Sunday, June 30, 2019

Tyler Damon & Dave Rempis – Full Yum (Park 70, 2018) ****½


By Tom Burris

Another out-of-print cassette review for ya. But you can get the download on Bandcamp and listen to it on your phone – which is how you were gonna listen to it anyway. And if you're even remotely interested in Kuzu, you'll need to stick this in your phone immediately. Rempis and Damon are perfect foils for each other, their dynamic making it often impossible to tell who is leading who for much of the set.

“Give You The Good Taste” (Side A) kicks off at full tilt and keeps that momentum up for long enough to make you wonder how much longer they can do it – but eventually it lands on a hard bop Blue Note session. For about two minutes. Then it's interstellar spacemen trampling all over your dad's record collection in a way that I can only describe as radical free music perfection. Damon is giving Rempis everything he's got and Dave throws it right back in Tyler's face with some added – and it escalates like this until the end. Just... wow.

“Classic Aftertaste” (Side B) begins softly (yes) with a somewhat rhythmically stiff pattern, which gradually loosens and swings more as it develops. The interplay between the two is so deep the music starts to swing like a motherfucker, dancing itself into a frenzy. Rempis is perfect here. Nothing is out of place and everything he does serves to elevate the music – and his partner's reaction to it. And as before, Damon is inspired to the point that he always throws more back in than he receives. The music moves between grooves and free ecstasy, always balancing on the line between structure and freedom – finally culminating in the last minute when 60 seconds of total freedom sound entirely composed.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Trumpet & Drums

By Stef

Despite the simplicity of the line-up, the variations are endless, as is testified by the albums reviewed here. Four trumpet-drums duos, four completely different styles and totally different listening experiences.


Whit Dickey & Kirk Knuffke - Drone Dream (NoBusiness, 2019) ****


Drummer Whit Dickey and cornetist Kirk Knuffke bring their sophomore album, after "Fierce Silence" from some years ago. Knuffke seems to like small settings, with pianists (Harold Danko, Jesse Stacken, Karl Berger), reedists (Ben Goldberg), bassists (Michael Bisio) or drummers (Mike Pride, Whit Dickey), but with each of those other musicians, the music is different, from modern jazz with traditional influences to free outings such as this one. Despite my joy of listenting to Knuffke's playing, his music is not always the right fit for this blog, but this one surely is. Dickey is the initiator of much of the music here, offering the intro, with his typical lyrical open-ended playing, creating implicit rhythmic foundations for the horn to add the melodic element. Both instruments use the full sounds they are intended for: straightforward and authentic, direct and warm. Yet the music isn't. It's meditative at times, soaring at others, playful or with a deep moaning sound. Never violent, always intimate and fresh. Always free.

A great sequel to a great predecessor.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Luis Vicente & Vasco Trilla - Bright Dark (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½


Even though this album has been reviewed before, I can only recommend it again. Despite the fun artwork, the music is dark. It emerges from nondescript and weird sounds emanating from both trumpet and drums. Vicente and Trilla treat us to a wonderful exploration of deep darkness and its emotional equivalent. At the same time, there is no element of doom in the darkness, but it's rather an element of surprise or quiet exploration that drives both artists forward. On the first track, Trilla manages to give a clock-like tempo, with dark industrial rumblings and piercing cymbal strikes, all at the same time, while Vicente delves deep into the rawest and darkest tones of his instrument. They create a fascinating sonic universe that evolves slowly and unhurriedly. It is at the same time intense and intensely beautiful. The aesthetic listening experience is unique, and possibly explains the album's title: despite the darkness of the sound, it shines brightly.

The liner notes describe the music well: "They found the Absolute, the invisible Other, in the music itself, the same way Aldous Huxley did and made this novelist write that «after silence, that which comes nearest to express the inexpressible is music»".

What more can I say? 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Verneri Pohjola & Mika Kallio – Animal Image (Edition Records, 2018) ****


From dark outer space, we move to the white landscapes of Finland, with its snow and its animals. The music, created by Verneri Pohjola on trumpet and Mika Kallio on percussion was originally made as the soundtrack for a documentary on the "intimate relationship between man and animal". You can watch a moment of this documentary on the video below. It is not your usual David Attenborough kind of nature movie, but a more poetic version, one that needs this kind of free and unbound music to reach its full effect.

I can imagine that the north of Finland is a daunting but beautiful place, where cold austerity, barrenness and life find a harmonious existence nevertheless. Pohjola and Kallio create a soundtrack that can stand on its own. You almost don't need the documentary to experience the vastness of the space, the mystery of life, and the hard to understand relationship between everything.  Even if most tracks are meditative, there is joy and playfulness to be found too, as in the short "Foxplay", or in the musical representation on the preying flight on "Goshawk's Dream". On the other end of the spectrum, you have the track called "Man" which starts more menacing and dark and ends with some of the most bone-chilling moaning trumpet sounds you will hear this year.

The album ends with the title track, which evolves from a dark and ominous gong sound to almost jubilant and optimistic multilayered sounds.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.





Peter Evans & Weasel Walter - Poisonous (Ugexplode, 2018) ****


What happens when you put two iconoclasts together? And what happens when these two are equally known for their ground-breaking explorations? And when they are equally interested by electronics and studio creativity? And with musical skills?

You can forget about the beaten track. Don't think about meditative moments or organised structures. You get sonic madness, but sonic madness with skills and artistic vision. There is not much you can do as a listener: either you are willing to succumb to an avalanche of sometimes painful sonic bites, or you run away as fast as you can. It is poisonous. Extremely poisonous. They push the limits of what is auditively tolerable. There are moments when drum sounds are recognisable, as are trumpet sounds. Some tracks consist primarily of noise generated by both instruments, with some vague - but very vague - traces of the original instruments left, because the only thing you can hear are dense waves of rolling and revolving sounds. What is happening here? ... is a thought that often comes to mind. I never managed to listen to the entire album with headset and closed eyes. Maybe I should have, but the question is whether such exposure to this level of toxicity would be advisable, or strongly recommended against because guaranteed deadly.

For sure, this is not "The Boring Duo Live At Who Fuckin' Cares". Fasten your seatbelts. Prepare yourself for a crazy ride into a very dense high energy musical hallucination.


Listen and download from Bandcamp.

And watcht the video: it's also something else ...






LISTEN NOW: freejazzblog on air from June 28th on SWR2


freejazzblog on air, the creation of Martin Schray and Julia Neupert is on air again - on SWR2 in southern Germany, broadcasting 11 p.m. CET on Friday the 28th, and online for the following week.

This episodes theme: "Play it loud! Music as social protest." It will include music by Damon Locks, Irreversible Entanglements, Christian Lillinger, Joelle Léandre, Joe McPhee/Hamid Drake, Marc Ribot and Anguish.

Listen here for the next week:

Friday, June 28, 2019

Lee Ranaldo/Jim Jarmusch/Marc Urselli/Balázs Pándi - s/t (Trost, 2019) ***

By Nick Metzger

This is an interesting assembly of artists brought together by the Grammy award winning producer/audio engineer/musician Marc Urselli for this long player from Austria’s Trost Records, the idea being that none of these gentlemen had played with each other before. I would venture to say that the vast majority of our readers have at least a passing knowledge of who Lee Ranaldo is. Sonic Youth will always retain a special place in my personal nostalgic cosmos due to memories from my youth associated with their music. Of all the side and post-SY projects the members have been involved in his generally resonate the best with my tastes. I haven’t liked all of his solo ventures and projects, but a few that come to mind are his collaborations with drummer William Hooker, his trio Glacial with Tony Buck and David Watson, and of course the avant super group Text of Light (Ranaldo, Alan Licht, William Hooker, Ulrich Krieger, Tim Barnes, Christian Marclay, and DJ Olive who improvise music to the films of Stan Brakhage). My familiarity with Jim Jarmusch is mainly from his 1995 film Dead Man, and more recently his film Paterson. Apparently he was also a member of a couple of New York no-wave bands, one with Robin Crutchfield called Dark Days, and another called The Del-Byzanteens. Drummer Balázs Pándi is has an extensive resume including collaborations with Mats Gustafsson, Keiji Haino, Roswell Rudd, Thurston Moore, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft, and is a member of Slobber Pup. Urselli himself is John Zorn’s preferred engineer, having recorded all Tzadik releases since 2006 according to my sources, which I’m taking as accurate since I don’t have the time to cross-check the 100+ releases individually (feel free to leave a comment if this is inaccurate).

The album cover itself alludes to the contents; all of the tracks are airy exercises in atmosphere building and spacey turbulence. There’s no point in going into details for each track as the collection plays out like the extended jam session between four like-minded-yet-unacquainted musicians it is. Ranaldo and Jarmusch share guitar duties and spend most of their time probing the margins with sparse tentative wandering, their chime-like plinks and swells drenched in reverb and echo. Urselli’s bass is very subtle and his use of laptop is inconspicuous, as is Jarmusch’s use of midi-synthesizer. Due to the effects used on the guitars it’s hard to identify the source of any particular sound, and since I’ve mentioned Brakhage already, this effect reminded of the way he described seeing the Battleship Potemkin on video and how the medium seemed dull and shapeless compared to the version that he had seen on film. The album would be completely amorphous without the percussion of Pándi, who seems consigned here to provide some underlying structure or container for this psychedelic Jell-O mold.

I’m not saying that the album isn’t decent enough to listen to, especially in a passive sense, just that I didn’t find anything attention-grabbing to really focus on. It doesn’t feel as if there is a particular direction the group is shooting for, and this in my opinion relegates the album to a series of meandering tone poems that (aside from Pándi’s drumming) have more to do with the equipment used than the ideas of the musicians themselves. Overall though, it’s nice to play in the background and I’ve enjoyed it in that respect.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

William Parker's In Order to Survive - Shapeshifter (Aum Fidelity, 2019) ****½


By Sammy Stein

William Parker has been featured on more than 150 albums and was once described by New York's Village Voice as 'the most consistently brilliant bassist of all time'. He has worked with Cecil Taylor, is part of several combos, has written 6 books and encourages young performers.

This CD is a live recording of 2 sets, the first set is the suite ' Eternal is The Voice of Love' which consists of 5 tracks and the second set is of 6 tracks including the achingly beautiful 'Newark' written for Grachan Moncur III. All tracks are Parker compositions and the essence of each is different, demonstrating his ease of transition from one musical message to another.

On this double album William Parker, together with Rob Brown on alto sax, Cooper-Moore on piano and Hamid Drake on drums with additional vocals on 2 tracks from Dave Sewelson makes interesting and vibrant music. In Order To Survive is one of the great jazz groups of the past 25 years and was Parker's first small group, formed in 1993. Drummers have changed but the sax, drums and piano have enjoyed a long association which is evident on these recordings.

The first CD is remarkable not just for the beauty of the music but for the intrinsic communication between the members of IOTS which is tangible, though maybe unsurprising given the caliber of the individuals and longevity of their association. In 'Entrance To The Tone World' the bass leads an assault on the senses, aided and abetted by several switches in cadence, rhythm and key with subtle and not-so subtle sections switching from sax driven interludes over eclectic drumming with the piano of Cooper-Moore maintaining almost classical progressions underneath, creating a sound scape where the differing sounds shear up against each other at times, yet work together at different places. An interesting and well developed musical journey over 20 minutes or so of switch-backs and off-shoots of rhythm, techniques and playing style. Rob Brown's sax devours much of the limelight in some sections, whilst the percussion of Hamid Drake never loses touch and drives changes in rhythms, which the others (nearly) always follow. There is no a loss of interest for even a second because as soon as a rhythm, tempo or style is established, it is switched for an apposite one. Excellent music.

'Color Against Autumn Sky' has a very cool beginning with sax nonchalantly rolling over the top of a swingy rhythm section , then there is a shot of Calypso before the rhythm changes again, the bass is now driving and then the listener is treated to an extended piano-led section which is beautiful and which uses the centre section of the keyboard extensively and drives the motion towards the climax of the piece, aided and abetted by Hamid Drake's intuitive changes on the drums. A carefully introduced bass section is worked out with the bass gradually emerging from the background to alter the rhythm again and drive the piece to its finish. Clever, wonderful and so engaging.

'If There is A Chance' is an altogether different beast with a gentler atmosphere, a thoughtful approach and some atmospheric piano playing and haunting reeds. ' A Situation' is preluded with piano introduction before the sax enters, weaving its way around and between - literally - the notes of the piano chords and progressions. At times, it loses its way but stick with this one- after 30 seconds the two are entwined in a dance where the piano undermines and underpins virtually everything the sax is doing - and it works so well. In one sections the piano echoes the scale descent of the sax and in another, the sax follows the trail laid down by the piano - it is a game of chase and chased. Add the drums with Hamid's familiar rolling lower end sounds and bass going into a drum solo for the final third it is a wonderful track. 'Birth Of The Sunset' is scaffolded around a framework from the beginning with constant bass vibrato under gentle percussion and piano for the first minute and a half before the sax enters and then breathily introduces a different pattern. The never diminishing bass and the constant beat of the percussion - be it ever so gentle- add to the sense of build up and glory of a sunset developing, fading and going. Toward the finish the beautifully bowed bass adds to a sense of awe.

'Demons Lining The Hall Of Justice' is old school improvisation around themes and tempos dictated by loose arrangements. It is conceptual in places, free in others and held together by a pervading to and fro between the four musicians which gives it dynamism and creates a sense of cohesion from the individual elements across the 23 plus minutes. The piano led section is impressive and encourages the percussion with its energy - duly returned in spades.

'Drum and Bass Interlude' is a conversation between bass and drum - swingy, rhythmic and driven by the relentless syncopation of Drake as he pounds the drums, and the bass responds, fitting snugly into the spaces left in the rhythms - which are very small yet the bass creates a theme, a response of its own - this is the highlight track for me in spite of the glorious playing across the rest of the album. If you sit still during this track, you must be dead.

'Newark' is introduced fugally by bass, followed by percussion, then sax and finally, a split beat separates the piano entry. This piece is thematic in the first part, diverges into something of a Q and A in the second third and then turns into a reflective final third with piano languorously leading the bass, which responds with some speedy little quietudes and then some string-bending curves to finish. 'In Order To Survive' is this group's masterpiece and here it is played with relish as the entire band sweep in turns to lead, follow and even interrupt appropriately. It is a well worked and familiar piece to the band but of course, being improvisers, it is different with each play and hearing. A delight here. The deeply swinging section led by the bass is wonderfully sent up with a strippers rhythm from Hamid Drake, which adds humor. The vocals are fine too with the sax making some mighty fine sounds underneath. This track includes so many references - we are 'digging it' , warbling, smooth singing, blasting, running with it and then smoothly coming down a long curve - it is a journey worth making. The band are having so much fun! 'Eternity' finishes the CD and feels like an instant. A beautifully flowing track with space for everyone and some exquisite bass from Mr Parker.

Across the CD there is a sense of a group of musicians enjoying the numbers, yet also a reverence for the music and the past along with their own unique takes on the outlines given. This is an enjoyable album whether you are familiar with any or all of the players or not. Nearly every jazz reference, from swing to bop is here with some very controlled leading work sitting fine alongside freely improvised and individualized sections. That is what makes it so good - it is the sense of each musician forming their own unique part, yet they come together to create that cohesion, the oneness which good music is. An album full of wonder in every sense. Wonder full.

This album releases on July 5th.




First CD/set track list:
Eternal is the Voice of Love
i.Entrance To The Tone World
ii. Color Against Autumn Sky
iii.If there is a chance
iv A Situation
v, Birth Of The Sunset

Second CD/set track list:
Demons lining the Hall of Justice
Drum and Bass Interlude
Newark ( For Grachan Moncur)
In Order to Survie
Eternity

Personnel:
William Parker - Double bass
Hamid Drake - drums
Rob Brown - sax
Cooper-Moore - piano

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Johs Lund and Henrik Pultz Melbye - Play Baritone Saxophones (Svala Records / Aether Productions, 2018) ***½


By Paul Acquaro

The Baritone saxophones is big and formidable. I've always enjoyed the power and sonorities of the large woodwind, and it seems it is the last sax that one can play without having to sit, or have some sort of contraption scaffolding the instrument. Folks like Dave Rempis, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson eat up the instrument, often luxuriating in the instruments powerful, reverberating tones. This Scandinavian duo takes a different tact, here Johs Lund and Henrik Pultz Melbye, both accomplished musicians who work within the experimental, jazz, and rock worlds, enjoy the sonic possibilities of two bari-saxs in three one-take improvizations. 

The two use circular breathing and engage extended techniques to create an immersive musical environment that envelopes the listener. The notes for the album claim "this puts both the musicians and the listener in a state of trance and provides a multidimensional soundscape that is overwhelming, compact and intense." I see no point in disagreeing with this open-ended description, but would like to add a little more concretely, the two can sound as kinetic as bees dancing around hive full of honey or as sinister as waiting all night for something anticipated and terrible that never happens.

The music on Plays Baritone Saxophones is experimental and hypnotic. It advances without moving, a constant buzz without a stated goal. The longer and deeper one listens, the more the little changes and variations make bigger differences. Patterns set up expectations and the musicians then subtly break them, introducing new lines within the confines they set up. Just two saxophones, but so much use of the imagination that it seems like much more. Listening requires relaxing, letting the patterns swirl around, and grasping the deviations. 

I've unfortunately let this one, along with many other fascinating recordings, languish. Go to Bandcamp and add it to your collection ASAP.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Heart of the Ghost – s/t cassette (Pidgeon, 2018) ****

By Tom Burris

OK so by now the second HOTG album has been released – but two things. I haven't heard the new one yet. And I'll be late for my own damn funeral, so here's what happened the first time around. As you probably already know, HOTG is D.C. Bassist / workaholic / impresario Luke Stewart's trio with Jarrett Gilgore (alto) and Ian McColm (drums). The cassette is already sold out – but you can get a download for a mere five bucks on Bandcamp, which I highly recommend getting. Cassettes suck anyway.

Side A:
Gilgore & McColm kick things off with a bang, soon joined by Stewart. Around the 2:30 mark, it goes quiet w/ Ian on brushes. Gilgore's lines become fairly long and oddly accented, like he's having an intense conversation with himself as Luke and Ian attempt to push things in a new direction. Stewart bows wildly as group intensity rises. A rickety boat begins to sink following the freak-fest. You can almost smell the rust on this manliest of vessels. The members of the trio align themselves to the sole cause of getting the thing to shore. Conversations are tense, but cooperative. As soon as it's docked, Luke lets loose with a riff and all join in, pushing with forward momentum. Gilgore rides on top of the groove, tethered to it, attempting to break free. Ian and Luke cage him.

Side B:
A slower intro this time, leading into a thoughtful solo by Stewart. Gilgore and McColm join in at the perfect time, elongating and elaborating on ideas laid out by Stewart. Gilgore eventually takes the lead and sets a melodic pace for awhile, even as Luke and Ian begin scraping and scratching underneath. As you might expect, Luke & Ian get their way in the end, with the music collapsing in on itself several times over. Poor Jarrett Gilgore. Dude can't get a break. I hope the other guys aren't so jealous of you the second time around!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Gerrit Hatcher – Parables for the Tenor (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****

By Tom Burris

Although Gerrit Hatcher is a relative newcomer, Parables for the Tenor marks his second album for solo saxophone. Kicking off with “Fanfare for the Bankrupt,” Hatcher's dry, smoky tone invokes melody, softness, overtones – and harsh, gravelly speed-runs in the first 30 seconds. And it makes logical sense – such sense that you'll wonder what anyone else could've played as a resolve. Tea kettle, dead mid-register tone, silence, low blurt. Ever wonder what a smackless Kaoru Abe would sound like? More cohesive, less nods, similar energy and idea scope.

“Fanfare” is kind of a primer, almost an overture, for things to come. “The Offer” is basically an extension of the concepts introduced on the first track, alternating blasts with short pauses and culminating with a melancholy melody racing itself into a blur of Pharoah overtones. On “Processional,” a clear theme emerges from the outset which Hatcher bends and stretches, jumping away from and then back into, testing its elasticity, jumping out farther with each consecutive leap. Toward the end of the piece he crawls into the butthole of the thing and flips its body inside-out. For musicality and biology, he earns his A+ here.

Soft Hatcher sure ain't no smooth jazz. On “A Dream from Sleep During Sunrise,” it's a weird Ayler-does-Prez thing that tiptoes through a tentative theme that we're lucky enough to eavesdrop in on. His short phrasing works well here, fluttering around a theme, as it does on the follow-up track, “The Measures,” until flying way out into overtone land – and I mean waaay out, like Arthur Doyle out. The acrobatic act keeps the listener in constant suspense – an essential element in keeping one engaged throughout an album-length solo recording.

“Learn Alternatives to Mercy” is a vehicle with different size wheels at each end of both axles. Three-note phrases rip through the middle section, eventually becoming exotic bird screeches – then toning down to a warm flutter, alternating with the bird shrieks toward the end. As of this writing, Astral Spirits has 14 of these cassettes left on its Bandcamp page. Run!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Steve Baczkowski/Brandon Lopez/Chris Corsano - Old Smoke (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

You probably guessed as much from the musicians involved that there is some seriously forceful energy music contained on this release. Steve Baczkowski and Chris Corsano continue the epic tempest they began on 2018’s Mystic Beings (that record itself a successor to 2015’s Stolen Car), only this time instead of Bill Nace’s jagged guitar skree we get the low end rumble of Brandon Lopez. Baczkowski and Corsano’s documented collaborations go back to 2005’s The Dim Bulb which was succeeded by 2017’s The Dull Blade, both in a trio with Paul Flaherty, and they definitely mesh well (all the album names dropped are well worth your time). Corsano is also a member, along with pianist Sam Yulsman, of Brandon Lopez’s The Mess, who released an absolute flamethrower of an album in 2017’s Holy, Holy . To my knowledge this is the first recording of Lopez and Baczkowski together, and one has to hope that it’s the first of many, as the two have a strikingly similar modus operandi.

On "Iron Ore" the trio starts abruptly, the loose rhythmic pattern stirred up by Lopez and Corsano entwining with the coarse vibrato-laden baying of Baczkowski's baritone. As the piece develops the saxophone playing becomes more and more expressive, reaching a churning climax in the last minute or so. The next piece "Blast Furnace" begins with long, deep tones of circular breathing from Baczkowski while Lopez bows out multiphonic strands of sound over Corsano's crisp cymbal shimmer. It all coalesces around the midpoint, the sound growing more and more intense until it explodes into a gruff interplay of timbre and dynamics. "Bend in the Shore" is initiated via a bowed cymbal/sax drone augmented with Lopez's subtle thrum. This gives the track some direction before the trio open up in the latter half and lay down some fantastic interplay. On "Open Hearth" Baczkowski makes the switch to soprano saxophone, his reedy dissonance resembling a snake charmer's pungi and he really gets after it with some mighty air blasts. Corsano and Lopez play with a similarly high energy, and once the trio gets going it's a real earth scorcher. Similarly, "Slag Heap" starts quietly with rapid percussive reed popping and the thick gravity of Lopez's playing before igniting into a firestorm of rhythmic juxtaposition and high octane saxophone squelch. Corsano initiates "Steel Wind" with rapturous thunderclaps of percussion, culminating in a riotous melee before the trio launches into an eruption of aggressive exchanges. Lopez gives an extended solo, tempering the upsurge only momentarily before the triad detonates again. The last piece "Smoke Creek" caps of a very intense listening experience with another rousing fracas, this time a relatively short burst of energy just for good measure to remove any remaining oxygen from the room.

This is a really good album from three like-minded individuals, yielding another example of how ferocious a trio of acoustic instruments can sound. If you’re a fan of any of these guys I would recommend this album heartily as it is unrestrained, forceful and high velocity free jazz. There are a couple small pockets of breathing room but not much, so listening is akin to crawling along the floor in a blazing structure fire, fantastic stuff.

Baczkowski/Lopez/Corsano + Sam Yulsman (or The Mess + Baczkowski) @ Issue Project Room, 5/18/18:

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Recent Releases from Ayler Records

By Nick Ostrum

There have been signs for some time now that Ayler Records was winding down its activities. With the three albums reviewed here, it seems the label will be ending its 20-year run. Originally a Swedish imprint specializing in live American and Scandinavian releases in the classic, clunky free jazz tradition (early releases were also graced with the mesmerizing abstract expressionist artwork of Åke Bjurhamn), it relocated to France and the very capable hands of Stéphane Berland in 2009, who reinvigorated the label with a newfound, largely (but hardly exclusively) Franco-centric eclecticism. Over the course of its existence, Ayler Records produced my first Peter Brötzmann album, my second Albert Ayler and Joelle Leandre, my first Arthur Doyle, Henry Grimes, Axel Dörner, Assif Tsahar, Charles Gayle, Arthur Rhames, Jimmy Lyons, Martin Küchen, and so many others. Maybe I came to this music relatively late, but Ayler Records was nevertheless my entrepôt. And, I imagine I am not the only listener with such fond, formative associations with the label.

Ok, enough with the flowery eulogy. It is high time to delve into the label’s final three releases.

Bernado/Rinaudo/Mayot - Ikui Doki (Ayler, 2019) ****



As testament to Berland’s propensity to explore of the lesser known crevices of the avant-garde world, Ayler has brought us the curious Ikui Doki. Composed of twelve chamber pieces, this album is exploratory, yet deeply rooted in the more melodic strands of contemporary classical music. Songs are generally short; most fall well below the five-minute mark. They are also surprisingly varied. This album has lively ditties such as “Jingle #1” and “Jingle #2,” ethereal meditations such as “Pemayangste” and “Chant Pastoral,” hauntingly mellifluous pieces such as “Tiger” (a fittingly whimsical and mysterious version of William Blake’s “Tyger”) and “Cats and Dogs” and compositions dedicated to Claude Debussy and Steve Reich.

Sophie Bernado (bassoon and vocals), Rafaelle Rinaudo (harp and effects), and Hughes Mayot (reeds) play masterfully on these twelve disparate yet somehow coherent tracks. Many are based on repeating rhythmic melodies. The heavy use of the bassoon overlaying an unconventional background frequently evokes simultaneously Stravinsky and Reichian phasing. Although a few pieces display their energy up front, most subdue that energy under the soft compositional structures, frequently accompanied by distant bucolic woodwind and harp melodies and, on two tracks (“Tiger” and the deeply intimate British folk cum tempered prog-rock “Secretly in Silence”), supple vocals and poetry. This album is a departure for Ayler Records, and a particularly welcome one at that.

Scott Fields Ensemble – Barclay (Ayler, 2019) ****



On Barclay, the third in a series of Scott Fields releases inspired by Samuel Becket, guitarist and composer Fields is joined by Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone), Scott Roller (cello), and Dominik Mahnig (percussion). The result is a fine and playful take on contemporary free jazz. In ways, it evokes the abstract and fragmented marches of Anthony Braxton and his prodigy. In other ways, it is more melodic, less densely layered, and more rooted in a jazz vernacular, and, in that sense, fits right in with some of the label’s recent ensemble releases from Marc Ducret and Joelle Leandre.

Fields and co. do not shy from rests and silence. Rather, they effectively integrate frequent stops and starts, unpredictable wends and wafts into their compositions. Barclay’s three tracks are composed of brief phrases, woven together into calico tapestries of sharp, syncopated bursts of energy and harmony. Rather than flowing smoothly, the first track, “Krapp’s Last Take,” sounds as if the musicians are carving their song out of a craggy medium rather than constructing it from the inside out. Track two, “…but the clouds…” develops more organically around a series of guitar and saxophone melodies, but nevertheless remains stilted and jarring. The closer, “Catastrophe,” similarly grows around a series of truncated melodic runs overlaid with ambient clicks, whistles, and percussive fluttering, though to a slightly smoother effect. This is complex and exciting music. It is, as the third title indicates, a catastrophe, but in the word’s older sense of sudden, unexpected twists and turns. A fitting homage to Beckett and a fine addition to the Ayler catalogue.

Killing Spree – Boko Boko Tour (Ayler, 2019) ***



Consisting of Sylvain Daniel (electric bass and effects), Gregoire Galichet (drums), and Matthieu Metzger (alto saxophone and electronics), Killing Spree released just one self-titled album (also on Ayler). Thre years later, they embarked on a tour through Japan. The results of this tour are captured on Boko Boko. All except one track on this album was recorded in studio on their debut. And, although this album otherwise follows similar patterns and trajectories as the studio release (this shines little “new light on the band’s compositions and improvisations” as the tag on the website claims), the rawness of the liver performance and recording does make some difference.

Killing Spree has been described as “avant-jazz-metal,” a label that points to their affinities for electric bass, intermittent growled vocals, and hard, dynamic sounds. For Killing Spree, this agglomeration of styles melds well. The metal elements are evident, but not contrived. One can say the same for the free jazz. Metzger can be a beast on the sax, but he also knows how rein himself in and forge looping melodies and atmospheric breakdowns out of his waves of controlled aggression. Daniel meanwhile lays heavy, chug-a-lug vamps and Geezer Butler-worthy strides. That is, when is not filling the role of the absent rhythm guitar or adding dense kindling to the frequent outbursts of collective improv conflagration. For his part, Galichet lends his sludgy blast-beat ballistics to help mire the group’s free jazz proclivities in a metal aesthetic. (It took me a few lessons to latch onto Galichet. The closer I listened, however, the more impressed I was with his drumming and, really, this entire trio.) This album is a wild ride, even if it is so similar to the trio’s other output. Play it loud.

These albums are available in CD and digital format and can be found on the label’s website, http://www.ayler.com/.

It is sad to see Ayler Records go. That said, this diverse round of releases bids a fitting adieu for one of the most reliably exciting free jazz labels of the last two decades.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Be Known - Ancient Future Music (Spirit Muse, 2019) ****

By Stef

The first album by The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was released in 1981, with Kahil El'Zabar on percussion on vocals, and Ed Wilkerson and 'Light' Henry Huff on saxes. The trio had already performed at festivals and concerts many years before that.

Most of their initial albums were live performances (Bologna, Helsinki, Stockholm, ...). Henry Huff was replaced by Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre on sax, who was in turn succeeded by Joseph Bowie on trombone in the eighties. A new iteration of the trio came with the arrival of Khabeer Ernest Dawkins on saxes and Corey Wilkes on trumpet, with the occasional presence of Fareed Haque on guitar.

On this album we have Kahil El’Zabar on vocals, thumb piano, drums and percussion, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Alex Harding on baritone sax, and Ian Maksin on cello.

Despite the many changes in line-up over the years, the ensemble's music has not changed at all. Even if some of the tracks have different names, many of the tunes can be recognised. Some of the Ethnic Hertigage Ensemble 'hits' are of course also performed, such as the funky "Freedom Jazz Dance", originally composed by Eddie Harris, and in the meantime a kind of signature tune for this band.

Other tunes include the beautiful Freddie Hubbard composition, "Little Sunflower", and some old and new compositions such as "Black Is Back", "Wish I Knew", "Ntozake". Whatever theme they touch, and in whatever decade they performed the music, is almost irrelevant. Their sound is still so grooving, bopping and dancing that it is among the most infectious music you can find. El'Zabar has the incredible strength to draw any audience inside his music and make them part of it, which explains why many of his albums are live performances. Not many jazz bands are as welcoming as this one.

As the band's title tells us, this music is deeply rooted in the African heritage of the musicians, with clear references to the blues, but also to - especially - South African music and jazz. It is their deliberate intention to raise consciousness and to bring us to a higher spiritual level, one that is more universal than the boundaries we draw to define and protect ourselves. And they succeed. It's really hard not to like this music, and even the fact that there has been hardly any change of sound and approach over the last fourty years is not necessarily a negative, because you can recognise El'Zabar's music right away. He is a wonderful percussionist, and the collaboration with Wilkes and Harding is absolutely seamless, as well as with Maksin whose plucked bass lines on the cello add to the boppish feel.

In short, this music is festive, joyful, celebrating music and life, even if it can be very sad too at moments. On the last track, "Ooof", Wilkes delivers possibly one of the most bluesy trumpet pieces I've heard since the Trumpet Kings performance at Montreux in 1975.

If there is a downside to be mentioned, it is that some tracks are cut short, reducing the full power of the improvisations, and taking away the reaction of the audience at the end. I know, El'Zabar can go on for hours, but that's part of the fun. There is no reason to stop, and it's only by listening to maddening rhythms for a very long time that you can really appreciate the full power of this trance-inducing music. Switch on the repeat button.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Flamingo - Loud (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****



Flamingo is a trio from Berlin, made up of bass player Adam Pultz Melbye, percussionist Christian Windfeld, and contra-bass clarinetist Chris Heenan, with a little help from the sound engineer Roy Carroll adding a touch of electronics. They eschew any song format for a one hour and 12-minute long improvisation that rises from the silence and take the listener on journey laced with texture and tension.

The album begins slowly, with the woodsy drone of the contra-bass clarinet and a rumble of drums. The sounds of the bow striking the strings of the bass, somewhat chaotically but with a rhythmic intent, compliments the percussive clatter, adding some seasoning to the quickly brewing stew. The frothing tones of the clarinet begins to bubble over as the trio slowly raises the temperature. But, like it is said, a watched pot never boils, and just as you think it's about to, they back off. Then, it becomes clear this group cooks with restraint, and are not going for anything obvious. 

Now that the metaphorical pot has been pulled from the imaginary flame, we can hear the elements cooling down. Minute eight and the clarinet drone winnows, blending in with the micro-tones emanating from the bass and the static tickling the edges of their sound. Minute thirteen and there is silence, then a splash of percussion. Something is drawing out a long drone, maybe the clarinet, maybe the bass, it is unclear, and that too might be the point. The trio is working with ingredients of music, using sounds and textures and playing them off of each other in pursuit of an emerging recipe. 

Music like this can be frustrating but satisfying, unconventional but comforting, and the trio shows it is deeply versatile at these contrasts. Moments of silence follow different technical combinations, as they build a shared vocabulary made from chance, which returns in new forms throughout the recording - like with the deep vibrations from the contra-bass clarinet (the instrument was made for this!) at 40 minutes that contrasts with the taught percussion, only to morph into forlorn cries over a gentle percussive pattern, then to what sounds like the tones from a musical saw. The shifts in sound and flavors come to a clattering close after 72 minutes of this intense collaboration, leaving the listener with a satisfying dish after all.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Albatre - The Fall Of The Damned (Sshpuma, 2018)

By Stef

Doom jazz may not be a very common subgenre of jazz, but Albatre exemplifies it well. The trio of Hugo Costa on alto sax & effects, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, keyboards & electronics, and Philipp Ernsting on drums & electronics manages to create - despite the limited line-up - a massive sound, with pumping heavy chords, changing slow rhythms and repetitive unison vamps. But despite the straightforward and almost predictable weight of the music, it changes the whole time, almost unexpectedly, taking the listener often by surprise, but without altering the intrinsic mood of despair, torment and agony. In a really interesting, rock-influenced way, they add complexities to a relatively simple basic structure, and it works well. A good example is "Dance Of A Dead Paradise", on which the tempo and the rhythm shift constantly, while keeping the maddening pace of the piece intact.

The whole album keeps the same unique violent sound, and I can only recommend that you put the volume high and prepare yourself for another great descent into the maelstrom, an unguided trip to a dark inferno. No prisoners taken, that's for sure, but you'll enjoy the ride ... or not.


Listen and download from Bandcamp.




Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 6


By Martin Schray

The last day of the festival began with a quartet called TISM, an acronym that stands for the first names of Tom Rainey (drums), Ingrid Laubrock (sax), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) and Mark Feldman (violin). The band filled a gap because for the first time the festival referred to a European approach to improvised music (Courvoisier comes from Switzerland, Laubrock from Germany), which met musicians associated with the New York downtown scene. The main focus was on extended techniques. Rainey used all sorts of additional elements to create sounds, Courvoisier played the interior of the piano and prepared parts of the instrument, creating abstract rhythmic blocks that then clashed with Feldman’s and Laubrock's curved lines. A tight field of tension was established that way. The most interesting figure in this arrangement was Courvoisier, as the music she generated (harp-like notes, strident piano clusters, xylophone sounds) enormously expanded the spectrum and at the same time drove the improvisation forward.

TISM
This abstract approach was continued and deepened with Jason Kao Hwang's Human Rites Trio. Hwang (violin) was joined by Andrew Drury (drums) and Ken Filiano (bass). The tension of the trio's music was shaped by the contrast of weird new classical music and blues runs. Especially Filiano was responsible for it and reminded of the music of Willie Dixon ("Spoonful"), with Drury's drums swinging loosely to it and Hwang playing folk song melodies. This was reminiscent of the Kronos Quartet’s version of “Purple Haze“. But most of the time sound generation was in the foreground, e.g. when Drury blew into the opening of a small bell and moved it on the drumkit.

Then, however, the focus of the music shifted again, back to Afro-American jazz history, visual art, dance, and poetry. Dance of the Comedians, a project by the German artist Jorgo Schäfer with Vincent Chancey (french horn), Joe Fonda (bass) and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), was introduced with a Nietzsche text recited by Schäfer on which the name of the band went back to. Before the show it was announced that Schäfer would create a work of art, whereby most probably expected a painting. But the whole thing was rather the unveiling of a work of art in which Schäfer gradually presented nine paintings with similar themes, showing black skeletons. In addition, Chancey's french horn initiated a new timbre for the festival, which was also possible because he used his right hand as a kind of muffler with which he could make the horn sound like a cornet. Joe Fonda and Jeremy Carlstedt provided a solid rhythmic foundation for this.

Dance of the Comedians
If Chancey's trio was already a step in the direction of jazz history, Amina Claudine Myers (piano, vocals) went even further in this direction. Myers played classical gospel songs, among others an extended version of “Go Down Moses“. She often improvised syllables in the six pieces presented, but she always remained song-orientated. Only the fifth piece was more freely improvised and more ambitious. In the last song Myers thanked the great ones and by that also the festival for the love, the families and the blessings. The music was accompanied by a choreography of the 72-year-old African-American dancer Dianne McIntyre, who has won numerous honors for her work including an Emmy nomination, three Bessie Awards and a Helen Hayes Award. She was joined by Brooklyn locals Careitha Davis and Matia Johnson for her performance.

With the penultimate act, the festival program tried to get back to the modern age again and increasingly relied on poetry and vocals on it. The large formation Heroes Are Gang Leaders under the direction of Thomas Ellis Sayers consisted of James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone), Melanie Dyer (viola), Luke Stewart (bass), Jenna Camille (keyboards), vocals), Randall Horton (poetry), Devin Brahja Waldman (alto sax, synth), Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Bonita Penn (poetry), Nettie Chickering (vocals), Brandon Moses (guitar) and Warren “Trae“ Crudup (drums). With Brandon Lewis, Branch and Stewart three members of the Unruly Quintet, which rocked the house the day before, were on stage but this project could not reach the intensity of that quintet. Ultimately, the music was reminiscent of an ambitious jazz musical with occasional free outbursts that reflected anger and rage.

D.D. Jackson Bluiett Tribute Band
As on two other festival days, the day - and thus the festival - ended with a tribute concert, this time for Hamiett Bluiett, the great saxophonist and clarinetist who died in October 2018. D.D. Jackson, the pianist responsible for the project, announced in the program notes that the concert would be a “collective attempt to reflect on Bluiett's deep impact“, in which Bluiett's pieces as well as some of his favorites by other composers would be used as starting points for the band’s own improvisations. At first glimpse the compositions seemed rather conventional, a classical head-solo-structure was mainly used. However, this soon proved to be a deceptive manoeuvre enabling Darius Jones (alto saxophone) and James Carter (baritone and soprano saxophone) to show their extraordinary musical abilities. This was also supported by an exquisite rhythm section around William Parker on bass and Ronnie Burrage on drums, in which the legendary percussionist Juma Sultan proved to be the icing on the cake. When in the opening track "Thelonious Monk" the rhythm section simply stopped playing, Carter and Jones literally chopped up the head. Jackson played percussive chords and clusters that further fueled the already driving rhythm. Altogether a really worthy conclusion of a very good festival.

To sum up, the 24th Vision Festival was musically denser than the festival the year before and there were fewer mediocre shows in the end. The highlights this year were certainly the performances of God Particle, Kris Davis's Trio January Painters, and James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet. However, there is still room for improvement for the anniversary festival next year. The really annoying photographers should be clearly put in their place, as the loud clicking noises of the cameras are particularly annoying. Moreover, a stronger integration of European musicians would also be desirable, because the community idea is a worldwide one.

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.

D/B/K/LH
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.