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Monday, June 17, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 5

By Martin Schray

On the one hand, the Vision Festival is about celebrating and honoring the greats of this music but it’s also about making sure that this music has a future. The evening was therefore be opened by the Visionary Youth Orchestra, a large formation of young students, that is an integral part of the festival and was led by William Parker this year.

Then Darius Jones’ quintet promised a different kind of Alto Gladness (to use an allusion to the Cecil Taylor tribute of the second evening) of the more future-oriented style. The band consisted of Jones (alto sax), Craig Weinrib (drums), Dezron Douglas (bass), Charlie Looker (guitar) and Michael Vatcher (percussion). Jones’ band turned Oliver Nelson's band title "The Blues and the Abstract Truth" into music by presenting themselves clearly rooted in blues and gospel on the one hand, but abstracting the structures of the genre on the other. Especially Jones' musical spectrum ranged from the old spirituals and Hard Bop to Coltrane. The set was divided into five parts, with Jones holding a melody line for a long time in the first one, over which Vatcher could let his percussion fly freely. The great emotionality and the beautiful mess that dominated the music were foiled by the enormous ease with which everything was played. A special moment followed in the fourth part, when Jones brutally and consistently played only one note for minutes and the rest of the band revolved around the eye of the hurricane. This was a very good intellectual, but soulful set. Jones has never disappointed me musically.

Darius Jones Quintet
As in Darius Jones' quintet, David Virelles Mbókò also had two percussionists, but they were much less expressive than Vatcher and Weinrib. Virelles' quartet consisted of Eric McPherson (drums), Román Díaz (percussion) and Rashaan Carter (bass). The music could best be described as Cuban free jazz. Very free passages competed with rather conventional rhythms and harmonies, which reminded strongly of the music of Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Often a clear, pulsating rhythmic basic structure was kept, which Virelles then broke open again and again. The most interesting part of the set was when the rhythm section gave up its fixed groove and played less confined. Román Díaz left the stage at the end and returned dressed as a shaman - a spiritual moment that also referred back to the first evening with Andrew Cyrille.

While the first two gigs of the evening and the complete program of the previous day were completely without dance interludes, it was time to reintegrate this aspect into the festival. The next program item focused on Patricia Nicholson (dance), supported by Cooper-Moore (piano, different instruments), Val Jeanty (percussion, electronics) and Bill Mazza (video art). Cooper-Moore's introduced the set and, as often, used ragtime and stride piano motifs, combining them with Cecil Taylor-like clusters. Then,     Nicholson entered the stage and Cooper-Moore switched to the flute and instruments he created. The set then evoked a more and more esoteric and world music-like atmosphere.

James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet
After Darius Jones’ concert I talked to a man who was sitting behind me. He said Jones would pursue Steve Coleman's approach to bring Charlie Parker and James Brown together and would raise the music to a new level. In Jones's music this may not have been so obvious, but in James Brandon Lewis' Unruly Quintet this was clearly evident. Lewis (tenor sax) was supported by Luke Stewart (bass), Warren G. Crudup III (drums), Anthony Pirog (guitar), and Jaimie Branch (trumpet). The band did not only combine Parker and Brown, but also Archie Shepp's Fire Music and the soul of Sly Stone with - say - Wilco’s alternative progrock. The result was an expressive, wrathful development of Miles Davis’ “On The Corner“ album. From the beginning there was no rest in this music, the set was one single string of highlights. The guitar, the bass and the drums were the rock in the surf and offered orientation, while the horns danced around each other like wild dervishes. But even when Branch and Brandon Lewis took a break, the intensity was simply carried on by the rhythm section. Brandon Lewis was constantly cheering them on with hollers and yells. Again and again the music was up to the pain threshold, then took a breath just to cross this border. Before the last piece "Haden is Beauty" Brandon Lewis once again emphasized the importance of the community idea and the political dimension of the music of this project. At the Woodstock Festival the band would have been loved and the audience at the Roulette was also enraptured.

Douglas R. Ewart & Bamboo Constellation for Joseph Jarman
The evening was concluded by Douglas R. Ewart & Bamboo Constellation for Joseph Jarman. Jarman passed away this year and consequently Ewart's project was a reminder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the overall concept of this band with performances that combined visual iconography, performance art, and music that was completely original in its concept of sound, silence, texture, and tonal color. Ewart (woodwinds) - like Jarman a member of the AACM - moved with the the whole band - Mankwe Ndosi (vocals), Reggie Nicholson (vibraphone), Mike Reed (drums), Brandon Ross (guitar), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Luke Stewart (bass), Germaul Barnes and Djassi DaCosta Johnson (dance) - in the hall as if we were part of an initiation ritual. Then a different, utopian, sunken, idyllic world was conjured up, which was also illustrated by the extraordinary timbres of the instruments. Also in this project the community idea was upheld. The performance would also have been a great conclusion for the whole festival.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 4

By  Martin Schray

After now being in New York for six days, I have to say that the city has never felt this stressful to me. As I’ve mentioned before I'm staying in the Bronx with friends of mine during the festival and last year it was quite comfortable to take a 2 Express Train up north from Brooklyn which lasted 60 minutes. This year there are no express trains running that late, all of them are local and incredibly slow. Additionally, the trains are horribly crowded, often late, and people push themselves to the side to get a seat. Fortunately thanks to Vision, there’s a lot of music to reflect on and distract me from what’s going on around the festival.

Ava Mendoza, Matt Nelson, Adam Lane and Hamid Drake sound checking 
Day 4 started with guitarist Ava Mendoza’s quartet consisting of Matt Nelson (sax), Adam Lane (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums). Mendoza, Nelson, and Lane are originally from Oakland/California and have all relocated to New York and she thought it might be interesting to bring them together in a freely improvised context with the iconic Hamid Drake. When a rather rock-orientated guitarist crashes into a saxophone trio, it always evokes memories of Last Exit to me, the seminal band with Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, and Ronald Shannon Jackson. Mendoza and her band started the set with static chords and tremolos. At the beginning the whole thing was like a huge, solid mass, which shifted slightly in different harmonic directions. The second part was more fragmentary and fissured, the music was more jazz oriented, especially when Mendoza took off her guitar effects. Later, the band played with the tempo, pulling back and pushing forward, not at all dissimilar to my subway experience. Finally, the musicians let the improvisation slip away completely, every steady rhythm got lost before Drake brought everything together again with a funky groove. The band is a perfect example of what jazz rock should be (unfortunately, you don't get it like that very often). The end then presented a nice, notated theme that completed the composition appropriately.

Marty Ehrlich’s Trio Exaltation
The next band was Marty Ehrlich’s Trio Exaltation. Ehrlich, who was on saxophone and bass clarinet for this gig, has been a long time contributor to New York’s improvised music scene, maybe his work is mainly known for his collaboration with the downtown music scene around John Zorn. Ehrlich likes to team up regularly with a consistent circle of musicians. That tendency toward familiarity makes Trio Exaltation all the more significant since he is presented with two players, bassist John Hébert and drummer Nasheet Waits, in an association that dates back to shared sideman roles in one of Andrew Hill’s ensembles. The trio presented five pieces of their album which was released on Clean Feed in 2018. Their music evaporated jazz history from all pores. It was based on notated guidelines and some of the themes were repeated frequently in order to permeate the improvisations. Small harmonic patterns were spun on and refined (by all three musicians). Marty Ehrlich used contrasting registers and overblown elements. At the end the trio bowed to Ornette Coleman (with “June 11, 2015 - In Memoriam: Ornette Coleman“) and Andrew Hill, whose composition „Dusk“ they played. Among all the really ambitious musical projects the audience seemed to be grateful for this almost classical jazz performance and the trio was celebrated with standing ovations.

As if this wasn’t enough, the next set was a real home match: pianist Matthew Shipp’s duo with William Parker (bass). Shipp, of course, remained Shipp with the violently struck chords and the smooth runs, which always looks as if he wants to pull off the keys. After all these years the understanding of the two is almost blind, although the set is freely improvised there were compelling unisono passages. While Parker's bass often rolled, Shipp on the other hand played with frayed and broken chords, sometimes you got the impression that parts of the notes were bitten off. Both played powerful riffs reminiscent of the blues and they rode them for a long time, only to let them fall apart in the following improvisation. In this process they exploited a wide spectrum of emotions: Anger, sadness, joy and much more.

Finally, all good things came in threes when it came to old-school free jazz: what followed, the Rob Brown Quartet with Steve Swell (trombone), Adam Lightcap (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums). The compositions of this band all followed a similar principle: the heads were presented in unison, then extensive solos of the individual musicians followed in turn. Especially the horns impressed with their tightness and sharpness. This became obvious in the second piece with Brown as well as Swell playing notes that almost burst. Once again, the audience seemed to be very receptive for this kind of music.

Kris Davis Trio: January Painters
The evening was closed by a group that was eagerly awaited: Kris Davis’s January Painters - with William Parker on bass and Jeff “Tain“ Watts on drums. Last year, Davis’s performance with Ambrose Akinmusire and Tyshawn Sorey was clearly the highlight of the festival and people were excited if she could present a similarly outstanding concert. In his interview with Alain Kirili the day before William Parker mentioned that if you once step into the free jazz river, you’re taken away by it. This is exactly what happened that night with the trio’s music: you just got carried away. Davis’s arpeggios gushed like a huge mountain stream over the rocky landscape created by bass and drums. Davis's playing was characterised by whirlpools, undercurrents, torrents, vortexes and tiny bays where the water (or improvisation) came to a standstill. Also with this trio, there were harmonic islands around which the music revolved. Moments of irrational intensity were extended in unexpected ways. The break that followed was, however, only very short, as if the current only wanted to regain strength. Then the music twitched, fidgeted, rushed and pulled at the listener again. Above all, it was the little things that were added that made this performance so extraordinary. Watts's cowbells, for example, or Davis' s piano preparations in the last part of the set. This piano trio was the most challenging and exciting one I’ve heard since listening to Cecil Taylor's Feel Trio. I guess Kris Davis delivered the performance of the festival again.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 3

By Martin Schray

Good festivals are always well-curated, they’re not just an accumulation of acts. Vision is a good festival. Their main focus is on the community character of art and then they concentrate on certain aspects within the different art forms and try to connect them over the days. Also, they’re able to surprise the audience. The first act on the third day was Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks and her project “Secret Journey, Duo - Stop Calling Them Dangerous." Chuma considers herself a conceptional performing artist and like Davalois Fearon Dance she combined music, dance, spoken word, and visual art. From the very first moment, the show was very tumultuous and the dancers were literally attacking the musicians. Especially Chuma, who bumped into pianist Dane Terry several times. The spoken word parts by Dan Peebles mentioned the chaos in wartimes establishing a link between the atomic bombings in Japan and the civil wars in Afghanistan and Syria. The music itself was a violent new classical music composition with a lot of contrasts between quiet, sad and pushing parts, sometimes similar to a requiem. The whole atmosphere seemed to be transferred to the audience, it was similarly chaotic with people rushing to and from their seats, the annoying click sounds of the SLR cameras, and people discussing. However, the music was very interesting and well-played by excellent musicians like Steve Swell and Christopher McIntyre (trombones), Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Devin Waldman (alto sax) plus the above already mentioned ones. In addition, there was Miriam Parker’s very expressive and energetic dance performance.

God Particle
Energy in its various manifestations was one of the mottoes of the evening. God Particle with Melvin Gibbs (electric bass, conduction), Stephon Alexander (EWI, soprano sax), James Brandon Lewis (tenor sax), Luke Stewart (basses), Graham Haynes (trumpet, electronics), Marc Cary (piano, synth), Ronnie Burrage (percussion) and David Pleasant (drums, body percussion) were said to explore the intersection between theoretical physics, jazz and improvisation. The question whether you can actually “play“ science and link it to spirituality was an interesting one and I have to admit that I had no expectations to that group (although the line-up was promising) and - speaking of surprises - the gig blew my mind. Already the beginning was very unusual: After a very brief introduction Gibbs called the whole band off the stage and the two percussionists of Total Sound Immersion played gongs and bowls preparing the set for the composition. What was to come ten was an actual rhythmic tornado propelled by the two basses and two amazing drummers (David Pleasant was just phenomenal). They created a powerful sound universe against which the wind section defended itself with extended, wide lines. The result was incredibly intense, it almost threatened to blow up the musical framework. However, the dramatic heads were also a resting place in this permanent vortex, in some moments I was reminded of Cecil Taylor’s European big bands. In addition, the heads were also an element to control where the improvisations should go, with Haynes and Brandon Lewis driving the music even further to the extreme. To my mind this was the best and most challenging act so far.

It was a good idea to give the audience some rest at that point and the conversation between Alain Kirili and William Parker just did that. The evening was also there to celebrate the work of the French sculptor, some of his work was projected while the bands were playing. Kirili talked about how he came to New York and his connection to the free jazz scene and how it influenced his work.

The next act to come was D/B/K/LH, an acronym for Whit Dickey on drums, Michael Bisio on bass, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and it was an excursion into a different kind of energy. Dickey, Bisio and Lonberg-Holm provided a fiddly, complex fabric of sound over which Knuffke’s cornet soare with cool jazz lines. The individual parts were separated by solo inserts, the band shifting structures almost imperceptibly, reminding me of large ice floes. Sometimes it was only the volume that structured the improvisation. Simple, but efficient. A very intricate, subtle set.

Alto Gladness
Vision is also always about remembering the late greats. Alto Gladness - An Odyssey of the Eb Saxophone paid tribute to the music of Cecil Taylor, mainly of his time when he taught at Antioch College in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His working band there, the Black Music Ensemble, an orchestra of students who created - along with his long-time collaborators Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille - a canvas for large scale works. Alto saxophonists Jemeel Moondoc, Bobby Zankel and Idris Ackamoor were parts of the horn section then. Moondoc said that he was thinking about doing this project for a long time and Ackamoor told the story that he hadn’t been sure whether he could play in CT’s band then because he had been recovering from an accident. However, Taylor just responded that if he was able to play just one single note, he wanted him to do that. For this night the three were augmented by William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They presented three compositions (each by one of the saxophonists), every one imbued with the spirit of Cecil Taylor's music, the heads never being completely unison, but always slightly disarranged. This was very much 1970s free jazz style and the audience appreciated it. The best moments were the duels of these three legends, with Ackamoor being the more powerful and Moondoc the more introspective player. Zankel, in addition, delicately modulated his improvisations echoing the preconceived material very effectively. This is also one of the great things about the Vision Festival: where else would you see such a band?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 2

By Martin Schray

After the well-attended focus on Andrew Cyrille on the opening day the “normal“ program started with Marc Ribot’s new band, which emerged from his last project Songs of Resistance, and also referred to his Spiritual Unity group which included Chad Taylor (drums), the late Roy Campbell (trumpet) and Henry Grimes (bass). Grimes was in the audience as well and lots of people said hello to great 83-year-old bass player. Ribot's new quartet features old and new musical partners like Jay Rodriguez on sax and flute, Nick Dunston on bass and Chad Taylor, the aforementioned drummer of the Spiritual Unity band. With his short solo introduction, Ribot created a link to the evening before by making a reference to Caribbean and Latin American rhythms and melodies. Ribot's style is based on heavy rock rhythms and distorted chords, which in combination with the Latin melodies of the saxophone and the driving grooves of the rhythm section makes up an exciting, intense contrast. You might fathom a Latin version of Last Exit. Ribot's guitar runs are deeply steeped in blues rock and always get out of hand in the right places. His music is rich with references: Hendrix, Captain Beefheart, Zappa, James Blood Ulmer. A great start into the evening.

Marc Ribot, Jay Rodriguez, Nick Dunston and Chad Taylor ,sound checking
What followed was drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio, a band he put together for the first time during his Stone residency last year and in which he brought the ubiquitous Tomeka Reid (cello) and Patricia Brennan (vibraphone) together for the first time. Again, there was a percussive approach to the compositions, however the set was more chamber-music-like. Basically, everything was very textural, like a wave that builds up constantly and shifts slowly. This sounds hard to digest but the music had something very light about it, it was swinging loosely. Brennan used a similar warp effect as Mary Halvorson, which gave the music very special, alienating timbres, reminding me of electronic music. There were subtle dynamic differences that sometimes pushed the music towards atmospheric soundscapes, especially when vibraphone and cello were bowed. Brennan is a musician people should look out for.

Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio
After that the evening’s program focused on spoken word. Lyric poets Edwin Torres and Fred Moten met a rhythm group consisting of Brandon Lopez (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Torres and Moten presented something one might call “screwball poetry“. While Torres had a certain intellectual and self-reflective appearance, Moten seemed more grounded and story-telling. Torres, on the one hand, created a movement which he called "Interactive Eclectrcism" combining movement, audience participation, music and songs. Moten, on the other hand, usually used a stream-of-consciousness approach in his poetry transforming it into something musical which was propelled by the material of language itself. His style was in the tradition of Amiri Baraka, at the end he drew a line from liberalism to neo-liberalism and fascism. Torres’s and Moten’s “dialogue of existence“, as they called it, was supported by Cleaver and Lopez pulling all the stops from polyrhythmic, organic grooves to free sound exploration.

The next show was a project created by dancer and choreographer Davalois Fearon and musical director Mike McGinnis (woodwinds). This mixture of improvised and composed music and dance was combined with a spoken word performance by Patricia Smith. Actually this project was everything in a nutshell the Vision Festival represents: a collaboration of improvised music, dance, visual arts and poetry. Smith delivered some kind of feminist poem in which she referred to an image of a house without windows which seemed to symbolize the situation of women. But the house’s “roof was on fire“ and the woman who was confined to it had no interest in extinguishing the flames because she wanted to see the man burn. In the end, the house with no window also became a deadly trap for the man. Unfortunately, the music only had a serving function, one could have imagined the trio - Gerald Cleaver on drums again, Peter Apfelbaum (piano, woodwinds) and Mike McGinnis - as an independent program item.

Kidd Jordan's tribute to Alvin Fielder
The evening was closed with Kidd Jordan’s tribute to Alvin Fielder, the legendary drummer and founding AACM member who passed away earlier this year. Jordan’s connection with Fielder goes back to the Improvisational Arts Quintet which they both established in the early 1970s. He also had a quartet with pianist Joel Futterman and bassist William Parker (Creative Collective) for more than twenty years. For this tribute performance, Hamid Drake joined Jordan, Futterman, and Parker, on the drums. As you can imagine, the quartet offered classical free jazz. Jordan played more wildly and freely than the evening before, perhaps also because his comrades-in-arms provided a background that made this possible. Nevertheless, he occasionally added small melodies and overblown passages here and there that strongly reminded me of Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The set was very spiritual and built up tight atmospheres which were held as long as possible. Futterman often worked with clusters, which reinforced the already very pulsating character of the music. Jordan was so moved by the band's performance that he dropped out and threw in spontaneous chants. And in fact, when you closed your eyes, you could think you were listening to a mid-thirties guy playing. The end was standing ovations for the man and his band, something he enjoyed extensively.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Vision Festival #24 - 2019 - Day 1

By Martin Schray

Last year I covered NYC's Vision Festival with Paul Acquaro, but since he has moved to Berlin, I’m on my own this year. New York welcomed me in its typical manic way: heavy clouds were hanging over the city, it was raining. On the bus from Newark Airport to the city it was on the news that a helicopter crashed into a building (fortunately, no terror attack). When I changed to the subway at Seventh Avenue the first thing I saw was an unconscious man surrounded by the police, I suppose due to an overdose. Then an obviously stressed out guy snarled at me for pushing him (I was pushed myself) and last but not least I got completely soaked on the way to my friends’ apartment up in the Bronx. Still, I was happy to be here and I was really looking forward to listening to some great live music.

The 24th Vision Festival is taking place at Roulette again, where it relocated to last year. As usual, the first day celebrates an artist’s lifetime of achievement, and this year the focus was on the creative spirit of legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille. Cyrille curated an evening with eight different formations, the first one called Haitian Fascination with Jean Guy-Rene (Haitian drum) and Quincy Troupe (poetry), a group he founded in 2005. It was a reference to his roots as Cyrille was born in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian immigrant parents. “His early exposure to the sounds, rhythms and culture of Haiti and the surrounding confluence of Brooklyn’s diversity greatly influenced his early musical development“ as the liner notes for the festival claim. This is what Cyrille paid tribute to with the first band. Cyrille and Guy-Rene revealed that the basis of jazz lies in the African-Caribbean rhythms, that there is a link between sound, grooves and nature, which was supported by Troupe’s words. Troupe, the co-author of Miles Davis’ autobiography, has been living in Haiti for nine years. He developed a whole outline from early worksongs to blues and free jazz, while at the same time referring to the spirituality and universality of the music. Later on he enumerated the titles of rhythm and blues tracks (“Johnny B. Goode“, “Roll over Beethoven“), blues songs (“Spoonful“, “Got My Mojo Working“) and mentioned the names of Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West and Beyoncé (among others) indicating that popular music would be nothing without these rhythms. The ground was prepared for the rest of the evening’s program.
Andrew Cyrille and Kidd Jordan
The next formation was a duo with Kidd Jordan and the audience enthusiastically welcomed the 84-year-old sax player, whom Cyrille had befriended in New Orleans a long time ago. Jordan's playing evoked the spirit of a lot that defines New Orleans music: the spirit of Mardi Gras songs, blues, traditionals, and freely improvised stuff. Cyrille supported him with polyrhythmic grooves but whenever it started to become a bit comfortable, Jordan broke out violently. Although he seemed to be really frail, he was ready to give everything he had in him, and the audience gave him standing ovations. Jordan was really moved and seemed to wipe away some tears in a very emotional moment. However, there was another one to come.

Then there was trio with Tomeka Reid (cello) and Beatrice Capote (dance). Cyrille claimed that he owed a lot to his work with dancers, claiming that he learned to solo through accompanying dance when he was at school. Especially at the beginning, Reid’s cello provoked a very gloomy atmosphere while Capote’s style was a mixture of ballet, performance, hiphop moves and voodoo rituals. The show seemed to be freely improvised, Capote and Cyrille interacted really nicely.

Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves 
It took a few minutes before the next set, Cyrille’s duo with Milford Graves, started. Physically, Graves was not in good shape as he could barely walk. Walking on crutches, he depended on the help of people and his drum set had do be carefully prepared so that he could play it effectively. The liner notes of the festival claim that “throughout his career Andrew Cyrille has been committed to investigating the full timbral and melodic qualities of the drums, resulting in a series of solo and collaborative percussion albums, including projects with Rashied Ali, Don Moye, and Kenny Clarke“. However, the most famous one is his duo with Graves. Before they started, Graves told the story how the two met in 1961 and how they played Latin Jazz. The gig revealed the true spirit of jazz rhythms as a joyous revolt from convention custom and sorrow, from everything that would confine the soul of man and preventing it to be free. Graves acted as if he was a combination of a shaman and a master of ceremonies, the music was a real dialogue of drums. At the end of the set Cyrille said how much he appreciates and loves Graves as a person and that he’s proud that he’s been part of his life. Graves wanted to respond but his voice failed, he was in tears. It was incredibly touching, a moment full of heartfelt, honest emotions. Although it was just the first day of the festival, it was a definite, unforgettable highlight.

The second set started with a duo of Cyrille and Stefan Roloff (Visual Arts). At this year’s Vision Festival the drummer wanted to present their collaboration Big Fire live, claiming that it “was a conversation between two international languages that don’t need translation - music and images“, as the Festival notes point out. Cyrille provided a steady groove on the bass drum, while Roloff’s images looked like an earth on fire that slowly morphed into a transparent face, on which joy and pain were reflected. Instant composing met intent painting. A very interesting approach.

Brandon Ross, Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith
One of Cyrille’s most recent projects is Lebroba, a trio with Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Frisell. However, Frisell was replaced by Brandon Ross for the show. At he beginning, Ross seemed to imitate Frisell’s textural approach but soon he emancipated himself contributing harsh, tight and jagged sounds. While Cyrille was playing completely free of time, Smith played muffled sounds of the utmost beauty and tenderness, as if Miles was jamming with Bill Dixon. It was a very stirring, yet rough concert. As to the music, it certainly was the highlight of the evening.

One of Andrew Cyrille’s most famous recordings is Nuba, an album with Jeanne Lee (voice) and Jimmy Lyons (sax). Lisa Sokolov, the singer in the next duo of the evening, dedicated the show to Jeanne Lee, who she called a constant inspiration. Her style was a mix of scat vocals, spoken words, opera and Jeanne Lee’s nervous blues. Cyrille supported her with dark lines on the toms using his mallets. 

Andrew Cyrille and Peter Brötzmann 
The evening closed with a nod to Cyrille’s European connection. He introduced Peter Brötzmann (sax, clarinet) and told the story when they met in Paris in 1966. Brötzmann was working with Carla Bley, Mike Mantler, Aldo Romano and Peter Kowald in one of the clubs when Cecil Taylor and his band showed up. Brötzmann said the he would always remember Cyrille’s smile. Brötzmann and Kowald invited the drummer to work with them for FMP later on and the collaboration has lasted until today. Last night it was very interesting to hear Brötzmann with an American drummer, he was really bluesy and rough, never cheesy or comfortable. Brötzmann seemed to enjoy this a lot, there were no-frills to the music. As usual he used some of his typical melodies and riffs and in combination with Cyrille’s style this was very refreshing. All in all, it was the best Brötzmann set I’ve seen in the last two years, a really worthy ending of the first day at the Vision 24.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Pierre-Yves Martel & Philip Zoubek - Otherwise (Insub, 2018) ****

By Stef

The album cover art depicts a car on the edge of a surface collapse. It still has some chances, but not much. It is unclear what will happen or even whether anything will happen. At the same time, there is a strange beauty to be found in the picture. The uniformity of the color, the contrast between the white of the snow and the darkness of the earth. Both the story (will the car fall?) as the aethetics (white vs dark harmonised in a green sheen) present an inherent tension. As a viewer, your attention is captivated and you are left with a big question mark.

The same can be said of this music. Carl Ludwig Hübsch plays tuba, objects and pitch pipes, Pierre-Yves Martel plays viola da gamba, pitch pipes and synthesizer, and Philip Zoubek plays piano and synthesizer. It is their third album, and it is powerful in a quiet way. The three artists create a wonderful sonic environment that is both menacing and calming, it builds tension but it's at the same time strangely harmonious. The combination of piano, tuba and viola is as unusual as it is effective: rhythms are fragmented yet implicitly present, minute tones are stretched and contrasted with the deep resonance of the tuba and the high voice of the viola.

Like their other albums - "June 16" (2013) and "Drought" (2016) - the collective improvisation is tight and I would even say that it has become more subtle and precise. On the second track (of two) they use synthesisers to create a backdrop of changing and oscillating noise. Purists may cringe at the thought, but I encourage them to listen with an open mind. It works, and it increases the intensity of the piece, adding darkness and sonic density.

Listen and be captivated.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ralph Alessi – Imaginary Friends (ECM, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

It’s always somewhat puzzling when a musician with trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s chops can’t quite seem to earn the same accolades as a leader that he typically receives as a sideman. Despite having played superbly in an associate role with an astonishingly wide array of counterparts—everyone from Fred Hersch and Don Byron to Sam Rivers, Steve Coleman, Tom Rainey and Tomas Fujiwara—Alessi’s own albums haven’t always lived up to their promise. Alessi has flawless technique and he possesses an imaginative compositional approach, grounded in a deep musicality that is both challenging and eminently listenable. Yet his latest record, Imaginary Friends, despite having Alessi’s trademark high-caliber musicianship and his top-shelf working band, This Against That, in support, seems somehow less than the sum of its parts. Although it’s a very good record, one can’t help but wonder why it’s not a great one.

Alessi has been playing with these colleagues in this configuration for over a decade, and they’ve issued two previous releases: Look (Between the Lines, 2006) and Wiry Strong (Clean Feed, 2011). In many respects it’s an ideal lineup, as bassist Drew Gress and drummer Mark Ferber have the ability to pivot between groove and open-ended liquidity that is ideal for Alessi’s expansive tunes, while pianist Andy Milne and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane bring sophisticated harmonic intuitions and a lyrical sensibility that vividly illustrate Alessi’s soundscapes. And they spent a European tour honing the material on this album before finally going into the studio to document it in mid-2018.

One thing worth emphasizing is that when this album works, it works really well. The album’s opener, “Iram Issela,” has a gradually-building intensity, with a poignant melody that expands outward until Coltrane eventually takes it over with an emotionally wrenching solo. Other pieces give a taste of what the band can do when it feels its rhythmic potency: “Fun Room” thrives off of a punchy groove reminiscent of Milne and Alessi’s tenure with Steve Coleman, while “Melee” has a deliciously crafty off-meter melody that gives the whole band a chance to stretch out for over ten minutes of glorious post-bop, with Alessi in particularly fine form launching into an invigorating solo over some especially feisty work from the rhythm section.

But the fire that ignites these pieces is unfortunately in danger of being doused by the album’s more subdued moments. One is tempted to chalk this up to the distinctively restrained ECM aesthetic; Alessi himself notes that working with producer Manfred Eicher encourages him to “respect the space in the music,” leaving more room for indeterminacy and openness to emerge. There’s an element of mystery that thus shines through moody tracks like “Pittance” or “Around the Corner,” and they are not without their own appeal. But they exist in uneasy tension with the headier stuff on the record; and the bottom line is that this band is as its best when it’s really going for it. Too often the musicians seem to lose their purpose on the more melancholy, meandering pieces, something that subtracts a good bit of the energy from the music. Even an up-tempo piece like “Fun Room” is noticeably tamer and less assertive when brought into the ECM studios; comparing the exhilarating version recorded live at Moers below with the decidedly more temperate one on the album makes this abundantly clear.

Imaginary Friends ’ shortcomings aside, it’s evident that this is a band with enormous potential, and Alessi will assuredly make his masterpiece with these guys at some future point, even if he hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

From the Moers festival in 2018:

Monday, June 10, 2019

Rodrigo Amado & Chris Corsano - No Place to Fall (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

Readers of this blog need no introduction to the work of Portuguese sax player Rodrigo Amado and Chris Corsano. Their collaboration in a quartet with sax and pocket trumpet player Joe McPhee and double bass player Kent Kessler won 5 stars reviews on the blog (This Is Our Language, Not Two, 2012, and A History of Nothing, Trost, 2018). No Place to Fall is a studio recording of Amado - focusing on tenor sax - and Corsano from July 2014 at Manouche Studios, Lisbon. It is a released as limited edition of 175 red shelled cassettes and 500 discs plus download option. 

The title of this album captures faithfully the urgent and restless atmosphere of this meeting. Amado and Corsano soar instantly into dense, turbulent stratosphere like there is no tomorrow. Both play with boundless energy, relying on their deep understanding of the art of the moment and super-fast instincts. They fill the room with their busy, muscular and conversational interplay, rarely settling on a fixed pulse or a theme, always pushing forward and sounding as a much bigger unit already on the opening piece “Announcement”.

Amado and Corsano begin the following “Don’t Take It Too Bad” with a leisured mode and some fractured, bluesy undercurrents, but soon surf again on another powerful wave. Amado's delivery here is full of charisma, alternating freely between a singing tone and investigating complex rhythmic patterns. He begins the title track with a series of Ayler-ian calls, cries squeaks but soon Corsano rolls in and challenges him to fly higher and faster, as if even a brief stop would guarantee a downward fall for both of them. “Into the Valley” feeds on the tough yet ecstatic climax of the title piece but explores a sparse theme while Amado and Corsano keep searching for different perspectives and modes that would serve best this fleeting theme, including playful, instant-shifting rhythmic games. The last “We'll Be Here In The Morning” suggests a completely different course, openly emotional and quite lyrical. Amado sings his heart out in a gentle, warm voice while Corsano colors his singing voice with sensitive, minimalist touches until both dance around each other.

Do yourselves a favor and take this sonic pill of positive, uplifting energy. You are guaranteed to thank Amado and Corsano later.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Macie Stewart & Lia Kohl - Pocket Full of Bees (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Macie Stewart (violin, voice) and Lia Kohl (cello, voice) play freely for four tracks lasting 23 minutes on Pocket Full of Bees. Both Stewart and Kohl perform within both pop/rock and more experimental spheres but blog readers are probably most familiar with Kohl through ZRL (alongside Ryan Packard and Zachary Good) and with Stewart through her work in Marker. Both appear on Tim Daisy’s October Music (Volume 3) 7 Compositions for Duet, though separately. Their first released recording together is Steve Gunn’s The Unseen In Between from this year, and I suspect these sessions are in some way connected to those since the recording engineer for that mixed and mastered this.

I think of Pocket Full of Bees as practices in approaching harmony and resonance with the self, the instrument, and one another. The similar timbres of the violin and cello further compliment each other by employing similar technique simultaneously. Both saw, radiating overtones, and Kohl’s droning propeller plane is met with Stewart’s whistling tea kettle on “Big Space Little Nothing;” Kohl and Stewart tap the strings with the bow, bow below the bridge, and strike the strings on “Toothpick Bicycle;” and the cello and violin fall into a rhythmic pluck together on “There’s Something In My Sock (It’s Good).” Like their soundings, their voicings are often similar to each other timbrally and technically, with both emitting oohs, eees, aaahs, shhhs, shrill shrieks, and purrs together. And their voicings are often similar to their soundings, with call-and-response vocalization matched with contrapuntal instrumentation or sustained bowings matched with held singing. And finally the structures seem to culminate in harmony: “Big Space Little Nothing” ends with Kohl and Stewart phasing into vocal harmony; “Toothpick Bicycle” begins with the cello and violin varying their cadences to phase in and out of harmony; and “Honey Not Sweet” sees their voicings obtain a pulsing resonance together.

Though harmonious, the music is not necessarily melodious. Heavy use of extended techniques on the strings contributes to an environment that’s often tense, always timbrally rich, and alternately playful and plaintive. It’s not trance-inducing but it is meditative. And there’s a kind of soulfulness or spiritual nakedness approached here. It can sometimes recall the journey of Andrew Smiley’s Dispersal (also on Astral Spirits), but taken with a partner. A recording to treasure, for sure.

Pocket Full of Bees is a digital-only release.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ken Vandermark & Terrie Ex - Scaffolding (Terp, 2019) ****

Ken Vandermark says that his second album with Dutch guitarist Terrie Ex, aka Terrie Hessels, is “perhaps the most successful documentation of my struggle to battle Derek Bailey's axiom: The problem with the saxophone is that every time you pick it up, it's jazz”. And indeed, any musical meeting with Hessels is an enchanting opportunity to encounter a series of known unknowns, as there is no way to know in what which Hessels is going to surprise you. Hessels always plays with urgent, nervous energy and complete irreverence to form or narrative; he refuses to settle on any rhythmic patterns and his sense of time and space are totally intuitive and rely on his super-fast instincts. Plus, he is gifted with wild imagination and sharp, dadaist sense of humor. “Terrie's improvising puts me into a context where most of the musical languages I know fail to communicate, their vocabulary and grammar are completely foreign to needs at hand,” concludes Vandermark, “when playing with him I am constantly pushed to try and invent new techniques and methods of articulation to express myself.”

Vandermark and Hessels have been collaborating for 15 years now. Vandermark has joined on about 100 performances of Hessels’ band, The Ex. Both also play in the Lean Left quartet (with The Ex’ guitarist Andy Moor and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) and in Vandermark’s new large ensemble Entr'acte. They released their debut duo album, Splinters, culled from performances that took place in 2014 and 2015, on Vandermark’s label Audiographic. Scaffolding was recorded in Hessels’ attic by his daughter, singer-songwriter Lena Hessels, in December 2017, and released on Ex's label, Terp.

As Guy Peters mentions in his liner notes, these good friends somehow manage to find “seemingly incompatible tactics that somehow fit together.” The tactics, as the titles often suggest, are quite chaotic, and opt for muscular head-on collisions and jumpy cat-and-mouse games with a raw, in-your-face sound. There is no end to the energy of Vandermark and Hessels on the opening “Fixed Length Pelican” or to the countless manners that both attempt to outsmart or humor each other, sometimes simultaneously, on “New Paper.” You can feel their close intimacy on the somewhat lyrical “Paid by the Kilometer” or their joy of stretching and mutating any rhythmic pattern on “Attic Group”. Vandermark disciplines Hessels' hammering - literally - on the guitar strings into an abstract, melancholic soundscape. “Second Hand Diary” is the only piece with leisurely, conversational interplay. “Instant Extant” highlights the emotional, poetic depth of this unique duo. Both sing praises to their friendship over a plate of “Herring”, but would not miss a chance to tease each other on the following “Another Good Idea” or to trade humorous comments about dear friend of both, legendary drummer Han Bennink, on the last “This Is Not Han's Pipe”.

Inspiring but dense 34 minutes of total freedom (which does not sound like jazz at all).

Friday, June 7, 2019

Paul Flaherty - Focused & Bewildered (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

"So...Who is this guy?" These words are a touchstone in the liner notes for Mr. Flaherty's first solo release, 2003's Voices. The notes are an insightful reckoning on what it means to be a free improvising artist (he was 54 at that time, and had already been at it for most of his life). He speaks of "the artist in residence", that part of him that just wants to blow, to shed the tired conventions and self-conscious-over-thinking and just play. Play and see where it takes him. Play and chase the coattails of his crazed goddamn muses into the cool green valleys of the Promised Land. It's been 11 long years since Paul Flaherty released a solo album. The last was his 2008 masterpiece Aria Nativa (an all-time favorite of mine), so I was extremely excited to hear about this new release from Relative Pitch. Honesty pours from the bell of his horn. There are no gimmicks, there's no overt cleverness, only white-hot sparks of humanity raining down on all of those with a mind to listen. His twisted outbursts are caustic indeed, but often capped with strikingly plaintive cries; beseeching the void for her hidden truths. His collaborations are multitude and have yielded some of the fieriest American free jazz in the last 20 years. His long running duos with drummers Randall Colbourne and Chris Corsano are the stuff of legend. Some of my favorite collabs have pitted Flaherty against the all-out guitar squall of Bill Nace and/or Thurston Moore. He's also conspired with the likes of Wally Shoup, Steve Swell, Daniel Carter, Greg Kelley, Weasel Walter, C. Spencer Yeh, Steve Baczkowski, John Moloney, Tiger Hatchery and on and on. This new release, Focused & Bewildered, presents 10 new cuts of Flaherty going it alone, full strength and unfiltered, straight from the tap.

The first track "Where has the future gone lately" begins plaintively, in his fashion, before developing into a full-throated roar. Flaherty's trademark vibrato and audible growls shade the piece and it is immediate and entrancing. "Shaped by heavy light" weaves a similarly hypnotizing pattern before a wave of staccato phrases bursts forth, dissipating just as quickly back into rough avant-blues. He begins a brief rhythmic motion in "Patience finds the long game" before abandoning it and abruptly launching into an extended passage of gravelly glossolalia. "Children in need of defense" is a brief distillation of moaning grief countered with what sounds to me like unbridled rage. The title hinting at the horrors unleashed on the innocent by a rogue orange buffoon. "You're about to be robbed dude” highlights one of his defining traits, working strands of golden melody into great sinewy and broken forms. It gets hot indeed, but it's always inventive and authentic. The next track, "It stomps among us" finds the saxophonist firing rhythmic barbs and gruff honks between passages of lamentation interleaved with plaits of squawk and throaty moaning. "Power or service" features many of Flaherty's characteristic turns-of-phrase and melody folding. I sometimes detect shades of Giuseppe Logan in his playing, this track being a good example of that. Both players have an inherent honesty in their phrasing that makes it almost speech-like. On "Flabbergasted empathy" Flaherty works himself into a true brown study. You can hear his horn resonating as the great column of wind conjures aural poltergeists. On "Public outrage blues" he continues to purge his demons, pausing occasionally for a melodious taffy pulling or a blast of sharp edged skronk. The last track, "One touch of a car horn" presents a thorough distillation of all that has come before. A closing statement, if you will.

"So...who is this guy?" I find Flaherty to be a branch of the true vine, Hartford's own free jazz street preacher. I probably read too much into his particularly expressive playing, but in a climate where words are cheap and lies bounteous it comes across as an honest but caustic elixir. The way his long, bluesy, introspective phrases suddenly erupt into a dazzling shards of light, seemingly refracted through the dirty, broken glass ashtray that is 21st century America inculcates a sense of grief, frustration, and anger. And in this sense it reaches me as an extraordinarily honest and human expression in these dark times. All of this delivered by a set of lungs that could put a blow dart through a cinder block wall.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Damon Smith - Winter Solos for Robert Ryman (Balance Point Acoustics, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Despite performing solo frequently, Winter Solos for Robert Ryman is contrabassist Damon Smith’s first solo recording. Its four tracks document a half hour live performance that occurred four days after the death of Robert Ryman, the minimalist, monochrome painter to which the recording is dedicated and whose works provide the names of each track here. By some serendipity, the performance took place during a heavy snow, the natural world reflecting Ryman’s fields of white.

Abstraction in the visual arts has roots in improvisation in the sonic arts, with Kandinsky’s polyrhythmic lines, free color, and improvisations inspired by his synaesthetic experience of jazz. This line of influence traces through Ryman, who originally moved to New York City intending to become a jazz saxophonist, even taking lessons from Lennie Tristano. And it’s mirrored in Smith, who explicitly draws significant influence from the visual arts. In preparing for his first solo recording, Smith wanted “something definitive, an overview of [his] work as it stands,” so it’s fitting that a visual artist would be a focal inspiration for it. And, like Ryman pushed boundaries with the limited timbres of white, Smith intended to do so with the limited colors of contrabass.

“Surface Veil” begins with aggressive arco, the strings overpressured, the playing impassioned, and the sound sometimes like black metal growls before transitioning to a rapid, pointillistic bowing that produces whirling lines of rapidly fluctuating volume and time and a fractured melody in its overtones. “Reference” then exercises plucking techniques with enthusiasm, strings slapping against the neck as palms and fingers slap against strings, bent notes left to hang after physical flurries; the other half is a collage of timbral impressions, quickly moving through a series of approaches and techniques. The springy, diminishing pulse of prepared bass, drumming the body, and attacking the body with chains and objects characterizes “Cord” until Smith bows something like tape playing in reverse. And “Attendant” somewhat returns to the overtone-rich, dynamically-deranged arco of the first track.

Though it can begin to feel systematic in cataloging his style or to blend together like a colorfield, Smith has perfect pacing, injecting emotivity to offset sterility and varying technique to offset monotony. From what I’ve heard of Smith, it’s an authentic expression of his self, a successful definitive overview. It’s an apt dedication, worthy of its dedicatee. It’s a solo bass record to be enjoyed and contemplated.

Winter Solos for Robert Ryman is available digitally and on cassette.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sakata/Yermenoglou/Di Domenico/Damianidis - Hōryū​-​Ji (El Negocito Records, 2019) ****½

There aren’t many things happening right now that connect the international free jazz and improvisational scene with Greece. So, it is a joy to review this album recorded a year back in Thessaloniki at Duende Jazz club. We haven’t witnessed that much of Akira Sakata’s art in this part of the world. Even though he has been spreading fire music combined with ritualistic traditions of his birthplace for about 5 decades.

On this recording he teams up with two great Greek improvisers, Christos Yermenoglou (drums, percussion) and Giotis Damianidis (electric guitar). Along with the constantly in top form pianist Giovanni Di Domenico they create a Coltrane-ish affair, celebrating free thinking music of love, peace and solace. This is a vinyl and download only release, and the LP is comprised of two long improvisations clocking at fifty minutes.

Sakata’s presence always marks a recording as a must have for me. I’ve many times caught myself listening to him intensely. Pure joy comes out of his passionate reeds, the way he integrates vocalizations, screams, growls within his playing while in no way he is saturating his partners. Sakata’s rituals bare a collective symbolism of catharsis akin to the long tradition of Japan’s music.
But he is not alone in all this. The two long improvisations provide enough room and space for their collective playing. Being a fan of Yermenoglou, I always enjoy his easiness to integrate, act and react upon the challenges the others put on him. Here my minimal technical knowledge sees him as a duo with the piano of Di Domenico. The team up seemingly playing in close proximity.Even though there is no double-bass, this recording suffers not from the lack of rhythm. Di Domenico’s chameleonic playing provides additional rhythms, while in other cases is the melodic conjuction with the others. He can play so free in a late period Coltrane way and a few minutes later he seems so disciplined in order to balance the fierce attack of Damianidis electric guitar.

At first the guitar, the way it sounded and how it reacted with the others puzzled me. It certainly has a more rockish timbre, it’s even psychedelic someone could comment. It’s definitely not the “typical” electric guitar of improvisational recordings. At some points Damianidi’s guitar freaks out and goes its own way defying any expectations of the listener. That could be a very accurate description for this LP. Even though I listened to it with joy and enthusiasm from its first seconds (and this attitude sometimes makes any existing flaws inaudible…), it continued to thrill me even after repeated listening.

@ koultouranafigo

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mark Dresser Seven - Ain’t Nothing But A Cyber Coup & You (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½

Double bass master Mark Dresser is visionary explorer of the bass, a profound but playful composer and a sharp commentator on the dark, current times, all at once and much more. Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is the sophomore album of the Dresser Seven, following Sedimental You (Clean Feed, 2016), and features himself accompanied by the same lineup of long-time comrades - flutist Nicole Mitchell, reeds player Marty Ehrlich, trombonist Michael Dessen, pianist Joshua White, drummer Jim Black, and new addition, violinist Keir GoGwilt.

The visionary side of Dresser is distilled this time into five, brief solo bass improvisations aimed at expanding the timbral range and vocabulary of the bass, often sounding like an alien woodwind instrument. These pieces are performed on a unique bass adaption, invented by Dresser’s friend, luthier and fellow bass player Kent McLagan - The McLagan Tines - a set of seven graduated steel rods attached to a secondary bridge that touches the bass bridge, activating the resonant cavity of the bass.

Dresser notes that his new compositions embrace jazz tradition in a more direct manner than in the past, especially their energy and captivating melodies. He reflects on the seminal influence of Charles Mingus as as bass player-composer-bandleader who engaged with similar dystopian political landscapes from a place of hope and positive potential. And the spirit of Mingus does fuse the opening, propulsive piece, “Black Arthur’s Bounce”, dedicated to the memory of alto saxophonist and composer Arthur Blythe. More than forty years ago Dresser played with Blythe in the Los Angeles-based Black Music Infinity band, along with Bobby Bradford, James Newton and David Murray. Later Ehrlich also played with Blythe when Ehrlich arrived in New York. Erlich’s alto sax invokes the instantly identifiable tone and energy of Blythe, while the Seven builds strong, layered rhythmic patterns. The second Mingus-ian piece, the title-piece, is Dresser’s attempt to give “acerbic levity to our national reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare”. This song-like piece flows with irresistible, uplifting energy and offers great solos of Mitchell, White and Ehrlich on the clarinet.

Two pieces offer Dresser’s innovative, compositional ideas and address purely musical agendas. “Gloaming” is Dresser’s fourth piece that investigates the waltz form, using multiple levels of polyrhythm that expand and contract within shifting meters. This lyrical pieces highlights the expressive, contemplative bass solo from Dresser, which corresponds with like-minded solos of Dessen and GoGwilt. "Embodied in Seoul” was conceived originally for the 2018 telematic concert Interconnections For Peace between ensembles in New York City, San Diego, and Seoul, now rearranged again for the Seven and enables it to improvise on the fleeting melodic theme but eventually erupts as a harmolodic whole, with powerful rhythmic Black and Dresser himself.

“Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is inspired by the headline from New York Times column by economist Paul Krugman, written in response to President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Its bass line abstracts the melody of “Que Bonita Bandera”, the unofficial national anthem of Puerto Rico, but sets the melodic core in a totally different atmosphere. The dark, melancholic and occasionally even chaotic tone reflects the tragic situation of this poor American territory. The last piece, “Butch’s Balm”, dedicated to Dresser’s late friend, pianist Butch Lacy, deepens even farther the emotional vein. This touching lament was inspired by a beautiful melody “of stark simplicity and pure emotion” that Lacy played to Dresser shortly before his death.

An inspiring celebration of provocative, cerebral fun.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Lotus Lungs - Guitar Improv Summit Vol. 1 (Right Brain Records, 2019) ****

By Gregg Daniel Miller

This is an unusual record. Improvising guitar trios are not unheard of, but not often, perhaps not enough. If you’re looking for something you haven’t heard before, this may be it. In Bill Horist, Tom Scully, and Matt Benham, we have three extremely accomplished, creative musicians playing a mix of electric and acoustic guitars. The full panoply of effects are at their disposal. In addition to picking, bowing, and a few heavy metal chords, their guitars turn into gongs and bells, birds, the human voice, computery glitches and pops, shimmers, screeches, warbles, plus any and all of them backwards. It’s a bit like being in an industrial kitchen with a wandering ear which focuses on different sound sets. The emphasis is on tones, timbre, and rhythms: wavering, still, caustic, calming. All the moods are represented, some all at once, none for too long, some for not long enough. Only the first and ninth songs are truly annoying. The fourth and sixth tracks (“Floating Mountain” and “The Steam in Sand”) are the most coherent. But throughout, if you don’t like one of the conjunctures, just wait a moment, you’ll get there. The three guitarists do not really develop a sound; instead they are leaping from sound palette to sound palette, testing which will float, sink, or sail. They don’t seem to be guided by math or roadmaps, sequences or cycles. The sounds are more like nature in an urban setting. We hear nature’s rustling, but cross-traffic intervenes, and each intermittently becomes the support for the other. This music is both experimental and creative. I can’t hear any real conversation happening across the 3 guitars. It’s more that each guitarist takes a decidedly different strip of sound, and the 3 voices together interleave to get the result. A very cool, short video of their recording session using prepared guitars is here:

The recording can be found on Bandcamp, or here.

Right Brain Records is the new, digital only, Seattle-based non-profit “label” of sound engineer Scott Schaffer, dedicated to putting out new experimental music. The subject of digital-only labels came up recently in Jeremiah Cymerman’s 5049 podcast in an interview with guitarist and studio wizard James Plotkin. Plotkin remarked to the effect of: “Who needs a digital-only label? I have an internet connection, I can put out my own stuff on Bandcamp.” It’s a good question, and maybe one of the answers has to do with curatorial judgment. Put enough strong outings under the same moniker, who knows, maybe a digital-only label can take off.

Full disclosure, I have played with Tom Scully and Matt Benham in different musical configurations, but I solemnly pledge that if I didn’t like this record, I would faithfully do my duty and let you good readers know.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Gil Sansón / Lance Austin Olsen - Works on Paper (Elsewhere, 2019) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

How abstract, visual art is translated into graphic scores and vice versa? Venezuelan composer-visual artist Gil Sansón and British, Vancouver-based composer-painter Lance Austin Olsen attempt to answer this kōan in four imaginative textures.

Neither of Sansón and Olsen are ordinary musicians. Sansón is a self-taught composer who defines himself a “lifelong music student”. His musical origins are in rock, avant rock, classical music, contemporary music, and electro-acoustic improvisation, and his music is not governed by dialectics and shies away from rhetoric or representation, narrative concerns or virtuoso playing. Olsen is known for his abstract large-scale works, where the surface is endlessly reworked, with each subsequent piece forming a record or narrative of ongoing discovery. Through this process the viewer experiences an inextricable link between the activity of producing the work as well as the sense that they are seeing but one element in a lifelong pursuit. He began working with sound in 1997 and released limited-edition album on his label Infrequency.

Sansón and Olsen began to work together, long distance, in 2014 when Olsen painted the cover of Sansón's Immanence, A Life (Makam, 2015). Soon both decided to enhance their profound, mutual understanding to collaborative musical projects through realizations of each other's graphic scores or paintings. Their first collaborative piece, Sansón’s graphic score for “A Meditation on the History of Painting”, was released on Olsen's Dark Heart (Another Timbre, 2018). Works on Paper offers four new collaborative works: On the first disc, recorded in Caracas, Sansón interprets two variations of Olsen's painting-graphic score "Pra Mim (2016)"; On the second disc, recorded in Victoria, British Columbia, Olsen offers two variations of his interpretation of Sansón's graphic score “Meditations (2017)”.

Sansón plays on Olsen’s “Pra Mim #2 - Works on Paper” and “Pra Mim #1 - Fail Better” variations the acoustic guitar, melodica, violoncello, electronics, objects and field recordings, samples the voice of America sound artist A. F. Jones, as well as excerpts from two compositions of his own, performed by pianist Dante Boon, and excerpts from experimental Dutch composer Antoine Beuger's “Monodies pour Mallarmé”, performed by soprano Anna Rosa Rodriguez. Sansón manages to arrange all these contrasting medium and transform-paint all into a multilayered, kinetic and colorful texture. This rich, expansive texture still sounds intimate, delicate and quite mysterious.

Despite the geographical distance, the distinct methods of composing-painting, and different backgrounds in musical aesthetics, Olsen’s variations explore like-minded inner worlds. Olsen plays on Sansón’s “Meditations #3” and “Meditations #2” (part of the graphic score is captured on the cover) lone, un-tuned guitar, amplified objects, shruti box, samples, including found wax cylinder recording, and excerpts from his work “Craig’s Stroke” performed by vocalist John Luna and organist Debora Alanna. The atmosphere on these sonic meditations-sound paintings is more intense and tensed but also more austere and compassionate, as if envisions a dark, threatening future.

Every listening to this unique work of art may bring completely different answers, all insightful and all valid, to the kōan of Sansón’and Olsen.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Loren Connors & Daniel Carter - The Departing of a Dream (Family Vineyard, 2019) ****½

By David Menestres

The Departing of a Dream, vol. VII continues work that Loren Connors began in 2002, responding to the classic Miles Davis tune “He Loved Him Madly.” Since his first release in 1978, Connors has evolved into one of the most idiosyncratic of guitarists working today. He is deeply rooted in the blues tradition, but the music he plays has long outstripped any association with what is commonly referred to by that genre term while still managing to cut straight to the heart of the blues. Daniel Carter, an equally renowned multi-instrumentalist, has been active for even longer, working with everyone from Gunter Hampel and William Parker to David Grubbs and Spring Heel Jack, with tenure in groups including Test and Other Dimensions in Music.

The shards of reverb dripping off of Connor’s guitar are at times so violent they sound like one of Z’EV’s metallic sculptures caught in the contrails of a jet, and at times are as soft as a long lost daydream echoing in a desert canyon. Carter’s trumpet and saxophone chart a slow path behind Connors’ guitar, a counterpoint that dips in and out of sight, like a small river that runs down mountains and across wide plains as it searches for an outlet to the sea. This is music that swells and ebbs and demands close listening. Cranking it as loud as possible on your stereo offers one set of answers, listening to it softly draws back the veil on a different set of questions.

The music is jazz without being jazz, the blues without being the blues. It’s just music, made by two excellent explorers, each still searching after however many decades. Well worth many spins on your turntable or your hard drive.