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Monday, October 21, 2019

Evan Parker & Kinetics - Chiasm (Clean Feed, 2019) *****

By Stuart Broomer

“Chiasm,” from the Greek letter chi, our X, literally a “cross,” has numerous applications: it can refer to literary patterns built up of two different grammatical structures, e.g., ABBA, a device employed in Hebrew poetry and present in the Bible; also the place in the brain where the optic nerves cross; further, a crossing of tendons. Chiasm may have numerous significances here. It’s the intersection of two musical units: saxophonist Evan Parker and the younger Danish trio, Kinetics, consisting of pianist Jacob Anderskov, bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, and drummer Anders Vestergaard. The CD consists of four tracks drawn from two performances presented in that ABBA pattern: London, Part 1; Copenhagen, Part 1; Copenhagen Part II; London, Part II.

One might go further, into the multiply chiasmic structures of Parker’s music and the ways in which they arise here. Parker’s art and innovations have proceeded on two axes, one roughly horizontal, one (yes, roughly) vertical. The horizontal is linear, developmental, melodic and is typified to some degree by the tenor saxophone and his work in groups like Schlippenbach Trio; the vertical is simultaneous, multiphonic and characterized by his solo soprano performances and work with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and various electronic musicians (the recent Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf by Parker and Matthew Wright’s Trance Map + [Intakt] is a fine example).

The two patterns are always active to some degree (we act in time, time our opportunity and cross) but they emerge here in sometimes fascinating juxtapositions. “London Part I”, at over 18-minutes almost half of the 38-minute CD, begins with a few near-electronic sounding arco bass tones, then some looming bass notes in the piano’s lowest register, then the quartet is off, in classic free jazz mode, with Parker’s characteristic compound sound, somehow melding the woolly gruffness of Coleman Hawkins and the metallic glow of John Coltrane, his line a brilliant, expressive, pushing-ahead of unchained-if-not-unhinged melody, his partners assembling their own momentum, the current liberated point of the tenor-with-piano-bass-drums in a continuum that might be traced from Hawkins and Lester Young through Dexter Gordon, its most abstract (Warne Marsh) and visceral (Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis) forms, to Rollins and Coltrane (say with Monk) and then say Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers (the last two ideally with Andrew Hill at the piano). In the sonata curve that is, however, common to so much free jazz form, the ballad comes as an insert in the middle of a piece, and, chiasm within chiasm, Parker shifts from the dominant horizontal axis to his vertical, the ironic “timelessness” of circular breathing and fluting cyclical harmonies, before the trio takes it out with some finely turgid rhythmic emphasis in which bass and piano seem to drag themselves insistently forward while everything they do seems also to be dragging them back.

It’s at this point that the second form of the chiasm begins to appear with “Copenhagen Part I,” tenor and piano rustling in the firmament, the lines moving steadily upward with the increasingly active tenor and piano with active bass and energizing, insistent drums joining in until they find repose on a sustained note. “Copenhagen Part II” centres the tenor’s circularity, the circular breathing and the cycling patterns of the increasingly interlocking line, beneath them a rising cloud of dense bass register piano that will rise with the pattern. In the concluding “London Part II,” the music begins with a strong solo tenor moment; once joined by the band, Parker alternates the two dominant patterns, the reaching line and the circular pattern, each growing increasing in power and intensity until it concludes, things withdrawing into luminous piano tones and sparkling metallic percussion.

These movements, among two essential approaches, suffer in any verbal description, a reductive blow-by-blow making all punches equal, some just exaggerated; in practice, the segments vary in any number of ways, particularly in dynamics and kinds of interaction. Kinetics is highly responsive, often inspiring, creating a distinct group music with Parker in the process, while the editing and sequencing create another structural order, the chiasm creating a further dialogue among parts and processes.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Catherine Sikora – Warrior (self released, 2019) ****

Regardless you like or not, reviewing a solo recording can be troubling even problematic some times. Any solo recording can be revealing very personal thoughts and ideas. Those that lie on the thin line that expresses the inexpressible. There are times that I feel I am the recipient of messages that oblige me to listen carefully and respond accordingly. Putting out anything of your own (and only that) self expression is, even in today’s social media driven society of spectacle, a strong message by itself. You have to, you really want to say something. And the only suitable way to do that is by leaving no other to mediate your message that yourself.

Catherine Sikora, with Warrior, has something to say to us. I haven’t met Catherine in person or had the luck to catch her live. I live in Greece you see. We only have exchanged some emails. Warrior seems like a part of her, as it resembles some of the thoughts Catherine shared with me on those emails about her music. Warrior is about women, dedicated to the struggles of all of them in our so called modernized societies. I would dare say, once more I guess, also for the lack of them in the world of improvised music.

But do not expect Warrior to be a protest album per se. It is mostly associated with feelings coming from deep inside. Or, possibly, on the disgust for the normalization of inequality in the 21st century. Sometimes Warrior delves deep into the free jazz tradition to form, on some of the tracks a cry, as angry as possible. In other parts of this almost 40 minutes recording, the love Sikora has for melody and the blues formulates a Braxtonian bridge between instant improvisation and written material.

The symbolism of the title alone-women as warriors-is polarizing our societies today because, as always, those who are most privileged (straight white males indeed) feel most threatened by it. I wouldn’t mind if Sikora used her sax the way A. Shepp did back in the day. As a weapon for the cry of his people to be heard. Sikora’s breathing, the melodic lines she uses, even the times she instantly changes a direction, follow a more symbolic, more internal path. Instead of the, always necessary if you ask me, raised fist, there’s a gesture of a hand that touches and holds another hand. An act of unity, power and togetherness. I find Sikora’s music, and Warrior of course, through this gesture.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Spill - Stereo (Corvo Records, 2018) ****½

By Stef

What is the link between jazz and cats? Is it the animal's free spirit, its independence and unpredictability? Is it to do with its sense of precision and purpose? In any case, the cat staring from the cover of this album looks exactly like my cat when I was a kid.

Luckily that has no influence on my appreciation of this music, a duet between pianist Magda Mayas and drummer Tony Buck, both based in Berlin and performing as a duo since 2003. This is their third recording - next to a trio with Damon Smith on bass - and it contains two 20' minute tracks, designed for a vinyl production, called "Magnetic Island" and "Sway".

The two musicians create sound environments with pre-recorded elements from live performances with multi-speaker and multi-layered audio, on which they act and react. The music expands slowly and with precision. Despite the various layers, the texture is light and fragile. Every sound counts and has a value of its own in a larger space that still resonates with the traces of previous sounds. The calmness betrays an inherent intensity of contrast and anticipation. The variety of techniques they use to approach their instruments may be resulting in noise according to some, but in fact it's the exact opposite. It is sensual, elegant and refined. Once you immerse yourself in this beautiful and carefully crafted sonic universe, everything else will sound like vulgar noise afterwards.

We can only hope that the duo will release with a higher frequency in the future.

... and yes, they are free-spirited, independent minds with a high dose of unpredictability, as well as a sense of precision and purpose. Like cats. But you already expected this, of course.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rosetta Trio - Outliers (Papillon Sounds, 2019) ****

Stephan Crump will always be associated in my mind with guitarists. The first time I saw him play was with his Secret Keeper duet with Mary Halvorsen. Admittedly I was there primarily to see how she got those squiggly bendy notes that are part and parcel of her precociously trademark sound (as a non guitarist I still didn't have a clue how she did it but she made it look real easy) but while I was doing that was also thinking "that bass player guy is pretty good". So good that I subsequently went to see his Rhombal quartet and trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Cory Smythe; in all settings he added his unique musical personality while seamlessly fitting into the group sound to the point that seeing his name on a recording puts it at the top of the must listen to pile.

So if one guitar is good then two must be better, right? Because that's what you get with the Rosetta Trio featuring Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox's electric, a group existing since 2004 which Crump formed as a one off to record material he felt strongly personally about for the Rosetta release under his name. But then the group assumed a life of its own and the guitarists began contributing works of their own and after Reclamation and Thwirl we have the current release.

If you're already enamored with the group there's plenty more to feast upon here. For those of you with an aversion to a drummerless trio of un firebreathing instruments, you might want to reconsider. The title piece, the core of which came to Crump in the back of a tour van in Europe, establishes the groove early after which the participants break away into slightly asymmetrical orbits which never escape the central gravity before finally getting back in sync. Synapse provides a scaled down arena rock feel of two guitars swirling around a propulsive bass figure, minus the drums and cacophonous volume.

When Stephan released Rhombal with a different quartet dedicated to his far too prematurely deceased brother, Patrick, it was accurately reviewed here as a joyous celebration of his life. Two songs were held back from that session specifically for this group. Dec 5 was Patrick's first birthday after his passing and the piece poignantly expresses the sense of yearning for what was lost, particularly in Fox's crystalline melodic notes. Middle March, the last time the brothers were together, is an uplifting tribute to his still vibrant spirit.

Liberty Ellman created Cryoseism, an intricate trading off of sprightly motifs by all three players, initially for Thwirl but the musicians weren't happy with how the piece had developed. Subsequent rehearsals and tours prodded and pushed it to a level they were satisfied with and here it is. That's how the entire disc is: well developed interplay between three simpatico players. Listening to it repeatedly as the weather was changing into cool autumn seemed very fitting.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Eugene Chadbourne and Henry Kaiser – Wind Crystals: Guitar Duets by Wadada Leo Smith (Relative Pitch, 2019) *****

By Nick Ostrum

First, a brief history. Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith have collaborated before, most notably on their Yo Miles! Project, as well as in various other settings. In fact, Smith had actually written “Wind Crystals” for Kaiser’s first recording for Eugene Chadbourne’s label…and the seeds of this recording were planted. Forty years later, Chadbourne and Kaiser decided to pay homage to Smith by recording several of his compositions for dual guitar/strings and rerecording the piece that started it all (with “it” meaning this four-decade triangle of on-off [and recently mostly off, it seems] collaboration).
Wind Crystals begins and ends with contending versions of the title track. The first is the 1977 version. The last, the 2017 one. The first is sparer and captures the spirit of windchimes. The second is one of the most active pieces on this album, and possibly one of the best. All sounds are acoustic, but there are times in the latter piece that I hear howls and hums amidst the frolicking dialogues. What a fine and different interpretation.

Other tracks are similarly off-kilter but focused. Pieces such as “Shabazz,” “Blue Lightning Blue,” and “Blue Case” run replete with bluesy undertones. Even more, however, they disassemble the tradition, using its pieces as a sort of spolia with which to build a new, warped edifice or sonic fragments with which to construct an aural collage. (Yes, Derek Bailey seems a major influence, though the tracks here have somewhat more melody and rhythm than Bailey ever let slip.) Other tracks, such as “Pacifica” have a twangy vibe and are in striking contrast to, but also in awkward continuity with, the version on Spiritual Dimensions. At points, they even capture the trills, runs, and even the cavernous qualities of Smith’s horn, albeit in a more sinuous, skrony, broken bluegrass sort of way.

In short, these are inventive and absolutely compelling interpretations of these compositions. If you are a fan of Wadada, I would recommend checking this out if for no other reason than to experience some of the alternate potentialities of his music. If you are a fan of Dr. Chad and the Kaiser, you already know what you are in for: craggy guitar music played to explore strings, vibrations, resonances, and spaces, rather than muffle them into something mellifluous and smooth. Even considering the catalogues of all three musicians/composers party to this project, Wind Crystals, in its dedication to the acoustic avant-garde, is really out there and a real triumph of invention, resourcefulness, and composition. One of the best albums I have heard all year.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fredrik Rasten - Six Moving Guitars (SOFA Music, 2019) ****

Six Moving Guitars is the musically and conceptually ambitious debut record from composer/guitarist Fredrik Rasten. The recording was made by Rasten and five collaborators -- both musicians and dancers -- at a church in Norway in 2018. The performance is an interactive sonic exploration of the space in which it was recorded, each performer wielding an acoustic guitar tuned in just intonation, a manner of tuning wholly different than how instruments are typically tuned. A choreography is played out with the guitars, which was developed as a way to link the unique sound of the guitars in just intonation and the space they were being played in. Rasten developed material and various playing techniques that are played out by both musicians and non-musicians. This is intentional, as Rasten refers to the music as " a study in how people, without necessarily being trained musicians, can act together in a musical situation based on awareness of listening and spatial orientation."

Musically the record is filled with seemingly simple plucked and strummed guitar patterns. The six voices bounce small ideas off one another, thoroughly in conversation, and ultimately create a complex fabric of sound. It is slow moving, steady and consistent, breathing gradually and moving between sections. Before you know it the music has reached a new section, bled into from what came before it. This is music that very successfully invokes elements of Minimalism, and nearly New Age.

Rasten has created a hypnotizing, beguiling listen, both in part to the aforementioned way the music unfolds, as well as the textures coming from the non-traditionally tuned guitars. Overtones abound -- they wobble and throb, and often it is hard to place from where a sound came. There is a spareness to the recording but the sound is nonetheless full, aided in part by the waving. encompassing chordal textures.

Though separated into five tracks, Six Moving Guitars is really one long piece. Consistent throughout is the footsteps and incidental noise generated from the movement of the performers. This becomes an essential part of the recording, an element not unlike the clinking of glasses of music recorded at a club. It acts as well as a near percussive drone, shuffling under the guitars like a quiet cymbal. The pulse really only changes during the fourth piece "Running," during which the choreography seems to be the namesake for the piece, as rhythmic running steps beat quickly in time, achieving a tone different than what came before. A phasing effect is even subtly achieved, as the steps come closer and drift further from the mic. The effect is mesmerizing.

When listening to Rasten's record one may recall the music of the late guitarist Rod Poole (as well as Poole's Acoustic Guitar Trio with Nels Cline and Jim McAuley), a master practitioner of the guitar tuned in just intonation. Though of a different overall aesthetic and intention, there is indeed a comparison. Both make shimmering, ringing acoustic guitar music, that achieves a feeling of boundlessness among many sonic worlds. Rasten has released a beautiful debut record, and I'm excited to see what comes next for him.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes – Uplift the People (Ogun 2018) ****

By Hinrich Julius

Louis Moholo-Moholo does not need an introduction here and still – here it is. Originally, from Cape Town he left South Africa with the racially mixed Blue Notes and finally settled in London. There he continued to play with the various bands around Chris McGregor, especially the Blue Notes and the Brotherhood of Breath. First prominence as leader was achieved with “Spirits Rejoice”, just rereleased as LP on Otoroku – a freejazz classic featuring the cream of British residing musicianship as Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Keith Tippett, Johnny Dyani, Harry Miller and Nick Evans. He continues the tradition of the Blue Notes’ style of African melodies with free-jazz outburst until today, now with the extended name of Moholo-Moholo, which he took up after resettling back to South Africa in 2005.

This blog has featured some output of Moholo, most notably Duo-recordings with Marilyn Crispell (Sibanye – We are the one, Intakt 2008) and Wadada Leo Smith (Ancestors, TUM 2012 ). This CD rather follows the tradition of his Afro-Free recordings, which go back to recordings of the Blue Notes, e.g. the dedications to former members Mongezi (Feza, Ogun 1975), and Johnny (Dyani, Ogun 1987). Louis Moholos continued this tradition with his smaller band Viva-La-Black (Exile, Ogun 1990; Freedom Tour – Live in South Africa, Ogun 1994) and his Dedication Orchestra (Spirits Rejoice, Ogun 1992; Ixesha, Ogun 1994), and latest with his Unit For the Blue Notes (Ogun 2014).
“Five Blokes” features exactly what it states and offers a concert recording from London’s Café Oto from 2017. Five musicians who have all played together for a while. Alexander Hawkins provides rhythmic power piano with free excursion. John Edwards anchors the music with a solid bass. The two saxophones cry out the melody and scream with joy over it – Jason Yarde and Shabaka Hutchings. Everything is held together and irritated by Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums. The songs use powerful and rather simple melodies with an African feel to it introduced and sustained through unison playing, mostly by the horns. This background is used by all players taking opportunities to freak out. In this regard, the record is offering more free playing than some of the other younger records offer, e.g. For the Blue Notes. Moholo-Moholo himself provides a constant beat (without always playing it) and creates a rhythmic pulse sustaining an atmosphere of excitement.

This constant tension filled with joy is probably the most special feature of this music. I month ago I had the chance to catch the “Five Blokes” live (with Tobias Delius instead of Shabaka Hutchings) in Holland during the yearly Jazzcycle festival around Groningen ( Zomerjazzfietstour 2019 – a trip highly recommended for readers of this blog). The saxophones shout the joyful melodies, piano and bass provide a solid bass and change the roles with the saxophones while the leader on the drums succeeds in providing both stomps parallel to complex patterns reflecting joys of African pop songs and the history of free drumming. It is the latest release of Ogun records, the label that opened the ears of the world to this free-form African music since the 1970s. Highly recommended, available as CD and download .

Monday, October 14, 2019

Angles 9 - Beyond Us (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½

By Stef

You can wonder about the value of a review for an album that all fans are already aware of and cannot but appreciate. Since the band's first album in 2008, Angles have kept the same unique high level of performance, adding members from a sextet to a nonet over the years, with a trio in between. 

The current nonet are Martin Küchen on alto and tenor saxophones, Eirik Hegdal on baritone saxophone, Goran Kajfes on cornet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Mats Äleklint on trombone, Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, Alexander Zethson on piano, Johan Berthling on double bass and Andreas Werliin on drums. 

At the first tones of the album, you already feel that this is good. The theme is as infectious as before, the band moves as one, the vibes offer a refreshing contrast to the powerful horns, the rhythm section including the piano drive the action forward relentlessly. As said before, this is not music to be heard through headphones, but to be enjoyed in a live setting, where you are as the audience close to the action, if not part of the action. This is marching band music, this is street music, designed to be close to everyday sentiments of joy and sadness, and a little indignation to for the way things unfortunately are. This is communal music, to be enjoyed collectively. It is also political music, designed to rally the forces of the people to overthrow the unjust rulers of our society. 

But since headphones are the next best thing, you are sucked up in the action, and you feel part of something grander and more significant. 

Despite the fact that this is the band's seventh album (taking all configurations into account), the musical vision that Martin Küchen developed from the start is still entirely intact. And yes, it would be easy to identify this ensemble's sound in a blind test, even if it would be hard to say from which album, because they have stayed so close to their core concept. 

"U(n)happiez Marriages" starts with beautiful piano, in a slow very boppish mode and respective harmonic structure, leading to yet again a wonderful theme, sad and moaning, recognisable and yet so inventive, as the backbone for heartrending solo work by the trombone and the trumpet. But the even more wonderful is the freedom of all musicians to colour outside the lines, even when participating in the theme, leading to a weird sense of controlled freedom, which sets this wide apart from any form of traditional jazz, as if the imperfections and the deviations make it more real and authentic. 

"Samar & The Egyptian Winter" is dedicated to the Syrian author and journalist Samar Yazbek, and by extension refers to the refers to the Arab Spring that has been quenched by the Sissi government in Egypt and by Assad in Syria. It starts with a sad solo sax intro, leading into a dramatic theme, accentuated by the vibes. Drums and bass lay the perfect ground work for the theme played by trumpet, cornet and baritone, tearful and sad, then for the cornet to improvise over calm piano chords, arco bass and it becomes even sadder, and the when the entire band starts again with the theme, the emotions the music evokes and the empathy you can feel with the Egyptian people are brought to their zenith.  

"Against the Permanent Revolution" starts with a piano and baritone sax intro, sonically reminiscent of the Ethiopian music of Mulate Astatke, for an incredibly exuberant and jubilant piece of marching revolutionaries. The title refers to a term - permantent revolution - used by Marx and later by Trotsky to describe how the proletariat should take over power without any compromise for opposing views. What the title actually means, we should ask Küchen himself. 

The album ends with "Mali", a high energy, uptempo piece, driven by Werliin's kinetic drumming, and leading into a wild theme, that could be the soundtrack for a 70s action movie (but then of the better kind). It is a maddening romp with unexpected changes and stops, including a two-sax vamp that brings the audience to shouts, after which the other musicians join in utter chaos and according to unknown principles and directions ... the audience cheers when piano and trumpet take over and again the other instruments join, first chaotically, then the whole massive sound coalesces again into the main dubbel-layered theme, ending with a massive stop to the enthusiastic cheers of the audience. 

The performance was recorded live August 25th, 2018 at the Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour, The Netherlands.

Fun and sadness guaranteed, together with a good level of admiration for the compositional power and musicianship.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sarah Gail Brand / Steve Beresford / John Edwards / Mark Sanders - All Will Be Said, All To Do Again (Regardless, 2019) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

British trombonist Sarah Gail Brand doesn’t appear on albums often, which makes this recording especially exciting. Having previously recorded with drummer Mark Sander s , All Will Be Said, All To Do Again is the recorded debut of a quartet with multi-instrumentalist Steve Beresford and bassist John Edwards. The album, recorded live in January 2018, flows masterfully, as the musicians merge, converge, and diverge with tremendous energy. Three major quartet improvisations, “A Constant Quantity,” “Be Again,” and “Let’s Go,” are set off by a series of smaller groupings: “This One” with Brand and Beresford; “Ever Tried” with Brand, Beresford, and Edwards; “Let’s Do Something While We Have the Chance” with Brand and Edwards; and “For Reasons Unknown,” again with Brand, Beresford, and Edwards.

As I’ve written in prior reviews, it’s difficult for me to separate art like free improvisation from the state of the world beyond it. Personally, I tend to find improvised music less hermetically sealed than other types of music, and so to try and put some context around the date of this performance, it feels like the depths of Brexit malaise is being mined for something dense and frustrated, with knotty, clanging piano preparations and electronics from Beresford and Sanders’s magnificent percussion flurries. With associations onstage and on record going back decades, all four players are comfortable pushing at their compatriots’ loose edges, the subtle frays drawn out by partial phrasing and the occasional dramatic pause.

Much like Ken Vandermark, Brand is talented at shaping a lengthy performance, bringing a number of techniques to her trombone playing. There are a number of Rutherford-esque sequences throughout the album, and “For Reasons Unknown” features some of her finest and most challenging playing. Some of the smaller groupings serve as a tightrope-walker’s interlude, where a notably tenser, strained timbre slips into place. Edwards, of course, is incredible, and he pairs with Brand expertly. Their duet “Let’s Do Something While We Have the Chance” is the middle track, and indeed serves as a bit of a centerpiece, as instrumentally sparse as this album gets. That said, the tracks featuring the full quartet are brilliant, like all the best free jazz, ablaze with possibility and absolutely on fire.

Available via Bandcamp.

Also of note: Though I’ve not heard it yet, the release of Brand’s quartet performance with Simon H. Fell, Percy Pursglove, and the late Tony Marsh is another notable 2019 release. Recorded live in 2011, Harmonic 2011 is an improvised set, running about 30 minutes. As Fell notes, this was the last time he saw Marsh, and the one and only recording of this particular quartet.

Also available via Bandcamp.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Deep Listening to Bruno Duplant: Recent Works

By Nick Ostrum

Bruno Duplant is a self-taught composer, phonographer, bassist, and altogether 21st century renaissance man from France. Like many others of his generation, he is a relentless audial explorer and documentarian, and over just the past few years has more releases in more genres and on more labels than one can reasonably keep track of. (This impulse to document may bleed over from the other side of his life as a library sciences teacher.) Unlike some of his peers, however, his releases are not just the product of obsessively recording live sessions. Instead, Duplant seems to have a more concerted program. Per his own testimony, even his field recording releases are thoughtfully composed. And, his electro-acoustic and pure acoustic compositions are meticulous and delicate soundscapes, feedback and frayed edges included.

Bruno Duplant - Deux Songes (Les Jours Sont Faits Pour Expliquer Les Nuits) (Meena, 2019) ****

It has become a cliché, but, first and foremost, Duplant is a pupil of John Cage. For him, “ Everything is music. We just have to open our windows .” I have always been ambivalent about such claims. On the one hand, I am drawn to them cognitively. On the other, they can give license to careless, shoddy reproduction of sound that can alienate the listener from what should be a filtered, refined experience. Fortunately, Duplant has a well-trained ear as well as a developed compositional sense. He does not simply open his window or lay a string of notes side by side. Instead, he gathers and composes, or as he puts it “orgnanize(s) chance.” Take, for instance, the pair of realizations on Deux Songes (Les Jours Sont Faits Pour Expliquer Les Nuits). Performed by the chamber ensemble Ordinary Affects, these compositions lay certain restrictions but the performers dictate the result within those confines. Ok, maybe this is nothing new conceptually, particularly in our post-postmodern present. Still, the results are potentially limitless and, in this case, quite beautiful. Both the realizations of “un lieu des souvenirs” and “le rêve de la nuit” are spacious but also full; they are similar, but hardly interchangeable. Wisps of strings waft through carefully assembled soundscapes. Extended tones scrape and quiver. A Fender Rhodes pulses. Sounds layer, but rarely beyond couples or trebles. Then, there is silence. Silence separates the brief movements of the piece and, in a sense, becomes the leitmotif.

Bruno Duplant – Chamber and Field Works (Another Timbre, 2019) ****

Another exploration in chamber dynamics, Duplant’s two-disc Chamber and Field Works is presents a markedly different listening experience. It involves rich drones and elongated, ascending melodies rather than lowercase whispers. The first disc is comprised of pieces composed between 2015 and 2017 and realized by the Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble (including the great Japanese minimalist visionary Taku Sugimoto). The second consists of one, long track titled “lEttEr to tAku,” a series of spare guitar tones layered over field recordings of the outdoors reworked and conscientiously juxtaposed. I find the first disc more fulfilling, though the second offers a clearer entrepôt into the pacific, pastoral imagery that underlay the chamber compositions. In that sense, this is an expert, classic record-styled pairing of a gripping a-side balanced by a more cerebral and challenging b-side split over two discs.

Bruno Duplant and Reinier van Houdt – Lettres et Replies (elsewhere, 2019) ****1/2

Lettres et Replies , Duplant’s collaboration with Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt, is a further departure from the long tones and timbre studies of Deux Songs and Chamber. And, for reasons I cannot quite identify, it is absolutely stunning. The composition process is unconventional, as Eyal explains in his review . Crudely put, it seems that Duplant writes the pieces and, it seems, constructs the background field recording, while Houdt provides the second line of composition and, ultimately, the realization. Duplant composes the letters, and Houdt performs the reply. Again, conceptually this may not be wholly unique, but Duplant’s recognition and embrace of this process has at least opened channels of communication and understanding that allow the performer, Houdt, to deftly chart his own path through these lettres. Houdt’s playing is mesmerizing. He alternates between soft and hard strikes, and reconciles dissonance and sonority in a dreamy musical ether. At its most mellifluous, it is just shy of saccharine, in part because of the added dissonance and the pulsing layers of sound. At its most discordant, it is listless, though still quite sweet. Deceptively simple and utterly beautiful.

Bruno Duplant - Au Hasard des Cercles (Zoomin‘ Night, 2019) *** 1/2

A fourth album highlights yet another side of Duplant, and perhaps that for which he has gained the most attention: electroacoustic soundscapes. Au Hasard des Cercles poses a deeply textured narrative of distant, glimmering ringing, haunting ambient sounds, and muffled, but thunderous percussion. Cut into two 16-minute tracks (presumably to conform to its tape release), this album is a wandering exploration of sonic textures wherein every sonic movement and turn uncovers a new surface, element, or contour. The music has gravity but abandons the apocalyptic and melodramatic tendencies of similar projects in favor of mystery. For those familiar with such music, there is little here that will shock. And, as meticulously compiled as this album is, it never breaks into new territory. That said, this is a solid release. And, as with the best of its ilk, this is an album that pays dividends with the volume turned up and the ear attentive, even if one lets his or her attention periodically wander.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Freejazzblog on Air: The Song Does Not Remain The Same

freejazzblog on air, featuring blog colleague Martin Schray and radio host Julia Neupert broadcasted  on SWR2 in southern Germany at 11 p.m. CEDT. The show is available online for this week:,1160489-100.html.

The show is entitled "The Song Does Not Remain The Same" and is about the relationship of songs and free improvisation. It will include songs by Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Seval, Fire Orchestra, The Comet Is Coming, Code Girl and Ben LaMar Gay.

Zeena Parkins • Wobbly - Triplicates (Relative Pitch, 2019) ***

By Keith Prosk

Electric harpist Zeena Parkins joins Wobbly, on mobile phones & tablets, booper feedback oscillator, and mixer, for 9 tracks across 40 minutes on Triplicates. Wobbly’s perhaps best known for 2002’s Wild Why, an often humorous dadaist plunderphonic collage of radio clippings, sounding like turntablism to the nth degree. But for the past decade, with cheaper, better consumer hardware and software available, Wobbly’s leaned into live improvisation on phones and tablets, which he feels are now as responsive to the player as acoustic instruments. Wobbly’s sampled and acknowledged Parkins on his recordings throughout the past decade, but this might be the first time they’ve recorded together. His approach seems like a particularly fitting addition to Parkins’ collaborative roster, rich in other electric and electroacoustic innovators like Ikue Mori, Pauline Oliveros, Otomo Yoshihide, and Fred Frith, among others.

There’s a third player in the room. Listening devices designed to output sound similar to the inputs. Which is where the title, Triplicates , arises. There’s an acoustic source, the electronic output, and this machine that sings along (though it might miss the mark sometimes). Three copies of the same sound, but played through a game of telephone. Ideally, imagine a pluck of the instrument, a slightly delayed electric sounding, and then some response like the person who sings “happy birthday” a little too off-cadence or off-tune. It’s a humorous and interesting scenario that unfortunately falls flat in this recording because the acoustic soundings are completely obscured and the electric soundings are so manipulated that the interaction with and subversion of the listening devices is unapparent. It’s unclear if delay and reverb are just part of the many effects applied to Parkins’ harp, or if these are the listening devices. Though the obfuscation is part of the point, the questions of sonic origin and authenticity presented in this scenario would be better served with a clearer exhibition.

The recording is more satisfying sonically. Parkins’ harp assumes the personas of piano, inside-piano, arco, plucky prepared guitar a la Oval circa 2010, and bass a la Squarepusher. Probably much more, as the harp’s identity is warped by effects that swim in an environment of effects. Wobbly presumably builds the substrate with synths and drones on his tablets and phones but is most heard on the blooper, a feedback circuit that buzzes, sputters, vibrates, clicks, ticks like a kitchen-timer without a bell, and occasionally builds to squeals and whistles. The frenetic, wonky “Plankton Interregnum” - though very short at about a minute - demonstrates a kind of dismantled techno possible with this duo that might peak Autechre fans’ interest. It’s not all cold electronics though, and the piano-like chords reverberating on a humming drone on “Sing Themselves” and “De-storied” are particularly warm and emotive.

Ultimately it’s a solid recording from a both growthful and growing collaboration, from which I expect to and am excited to hear more. I only wish I could hear and recognize the inspired processes at play here.

Triplicates is a CD-only release.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nick Millevoi - Streets of Philadelphia Limited Edition music book (s/p, 2019)

By David Menestres

I first met Nick Millevoi a couple of years ago when we played on the same night at Neptune’s Parlour in Raleigh, NC, me with one of Eugene Chadbourne’s projects and Nick with the Desertion Trio, an ear splittingly loud project, refracting the history of electric guitar over the throbbing bass of Johnny DeBlase and the shattered beats of Kevin Shea. Millevoi has also participated in numerous other musical projects including the Many Arms trio, the Hollenberg-Millevoi Quartet, which was part of John Zorn’s ongoing Bagatelles project, Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band, and has performed with Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Nels Cline, and many more.

Nick’s newest solo album, Streets of Philadelphia, is being issued as a collection of sheet music dedicated to his home town. I caught up with Nick to ask a couple of questions about his new release.

DM: Prior to the advent of sound recording, all collections of songs were released as sheet music. More recently this idea has begun to pop up occasionally, perhaps most notably with Beck’s Song Reader, which were performed by groups all over the country. Why release an album like this in 2019? How does this work for you as a musician and a composer that’s different from releasing a sound recording? Does it satisfy the same itch for you or does it float your boat in an entirely different way?

NM: The biggest thing that gets me excited about releasing a book of sheet music as a record of material is how open-ended it is. I love the idea of this being music I can play with anyone who has a copy of the book and that anyone can play on their own and do whatever they want with it. At first, I wrote all of this music without being sure what I was going to do with it. I started posting some videos of myself playing some of the compositions with pictures of the charts on social media and immediately people began reaching out to me and asking to see the charts, so I started by actively sharing them with people. I'm not really sure at this point how many I've sent out, but it's a bunch, and some people have posted videos of themselves playing the music too, which is the coolest. I've written a lot of music that nobody has ever seen the charts for except the musicians playing it, so it's fun to let the blueprints out there and see what happens. It's an experiment to see who wants to play it and how I feel about it, really. Because of that, I felt like it was worthwhile to see how it feels to release this music this way, at least initially.

As soon as I decided that, I decided to make a physical book. I had the idea of how it could look from day one, with my good friend Erik Ruin designing it.

So, in that way, this music is working for me in a totally different way than a sound recording and it's a cool experiment to see who is drawn to this and, I'm learning, it does get me excited in a similar way to making a record, but it's still very different. In a lot of ways, I haven't committed to anything other than notes and rhythms, unlike a record, where you commit to those things plus the arrangement, the performance, the production, all of that stuff. In this way, I now feel really open to perform this music however I want. I already have six different kind of groups with live performances planned in Philly and New York and I'm going to keep building on that.

There's also a super pragmatic side of things which is that making records in 2019 might be cheaper than it's essentially ever been before, but it's still really expensive and now there's not only little incentive to buy recorded music at this point - since we all have basically every sound recording ever made available to listen to on our phones and there's such a glut of new music and everyone is busier than they've ever been before and nobody has time to listen to it. I just feel like this is another way to get music out there that is worth a try. It requires more time and attention than a sound recording, but it's going to reach people in a more interactive way, which is cool. And, it's also just a thing I want to see more of in the world. I wish more of my favorite artists would release books of their music.

Another thing is that I looked at these 25 pieces when they were all finished and realized I was already waiting on a record to come out that I'd spent months working on (Desertion Trio's Twilight Time) and, with one more getting ready to be made and all of this music written, it'd take me years to get the record together and I was excited about it now and wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. Knowing I didn't have to wait long and could go this alternative route felt really, really, exciting, so I went for it.

DM: You’ve positioned this album as a kind of love letter to the city of Philadelphia. For those of is that don’t live in Philly, can you take us through a few of the neighborhoods you write about? Perhaps tell us what you feel about these areas and how that translates into the pieces you wrote? And what living in Philly has meant for your development as a player?

NM : The street names here were taken from as many neighborhoods across the whole city as I could and then matched up with songs I thought they fit. So pieces like "Opal" and "Silver" have a sound that are thematically similar and very different from those of "Hazzard" and "Shunk." Hopefully, there's some description in those names.

Philadelphia is my hometown and, like anyone, I have a complicated relationship to my hometown, developed over the course of my lifetime. There are things I love and things I hate. Those things are hard to describe without rambling, but really come down to there being things this city gives me that nowhere else can give me. The vibe is different in a way that is really hard to explain, but people here know what I'm talking about.

I will say that living in Philadelphia allows artists a lot of freedom and creativity for a million reasons that have to do with there just being a lot of resources as well as an affordable way of life. That said, for me, at this point, I actually play more in New York and with New York-based musicians (in my main band, Desertion Trio, I'm the only person who lives here!) and like to travel a lot, so I'm always leaving, which gives me a nice balance and lots of perspective.

Ultimately, figuring out how to live a creative life in Philadelphia means figuring out a lot of things on your own, but there can be a lot of freedom in it. It's like jazz or experimental music, once you get into the crazy stuff, there's really no turning back and I feel like that about Philadelphia - if you find something you love here, it's going to be hard to scratch that itch somewhere else.

This music is really different than my most recent releases with Desertion Trio, for example, because I decided to really think about what I feel like Philadelphia inspires in me and this is what happened. There's a lot of tight dissonance, maybe even some aggression in the melodies, but there's also a lot of space and harmony. In order to play this music, you've gotta get with all of that and figure out a way to do it and, to me, that represents my experience here.


Do try this at home! Download the sheet music of Opal here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brötzmann/Leigh - South Moon Under (s/r, 2019) ****½

By Sammy Stein

Heather Leigh is an originally from West Virginia but now lives in Scotland. She is a steel guitar player with an increasing reputation for furthering the unexplored reaches of pedal steel guitar. She combines a physical presence with a playing style which is as spontaneous as it is based on solid musicianship. She is known as a player who combines strength and sensitivity. She has received great reviews from The Wire Magazine, MOJO, Uncut, The Guardian, The New York Times, Magnet, Rolling Stone, and many more and has collaborated with many musicians, including Peter Brotzmann, with whom she teamed up once more for this album. Heather Leigh has performed across the world and at many festivals.

Peter Brotzmann needs little introduction and I make no apology for saying he is far and away one of my favourite players and interviewees. He has on occasion sent me books, vinyl and CDs he has found or released and always remembers the projects I am involved in and we catch up readily when we meet. On this album, these two players have produced, again, something exceptional and different. Just two tracks - but two tracks of more joyful noise you will be pushed to find.

The CD's first track is 'South Moon Under' which opens with Peter's almost trademark ferocious attack with sweeping, rising lines and grace notes aplenty. The attack is spirited and immediate. Into this pour the echoed tones of the steel guitar of Heather Leigh and the result if that joyful noise mentioned above. The track features oft-repeated riffs from Peter and it is the guitar which sets the atmosphere for the larger part. After the energy of the introduction there is then a softer time, the sax fades and there is a space created into which the guitar allows notes to trickle and echo before Peter enters again, the sax driving its insistent message higher, fuller, with increasing dexterity and resulting texture as the track evolves. People often talk of players who make their instrument 'talk' but with Peter the effect is genuine. Screeching, squealing, responding, questioning, ramping the energy up and up, the voice is full of character and wonderful, emotive noise. The guitar works changes and provides a solid backdrop against which the fire of the sax is tempered just a little.

The intuitive alteration in tempo and key between the two musicians is a delight to hear and there are moments when the guitar drops away to leave the sax talking away , whilst at others, the guitar is allowed to implode the atmosphere and change it. Peter plays at times as if trying to empty the air of the surrounding space but the guitar remains unrelenting, unphased and solid as a rock. Towards the end there is a lovely falling section as the sax travels down in fours to the lower register and then up again before once again being persuaded by the gentler guitar to calm, slow and eventually stop , allowing Leigh to solo on the steel guitar with a beautifully atmospheric solo. When Peter enters, now on tarogato, there is a harsher, eastern- influenced feel but there is no less insistence, no less drive and the range is fully explored in a series of riffs which at times sound like Peter is just seeing exactly what the instrument can do. Buzzy, sharp at times, the solo is emotive and delivered at full pelt. The track comes to a close with both instruments fading, sounding as if they are simply wondering off out of earshot.

'These Dark Waters' starts as an atmospheric steel guitar solo in which Heather Leigh pours many differing techniques, from pulled string slurs to held resonating echoes and chords to create a sound which fills space and reverberates. At one point she introduces a theme of descending notes over a background sound sheet and it is almost half way through the track before the sax enters, plying under the chords of the guitar initially but then ascending over the top and splurging on the fast played riffs before it is suddenly left, the guitar fades and the sax sings a melody out. Each phrase begins with a forced note and many phrases include fast-fingered scale ascensions and descents , something Peter does almost automatically. Right to the end there is a swapping of roles, an interpretation of the other's next move and an uncanny knack for hitting the harmonies.

Heather Leigh continues to develop and explore the steel guitar, making huge use of the instrument's capabilities and sound possibilities. Against Peter Brotzmann's style of playing, whether on sax, tarogato or B flat clarinet, which seemingly heads towards oblivion at times, yet is always so musically clever, the harmonics hit you suddenly and from unexpected places. I saw Peter recently at cafe Oto on the last night of his residency and his warmth and character shone through as usual. There is, with Peter, always a poignancy in his demeanor and playing which seems to come through in spite of the frenetic and energetic delivery . Placed against the solidity and ,at times, gentleness of Heather Leigh's playing, it works a treat on the ears. A partnership which has seen several recordings, this is a thing of joy and celebration. A great album containing a lot of clever working of the themes and phrases and a pair of musicians who delight in each other's playing.

Heather Leigh / 
pedal steel guitar
Peter Brötzmann / 
tenor sax, tarogato
, b-flat clarinet

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Angel Bat Dawid - The Oracle (International Anthem, 2019) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Independent record company International Anthem has become an incubator for philosophical, political, and visionary creative artists like Ben LaMar Gay, Makaya McCraven, Jaimie Branch, and the Irreversible Entanglements collective of Keir Neuringer, Moor Mother, Luke Stewart, Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes. Each has approached universalism from a different perspective and tuned their thrilling music to an often biting frequency. Add to that list Angel Bat Dawid. As a fairly recent convert from 9–5 clock-puncher to full-time artist (as detailed in a fantastic Chicago Reader feature by Leor Gali l ), it hasn’t taken long for her reputation to grow: In addition to her own groups, Dawid has performed with LaMar Gay, Branch, Matthew Lux, and Roscoe Mitchell. For her debut, The Oracle, she took a Mitchell-esque approach towards performance that stretches beyond a simple solo album and presents a holistic concept of Dawid as a singular artist.

On “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? (Dr. Margaret Burroughs),” Dawid sings lines from Burroughs’s essential 1963 poem, "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? (Reflections of an African-American Mother)."A decade later, Burroughs revisited the poem with a look at the violence of capitalism, oppression, and faith. "What Shall We Tell Our Children? An Addenda, 1973" features something of a guiding principle for Dawid’s music (and, perhaps, International Anthem as a whole):

We shall tell them
​To keep the belief that the purpose of life
Is to continue to grow and create
And to contribute to growth and create
And to contribute to growth and
Creativity toward a better life
For people now and for generations to come

Throughout The Oracle, Dawid circles back to themes of growth and creation. Tasking herself with performing, recording, and mixing, Dawid began many of these as sketches for her main group, Tha Brotherhood. Recording at Radcliffe Hunter mansion and in London and Cape Town, Dawid’s songs communicate musical ideas, as well as states of time and place. Both “Capetown” and “London” catch her in improvisatory contexts, capturing the state of a mind in transit. On “Capetown,” Dawid is joined by drummer Asher Simiso Gamedze, and their duet is lengthy and relaxed. The shining center of the album, “We Are Starzz,” is an incredible melange of voice and clarinet, expertly intertwined and luminescent. The Oracle runs the gamut from cosmic to brittle, but it’s Dawid’s sincerity and dynamic performance that make it so memorable.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Albert Beger & Co.

Recent release from Israeli sax hero Albert Beger and his quartet, and the debut release of one of his students’ free-improv trio GOG.

Albert Beger Quartet - The Gate (NoBusiness, 2019) ****

The Beger Quartet is Beger's most stable outfit with recording career of about 25 years, featuring a generation younger musicians - pianist Milton Michaeli, double bass player Shay Hazan and drummer Ofer Bymel (who replaced Adam Cohen and recently was replaced by Hagai Freshtman, who collaborated before with Beger). The Gate was recorded in the summer of 2017 in Afula, Israel.
Beger, asu usual, wrote all the compositions for The Gate, but now opted for more introspective-spiritual vein that represents his deep connection with the Afro-American free jazz forefathers. Beger himself is a long-time yoga practitioner and vegan and the six compositions reflect his own perspective of jazz music as a gate to better realization of the self and its virtues of compassion. Beger’s tone - on the tenor sax and Japanese Shakuhachi bamboo flute flute, identified with Zen Buddhism, is still charismatic and muscular but emphasizes more than ever his contemplative side, avoiding immediate ecstatic outbursts, and seeking a cohesive and strong quartet sound. And indeed, Michaeli, Hazan and Bymel are following his lead closely and adding rich yet modest focused, nuanced layers to Beger’s ideas.

The main pieces, “Zen” and “This Is It”, stress this patient, persistent and almost meditational-ritualistic way one seeks a deeper understanding of his art and true self in the art of the moment. This way is achieved by a generous sharing of your resources, by building together the necessary power for such an intense journey and with emphatic support until reaching the inevitable, liberating emotional climax. The silent and meditative “Shakuhachi impro”, for solo Shakuhachi, injects subtle Western playfulness to the whispering tones of the flute. The last piece, “Silence”, brings the Shakuhachi into a sparse free jazz atmosphere in a manner that offers a new ceremonial experience, suggestive and emotional.

GOG - Something on a Thin Rope (Self Produced, 2019) ***

Something on a Thin Rope is the debut recording of the Israeli, Jerusalem-based trio GOG, featuring cellist Tom Klein, a former student of Beger whose cello is connected to assorted pedals and laptop, synthesizer player Amit Biton and drummer Stav Lipitz, all former student at the local music academy. This free-improv aimed at distancing itssound from the jazz legacy, exploring raw sonic ideas but still flirting with strong melodic veins, just like walking on a thin rope. This album was recorded in Jerusalem in August 2017.

This post-jazz, electro-acoustic trio offers a postmodernist pastiche of sounds, rough noises and expressive colors that never takes itself too seriously (“Veggie Dentist”), often suggests clever and ironic criticism of the Israeli daily noisy and chaotic environment (“Wedding”) and is not shy from being openly emotional. The best realized pieces are the few coherent ones, when GOG doesn't attempt to juggle with too many elements, as the cinematic-mysterious “Last snare”, the fragmented, electronic beats of “Shame/Parade”, “Bonbonim,” (candies) that flirts with West-African rhythmic cycles, and the straight-ahead yet minimalist, spacious and much less dramatic cover of Bjork’s “All is full of love” with Palestinain vocalist Luna Abu-Nasser (drummer Lipitz plays in her band).

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Wadada Leo Smith with Pheeroan akLaff | Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi

Wadada Leo Smith

Thursday, October 3rd, 8:00 PM 
Brooklyn Music School Theater

By Eric Stern

Blank Forms has been presenting some of the most innovative and interesting programming that New York has seen this year. Thursday evening was no exception. On this night the Brooklyn Music School Theater was the site of live performances by Akira Sakata with Chikamorachi and the duo of Wadada Leo Smith and Pheeroan akLaff. The show was well attended, though it did not quite sell out the two hundred and sixty plus seats.

Akira Sakata and Chikamorachi
The rhythm section, known as Chikamorachi, is made up of bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano. The duo has performed with Sakata since 2005, and they are as locked-in as can be. The trio in turn has worked repeatedly with guitarist Jim O’Rourke. Prior to the formation of the trio with Chikamorachi, Sakata was perhaps best known for an appearance on Last Exit’s recording titled The Noise of Trouble (Live in Tokyo) featuring Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, Shannon Jackson, and Herbie Hancock. This might give you some idea of the power Sakata possesses on his horns.

In anticipation of this performance, I took the opportunity to go to the James Cohan gallery in Tribeca the night before to see Sakata play with Darin Gray. This show was also presented by Blank Forms. While the improvised performances were different, there are certain elements which seem to reappear in Sakata’s work. Sakata opened both performances with an extended demonstration of his saxophone work. Unlike many fire-breathing players, Sakata never loses his tone. Nearly every note is perfectly formed, bending but not cracking. On both nights he demonstrated total mastery, and it is this aspect of his playing that is most mesmerizing and compelling.

Portions of both performances were centered on Sakata's vocalisms. His complete control over the sounds he creates enables him to generate an emotional response from his audience, and the interplay of artist and audience is an organic part of the experience. Having had the opportunity to see him twice in 24 hours, I was impressed by how effective this aspect of his work is.

Pheeroan akLaff and Wadada Leo Smith
After an extended intermission, Wadada Leo Smith and Pheeroan akLaff began their performance. This was all about deep focus. As Smith noted at the end of the evening, he has worked with akLaff since he was nineteen. There is a level of telepathic communication here which drives the music. They seem to merge into one being and breathe together for the entirety of the performance.

As both musicians have worked together repeatedly over the years, including on Ten Freedom Summers (2012) and America’s National Parks (2016), this evening was exciting as it afforded a rare opportunity to see them as a duo. akLaff played with a bit more force than normally while his partner, in contrast, seemed to be in a more cerebral mode. Smith’s tone on the trumpet is simply gorgeous. His recent purple patch as a composer sometimes masks just how great a player he truly is. I highly recommend seeing this duo at every opportunity presented.

A word about the venues. The James Cohan gallery in Tribeca is a beautiful open space. Most of audience sat on the floor, but a few chairs were made available for the comfort of older guests. The sound was good, and Blank Forms is curating at this gallery an ongoing series of free live performances during the month of October.

The Brooklyn Music School is an older venue, which is located near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Barclays Center, which means it is easy to get to by mass transit. It is a Spanish-style theatre which still has the wooden seats which speak to its antiquity. Blank Forms has had a knack for finding underutilized rooms for its shows, and this is another venue promoters should keep in mind.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Philipp Gropper’s Philm - Consequences (Why Play Jazz, 2019) ****

By Martin Schray

Philm is Philipp Gropper (saxophone/composition), Elias Stemeseder (piano/synthesizer), Robert Landfermann (bass) and Oliver Steidle (drums). The band has existed for seven years now and Consequences is their fifth album. A main characteristic of their music is that they transfer multi-layered themes into compact compositions, in which strong, individual statements pop up like geysers. On this album, Philm have made a real leap forward in quality compared to Sun Ship, their last studio release. The line up has changed, with Robert Landfermann replacing Andreas Lang (which could also be heard on the live recording Live at Bimhuis) and they have further developed their textural, colourful and tightly knit sound, which is sometimes reminiscent of the best moments of Tim Berne's Snakeoil.

Although the compositions show different musical points of reference from the long history of jazz, electronic music, hip-hop, new music, or the classical music of Africa and India can also be considered inspiration for Philm’s music. In general, natural phenomena such as the different undercurrents of waves, the tremendous power of hurricanes, and the drift of massive tectonic plates are translated into concrete musical images by means of various compositional techniques. However, as important as the rhythmic and harmonic cells that structure the compositions and improvisations, the same applies to the sounds. Sometimes they seem to be torn apart, which is especially true for Stemeseder’s synthesizer snippets. A perfect example of their approach is “Saturn“, in which an eerie electronic texture underlines a complex drum and bass rhythm, while the sax soars with minimal, even psychedelic lines that drag you in. At the 3:30 mark the composition takes a turn, changes to an uptempo modern jazz piece, just to take a balladesque break before it ends in a complex harmonic maze.

Often the compositions are structured around changing polyrhythms, but they result in delusive simple grooves, which on the one hand seem enraptured and haunting, but on the other hand they’re also enormously intense, e.g. when Gropper and Stemeseder chase up the scale in “Consequences 1“. Overall tight and methodical, the music never relaxes in long melodies or solos, it’s a rather tightening and loosening of sounds and changes that moves the music along. Unlike the jump-cuts of John Zorn or the modular repetitions of Nik Bärtsch’s groups, Philm is an ever shifting bricolage of tones and textures, forced together into unsettling but ultimately satisfying music.

You can listen to some tracks and buy the album here.

Watch the video for “Consequences“:

Friday, October 4, 2019

Tyshawn Sorey & Marilyn Crispell - The Adornment of Time (Pi Recordings, 2019) *****

By Olle Lawson

Tyshawn Sorey – Drums & Percussion.
Marilyn Crispell – Piano.

“There is only one place, and that place is time.”
(Russell Hoban.)

Tyshawn Sorey’s latest album is a masterwork of a journey – an oceanic experience that begins its voyage with quiet, focused intent.

Recorded live at The Kitchen (NYC) in October 2018 it is – incredibly – only the third duo performance between the drummer/percussionist and pianist Marilyn Crispell. The respect between the two artists is musically palpable and Sorey has spoken of the pianist’s “mindful decision making, intense listening, and the profound clarity with which she creatively responds.”

The darkened hall, lit only by two dim lamps, became the space of “a meeting of two spirits on a path of sound” (Crispell) – with nothing predetermined or discussed in advance.

The opening of the journey begins with a single ‘Tok!’ of wood. A slow build, examining the parameters of the sound-space; percussion constructing a base kindling with precision and purpose – knowing its role in the coming fire. Single notes of plucked piano innards move into a gentle, eking radiance of keys and chimes. At six minutes – the first distant rumbles of thunder, listening across the expansive surface plane, feeling a growing depth; a dark storm approaching.

At fifteen minutes in, the free expulsion fully opens – the first intense dance; waves of motion and emotion – ominous, descending bass stabs and low thunderous rolls replete with metallic percussion. Before all becomes still: drum whale-calls echo into the dark depths – open expanse – compounded with a single echoing tom hit; drawing a two note piano response.

Corrugated, jarred note stabs – fed by Sorey’s cymbals – then roll deep into the dark-hued tones of the lowest keys. Snare after snare into rolling toms, Crispell crisply repetitious here, imperceptibly building drama, texture and space; excavating into pitch-dark angular time. Monolithic weight.

Not only an exploration of sound and silences, but more unexpectedly – sound and space; dark, hanging-open, vertiginous space – like being suspended from a single rope, miles off shore, over deep black water, in darkest night; suspended and adorned.

Percussive chimes lead us back to the journey – to what sounds like timbers being struck, constructing sound; as a sailor might – superstitiously – touch his head to the wooden vessel, the music here embodies the relationship between the actual materiality of its own creation, through action in space. Crispell responds with pizzicato piano strings that project the playing of a harp in a field of ripped corn. Then scratched strings sound as Sorey’s bass drum tries to burrow in beneath the floor.

At the fifty minute mark huge tympani-like rolls boom before shifting into a chain-rattled invitation where the piano graces back in; a melancholy slow dance of slow-motion tears, of glockenspiel and falling chords – a chiming dialogue in decaying time.

Suddenly, a spontaneously composed coda appears. Crispell, emanating beauty outward before a tidal wall of drums seduces one into an expected end – but the piano breaks free and shifts into a slanting, sideways barrel roll only to become drawn back into a horizon point of conclusion through an overwhelming tightening snare.

Thrillingly dynamic, the breathless finale shows just how much expanse and dense narrative drive can be elicited from just drums and piano, when in the right hands.
A complete experience.

At no point in its unbroken sixty-five minutes does The Adornment of Time meander or fall into ruminative discursion, there is always a progression in movement of improvised intent and structural logic – displayed through the sheer depth of musical communication.

Quite a journey.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Whit Dickey/The Tao Quartets - Box of Light & Peace Planet (AUM Fidelity, 2019) ****1⁄2

By Lee Rice Epstein

Drummer and master improviser Whit Dickey has spent the past three decades working in various settings with Matthew Shipp, Ivo Perelman, David S. Ware, Mat Maneri, Rob Brown, Michael Bisio, Steve Swell, and William Parker. And for several years in the early 2000s, Dickey led a brilliant pianoless quartet with Brown, Joe Morris, and the late Roy Campbell, Jr. on trumpet. We’ve long been supporters and fans of Dickey’s art, covering dozens of albums and live performances . After a lengthy break from the role of bandleader and composer, Dickey returned with 2017’s Vessel In Orbit, an outstanding trio date with Maneri and Shipp . On this double album from AUM Fidelity, Dickey convenes two new quartets for some of the most ecstatic music of his long career.

Both sets are credited to what Dickey calls his Tao Quartets, a nod to the universalism at the heart of this music. There has always been a strong, spiritual center to his music. Now, nearly a decade after his previous albums, with an audible gap in the world of free improvisation left by Ware and Campbell’s ascensions, it’s clear just how vital a presence Dickey’s compositional voice is, when he takes on the role of bandleader. Much like Perelman and Shipp, with whom he’s never stopped collaborating, Dickey’s leadership is somewhat suggestive: each song has an overall shape and general destination, but the six performers collectively guide the music. The themes of lightness, darkness, inaction, growth, ascendance, and potential, all swirl around an almost mystical center, made tangible by the threads connecting the players to one another. The result is something close to a spiritual free jazz session.

A warm heartbeat in both quartets is the shared presence of Brown, one of the great free improvising alto saxophonists. Where players often adopt a particular style, Brown (much like Dickey) has developed a voice that seems more grounded in an overall aesthetic interpretation, as opposed to something signified by motifs or certain tonal ranges. Over the past couple of decades, I’ve come to think of Shipp in a similar fashion. And on the first set, Peace Planet, Brown and Shipp often play in a unified timbral space, giving the impression of composed unison lines. Dickey and Parker’s rhythms produce an esoteric space, where time floats apart and reassembles in new configurations, amoeba-like, signaling a cosmic gestation through which Brown and Shipp perform a cyclical harmonic rebirth. Four of the five songs—“Peace Planet,” “Seventh Sun,” “Ancient Monument,” and “Blossom Time”—are each about 10 minutes, with “Suite for DSW” running nearly 15. As a clear centerpiece, it highlights Brown, in particular, as he plays tribute to Ware in spectacular fashion. His performance sometimes evokes Ware himself, but Brown mostly conjures a deep longing and powerful testament to the love and respect they all share for each other.

The second Tao Quartet swaps in Swell for Shipp and Bisio for Parker. On their album, Box of Light, the group is slightly more hard-driving. This is passionate music, fire music in Archie Shepp’s parlance—just don’t expect a throwback feel. Despite the historical precedents for a pianoless quartet, as with Dickey’s early 2000s albums, this is definitely a 21st Century album. Just like Brown, Swell is among the finest improvising players. His trombone sound is fearless, and he and Brown bounce off each other excitedly. Bisio and Dickey demonstrate their empathic connection with a vibrant, buoyant feel. Dickey pushes the group into a slightly brighter sonic space, reflecting the title and themes of the set. The first three tracks, “Eye Opener,” “Ellipse : Passage Through,” and “Ethereality,” form a nice suite-like combination. “Eye Opener” appropriately leaps off the starting block, with crisp, bold playing from everyone. “Ethereality” slides into “Box of Light,” which kicks off the second half with a lengthy, excellent improvisation. Dickey’s drumming is dynamic and percussive, and the group’s coda is a high point both quartets’ sets. “Jungle Suite” teases a bit of swing at the start, but quickly gives way to a riot of ideas. There are some folkish elements on display, echoing Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and the group ends at the tonal deep end, with staccato statements from Swell’s trombone and Dickey’s toms, before Bisio puts a final punctuation mark.

In the press for Peace Planet & Box of Light, the set was described this way:
A united pair of albums created this past Winter, the two works represent the Yin and the Yang respectively. Dickey chose Tao Quartets as the name of the groups for this work as the Tao wholly incorporates an understanding of this elemental dynamic of life, and that same understanding is here to be heard.

This is most definitely audible in the music, and I, for one, celebrate Dickey’s return to band-leading and the deep and meaningful artistic creations he inspires. AUM has promised there is more to come soon. I very highly recommend this and cannot wait to hear what’s next.

The double-album is available in a limited-edition two-CD set, as well as digital formats.

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