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Monday, July 22, 2019

MoE and Mette Rasmussen – Tolerancia Picante (Conrad Sound, 2019) ****

I picked this album up because I was (and still am) enthralled by MoE’s 2018 release with Lasse Marhaug. The sardonically titled Tolerancia Picante, however, is a different beast altogether and this beast is punk rock. The adjective, the attitude, and the aesthetics. Not pop-punk or post-punk or one of those derivations, but straight-up cacophonous, cantankerous in-your-face aggression…minus the power chords and fueled by free jazz curiosity and musicality.

“Tolerancia Picante” opens the album with a dense fabric of percussion, effects (motors, howling wind, spaceship sounds), and some catchy, but biting sax vamps. (This style is revisited near the end of the album on sludgy “The Story of No [Suite Part III].” “City Boy” sounds like a clarion call for an uprising out of the rubble of a non-descript but all too pervasive postindustrial landscape. The guitar screeches like frayed wires. The bass and drum stumble. Rasmussen’s sax and Guro Skumsnes Moe’s vocals shout (“City Boy you fucked up your choice of freedom”) over the wreckage. “Crysta! Dancer,” for instance, is somehow even more clamorous and conveys a sense of desperation and confusion. Moe’s thick Norwegian accent adds to the ominous atmospherics as she elongates and intones phrases in such a way that the lyrics – sometimes barely discernible to begin with – break down into their constituent, syllabic elements. This piece of dada freneticism is followed by another stand-out, “Introduction,” a rumbling dirge with an Ayler-via-Brötzmann saxophone elegy draped over a dense foundation of heavy strumming, feedback, and percussion.

The album fluctuates like this – between density and unfettered energy - for the entirety of its 40 minutes. Some pieces (“Strangle, Strangle, Strangle… “) have a call-and-response, stanza-blow out structure reminiscent of Sun Ra’s work on “The Creator of the Universe.” Some (“This Is Who We Are”) build from a series of short, declaratory sentences laid over at two-beat vamp into a craggy free-for-fall. Some (“Shardrach, Meschach, and Abednego”) are full on blow-outs worthy of early Wolf Eyes or (“Violently Passive [Suite Part II]”) doomy, atmospheric pieces that, even with their restiveness, would fit seamlessly into the Utech Records catalog. Still others (“I carry the Mother [Suite Part I]”) have oddly sonorous and howling vocals, bringing to mind a heavier, feedback-strewn Big Blood. And, at a pithy one minute and seven seconds with Moe’s barked vocal sloganeering (“I am no beggar unless you beg me to. I am no liar unless you lie to me. I am no sinner, unless you ask me to. Ask.”) over a simple pounding of bass, guitar, and drums, the concluding track, “Ask”, is as Crass as anything new I have heard in a long time.

In short, Tolerancia Picante is heavy, abrasive free-noise-punk at its finest. And, if this album is any indication, this ensemble must be absolutely wild live. Until they trek through New Orleans, however, I will happily settle for this recording.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Oli Steidle & The Killing Popes – Ego Pills (Shhpuma, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

It begins with a synthesizer imbued with the warmth of pre-millennium Saturday morning cartoon music, but with a deviant twist. What follows is 45 minutes of demented, avant-garde pop, of saccharine bubble gum laced with strychnine.

Oli Steidle and the Killing Popes consists of the eponymous Steidle on drums, Frank Möbus (Der Rote Bereich, Azul) on guitar, Phil Donkin on bass, and Dan Nicholls and Kit Downes on keyboards. Yes, that is two keyboardists.

This is playful experimental music that often goes awry, but in an ultimately gratifying way. Tracks are strewn with video game music, guitars deconstructed into a series of tonal and scalar beeps, heavy distorted bass lines, playfully frantic keyboard effects, and wandering but precise drumming. Think free jazz filtered through the synth-driven, carnivalesque sonic worlds of George Romero and Dario Argento films. Think Goblin crossed with Ornette Coleman with a pinch of fidgety acid-jazz-cum-electroclash-cum-grindcore.

Track titles – “Zombies,” “Isis,” “Nuremberg Heroin Lullabye,” and “Monopoly Extended” – indicate this music has a dark, sardonic side. This also comes through in the sheer freneticism of the music. Because of the musicianship and Steidle’s directive vision, however, Ego Pills comes across not as an unfocused muddle of styles, but a surprisingly tight album with a unique energy flow. (The only song that falls flat is “Speed Junky on Funny Human Darts,” a track that at reminds me of a funky Mike Patton when it works, but of Adult Swim when it doesn’t.) The music is lively and danceable, but the overall theme and mood is menacing and dystopian. It is a slice of the Zeitgeist, and one which captures the sense of disorientation and fracture, the awkward imbalance of progress and dysphoria in a way that only experimental art – whether film, music, or otherwise - can. Most experiments fail. This one succeeds.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Derek Bailey / Han Bennink / Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981 (Fou Records, 2019) *****

We all owe a great debt to the great archival project of French sound engineer-producer-Fou Records label owner (and an explorer of vintage synthesizers) Jean-Marc Foussat's excellent recordings. Thanks to his one-of-a kind archive of live recordings we already enjoyed such milestone gems of free jazz and free improvisation released by Fou Records as Derek Bailey / Joëlle Léandre / George Lewis / Evan Parker - 28 rue Dunois juillet 82 (2014); the Willem Breuker Kollektief - Angoulème 18 mai 1980 (2015) and Daunik Lazro / Joëlle Léandre / Georges Lewis - Enfances à Dunois le 8 janvier 1984 (2016).

Now, Foussat and Fou Records offer Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981, a live perspective on one of the defining and most sought-after album of European free-improvisation: The Topography of the Lungs (Incus, 1970), captured during a June 1970 studio session and featuring young British tenor and soprano sax player Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The seminal album also helped launch the legendary Incus label, co-founded by Bailey, Parker and drummer Tony Oxley. This album’s mystique was enhanced by decades of scarcity (and a famous rift between Bailey and Parker), until reissued on Parker’s Psi label in 2006, a year after the passing of Bailey and in memory of Bailey.

Bill Shoemaker mentions in his insightful liner notes for Topographie Parisienne that Bailey, Bennink and Parker did not perform together as a trio after the recording The Topography of the Lungs and did not record a follow-up album (though, played as a trio in the 1977 Company week, and a five minute clip was captured on Company 6 (Incus 1978)). The three improvisers had only collaborated before and shortly after on recordings by larger ensembles as Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP, 1969) or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity 1970 (reissued as Globe Unity 67 & 70 (Atavistic, 2001)).

Bailey, Bennink and Parker met again in April 1981 at Théâtre Dunois, while they were all pursuing different directions. Bailey denounced fixed groups, while Parker and Bailey worked with regular collaborators. But the nine pieces here, spanning three and a half hours and packed in a 4-disc box, mark an evolution and further development of the improvisations strategies and ideas explored on The Topography of the Lungs. Shoemaker mentions the employment of well-timed and laser-accurate disruption as a preventative against style, to which each improviser can answer according to his resourcefulness, push back or stand firm as the shockwaves recede. These subversive means liberated these free, non-idiomatic sessions from the legacy of free jazz.

Topographie Parisienne begins with the three musicians playing an extended, 42-minutes improvisation. It is an urgent and explosive piece that sounds fresh even today, highlighting Bailey’s abstract  guitar lines and exotic sonorities, Parker’s focus on uncompromising exploration of circular breathing techniques and juggling with tones and overtones, and Bennink totally intuitive pulse and dadaist, muscular drumming, with many sudden and ironic and strangely enough, playful disruptions. The interplay is naturally  egalitarian, but Bennink always sounds like he is injecting more and more energy and ready to embrace chaos, even when he briefly plays the piano. Bailey keeps introducing more delicate and eccentric ideas while Parker attempts to bridge between these strong characters. This piece concludes with the trio own abstraction of a free jazz interplay - intense, thorny and rhythmic. The first disc ends with a short conversational, intimate duet of Bailey and Parker, much more sparse than the previous piece and beautifully poetic.

Bailey, Bennink and Parker reunite again for their second and last trio set this evening (and ever), a 46-minutes piece that begins with Parker alternating between fiery, free jazz blows and overtone-throat chants, but soon the trio interplay rolls into a series fast-shifting, intense rhythmic patterns. Bailey often acts here as the subversive agent who injects sharp comments and disrupts the tight rhythmic flow of Parker and Bennink. Later, Parker takes the lead with a fantastic solo comprised of bird calls with circular breathing techniques, wisely abstracted by Bailey and Bennink into another dense rhythmic duet, before all conclude in a chaotic eruption. Parker, who sounds like he has the stamina of a Viking, ends the second disc with a powerful solo sax improvisation, totally possessed in a fast, polyphonic process of spiraling tones and overtones, blows and calls.

The third and fourth discs offer more duets and solo piece from Parker. The second duet of Bailey and Parker is completely different from the first one, tense and confrontational as if both were playing to themselves. Parker second solo improvisation suggests a layered texture of fast, brief and intense calls that patiently surrender to its own inner rational. The third disc ends with an engaging and even funny duet of Bennink - first on clarinet and later on drums - and Parker is quite engaging, even funny. Bennink begins with a brave attempt to mirror Parker’s phrasing and even his circular breathing techniques, forcing Parker to outmaneuver and surprise Bennink all the time. Later Bennink pushes Parker to more playful interplay with imaginative performance on the drums and even blowing a trombone.

The last, fourth disc opens with an extended duet of Bailey and Bennink Bailey is not impressed by the antiques of Bennink, but, obviously, nothing can stop Bennink when he is on a roll. Bailey keeps intervening with more subtle, elusive and enigmatic ideas, but Bennink - on drums, harmonica, piano and trombone, is all about crashing the party, in the most noble sense of this idiom. Bennink - on clarinet and drums - and Parker end this magnificent evening with humorous and eccentric powerful duet. This time Parker outsmarts Bennink tricks and games and eventually succeeds to discipline this wild, dadaist fountain of endless energy into surprising lyrical and emotional coda.

Merci Beaucoup Jean-Marc Foussat!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Two from Joe Morris

By Keith Prosk

Guitarist Joe Morris joins two up-and-comers for two outings of free playing in loose methodologies/thematics, both recorded at Firehouse 12 studios and both released on Fundacja Słuchaj!.

Brad Barrett, Joe Morris, Tyshawn Sorey - Cowboy Transfiguration (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ****

Contrabassist and cellist Brad Barrett plays with Morris and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey for 5 tracks over 53 minutes on his debut as leader. Though Barrett counts Morris as a mentor and has played with him frequently, I believe this is their first recording together. And, to my surprise, Morris and Sorey have only ever recorded together on the monolithic Pillars.

The playing here is completely improvised, though within a vague framework explicitly influenced by the compositional styles of Morris, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Webern, Stockhausen, Derek Bailey, and Barry Guy. The way the methodology is described just sounds like good old improvisation, except that it asks performers to “employ small particles of sounds and blend timbres with an awareness of implied pulse and an inclination to disrupt it..”

The result provides a simultaneously fun and frustrating challenge for the listener. The first three tracks feature Morris picking clean, jagged lines with glimpses of the blues, Barrett plucking similarly (with occasional arco), and Sorey providing bubbling, rumbling skins and skittering cymbals. A cursory listen reveals few -possibly no- changes in volume, density, time, or dynamics. Close listening (several times in my case) reveals subtle communications, rhythmic microchanges, and playful subversions. These first three tracks are both easily dismissed as monotonous and the best exhibition of the arcane complexity at work here. The last two lengthier tracks provide a similar complexity but with more obvious dynamic changes at a slightly more relaxed pace. Barrett uses a bit more arco, begins “Requiem for a Catfish” with a timbre that sounds like a detuned, muted guitar, and utilizes some bow tapping at the end of “Slither Cake” and Morris matches these odd textures. Sorey crumples some things, rubs the drumhead in such a way that sounds like a bowed bass in “Requiem for a Catfish,” and bows the cymbals on “Slither Cake.”

A bit abstruse but well worth revisiting repeatedly. Not necessarily texturally exciting but singularly rhythmically genius. I still haven’t decided whether it’s the most annoying thing I’ve listened to this year or the best.

Cowboy Transfiguration is available digitally and on CD.

Ben Stapp & Joe Morris feat. Stephen Haynes - Mind Creature Sound Dasein (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ***½

Ben Stapp (tuba, euphonium) has recorded with Morris and Stephen Haynes (cornet) before, on Pomegranate with William Parker and Warren Smith. And Morris and Haynes also recorded together on Parrhesia and Sorey’s Pillars. On Mind Creature Sound Dasein, they play for 63 minutes over 11 tracks.

They play freely, though Stapp provided some thematics, presumably in the form of a loose narrative that tethers the sounds to the inventive, playful titles. And the music is as visually stimulating as the titles because each musician’s playing is colorfully exuberant in their timbral adventures.

Stapp plays throaty, baritone foghorns and circularly-breathed, undulating drones (“The Fire Door Opens,” “Climbing the Windy Trees,” “Back into the Fire It Goes,” “Dreams in Dissolving Water”), mimics elephants, owls, and duck calls (“Alebrijes Come For Their Hosts”), beatboxes distorted rhythms (“Giant Unicellular Water Slug Calls”), blows raspberries (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and more. Morris matches this timbral diversity with blues and psychedelia, clean picking and distortion, glassy pitches and digital glitches, and by almost mimicking the sound of a piano (“Dreams in Dissolving Water”), violin (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and bass (“Epilogue”). Haynes, who’s present for four tracks, adds weezing, hissing, wails, whisps, and roars.

Playful, colorful, fun free playing that makes the hour fly by.

Mind Creature Sound Dasein is available digitally and on CD.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

10 million pageviews

We have reached the astonishing number of 10 million page views since we started counting in 2010. In reality, the number is much higher, because we started with our blog many years earlier in 2007. As you can see from the graph, we're still increasing our readership (Don't be misled by the dropping line at the end, that's because we are just halfway the month of July: the overall trend is moving up, as anyone can see, and it will probably still further increase in the course of the year.)

I hope we have meant a lot to listeners, musicians and labels alike.

10 million page views sounds like a lot, but in reality it's not. I'm sure some blogs make 100 mio pageviews per month. That is a lot. Our fantastic milestone is not very high by the standards of most commercial websites, so some humility is required. But for a non-commercial website, without advertising and promotional investments, and only focusing on free jazz, avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, it is a lot. What is our total "universe", as advertisers would call it, ie the totality of all fans of free jazz across the globe? We do not know, but we are confident that we are very close to reaching this entire small "universe", but as the graph shows, we are still expanding, so either we have not yet reached our potential, or - and this we hope - our free jazz universe is expanding, meaning that more citizens are getting interested in the genre.

Where are all these readers? They are scattered around the world. They don't know each other but they know the music they love, the artists they admire, and they share the same openness for new sounds and new listening experiences.

The ten million pageviews are coming from the following top-10 countries, but of course there are more countries with readers.

It's a milestone for us.

Here is to you, dear reader!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Denzler/Grip/Johansson – Zyklus 1 (Umlaut/SAJ Records, 2019) ****½

“Jazz is certainly a music of perfumes (on and in bodies)”, declares the saxophonist Seymour Wright in the liner notes that accompany some Sven-Ake Johansson’s drawings for this double CD. A joint release of Johansson’s SAJ records and Umlaut records. “And bodies through these perfumes. Cloth, skin wood, seat, spit and smoke” Wright continues. This could be the perfect description for the music of this trio. Bertrand Denzler on tenor sax, Joel Grip on double bass and, ever flexible and kinetic, Sven-Ake Johansson on drums. They know each form the Neukollner Modelle recordings, they have struggled before, so many times, with the pains of using improvisation as a language to communicate.

As many times in Umlaut’s recordings, jazz is the medium. Many times as a basis, other as a way to interact, the jazz tradition seems incorporated in almost all of the labels recordings. This is the case in zyklus 1. The coltraneish tenor of Denzler is the point of departure for the two tracks of the first CD. He struggles and pushes hard to follow the fast delivery of Grip’s bass, while Johansson’s improvisational skills are combined with the ability to maneuver through the tradition of the great percussionists of jazz have created. Of course Johansson is one of the greats…

What always amazes me, and it more clear on the two tracks of the second cd, is the combination of improvisation as a tool to communicate and navigate through a recording combined with the will to use melody (or melodic passages) as a the material that brings everything together. It reveals a higher level of interaction, a sometimes total understanding of each other’s playing. But not just that. An understanding of how the fellow musician, or comrade, thinks or wants to play.

Joel Grip is an extremely subtle presence throughout both CDs. Nevertheless he is the backbone on this release, providing time and space for Denzler to venture into some fierce blowing and Johansson to explore his drum set. I kind of felt, at some points at least, that I was listening to two soloists and a double bassist that took care of everything else. Of course this is only one of the reasons I really enjoyed zyklus 1. On both CDs it is a game of balance, of three people that use their skills and the bodies of their instruments (to recall Wright’s liner notes) as tools for a component power that is this trio. A power based on tradition but always forward looking.

@ koultouranafigo

Monday, July 15, 2019

Christoph Schiller and Anouck Genthon – zeitweise leichter Schneefall (New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

As the title, zeitweise leichter Schneefall (Intermittent Light Snowfall), suggests, this album is delicate, textured, and punctuated. Christoph Schiller has been experimenting with the spinet for several years now, leading a wave of minimalist pioneers with his Renaissance tools and, more recently, his voice. Anouck Genthon is a violinist and ethnomusicologist who has been involved in the electroacoustic experimental scenes in France and Switzerland (think Insub Records). Both artists show a distinct interest in bringing the old (instruments, sounds) into the present through extended techniques, microtonal variability, and amelodicisim.

Composed of seven tracks ranging from one-and-a-half to seven minutes in length, Schneefall offers Schiller and Genthon numerous opportunities to explore different paths all based around certain elongated tones and their resonances. In this pursuit, Schiller and Genthon pose an interesting contrast to each other. Despite the apparent closeness of the microphones, Genthon’s playing is impeccably crisp, especially compared to the harsher, nonidiomatic techniques she employs in other projects. (There are deliberate exceptions in a few passages, but this trend largely holds.) Schiller’s playing, on the other hand, resolves around the interior of the spinet. One can hear his forceful plucks and hand-muting, just as one can hear the fuzz of his whispers, hisses, and hums. These disparities in tonal quality are all the more striking as they are set against a starkly silent backdrop. And, as one might expect, silence and near-silence play as much of a role in this music as do the traditional instruments themselves. Although it seems little new musical ground is broken, here, much is explored more deeply. Another worthwhile addition to the Schiller catalog and, I imagine, the Genthon catalog, as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ackley/Frith/Kaiser/Shelton - Unexpected Twins (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****½

By Nick Metzger

Now here is a record with a very interesting premise that is also very, very good. It harkens back to a formative time in creative music when Dr. Eugene Chadbourne moved from Calgary to New York City in 1977 in order to work in the artistic foundry of New York’s downtown scene, eventually befriending and working with John Zorn and later releasing Zorn’s first recordings as a leader on his Parachute label. According to Duck Baker’s notes, late in 1977 Zorn and Chadbourne traveled out to the bay area to play some gigs with Henry Kaiser and Bruce Ackley (Kaiser who had recorded with Chadbourne on his first Guitar Trios record and Ackley who Chadbourne had met at Aquarius Records in San Francisco), under the Twins moniker (a pair of guitars and a pair of saxes). Together they produced the first studio session led by Zorn which yielded recordings of his game pieces “Lacrosse”, which was released on Parachute, and “Curling” which was regrettably lost in the mail according to Baker. Citing differences in schedules and impractical logistics the quartet has never reformed in their original manifestation, but in the interest of re-exploring the catalogue and methodology of the original Twins lineup, Kaiser and Ackley recruited their colleagues Fred Frith (electric guitar and piano) and Aram Shelton (alto saxophone) to re-record select arrangements of the ‘77 squad in addition to logging a composition from each participant, a collective arrangement, and a nice rendition of the Steve Lacy piece “Bound”.

Chadbourne’s composition “The Shreeve” begins and ends with a playful figure presented in union by Ackley and Shelton between which a biting section of decidedly dynamic reeds/guitar interplay is sandwiched. The guitar playing is wild and smattered with effects which are applied with marvelous aestheticism. The variety that all four musicians produce in this brief inauguration only hints at what’s to come. The group’s reimagining of the Lacy’s “Bound” is next, and while the essence of the original composition remains, particularly within Ackley’s soprano playing, the group expands the piece into atmospheric jazz noir territory (for lack of a better descriptor). The guitars set up a moody and undulating foundation for the saxophones to abstract the original melodies over, which has the effect of making a very tasty Manhattan from the straight rye whiskey of Lacy’s original. The third track is Ackley’s arrangement “Emit Time”, in which the guitars and reeds cycle through various combinations to play short essays that are by turns melancholic and/or bristly. There’s lots of contrast and variation throughout the piece and it provides for an especially entertaining listen. The next track “Court Music” is penned by Kaiser and pits the probing, despondent saxophones of Ackley and Shelton with Kaiser’s sometimes-sparse-sometimes-explosive guitar heroics all over a flowing bed of Frith’s spare piano figures. What really strikes me here is how Kaiser’s abrupt flare-ups figure into the composition as a whole. Between these relatively brief bursts of intensity the piece induces a trance in the listener, but just as you are on the brink of zoning-out Kaiser erupts and snaps you back to. Shelton’s “This Reminds Me” is an exercise in elegant minimalism, the melody pulled outward and apart in so many different directions simultaneously, yet the underlying sentiment is retained throughout. It begins unassumingly and then expands in dynamics and intensity like the stellar evolution of a star before collapsing back in on itself.

In Frith’s piece “Long Story Short” the reeds play melodiously strands set against a din of guitar squall and/or decaying drone. The saxophones proceed though their harmonies as all around them explosions of scrape or vocoder shaped growl lurch into the mix, it’s over before your realize it. Next is the album’s centerpiece, a 20 minute rendering of John Zorn’s game piece “Curling”. The track begins with vibrato/glissando from reeds and guitar as Frith clanks around on his strings percussively sounding like a tiny horse on a metal table. Some attention is given to long quavering tones, and these give me the impression of heat shimmer conjuring the occasional aural mirage. This is followed by a sparser section of interplay, the quartet utilizing silence masterfully to rebuild the drama. Kaiser summons a swelling reverb-laden din pitted with reverse guitar phantoms whilst Frith adds flat staccato notes and strange, crooked, high pitch shapes with an occasional ultra-slow pick slide. The reeds are active and breathy, almost avian but with misshapen patterns. The quartet abruptly coalesces at the conclusion of the piece, offering a final whimper of smeared half-melody to close a very strange and intriguing piece. The group arrangement “Quads” is similar in its spare trappings but more dynamic, Frith and Kaiser again put on a clinic of wildly creative, stompbox lunacy. I can’t tell if Frith jumps on the organ here or if it’s a pedal effect, wither way it’s very effective and compliments the mile-a-minute playing that Kaiser, Ackley, and Shelton progress into. The final track is the Chadbourne piece “A Special Hell for Shreeves”, which is a thorough reprise of the theme and concepts from “The Shreeve”, finds the group fully fleshing out the possibilities of the arrangement for their final argument.

This is a terrific album that jumped out at me upon my perusal of the upcoming Relative Pitch releases mainly due to the personnel involved (eye-catching cover art notwithstanding). I’m a fan of Zorn’s Parachute releases so I was passingly familiar with the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” and consequently the back story piqued my interest in this album that much more. For those interested, the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” is the second disc in both the eponymous Zorn album as well as the Zorn box set The Parachute Years, 1977-1980. Both the album and box set are still easily obtained (I believe Amazon carries both) if you’re so inclined. But even if you don’t feel the need to dig any deeper, this is a fantastic album by four masters of creative music that is by turns musically unique, conceptually interesting, and very, very tasty.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Der Finger - Le Cinque Stagioni (Toten Schwan, 2019) ****

By Stef

Despite the band's German name, and the album's Italian title, this is music from Russia, performed by a band consisting of Anton Efimov on bass-guitar and effects, Evgenia Sivkova on drums and saxophone, and Edward Sivkov on bass clarinet, saxophone and domra, the latter the father of Evgenia. The band is usually a duo, but the addition of an extra saxophone, makes this even for them an unusual album, at the same time lifting the music to a much higher level.

Both bass and drums lay a very dense foundation of industrial doom, with neither instrument clearly recognisable, but still rhythmic enough to become hypnotic. The sax improvises over this never-ending flowing sonic magma. The improvisations of the sax only add to the deep sense of despair, angst and hopelessness.

Unlike our normal four season calendar - and Vivaldi's - they present us five seasons, as described in the "Illuminati calendar", the secret society which fought religiously influenced state power in the 18th century (and maybe still active today, you never know with secret societies). In the case of Der Finger, they also refer to the novels by Robert Anton Wilson, and his "Illuminati trilogy". I have to rely on Wikipedia to know more about him: "Wilson described his work as an "attempt to break down conditioned associations, to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps, and no one model elevated to the truth". His goal being "to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything."

Understanding the context and the intent illuminates the appreciation of the music. The music indeed not only breaks down all conventions, but at the same time - and that's possibly the most fascinating about it - it originates without too many of today's influences in avant-garde music, allowing it to carve out its own space, its own sound, dark and relentless and scary and compelling.

The tracks are named by the original German names of the five illuminati seasons, each consisting of 73 days, "representing the development stages of everything from complete chaos to complete fuck-up (SNAFU) and then again in the eternal cycle". 

1. Verwirrung (bewilderment)
2. Zweitracht (discord)
3. Unordnung (disorder)
4. Beamtenherrschaft (bureacracy)
5. Realpolitik (realpolitik).

I can only recommend this.

Play it loud.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dave Douglas with Uri Caine and Andrew Cyrille – Devotion (Greenleaf Music, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

Perpetually iconoclastic, idiomatically omnivorous, and always surprising, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine have for over 25 years teamed up periodically to merge their prodigious musical minds. Both are first and foremost jazz musicians, but that’s never been a label to limit them, as Caine’s piano recordings have frequently engaged the classical tradition, from Bach to Verdi to Wagner, while trumpeter Douglas has brought jazz into conversation with myriad other musical languages, including recent ventures into electronica (on High Risk, 2015) and the fourteenth century French Ars Nova (Fabliaux, 2015). Although their separate paths have taken them in manifold directions, when they do occasionally converge the results are always worthwhile, as on Present Joys (2014), a compelling document of their ongoing exploration of early American Sacred Harp music. On Devotion, they stick to a much more jazz-focused repertoire, and who better to team up with than Andrew Cyrille, one of the legendary embodiments of creative jazz, and someone whose own discography has been remarkably diverse and accomplished during his late-career renaissance?

Compared to their various boundary-breaking projects, this one allows Douglas and Caine to explore the capacious interior of the jazz tradition itself, and they are adept in tapping into its multifarious riches. Each piece bears a dedicatee, and the range of jazz luminaries represented, from Carla Bley to Franco D’Andrea to Mary Lou Williams, already hints at the panoramic perspective on offer; so too does the range of non-musical inspirations, from Jerome Horwitz (“Curly” of the Three Stooges) to long-distance running legend Steve Prefontaine.

From the opening bars of “Curly,” played as a duet by Caine and Cyrille, one can already appreciate the sympathetic conversation that will unfold on these ten well-crafted tracks. Caine jumps all over the keyboard, with jaunty phrases galore, along the way hinting at his abiding interest in early jazz forms like stride and boogie-woogie, while Cyrille maintains his characteristically fluid, rhythmically adroit commentary, with enough independent interjections to keep the conversation moving forward. Then when Douglas joins in on “D’Andrea,” the trumpeter’s nimble quickness takes center stage, with an insouciant air that keeps the track light on its feet, Cyrille’s expert use of the kit perfect in establishing a dance-like accompaniment. “False Allegiances,” dedicated to Carla Bley, is an even more overtly danceable piece, with a tango structure that continues its subtle momentum even amidst its darker-hued resonances. Then there is the funky “Miljøsang,” with more of Caine’s bouncy exuberance and Douglas’s down-home charm.

Other pieces bend toward the lyrical, especially “Pacific,” a gorgeous ballad played with superb restraint by Douglas, Cyrille’s delicate work on the cymbals ideal in augmenting the emotion of the piece. “We Pray” is just as affecting, with an even more somber texture. And the closer, the album’s title track, is a hymn-like revisiting of the Sacred Harp tradition, and it encapsulates the record’s central theme of homage and dedication, with a wistful spirit of yearning for freedom, expressed elegantly with Caine’s and Douglas’s intertwining expressions and more of Cyrille’s masterfully understated support.

While it may not possess the ambitious concept of these musicians’ more attention-getting efforts, Devotion is all the more effective for what it does offer: imaginative, well-executed jazz that draws out terrific playing from all three participants, forging a shared vocabulary that says just enough to make its collective statement powerfully and memorably.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Jozef van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil (Sacred Bones Records, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

How does one begin to describe this duo? First, Jim Jarmusch isthe Jim Jarmusch, director and sometimes screenwriter ofDown By Law, Stranger than Paradise, Ghost Dog, Coffee and Cigarettes, Broken Flowers, and Mystery Train, to name a few. He also plays guitar. Jozef van Wissem has less renown, though, as this album shows, he should, as one of the most creative, accomplished, and heavy lutenists today.

It would be easy to brush off An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil as a venue for a creative artist in film to simple dabble in another, enabled by name recognition rather than encouraged by talent or purpose. That, however, ignores Wissem’s contributions to this album. It also ignores Jarmusch’s. If one can say anything coheres the latter’s myriad films, one must list a) slow, plodding development generally around a theme rather than a concrete plot and b) vision. This album has both.

Tracks are based around the works of William Blake (the final track is titled “When the Sun Rises Do You Not See A Round Disc of Fire” from Blakes “A Vision of the Last Judgement), as well as the works of two figures with whom I am not familiar: theologian and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg and occultist and philosopher Helena Blavatsky. They also range from the dark and atmospheric (“Concerning the White Horse” and “Dark Matter”) to the goth-influenced medieval-melodic (“The Unclouded Day” and “Two Paths”) to the spacious, but eerie ambient (“Lost Continent”) to the rather hopeful and minimalist (“Final Initiation”). At times, one hears entrancing loops and hints of Asa Osbourne (Lungfish, the Pupils, Zomes). At others, the dense, wandering layerings of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Trio. At still others, the lute - an instrument I rarely encounter especially in such doom-laden improvisations - takes over and makes for an utterly unique and, at times, even pleasant listening experience. This album is varied, thoroughly interesting, coherently dark and, even at moments of relative levity, heavy. Then again, what would one expect from today’s foremost experimental lutenist and the writer/director of Dead Man?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Two From Guy and Hemingway

By Keith Prosk

Barry Guy and Gerry Hemingway play together on two piano trio recordings. They’ve only recorded together once before, over two decades ago, on Cascades with Marilyn Crispell. Beyond being another piano trio (with someone whom both players have worked with extensively), Cascades anticipates a motif of light and color that’s present in these recordings with titles like “Violet Sparks In Soft Air” and “Shadow Play” as well as the abstract color play of Mary Vernon’s “View At Nice” on the cover. It’s a fitting motif, given that a boundless palette of timbre achieved through damping, preparation, and extended techniques characterizes each musician’s style. As always, they’re two fauves here.

Izumi Kimura, Barry Guy, Gerry Hemingway - Illuminated Silence (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ***½

Following several self-released solo efforts and a duo with guitarist Tommy Halferty, Japan-born, Ireland-based pianist Izumi Kimura joins Guy and Hemingway for 8 tracks across 63 minutes. Guy supplies two compositions from his other piano trios, “Blue Horizon” (on Deep Memory with Crispell/Lytton and Blue Horizon) and “Ancients” (on A Moment’s Liberty with Fernández/López and Blue Horizon ), as well as a new composition in “Finding It.” Fernández’ “How To Go Into A Room You Are Already In” (on Some Other Place and Blue Horizon) is also used and the rest is presumably free playing. The title ties in to an excerpt of Sekitō Kisen’s “Sandokai,” which Guy reads at the beginning of “Improvisation on Light and Shadow:”

In the light there is darkness,
but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light,
but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark oppose one another
like front and back foot in walking.

The relationship between light and darkness, color and lack of color, sound and silence is the same - art and music require both. As the title indicates, this particular recording leans towards silence. It is by no means a quiet record, but Kimura is generous in the space she gives Guy and Hemingway on the slower-paced “Improvisation on Light and Shadow” and “Improvisation on a Painting” (again, fitting) and it’s here where their timbral explorations shine. When the pace quickens and the density increases, Kimura is adept at enhancing the emotive, cinematic qualities of Guy’s compositions, and the versions of “Blue Horizon” and “Ancients” here are arguably the most stirring because of her playing. Guy comfortably weaves through his compositions and the improvisations with his standard barrage of timbral techniques, continuously communicating with both Kimura and Hemingway. Hemingway feels a bit restrained both in volume and timbre on this recording, though his hard-hitting solo on “The Willow Tree Cannot Be Broken By The Snow” and his breath on the drumhead in “Improvisation on Light and Shadow” and “How To Go Into A Room You Are Already In” are standout moments. The trio’s playing structurally meshes well, but Kimura’s sound is clean and crisp, free of extended technique and preparation, and usually tonal, in stark contrast to the much less limited approaches of Guy and Hemingway. It’s a record well worth listening to for the talented Kimura (whose improvisations are often so collected they seem composed), for the interaction of Guy and Hemingway, and for a necessary reference point of excellent performances of Guy’s compositions.

Illuminated Silence is available digitally and on CD.

Simon Nabatov, Barry Guy, Gerry Hemingway - Luminous (NoBusiness Records, 2018) ***½

On Luminous, Köln-based pianist Simon Nabatov joins Guy and Hemingway for improvisations lasting 12 tracks across 70 minutes. This is the first time Nabatov has recorded with Guy, but he’s recorded with Hemingway on Live At The Bimhuis 21-9-12 with Oğuz Büyükberber (who provides the colorful cover art for Luminous) and on this years Readings - Red Cavalry and Readings - Gileya Revisited.

Indicated by the title, this recording is more high-volume, high-density than Illuminated Silence. Guy’s playing is more physical and Hemingway is more energetic here, with two awesome hard-hitting solos on “Vacant Prophecy” and “Unfrozen Sorrow.” Nabatov utilizes the full register of the keyboard - usually simultaneously - with a variety of approaches to time, density, and volume, often expertly accenting the rhythm section’s interplay with a percussive motif like the single hammered note on “Basket Glide.” When Hemingway joins Nabatov with a marimba (on “Basket Glide,” Shards Examined,” “Luminous,” and “Soothing Mirage”), magic happens, with each player dialing in to the intricacies of the other’s playing and crossing paths in such a way that you might mistake the marimba for piano, and vice versa, for just a moment. Especially on “Soothing Mirage,” which also sees Guy’s muted plucks mimic a tik tok while Nabatov palms inside the piano to create a chiming clock. Nabatov’s varied, percussive, sometimes thunderous attack with some extended techniques compliment Guy and Hemingway’s approach well, but several of the tracks tend to fall into a quiet-loud-quiet or continuous climactic crescendo structure and, somewhat paradoxically, though it’s an energetic performance there’s an urgency that feels lost in the recording. Like Illuminated Silence, it’s well worth listening to as a document of Guy and Hemingway’s colorful interplay and Nabatov’s raw talent as well as that amazing communication between marimba and piano.
Luminous is available digitally and on CD.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Nature Work - s/t (Sunnyside, 2019) ****

What's more a work of nature than Yosemite Valley? The iconic, and somewhat trampled, masterpiece is in a sense the heart and soul of the American National Park System. The pictures appears here on the cover of the group Nature Work's self titled album and while it is a beyond my knowledge wether they just liked the picture or they feel a kinship to the music, it is a nice indicator of the naturally flowing and sometimes majestic (that's nearly a collocation with the words Yosemite Valley) music within.

Nature Work is born from reed players Jason Stein and Greg Ward - two Chicagoans who have made a name for themselves as members of groups like Mike Reed's Flesh and Bone, as well as being composers and band leaders themselves. The two split composition efforts on this album and fill out the rest of the group by drawing from opposite  coasts: Los Angelean bassist Eric Revis and New Yorker/Berliner drummer Jim Black. The album that unfolds is a comfortably accessible set of tunes that fell nicely in my ears from the start, kind of like the first site of that herald valley ... you will be impressed.

The album begins with a hyper, melodic line traded, and then played in tandem, between Ward and Stein. Revis and Black strike a thick groove between the horn lines, and then below the woodwind solos. First is Ward's sax solo, long, winding, and melodic, then comes Stein's reedy bass clarinet, with an even more dynamic solo over the solid rhythmic work. Ward tosses in some brazen high register wails and the two come back to the spirited head. Overall, a rather straightforward and enjoyable fun tune.

The following "Hem the Jewels" begins with a solo bass introduction, leading into a syncopated head, and eventually to Stein's free ranging solo, and effortless runs through the of bass clarinet's four octave range. 'Opter Fopter' starts off in the range just about at the limit of human hearing. It then develops into a probing piece, that slowly gains in sonic density, and morphs into a modern jazz ballad with much motion provided in the suspenseful bass lines. 'South Hempstead' is a freely improvised track, with the oft dissonances and surprising convergences that come when a group is in tune with each other. Finally 'Rise' caps off the album with a tune that does exactly that, slowly building from near silence to a fierce climax about a minute from the final soothing note.

I suppose one could extend the metaphor of the Yosemite Valley if they wanted - something about free climbing El Capitan, the sympony of nature at work, or simply hoping a bear doesn't rip the door off your car trying to get to your cooler full of burgers - but it seems to be a bit beyond me to figure that one out. Plus there is no need, the music on Nature Work stands as excellent example of thoughtful composition and playful improvisation as you could want. It's easy to enjoy and difficult to forget.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Tyler Damon & Tashi Dorji – Soft Berm (Magnetic South, 2018) ****

By Tom Burris

Recorded live in Bloomington, IL in 2017, Soft Berm is a lo-fi, monophonic cassette that will probably be discussed in hushed tones in the very near future. “Yeah, well did you ever hear Soft Berm?” One of those. The cassette is already long gone, but the download can be had on Bandcamp. (For now.) I also want to make clear that this cassette is not the starting point for getting in on the Dorji/Damon craze; but it is absolutely essential for those of us who have been indoctrinated.

Opening with moody 80s Sonic Youth clang, the lo-fi atmosphere immediately asserts itself as a positive. By the 3.5 minute mark, Dorji and Damon are already in the zone & the now familiar gorgeous drone and violent crashing of waves are in full bloom. The pure joy of these sounds overwhelms.

Seven minutes in, Damon takes a solo using a pair of what sounds like wicker shakers. Dorji chimes in with dissonant plucking. Something is weaved into the guitar strings so the sustain is gone, making everything a percussive stab. There are occasional plucks on the lowest string (tuned lower than an E), which is not muted as it booms out loudly. Once the energy level picks up again, Damon's manic groove kicks down so hard Dorji is forced to clang in time. Feverish.

An otherworldly approximation of Beefheartian ethno trashgroove dominates later on with Dorji looping a bit and adding atmospheric additions over the top. (Damon does not get enough credit for being such a master of groove, btw.) A crazy storm starts brewing with howling and wind chimes clanging together. It finally hits, blowing over everything in sight. The post storm rubble doesn't leave much to work with though, and the last several minutes feel tagged on. But you'll still look through the smoke to see what's happening.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Daniel Barbiero & Cristiano Bocci — Wooden Mirrors (Plus Timbre PT086)

By Patrick Brennan

Wooden Mirrors offers a surprisingly apt description of this transatlantic duo (U.S. / Italy) collaboration of contrabassists Daniel Barbiero and Cristiano Bocci (who also plays synthesizer on the second of the two tracks presented here). One doesn’t usually think of wood as reflective either of light or of image, but sound & voice are what reflects here instead. The title track Wooden Mirrors (two carved objects in complimentary motion) introduces an unapologetically no frills bass viol duet recorded with fidelity just shy of two full bodied basses surrounding a listener live, each panned to either side of one’s own listening space as in intimate house concert.

Reciprocal listening generates the engine of this spontaneously composed conversation. Often, one player almost perfectly mimics the other, just enough out of sync to grab a listener’s breath with the drama & uncertainty of this abounding variegation. There’s also divergence, commentary, digression and counterstatement, but each player’s moves exposes a continuous awareness of the other’s creative agency & process. This is more than “free music”; this achieves dialogical composition.

For listeners in love with bass viol sound, with that long-wave confluence of wood grain, air, wire, tension, tree sap, horsehair & gut, both bassists dedicate luxuriant tone & attack with inventive sympathy for the various sound regions & personae embedded within the sonic landscapes indigenous to this remarkable instrument. In other words, they’re absolutely all over their instruments.

Bocci switches to synthesizer as foil to Barbiero on the subsequent track. The default tendencies of this far younger instrument, however, tends to reposition the bass instead as foil to what comes most easily to a synthesizer’s software. From a Concourse begins with refractions of pizzicato bass phrases, evoking a fractal elongation of bass possibility. This hall of mirrors redistribution of bass initiatives via synthesized sampling almost hypnotically envelops a listener within a richly expansive sonic labyrinth. But, this also seems to come with a cost, as the synthesizer reaction can’t match the pace of hair trigger interaction that distinguishes the bass duet.

This technical handicap displaces the previous duet’s equality of voices in mutual recognition and slows that flow of ideas, but Bocci’s accumulating textures nevertheless morph organically from one agglomeration into another still infused with the discovery logic of improvisation. Barbiero, now playing both sound source & accompanist, negotiates this shift into more fixed foreground-background relations with continued taste, pacing & sensitivity. The digitally interposed waiting shifts emphasis away from the interactive contingency toward panoramic generalization, evident especially where a repeating loop succeeds toward autopilot amid the sort of exaggerated reverb so available to synthesizer vocabulary.

This is experimental music, & experiment, by definition, yields widely mixed discoveries & outcomes that then feed into the next foray. What we get to witness via this recording is an exploratory process engaged by two deftly capable & imaginative musicians in a fertile, ongoing collaboration; & the more you listen, the more you’ll hear.

patrick brennan listens to, wonders at, wonders about, imagines & plays music. He coordinates ensembles, composes & plays the alto saxophone. He's recorded nine albums of original music as a leader.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Tomeka Reid / Filippo Monico - The Mouser (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****½

By Olle Lawson

Tomeka Reid - cello / Filippo Monico - drums.

Having seen Tomeka Reid in April this year - at Glasgow's Counterflows festival, playing incredible sets, both solo and trio - I was worried that this album recorded in 2015 wouldn't match the enormity of what I'd heard live.

But fear not - within the first ten seconds, you’ll know this is going to be a special listening experience.

The story goes that Reid needed a place to stay whilst on tour in Italy, drummer/percussionist/studio owner Filippo Monico was recommended by bandmate Silvio Bolognesi, who agreed on the priviso that they play (and record) together - for the very first time.

Under these circumstances; recorded and then seemingly forgotten about for a couple of years - 'The Mouser' gives an intimate insight into the first meeting of this masterful inter-continental/generational duo.

Opening 'Without Recourse' Ms Reid draws spidery steps and sharp drones, simultaneously working the strings and the cello's wooden body. At the 90 second mark Monico's drums collapse into the sound space as Reid intuitively transitions to pizzicato, meshing free runs and open-timed pulses combined with Wadud-esque chord strumming.

As hand drumming gives way to subtly complex stick work blended with a hypnotic array of found-object percussion, the plucked cello tightens, only to descend into an actual loping bassline that Monico can't help but vocalise along with before caressing cymbals and evoking a beautifully slanted swing.

Moving out of this mode, the drums here sound like a pigeon trying to escape a room full of floating papers as Reid's deft, propulsive finger work on the strings moves the opening piece to a conclusion.

'Walk Within the Eye of the Storm' screeches, whistles, exhales and strums, proving once again that with the best Freejazz, one needs to move beyond the instruments to truly hear The Music, as cello and trap drums are almost indistinguishable to tell apart.

The second piece is more abstract and repetitious; the spatial affect of the recording space playing its role in the accumulative sound scape.

The title track opens with a bouncing - possibly detuned - bowed plucks sounding like a donso n'goniAfrican lute, before an evolving series of strummed half-chords, slides and oblique bass lines push against a minimalist snare.

'Wefting Through a Starry Sky' begins with an exploration of the cello's wooden body before Reid swoops into a plaintive melody weeping deep emotion, displaying her complete command of the instrument's potential.

At 3 mins 20 she bows a sustained two-note chord a semi-tone apart, ratcheting up the tension to the album’s most intense point into a siren call matched with floor toms, that quickly subsides into a call and response rhythm. Monico then has a solo of sorts - focused on the snare - it's possible to hear him breathing along in time, before Reid closes the recording’s most emotive tune, bowing high on the cello's bridge.

'Intimations of Things to Come' has more chase and play - an exuberant dance of hide and seek as Ms Reid spirals amongst the drummer's loose patterns, before drawing one last exhalation from her cello, bringing the album to a close.

A wonderful, fully-improvised document of shifting tonal colour, empathic interplay and dark, layered feeling - finally capturing on record the freer depth of Ms Reid's evolving art.

So, why not the full five stars?

Because I have no doubt that this will be improved upon and only hope that the Duo album launch gig at NYC's Jazz Gallery - with Reid and the subtle and exceptionally talented drummer Tomas Fujiwara - has been taped for a future release.

Highly Recommended.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sarah-Jane Summers - Kalopsia (Dell Daisy, 2019)

By Stef

Sarah-Jane Summers may not be a familiar name. Classically trained, member of the Bozzini quartet, she is also trained in the typical Scottish Highland's type of folk music. She lives in Norway and is married to Finnish guitarist Juhani Sivola, and her musical output combines all this. This means that you may be in for some surprises.

"Kalopsia" is a solo album, with the artist playing both viola and violin, and consists of fourteen solo improvisations that clock around two to three minutes each. The first four tracks offer very modern, avant-garde soloing that explores timbre and adds rhythmic and technical complexities making them a fascinating listen. On the fifth track, Petrichor, she delves into folk music, sweet and gentle, like a lullabye, and it is the only composition that is not directly adventurous or avant-garde. It is is followed by Susurrus, a dark piece, barely recognizable as emanating from a violin, with muted scrapings creating an uncanny sense of dread, a comparable approach to the much deeper tension on the strings of LetophobiaHiraeth is a multilayered melancholy piece.

Meraki is built around a repetitive phrase on several strings with a high-pitched tone dancing around it. Its title is a Greek word that describes what happens when you leave a piece of yourself (your soul, creativity or love) in your work, and this works is quite well illustrates her approach.

Each of the fourteen musical miniatures that she offers us here has its own character and story, and her art is so strong that despite the shortness of the improvisation, she manages to make it compelling and gripping.

Her first solo album, Virr, received positive acclaim. I think this one is even better.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Reflecting on Monk ... Live

"Monk on Guitars 2" June 25, 2019 @ Greenwich House
Wadada Leo Smith: Reflections and Meditations On Monk June 26, 2019 @ The Stone

Andy Summers (l) and Michael Formanek (r)

By Eric Stern

The other week, New York was the beneficiary of a fortuitous coincidence. Scheduling at two of its premier cultural venues focused on the work of Thelonious Monk. The first of these two nights was at Greenwich House for their second annual fundraiser that spotlighted the theme of Monk on Guitar. I had been at last year's show and knew enough to buy tickets early, and indeed the show was sold out in advance.

One of the big draws this year was Andy Summers, best known as the guitarist of The Police. Because his presence shaped the evening, I will start with him. His performance was the opening set of the second half of the evening and went for about a half hour. Summers showed great familiarity with the music of Monk. He got a chance to work with many of the other participants in this benefit, which seemed to delight most of those musicians who got the opportunity to perform with him. During his set he paused to thank Steve Cardenas who, along with Don Sickler, co-authored The Thelonious Monk Fakebook, the first one-volume compendium of all of the Monk compositions.

I really enjoyed this portion of the evening because it felt so natural. Just a bunch of players performing their favorite tunes. Oddly, with the end of this set, a lot of the audience simply left the room. This was disappointing to me as I felt all the performers deserved the attention of this sell-out crowd.

The evening actually began with Miles Okazaki who recently released a recording of the complete works of Monk on guitar in a 6-volume set titled "Work". While he played in different contexts during the evening, he began the night solo. You got the chance to see the supreme technical mastery that has had guitar aficionados raving. Like saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, he has clearly followed Monk's example and made each song a focus of his praxis.
Performers came and went with nearly every turn resulting in a new line-up. Guitarist Nick Millevoi acted as bandleader. Some of the performers included Steve Cardenas, Harvey Valdes, and David Gilmore on guitars with Stephan Crump, Michael Formanek, and Jerome Harris on bass and Francisco Mela, Satoshi Takeishi, Richie Barshay and Kate Gentile on drums. While the non-guitarists did not get much of an opportunity to shine, they provided fantastic support.

Now for an admission, I can always tell a Monk song when it is being played, but I often can't put a name to the tune. This makes me feel guilty since I play Monk's music frequently. I have twice travelled to Berlin to see Monk's Casino. It is for this reason that I have been cheating here and not mentioned who played what. I wonder how many of you share this quirk or if it is just me. The show concluded with the sole non-Monk composition, a solo Message in a Bottle, by Andy Summers, who returned to a partially empty room. At any rate, I had a great time at this show and look forward to the third iteration next year.

Wadada Leo Smith
The next night was something else again. Since hearing the release of Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk on Tum back in 2017, I have been hoping for the opportunity to see Wadada Leo Smith perform it. His week-long residency at the Stone provided that opportunity. Though the audience was smaller than I expected, those present got a real gift in the form of one of the most intimate and personal shows I have ever seen. It is hard to imagine separating Smith from his music; they are one being.

Some Monk tunes were only hinted at, while others were played at length. In between some of the most glorious trumpet playing I can imagine, Smith played abstractions on piano. Later when he described why he did this, the answer seemed to be that he wanted to shift our perspective. Indeed, he has always been a trickster who often speaks in Zen Koan-like phrases. This was underlined by the end of the show when he started to offer $40,000 to anyone who could guess the next tune. He promised it would be the shortest version of any Monk tune we had ever heard. Then, he foiled all expectations by going into a ten minute version of Round Midnight, one of the most famous of all the compositions in Monk's repertoire. In a way it was the shortest in that the song was so brilliantly played that I wished it could go on forever.

During the performance Smith talked about the intimacy and fragility of the music. The night was suffused with that feeling. The show ended with Smith giving everyone in the audience a hug or at least a handshake. It is performances like this that have created an almost limitless goodwill towards this man.

On Saturday night I went back to The Stone for the last night of Leo Smith's residency and was rewarded by another amazing set. This time, probably due to the appearances of Bill Laswell and Melvin Gibbs, the room was sold-out. The eight piece group also included his long-time partner Pheeroan Aklaff, his grandson Lamar Smith, and Hardedge. Together they created a beautiful sonic background for Smith's trumpet, which cut through the beloved Laswell murk like a beacon. I want to take this opportunity to mention the contributions of guitarist Brandon Ross who was terrific at this performance and even more crucially at Smith's trio performance at the Vision Festival the previous week. Again, this show also became about intimacy and family as Smith ended the night by introducing his granddaughter, who was seated in the front row along with other members of his family. After a brief hug with the master, I left feeling an even greater connection to this radiant spirit.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research - Impromptus and Other Short Works (Whyplayjazz, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

German woodwind player and composer Gebhard Ullmann began his Basement Research project in the early 1990s. He released the group's self-titled album in 1993 on the Italian Soul Note label with a group featuring saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Phil Haynes. The music was a successful mix of more formal compositions drawing from a diverse mix of jazz approaches, injected with the opportunity for each player to take the music as far out as needed. A mere 25 years later, Basement Research consists of Ullmann, saxophonist Julian Argüelles, trombonist Steve Swell, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and most recent member bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. This line-up, somewhat stable since the late 2000s, still delivers a mix of somewhat formal compositions injected with outside-the-lines playing, ensuring that Impromptus and Other Short Works both maintains its excellent musical lineage and provides a delightful platform for these seasoned musicians.

So, consistency noted; however, more important is that there is no doubt, from the moment the music begins, that this is an enjoyable and exciting recording. Accessible, it requires no adjustment of the ears or time to live with it, but that doesn't mean it is without surprises and a long shelf-life. I've been coming back to this recording for the past several months, each time feeling like I've discovered something new. There is no need for an "ah-ha" moment here, it begins with it and never stops. In fact, one may say there are some real Ah Um moments, as the music has more than once elicits the feeling of Mingus' rich riffs.

The opener "Gospel" serves in at lease two ways, one is that it underscores Ullmann's strongly rooted compositional prowess and certainly lives up to its name, but it is also indicative of his working style - in this case a tendency to revisit and recast older songs. This particular one popped up on 2007's New Basement Research recording and even a few years earlier in this video. The version from 2019 (here), is less introspective, beginning with a more collective mardi-gras sound, and a prominent role for the wail of the trombone. The tune, when the band kicks in with the head, is slower, and more reflective of the sensitivity first heard in the introduction.

The next track, "Twelve Tones - Impromptu #5", begins much differently. Exploratory, the two woodwinds and the brass intertwine different melodies, until the bass and drums join. Niggenkemper delivers an insistent pulse and when the horns join again, they play unison lines - but not for long - as they split apart again, spiraling away from the solid center. "29 Shoes" appeared on Ullmann, Juergen Kupke, and Michael Thieke's The Clarinet Trio: Ballads and Related Objects from 2004 (listen). In 2019, it is as upbeat and playful as it was with the clarinet trio, but now benefits from the vast palette of colors and tones. The sax solo that emerges from the song head is taut and linear, with the other musicians joining in at times, mimicking rhythmic patterns and adding new flavors, almost threatening to become a little too much. "For Jim - Impromptu #6" shows yet another side of the group, this time starting with a spiritual swelling and builds to an uplifting end. The closing track "Almost 28" is the most Mingusy of the songs, with a stomping riff delivered in precariously leaning towards falling apart, and in it's short 4 minutes of life does in fact fall apart only to resurrect for a rousing end.

Each song on the album is short, nothing breaks the 6 minute mark, but each packs a punch and covers a huge range of stylistics, supported by superb musicianship. Another fine recording from Ullmann's Basement Research project and something that will easily find a spot in your collection.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Milford Graves: Music Meets Medicine and Science

Milford Graves from 2012. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.
By Eric Stern

June 27, 2019 @ Gavin Brown’s Enterprise: This presentation was produced by Blank Forms at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, an art gallery on 127th Street in Manhattan. The sold-out performance had a diverse audience of approximately 150 people. The performance comes at a time when Graves’s profile has been raised by the release of the documentary Full Mantis and his recent appearance at The Vision Festival.

The evening began with a half hour of Graves telling the audience about his formative experiences in the Latin-jazz scene. For me, this was the most compelling part of the night. Graves was clear, articulate, and in complete control of his personal narrative. As a jazz fan, hearing tales of how a musician gets his start and meets his colleagues with whom he will make history is fascinating. He shared with the audience how he went from a child who would get visits from the local police who told him to keep playing but keep it quiet, up through the story of his meeting Giuseppi Logan and joining the New York Art Quartet.

It is here where the evening shifted. Graves started the next portion by indicating that he might talk about Albert Ayler, something he has not done in many years. Had he continued his narrative, I would have been delighted. However, he immediately defied expectations by breaking off from the anticipated story and instead took up the titular theme of this evening, which was “Music Meets Medicine and Science”. Unfortunately, this part of the evening included a strange rant which made it seem that he believes he is more knowledgeable than people with multiple advanced medical degrees by virtue of having read a couple of very good books. He took a full 20 minutes to make that argument. His dislike for academia extends to conservatory trained musicians. He proposed at one point that the metronomic rhythms used by conservatory trained musicians are unhealthful to one’s heart. If you know Milford Graves or saw Full Mantis, you know how big a role alternative medicine has played in his life. But, no matter how valid his grievances may be, I did not feel this portion of the evening was at all worthwhile. I felt put off by the fact that little information was being imparted beyond personal prejudices. I really would have preferred it if he actually explained some of his alternative medical ideas regarding heart rhythms and how to modify them to improve functionality.

The next portion of the evening was given over to introducing his guests, who each talked for a few moments, mostly praising Graves and describing their relationships with him. This was somewhat interesting, especially Jake Meginsky’s comments on the process of making the Full Mantis over 15 years.

Shortly thereafter the musicians began to perform with Graves. The performers deferred the spotlight to let Graves be the focus. This was what the audience had been waiting for. If nothing else, this evening demonstrated to me that this part of New York City is underserved by creative musicians and someone should start putting on more shows in this part of town.

I have experienced dozens of performances by Milford Graves. He can be brilliant one minute and act the clown the next. I am sure that if he does another appearance like this, it will be completely different. Such is the nature of improvisation. I truly wish the man who spoke to us for that first half hour had stayed around for the duration of the evening.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Rachel Musson / Pat Thomas / Mark Sanders - Shifa: Live at Cafe Oto (577 Records, 2019) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The discography of British, London-based sax player Rachel Musson is criminally slim but perhaps her new album, Shifa: Live at Cafe OTO, released by New York-based 577 Records and another forthcoming album on the same label with William Parker, Daniel Carter and Federico Ughi, may expose her work to new, greater audiences. Shifa - شفاء - is inspired by the Arabic word for healing and captures beautifully the uplifting, spiritual energy of this free-improvised music, recorded at London’s Cafe OTO during June 2018.

Musson, who plays on the tenor and soprano saxes, is accompanied by two of the most experienced heroes of the British free-improv scene - drummer Mark Sanders - who has played with Musson in previous trios, with keyboards player Liam Noble on Tatterdemalion (Babel, 2013) and with double bass player john Edwards on Bibimbap (Two Rivers Records, 2016) - and pianist and electronics player Pat Thomas, who have collaborated before with Sanders, including on recordings with sax player Paul Dunmall, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.

The healing method of this trio, naturally, is based on a deep knowledge of the art of the moment and the legacy of free jazz and modern music. The first, extended improvisation, cut into two parts for the vinyl version of the album but presented in the digital version also in unedited version, offers a series of raw, powerful and intense collisions between Musson and Thomas. Every phrase, gesture, idea of Musson or even sounds produced by her extended breathing techniques is abstracted instantly by Thomas, whose uncompromising percussive attacks and electronics sounds eventually enforce a pulse-free texture, and vice versa by the opinionated Musson who plays here on the tenor sax. Sanders acts on this improvisation as a guardian of this turbulent equilibrium who employs subtle, wise interventions to keep the tight interplay on course. Throughout this piece the trio sounds like a much larger unit, filling the space of Cafe OTO with so much vibrant energy that can activate the whole electric grid of the surrounding neighborhood. The second part of the first improvisation suggests a more conversational - literally, as Musson often speaks and howls into her mouthpiece - vibe, reserved, but still highly rhythmic, and sometimes openly emotional and surprisingly bluesy.

But, this trio is determined to exhaust all its energy reserves and the second, shortest, improvisation is developed in classic free jazz parameters. It is a fiery, restless piece that moves fast between fleeting rhythmic patterns and ecstatic and touching themes, as all take the lead but Musson eventually calls the shots. She plays here on the soprano sax and excels as a charismatic leader her has a sonic universe of her own.