen and Luis Lopez. Before the concert started it was almost sad to see that Mateen is almost completely blind and depends on help with orientation. However, while playing there’s hardly anything to be noticed, he still has an impressive power. At the beginning of their set Lopez reflected Mateen's blues- and gospel-soaked runs with isolated chords. The juxtaposition of elegance and monotony worked well, only towards the end, when Lopez switched to Thurston-Moore-like sounds including the use of extended techniques, the tension eased.

Michel Pilz (b cl),  Stefan Scheib (b), Frank Paul Schubert (s),and Klaus Kugel (d)
The day ended with a newly arranged quartet with the aforementioned Michel Pilz (bass clarinet), Frank Paul Schubert (saxophone), local bassist Stefan Scheib, and Klaus Kugel (drums). Pilz and Kugel already had a trio with Christian Ramond on bass (there is a CD from 2003), but haven't played together for a long time. Nevertheless, the chemistry between the musicians worked surprisingly well. Pilz's lyrical playing connected very well with Kugel's meditative rhythms. The music had some outstanding moments, e.g. when Schubert's overblown lines met Pilz's relaxed drone. The different playing attitudes of the two wind players collided directly with each other and here again it was striking how structural contrasts were used to force intensity. Schubert's solo in the first, long piece of the set was a highlight of the festival.

Kay Lübke (d), Jan Roder (b), Christoph Thewes (tb), and Anna Kaluza (s)
As in previous years, the festival has always been an opportunity to present local musicians. In the saxophonist Anna Kaluza's quartet this was trombonist Christoph Thewes, supplemented by the Berlin musicians Jan Roder (bass) and Kay Lübke (drums), the latter two also the rhythm section in Silke Eberhard's trio. Kaluza founded the Berlin Improvisers Orchestra and regularly plays with international guest musicians. Compared to the partly harsh free jazz outbursts of the previous day, the quartet's music was almost tender, especially at the beginning of the set. Nevertheless, they could be found here as well, mainly pushed by Thewes. Kaluza endured this almost calmly, she contrasted them in a very controlled way and remained focused on her improvisations. A decent start to the day, no more, but no less either.

Klaus Kugel (d), Joe McPhee (s), and John Edwards (b)
The expectations for Joe McPhee, John Edwards, and Klaus Kugel were high, and McPhee immediately issued a call to arms on his pocket trumpet. From the first minute the music was also a statement: 1960's soul power, accusation, blues, melancholy, anger, devotion, attitude - all in one! McPhee made the audience freak out with spiritual blues riffs on the tenor saxophone, mercilessly driven by Kugel and Edwards. This band also represented intensity - namely through contrastivity. At a moment when this intensity was almost impossible to increase, McPhee let his emotions out, he sang, he screamed, he howled, and answered himself with little melody lines - typical, classic call-and-response, a proverbial rollercoaster ride. Moreover, McPhee, the last great man of pain in free jazz, was congenially supported by John Edwards, who scattered several incredible solos, in which he attacked the bass more than actually playing it, and Klaus Kugel, the wonderful mystic behind the drums (in contrast to the day before with his whole arsenal of cymbals and gongs). As if that wasn't enough, McPhee addressed the audience at the end of the regular set and reminded them of Albert Ayler, who said that “music was the healing force of the universe“. He then wanted to send this healing force out to Charles Gayle, so that he could get well again. In the last part of the set he let the audience chant Gayle's name again and again. That was close to kitsch, but McPhee never let the whole thing fall over, on the contrary, it was a moment of goose bumps. The set was a single triumph.

Dominik Blum (o), Marino Pliakas (b), and Lucas Niggli (d)
Actually, nothing could come after this concert, but nevertheless it was a wise decision of the festival management to let Steamboat Switzerland play after McPhee (originally the were scheduled before him), because the band represented a complete contrast to all the other formations. Dominik Blum (Hammond organ), Marino Pliakas (bass), and Lucas Niggli (drums) are something like a heavy metal/improv version of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, their music is characterized by an uncompromising spirit. As usual, the trio made no compromises. Out of this clear attitude their specific sound developed: a mix of prog-rock, new classical music, noise and metal, energetically charged and virtuosically interpreted. For their set the band had a strict form and dramaturgy: pulling it through without interruption and without breathing. Several pieces were woven into this sound bath, composed works alternated with improvisations. As you might imagine, the reactions in the audience were very mixed. The hall emptied itself constantly.

The organisers are making plans for another festival next year, even though the financing is not yet certain. Names mentioned in the game are Ken Vandermark and Akira Sakata. Two suggestions for improvement could be considered: the festival definitely presents too few women, this year just one with Anna Kaluza and younger musicians could also be interesting. There were also some sound problems this year, especially on the first day. Despite the precarious financial situation one should work on it. But all in all the festival was excellent. It remains to be wished that it can take place again next year.

*Gayle collapsed on the way to the plane to Europe but he has been released from hospital in the meantime. He's on the way to recovery.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Federico Ughi - Transoceanico (577 Records, 2019) ****

By Sammy Stein

Federico Ughi, New York drummer, improviser and producer releases a new studio recording to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of his first release, 'The Space Within', recorded in London, UK. The theme of the album is Ughi’s experience of home, and how it has evolved, living between Brooklyn, New York, his native Rome, Italy and all the places in the world he has passed through while touring. It’s Ughi’s personal meditation on travelling to so many places, intertwined with the melancholy of never being able to feel like he entirely belongs.

The album reunites Ughi with British saxophonist Rachel Musson, who was on the first recording. Musson is one of the most prominent voices in improvised music in the UK and Europe. She and Ughi have collaborated, played and recorded together during the intervening years in spite of living in separate continents. Rachel Musson performed at the Forward Festival 2018 in New York and will be releasing two albums on 577 Records; the first with legendary British musicians Pat Thomas and Mark Sanders, the second with the “Monster trio” of Daniel Carter, William Parker, and Federico Ughi.

Federico Ughi says, " Back in the mid-90s in England, Rachel and I would play music together all the time, sometimes every day for stretches of weeks. We would daydream of playing in New York. In 1996 we even travelled to the city to check out opportunities, clubs, music schools, music connections. We were green jazz musicians just starting to approach the improv world. These days, Rachel is one of the leading voices in the European scene, and I am really proud of all she has accomplished. I never imagined we would find ourselves in New York recording albums, playing music together. This album means a lot to me. It is the manifestation of a dream, two decades in the making."

The CD opens with ' So Far So Good' which is a brilliant piece of creative improvised music. Opening with bass chords over which the sax enters and proceeds to work around the short melodic riff Musson sets up. Every which way you can, she finds the ways in, out and around the patterns , building, exploring, repeating rarely but ever more adventurous until by the end of the track the sax dominates with stut notes aplenty amongst, short, sharp, fierce - so fierce - deliveries - it is absolutely wonderful and the drums support, following, carefully side stepping the rhythmic traps set by the sax and the bass provides the reference points so vital in this music. A complete delight - 9 minutes or so of your life flies past. The quietude of the ending is very effective contrast. 'Segnale Di Via Libera' is a track which builds; from the depths it comes, ascending, rising, growing and developing into a driven, structured soundscape, where each rhythmic change and pattern sets up for a new section, all short, all different and all eye-closing and wondrous. This is feel good, feel it, feel the spirit music and it is gorgeous. The drum interlude is heart-felt and, with the bass, creates a menacing, spiritual sense of control being in the hands of the musicians. The listener is led through several tempo changes, yet underlying it right through is one driving thundering beat delivered with technique which Federico Ughi has well honed. The sax enters for the final section and the ending is short and sweet. ' Blues Apart' is gentler , still working out a pictorial musical soundscape for the listener and still adding several musical tricks to scales to engage the ears. The tracks become heavier, deliberately laboured with the drums and bass working their rhythm out under the sax which sails away on its own discoveries.

'Emergency Exit' sets off with a drum solo - which includes in just under 40 seconds, 4 rhythm changes before the bass joins and there follows a bass led section before the sax wolfs in across both, delivering screaming top notes counterbalanced with delicate lower register riffs. The three musicians then contrive to create a network of music, each filling any gap in the musical mesh which is left - and there are few. This is instinctive improvisation and is a joy to listen to. I didn't want this to end but it did. 'Transoceanico' serves up a different mood, feel and working between the musicians. Melodic phrases tuned into hard tongued knife edges of sound push their way into a relatively stable bass and drum line. Good music. 'Sky Ramblin'' is spacial, atmospheric and works its way through several different sensory developments whilst 'Quando Andiamo' (bonus track) opens with bass , beautiful, solo and deeply resonant. Sax and percussion add their voices but every so often the rounded tones of the bass emerge from the deep. It gets louder, faster and intense but this track has behind it a melancholia and the ferocity of the sax is amazing.

Throughout this recording there is such energy and intensity which the listener feels and remains undiminished after several listens. The media I listened to this on played it in a loop - which was a blessing. Musson on sax is superb and steals the listening lines in many places but there is a sense that is fine and when the Adam Lane on bass and Federico Ughi on drums do their thing, that too is fine and they too add to the wonder of this recording. Beautiful improvised music.


Adam Lane (bass)
Rachel Musson (saxophone)
Federico Ughi (drums)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley - Deeply Discounted/Sequences of Snow (Audiographic/Pleasures of the Text, 2018) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

As I began writing this, I took a quick look back at my post from 2015 about the Ken Vandermark (woodwinds) and Nate Wooley (trumpet) duo's first recording, East by Northwest. At the time of writing, I was still thinking about the show I had just seen of theirs. Before that experience, I had been a little skeptical about what two wind instruments could manage, but the show opened my ears. Subsequently, I was turned on the work of John Carter and Bobby Bradford - an inspiration for this pairing - and have eagerly enjoyed each new installment of the the Wooley/Vandermark journey, including their follow up All Direction's Home, and now Deeply Discounted/Sequences of Snow.

This latest recording consists of two long form compositions that were conceived of for the medium - the LP - on which I'm spinning it. It is also available as a download for those who have left the physical world behind (doesn't that sound morbid?). The pieces, true to form for the artist, carry their inspirations in their titles. "Deeply Discounted II", a piece by Wooley, was inspired by John Cage's "Cheap Imitation" (which was itself inspired by Erik Satie), and Ken Vandermark's "Sequence of Snow" is dedicated to the artist Michael Snow and inspired by some of his films. I am not sure if it's necessary to even get into the inspirations for as such, except as a doorway down another rabbit hole of art and intrigue (which I encourage you to follow, of course), as the pieces stand firmly on their own.

"Deeply Discounted" begins with a slow melody delivered in counterpoint between the clarinet and the trumpet. A snippet of a melody, acting as an anchor in the piece appears again and again, it sounds rather like a brass fanfare, classical in nature, trilling and exuberant. The two duck and weave with it, building around it, and then knocking it down. Suite-like in concept, the piece follows ideas until reaching a pause, which then serves as the start of a new idea. There are moments when I think of the Zentral Quartett as the two touch on a style that feels a bit like how that classic quartet interpolated Germanic folk themes. From the regal to the squeaky, this is an ambitious piece that showcases the duo's deep listening and clever contrapuntal choices.

"Sequences of Snow" begins with a soundwave. The trumpet and clarinet deliver long passages comprised of pulses and inspired flights. For a moment, Wooley may be holding down a repetitive sequence, while Vandermark weaves a melodic statement around it, then suddenly the roles switch. Long moments of dissonant intervals sometimes precede a tonal event on the trumpet, or are punctuated by a sharp vocalization. Polyphonic trumpet tones and violent buzzing are pierced by high pitched legato notes from the clarinet (or do they do the piercing?), underscoring the fact that the duo's concept is comprised of strong understanding and adventurous ideas. At times, simple ear pleasing melodies emerge and change the energy and direction of the piece and about 2/3 of the way through the piece we're treated to one of those Vandermark riffs that you could hear delivered with power and a deep groove, but here is handled deftly in tandem by the duo.

This third offering from Wooley and Vandermark is easy to recommend, especially to the already initiated, but there is something- from the gentler melodies to the fierce runs- to engage all eager ears.