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Friday, September 20, 2019

Ricardo Arias / Santiago Botero / Kim Myhr – Contrived (Raw Tonk, 2019) ***½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

For the past three years at least Raw Tonk has been one of the most consistent labels in the whole free jazz milieu. Gradually building a catalogue of superb releases full of the pathos of the great free jazz tradition, always adding something new in this equation. Contrived, the trio release from Kim Myhr (guitar and objects), Santiago Botero (contrabass and preparations) and Ricardo Arias (electronics and objects) is a welcome departure into a more improvisational and less jazzy sound.

Ricardo Arias, writing for the press release of Contrived, isn’t afraid to pinpoint what has always troubled all improvisers: is it possible to catch the moment of improvised live sound? Is it by definition a process that can lead to something worth listening and joyful? By quoting Cornelious Cardew on this, he puts the listener into the great antithesis of this recording.Which is that what is taking place on Contrived doesn’t necessarily catch the moment of this recording made live in Bogota, Colombia. Of course Contrived has its moments and there are many of them. After a rather slow start, an interaction of low energy, on the third track, Charmingly Contrived, the trio start to get on a path that leads to a totally different direction. As the fourth track enters (even though I’m suspecting this less than half an hour recording was divided into six tracks for practical reasons only) Myhr’s guitar tends to be an instrument of menace, while the rhythms derived from the contrabass are never dominant, more often provide a solid backbone to the recording.

Listening to Contrived repeatedly, I got the sense that maybe (again an antithesis here) it’s less than half an hour duration doesn’t allow the musicians and the listener to get a clear look of the direction where this is going. It seems unfinished at some parts. But, yes, this is a strong antithesis: improvisation very often implies that there’s more to come and even more often you have to be there to witness, feel it, watch or listen to it. The cd as a medium for all the above has never been that revealing.

So, is this a mediocre recording? No way. But as Raw Tonk’s catalogue continues to grow, providing us various formations, line-ups and sounds, Contrived seems more like a promise for the near future. It is good but there are better things to come. And, of course, it doesn’t provide any answers, they never wanted that in any case, to the aforementioned question. Can we record the improvisational moment? They are not sure, I do not know.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Liquid Quintet ‎– Bouquet (Sirulita Records, 2019) ****

By Colin Green

“Fully ‘biodegradable’ structures, starting to disintegrate the moment they have been assembled, are nowadays the ideal.” (Zygmunt Bauman)

The Barcelona based Liquid Trio – Agustí Fernández (piano), Albert Cirera (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Ramón Prats (drums) – was formed in 2011, taking its name from social theorist Bauman’s metaphor of “liquid modernity”: that in the contemporary world our individual, social and political frameworks are in a state of almost permanent flux, spheres in which “fluids neither fix space nor bind time”. The concept resonated with the mutability of musical matter and the trio’s temporal experiences while improvising. There have been three albums to date, all recommended: Primer Dia i Última Nit (“First Day and Last Night”) (Sirulita Records, 2013), Marianne (Vector Sounds, 2016) and The Liquid Trio plays Bernouilli (Słuchaj Fundacja, 2017). Piano, saxophone and drums is not a standard combination but Fernández cites the Schlippenbach Trio as the most direct antecedent. In terms of visceral brio the comparison is apt, with the Catalonia trio having its own distinct, happy-scrappy quality.

As befits its fluidity, the trio has been expanded to a quintet on occasions, as in 2013 with Johannes Nästesjö (double bass) and Julián Sánchez (trumpet). For this latest incarnation it was decided to take advantage of double bassist Barry Guy’s visit to Barcelona in July last year in a session at the Rosazul studio, to which Don Malfon on alto and baritone saxophones was added close to the recording date, increasing the spectrum of reed registers. The tracks are named ‘Fire Rose’ 1 to 10; “La Rosa de Foc” was the name given to Barcelona after the events of the Tragic Week of civil insurrection in the summer of 1909 – another modernist image of a terrible beauty and an epithet for the city that has stuck. As a bouquet the album is anything but decorative however, having the irruptive energy of Cy Twombly’s floral paintings with their phosphorescent blooms flourishing and withering at the same time.

In many ways it’s a now familiar approach to improvisation: music at a molecular level in a state of constant fragmentation and reconstitution. The session adopts a similarly mobile approach to formations, comprising duos, a trio, quartets and quintets. This is geography without maps, a domain in which nothing is fixed – not even instrumental sonority that shifts with each new terrain – moving forward in digressions, advancing by indirection. The music is nevertheless unified by the same animating spirit, a self-replenishing fusion of expressive intent with an understanding of the physical properties and capabilities of instruments, the way transient materials guide and respond, something that has to be learnt in order to be discovered afresh and which in turn folds back giving rise to new locutions, pluralities and pockets of feeling. The pieces have a sensuous immediacy that echoes the rough-and-tumble of lived time and all its quirky drifts and detours, memories prompted but not processed.

The presence of Guy’s fulsome, yet also strangely incorporeal bass ensures that some of the quintet performances reach a level beyond which lies the possibility of complete combustion or total collapse. ‘Fire Rose No. 1’ begins with a series of aftershocks from some primal event trailing off into ephemeral, ever-flowing currents of sound. Like water, the music resists dissection as configurations surge and subside. During ‘No. 2’, the seething broth is so hectic that the ear temporarily leaves the discombobulated mind behind until the waves recede revealing pools of jerky, spluttering activity. In the more placid ‘No. 5’, solids crumble and time is distended as the quintet’s instruments gently dilute and coalesce into gauzy textures.

The other groupings retain this sense of alchemical transformation. The first quartet is a sensory network lit up, navigated by zig-zagging piano; the second made up from charged yet soluble particles in vibrant display where notions of orientation and trajectory begin to lose purchase. The trio with Cirera and Guy features Fernández’ seamless integration of keyboard and piano internals that metamorphose into exotic percussion, spawning jangly, metallic washes and muted twangs.

Malfon appears in all three duos. On ‘No. 4’, baritone and bass explore creaks, squeaks and the Stygian lower registers in a way that makes them sound like a single entity with a dual aspect. With Cirera, the saxophones are mingled in granular multiphonics, and on the pairing with Fernández his scruffy alto, then baritone, are accompanied by deconstructed piano. ‘Fire Rose No. 10’ returns us to the swirling turbulence and scrambled perspectives of the opening quintets; perhaps also – as with Twombly’s roses – a reminder of the fleeting impulses and fragile pleasures that make up our lives.

Bouquet is available on CD and as a download from Bandcamp.

Untitled (2001)
© Cy Twombly Foundation

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit – April Is The Cruellest Month (Blank Forms Editions, 2019) ****

By Chris Haines

There’s lots of ‘what if’s in life that can lead us to ponder key crossroads in our lives’ journeys and what might have happened if we had chosen a different path, or maybe if a certain event in history had or had not happened. This is a theme, which in itself has inspired a whole genre of alternative historical settings within fictional literature. Within music would things have been any different if Charlie Parker had managed to study compositional technique with Edgard Varese? Who knows? However, these events and moments can be fascinating to ponder over and if nothing else they add to life’s rich tapestry and our experience of it.

Another such event is the time Japanese free jazz guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi was invited to record a session for ESP-Disk recordings, a good conduit for avant-garde jazz at the time, only for the record label to go bust just before it was due to be released. A catalogue number had even been assigned to it! This was planned to be the first of many Japanese jazz recordings that the head of ESP-Disk, Bernard Stollman, wanted to release on the label, which surely would have catapulted the Japanese scene much more into the global picture, than the actual slow underground trickle of awareness that eventually happened, which would have included Takayanagi and friends nestling up alongside the likes of Albert Ayler within the roster. Apparently Takayanagi was publically quite philosophical about the situation, however, the session was buried and it didn’t see the light of day until just before the guitarist’s death. As with all Takayanagi recordings they can be hard to come by, especially if one doesn’t want to pay the over inflated prices that his recordings currently seem to be garnering. It is welcome news then that this particular session has recently been re-released on Black Forms Editions.

For those new to this recording the New Direction Unit consisted at this time of Kenji Mori (alto sax, flute, bass clarinet), Nobuyoshi Ino (bass, cello), Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion), and Takayanagi (electric guitar). The title of the album, April is the cruellest month, Takayanagi borrowed from the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Waste Land’, and consists of three tracks with titles that have also been pulled from the poem. The first ‘We Have Existed’ is a busy and anxious texture with skittering percussion, fast flitting melodic phrases on the flute accompanied by bowed bass strings and streams of feedback and noise from the guitar. The alternate take of this track that has appeared on previous editions of this album is not included, which gives us the album content and listings in the order they would have appeared if originally released by ESP-Disk. The second track ‘What Have We Given?’ being a bit shorter in length than the first, is characterised by some great playing by Mori on the bass clarinet and accompanied by a range of metal percussion sounds, barbed bass lines, and punctuated chords from the guitar which are allowed to ring on into feedback swells at times. The last track, ‘My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart’ is a twenty minute, full-blown mass projection onslaught, with rapid drumming and nasally screeching guitar to the fore, which continues with much energy, continually and without break for the full duration of the piece.

The liner notes of this release are taken from Teruto Soejima’s wonderful book, recently translated and published as Free Jazz In Japan: A Personal History, and encapsulates some of the text that he wrote for the original release of the album.

So, we can muse upon the alternative historical aspects of this particular musical event and whilst it’s fun to do this within the cultural context, it’s even more important to enjoy the sounds for what they are and live the music in the moment of now. We are privileged to have such a classic and important free jazz work available once more.

- Postscript – Another release, Takayanagi’s Angry Waves “850113” has also just seen a new release on Octave Labs; this is a classic free jazz guitar trio. This recording seems to be much underrated and is an absolute gem! – Probably my favourite Takayanagi recording of all time.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Steve Dalachinsky (1946-2019)

We were surprised to learn about the sudden passing of poet Steve Dalachinsky early Monday morning. Steve was a omnipresent figure on the Downtown Music scene, a fan of the music, and one of those ever rarer true New Yorkers. At a show in Brooklyn this summer, he told me "Ahh, I like Berlin, I only have one enemy there. Here in New York, I have lots of them." From what I know, this was a good example of the type of self-deprecating joke that you could expect from him. Steve made his way into the pages of the blog from time to time, whether as the author of liner-notes, interviewed in documentaries, or having a song dedicated to him (see here). His list of accomplishments is long and varied, but some highlights include a book of poetry on saxophonist Charles Gayle, collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp on an album (Phenomena Of Interference) as well as a book (Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue) and had earned the prestigious Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award for poetry from France in 2014. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Enjoy this short documentary on Steve Dalachinsky:

- Paul Acquaro

Vergara/Longberg-Holm/Zarzutzki – Five arias for nalca (Inexhaustible Editions, 2019) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

It makes me really happy that there seem to exist a million ways to explore the possibilities of sound. Inexhaustible Editions is one of those small labels trying to present parts of this adventurous sonic spectrum. The trio of Benjamin Vergara on trumpet, Fred Longberg-Holm on cell and Aaron Zarzutzki on synthesizer and various objects allow us to make assumptions about their unusual instrumentation.

Those assumptions are mostly based on the given that their willingness to explore leaves the listener within a constant flux of sounds. That is a good thing though…They approach their collective sound in the same abstract way the cover art presents us this cd. You, the listener, will find more questions than answers within the five tracks (arias I to V accordingly) that comprise the bulk of this CD.
I would make a guess that calling each track an aria, considering the historical burden of the word, is a way to de-normalize, to provide it with a new meaning. Another thought would be that they really want to be humorous. Could be, but that wouldn’t say anything about how serious they are in what they present us.

Vergara’s trumpet is an instrument of airy blurbs and constant small noisy gestures that never dominate but rather articulate an ego-less way of playing. Longberg-Holm’s cello starts, on the first two tracks, as a constant drone provider but in the process all noises are possible from its body and strings. The role of a synth or various objects in general in an improvisational recording always puts me in a position of trying to really listen hard so to understand what is going on. In Zarzutzki’s case his experimental approach on the synth and his, less is more, attitude by using small objects as percussion instruments, works fine. In fact he provides the glue that brings all the separate pieces together.

I really enjoyed all arias of the CD. There’s a constant flow of ideas, sometimes more than expected. If I had to pinpoint a flaw, it would be this saturation of ideas in some parts of the recording. But there’s another side to this as well. In all five tracks there’s never just a single idea of how the recording will proceed. They seem to decide on the spot, always ready to change direction or choose another path. This is probably the most important lesson learned in collective improvisation.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fictive Five – Anything Is Possible (Clean Feed, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

On Anything Is Possible, the second release from the Fictive Five, the band continues its efforts to make music with cinematic scope and feel—appropriately enough, given the filmmakers who are often the dedicatees of the pieces. Wim Wenders, William Kentridge and Kelly Reichardt were feted on the group’s self-titled debut, while on the follow-up it’s Spike Lee and Warren Sonbert getting a tip of the hat—along with Cecil Taylor, whose music often had a certain cinematic power of its own.

This isn’t music that relies heavily on pulse or melody, but rather sonority and texture—and a heck of a lot of imagination, as each of these players possesses a command over their instrument that allows them to take full advantage of the freedom built into Ochs’s compositions. Most significantly, the group uses a two-bass approach, with Pascal Niggenkemper and Ken Filiano generally eschewing the traditional “jazz” role of anchoring tempo or harmony. Instead they use the full range of their low-end sonics, complemented by generous use of various electronic effects, to provide atmosphere and mood. Drummer Harris Eisenstadt takes a similar strategy, using his kit not so much to propel the music forward but to contribute as a colorist and commentator, with subtlety and nuance the name of the game. And the dual-horn threat of Ochs, who plays both sopranino and tenor saxophone here, and Nate Wooley, whose trumpet (as always) runs the gamut of expressive possibilities, makes for a superb complementary team, consistently responsive and sympathetic both to each other and to their counterparts.

Three of the pieces are exceptionally expansive and lengthy, with two clocking in at over nineteen minutes, so there is abundant room for ideas to develop and evolve. And although three are formally credited as Ochs compositions, Ochs always remains sensitive to channeling rather than stifling the players’ creativity and spontaneity, thus avoiding the temptation to over-determine the pieces. There is thus a lot of space in this music, and patience is crucial to the listening experience, as much of its value is found in the various interactions between the musicians, often just two or three at a time.

“Immediate Human Response,” the album’s opener, is representative of the group’s aesthetic, as the players enter and recede throughout the piece, occasionally converging on a particular rhythmic or melodic motif, but more commonly occupying a much less determinate space. Moments of energy and fire do arise, but like most of the album, the prevailing ethos is one of a lengthy conversation that takes its time—and with plenty of room for thought and reflection along the way. “The Others Dream,” like “Immediate Human Response” credited to Ochs, is similar, with even more room for individual expression. Ochs in particular is in fine form here, with pointed, acerbic cries, and Wooley characteristically finds his unique space between abstraction and lyricism. But to focus on the individuals over the group as a whole would be a mistake, as Niggenkemper and Filiano generate some exceptionally compelling atmospherics, with Eisenstadt adding the well-timed interjections and steady commentary needed to keep the conversation moving. And when Wooley and Ochs join forces, their mutual interactions are quite stimulating, taking the music’s collective power to another level. “With Liberties and Latitude for All” may be the most ambitious and far-ranging of the five pieces, with smaller exchanges that build gradually to something bigger—and even the emergence of a pulse, culminating in a free-jazz segment that represents the album’s most convincing nod to jazz tradition, as Wooley and Ochs soar over a hard-swinging rhythmic foundation provided by the basses and Eisenstadt.

Interestingly, “And the Door Blows Open,” honoring Cecil Taylor, is both the briefest of the five tracks, at only four minutes, and also the least forbidding, with Wooley in particular sounding especially sensitive and tuneful. Along with the album’s closer, “A Fictive Form of Closure,” it’s collectively improvised; but it’s a credit to the rapport of these musicians that these tracks feel wholly of a piece with the rest of the album, making compositional origins more or less irrelevant.
Far from an episodic meeting of top-flight improvisers, the Fictive Five is a group with a well-honed, distinctive sound and identity, and Anything Is Possible contributes nicely to what will hopefully become a lengthy catalog.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Recent Solo Piano Albums from Elsewhere

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Elsewhere label offers for its first year anniversary new ways of listening, experiencing or perceiving new and innovative languages and discourses of composers and musicians who compose or play the piano.

Shira Legmann / Michael Pisaro - Barricades (elsewhere, 2019) ****½

The concept of Barricades began to crystallize when Israeli pianist Shira Legmann sent American experimental composer Michael Pisaro a list of her favorite music and included Les Barricades Mystérieuses by French Baroque composer François Couperin (1668-1733). Legmann’s wide repertoire encompases not only compositions from the Baroque but also Olivier Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus, György Ligeti's keyboard music, Morton Feldman’s late repertoire and Giacinto Scelsi's piano music. Pisaro himself loved the idea of composing a web-like texture that refers to Couperuin’s polyphonic technique of overlapping and interlocking voices.

Pisaro compared the process of composing and working with Legmann on Barricades to “watching the barricades, which I pictured as a network of twisted vines, unravel.” Barricades consists of thirteen “studies” for Legmann’s piano with some sine waves played by Pisaro himself, who adds two interludes where he plays the sine waves. The album was recorded by Pisaro at CalArts, California on March and April 2019, later mixed and mastered by Pisaro.

Pisaro’s subtle, ethereal sine waves sound as organic extension of Legmann’s clean and supple piano presence. Legmann navigates wisely the enigmatic atmosphere of Barricades as if she is determined to blur the transparent sonic barricades between the dramatic and the cool and restrained, between the emotional and the cerebral or between the distant and what may be considered close. Her “studies” with Pisaro’s eerie “interludes” suggest a fragile balance between these somehow abstract concepts. Together, these pieces reflect the very nature of Barricades, a poetic attempt to create a captivating network of sonic vines that grow in their own accord and intensify by their inner logic; a network of pieces that not only echoes the French Baroque but also flows in a unique, fragile equilibrium. A dreamy and hypnotic, Feldman-esque equilibrium between the concrete and the imagined, the acoustic and its electronic extension, the earthly and the celestial.

Melaine Dalibert - Cheminant (elsewhere, 2019) ****

Cheminant presents the diverse aesthetics of French pianist-composer Melaine Dalibert. This is the third solo piano for elsewhere, following his first one for the elsewhere label that focused on one, extended composition, Musique pour le lever du jour (2018), and his debut one, Ressac (Another Timbre, 2017). The five pieces on Cheminant, all composed by Dalibert between 2017 and 2019 and recorded in Saint Maugan, France in February 2019, can be considered as studies in different schools of minimalism. These pieces reflect Dalibert’s interest in questioning how the harmonic shifts could affect the listening experience with subtly evolving chords through a scale or different tones, creating a similar state to vertigo.

The first four pieces of Cheminant are dedicated to colleagues and friends. The opening one, “Music in an octave”, is dedicated to David Sylvian who designed the artwork and advised about the mixing, and corresponds with Sylvian’s latest, poetic abstract-ambient works with its prolonged, resonating and meditative sounds. “Percolations (for right hand)”, for elsewhere founder, artistic director and producer Yuko Zama, is a rhythmic piece that sound as if it dances around itself until losing any sense of direction, “From zero to infinity”, dedicated for American post-minimalist composer Peter Garland, returns to a slow, minimalist mode that calls for another meditation about the accumulated effect of such listening experience. The longest, 21-minutes title-piece is dedicated to Dutch fellow pianist and composer Reinier van Houdt and expands even further and wider the enigmatic meditative ambience, as the highly disciplined delivery of single notes, their resonating sounds and their overtones float slowly through the deep space of the recording studio, gently disappear within each other. Dalibert performs this study in deep meditation with great control and exquisite beauty. The last piece “Étude II” is an exception with its up-tempo, almost playful insistence on repetitive hammered chords.

Reinier van Houdt / Bruno Duplant - Lettres et Replis (elsewhere, 2019) *****

Lettres et Replis captures a unique correspondence - literally - between French composer Bruno Duplant and Dutch pianist-composer Reinier van Houdt. This correspondence combines three Lettres (2017) - letter-form scores personally addressed from Duplant to van Houdt and containing letter sequences distributed across the page, with three more Trois replis d'incertitude (2018) - three letter-form scores but with the notion of 'repli' (meaning 'fold' in a Deleuzian postmodern Baroque sense, as well as 'withdrawal' of incertitude and reactionaries toward the neglect of ecology, humanism, and culture).

Duplant's realization of these ‘reading’ and ‘replying to' scores scores also reflect French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé's notion of textual space and chance, leaving a large room for the interpreter-performer. “The Lettres are connected to a melody spelled out and read in all directions propulsed by memory and gaze”, says van Houdt. “The Replis are connected to the harmonies from a place as they permeate and unravel through the metaphorical holes made by writing, linearly arranged again with recordings of a walk along the river that traverses this place”. The Replis also contain field recordings by van Houdt made on John Cage's 100th birthday on September 5, 2012 along the Maas Harbour in Rotterdam.

This mysterious, contemplative and delicately nuanced piano solo kind of correspondence is performed majestically by van Houdt. He lets the translucent overtones and rich resonances offer a sweet melancholy and nostalgic colors and shades, and only “Lettre 2” adds a fragile dramatic undercurrent to to the quiet exchange of cryptic thoughts and ideas. The words are morphed into a highly personal, suggestive language where “destruction and meaninglessness precede all possible worlds”.

You can trust van Houdt. He sure does know how to draw you into his fascinating musical world.

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Conversation with Mette Rasmussen

By Fabricio Vieira

In this special guest post Fabricio Vieira, who runs the Brazilian music blog, interviews saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, who is currently playing in Brazil, appearing in São Paulo on the 13th and 14th of September.

Farbricio Vierira: You have a very personalized sound ... what did it take to develop that sound? Did you take lessons? Did you find it through practice?

Mette Rasmussen: I did study quite a lot, yes. At schools and at the conservatory. And I took lessons outside of school as well. All a melting pot of components, that led me to how I play today. I think the real shift came, when I started touring a lot, playing in different bands and line-ups, and playing shows night after night, were my embouchure developed a lot because it had to. Also I am really fond of practicing on my own, as well as neerding out, when I have the time. I bring a few books for practice on tour with me, to study when place and time allows it. I used to practice a lot, especially right after school ended. That seems to be all I did for a year or 2, lots of hours a day. Working on sound, and technique, and preparations. I used a lot of hours, and still do, on long notes and overtones. The Holy Grail of Sound.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

FV: This is the first time have played in Brazil. You are playing solo and with Brazilian artists (Rakta and Bella). What are the expectations for the tour?

Mette Rasmussen: This will be extremely exciting, I don’t really know what to expect, other than I am looking really forward. But I often find not knowing, to be when the most exciting things happen, in the meeting of the unexpected. At that point all your senses is wide open, and there is less or no anticipations. And often new impressions then becomes extremely strong. I am looking very much forward to be playing in a first meeting with both Rakta and Bella. And to be in Rio as well, playing a solo set at Audio Rebel and recording with local musicians. I was once in Rio, many years ago. Studying samba for some weeks. But that is a long time ago.

FV: From your earliest records, with Saft and Riot Trio, you have been working with free improv/free jazz. In your musical life, has free music always been present? Or did your interest in music start with other music genres?

Mette Rasmussen: I didn’t grow up in a musical environment, apart from singing along to the radio with my sister and mom, so in one way music was present in my childhood. To seek out things, I went to the local library and looked under the jazz section, where I would find my first influences. First jazz record I ever put on was Keith Jarrett, Expectations.

In Saft we worked around metric modulations, and both in Saft and Trio Riot we explored the written material as being the catalyst for the improvisations, or the frame around it.

FV: You have played with different veterans and key names in free jazz, but I would like you speak especially of the experience of playing with two: Paul Flaherty and Alan Silva. How were these partnerships?

Mette Rasmussen: Wonderful to see their names in the same sentence, would be great to hear those two play together. Paul I just toured with in the states in July, in trio with Chris Corsano and Zach Rowden joining on the last show making it a quartet. This was only the second time that we played together actually, me and Paul. But we kept contact through the years. I think playing together with Paul, has brought out some new lyrical way in both of us. That happened quite instant. The way the lines will unfold, very effortless. But also for this second time around, we explored even more the power of the two horns together, going into rough and scruffy edge stuff. It has been a while since I played with Alan, but touring with Alan in the past was always extremely insightful and intense in every way, music was engaged and present as so is Alan, Alan would always have more energy than the rest of the entire room, both on and off stage.

Chris Corsano has been an important partner of yours. How did you meet and start playing together?
Mette Rasmussen: We met first time in Oslo, playing the same bill. After that I was in New York, where we were supposed to do a session, but ended up doing a show. Kevin Reilly from Relative pitch was at that show, and suggested doing a record, which we did. That was sort of the beginning, back in 2013. Since then, we toured mostly in Europe, but also Japan, Canada, US and most recently last week in Scandinavia.

FV: His discography is mostly composed by projects in duos and trios. Do you have a preference for small formats? What changes when you play in a big band, like the Fire Orchestra?

Mette Rasmussen: I like smaller formats, but I dont see it as a preference. I do have my own quintet, consisting of two drummers and two bass players. I guess… I have a lot to say, and I like the freedom which a smaller format enables. Larger groups, when it is good, gets to be a small community feeling, which is powerful. Like with Fire! Orchestra, everyone was a family for a little while, and everyone had a big heart for the music that came out of that lineup. So it was a strong community feeling, that you were a part of something bigger, like a movement almost.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin
FV: What have been the big turning points in your career over the last ten years?

Mette Rasmussen: Definitely touring as much as I do. It has been, so far, a life lesson being on the road this much. It is hard work, living most of the year out of a suitcase. But I experience the music developing in real time. Functioning like flesh and blood…

FV: What type of music do you prefer to listen to at home? Can you name 5 essential albums for you?

Mette Rasmussen: Oh, tough one, I listen a lot of music at home, but all very different. Right now before leaving for Brazil, Marissa Anderson solo was spinning, and a Japanese folkway record.

FV: What else are you involved with at the moment and what are some of your future plans?

Mette Rasmussen: Right after Brazil, I will be doing a project with The Trondheim Jazzorchestra, Ole Morten Vågan & Cory Smythe, in Trondheim. And then after that, on the road with Norwegian MoE, the band of Norwegian bass player Guro Moe. Later on in October will be in Krakow with Ken Vandermarks Entr´acte Ensemble. November will be a lot of festivals, such as Wels Unlimited with Joe McPhee´s Special Quartet and at Berlin Jazzfest with Julien Desprez and Rob Mazurek´s T(R)OPIC Ensemble. There will be some one off´s, with The Hatch (duo with Julien Desprez) and duo with Sofia Jernberg and at the end of November a 10 day solo saxophone support tour, for Canadian Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Europe and Russia. All of which I am looking very much forward to!

See the original posting in Portuguese here.

Read more about Mette Rassmussen's recordings on the Freejazzblog.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Andrew Munsey - High Tide (Birdwatcher, 2019) ****

Drummer-producer Andrew Munsey has been working towards this debut album for over a decade, but as with any group workshopped in live sessions, I hadn’t yet had a chance to hear his quintet in action. Featuring Steph Richards on trumpet and flugelhorn and Sam Minaie on bass, the core of High Tide is the same as Richards’s quartet on Take the Neon Lights, with the addition here of Ochion Jewell on tenor sax and kalimba and Amino Belyamani on piano and Fender Rhodes. In more than one way, this echoes the sibling relationships of Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day and Nate Wooley’s quintet.

Like Eisenstadt, Munsey builds striking, addictive melodies, where horns, bass, and keyboards glide through spaces built on coordinated improvisation and lengthy through-composed sections. And like Wooley, Richards is one of the most imaginative, talented brass players, whose use of rhythm and space amplifies the complexity of Munsey’s compositions. Take, for example, the horns around minute 4 of the title track: after Munsey’s brief, percussive bridge, Richards and Jewell return on a lovely B section that has the feeling of a spontaneously assembled, well executed plan. Later, on “Requite,” Minaie sets a drone-like stage to highlight the melody, leading into lengthy, patient solos from Belyamani and Richards. On “Seedlings,” Belyamani’s Fender Rhodes pushes against Richards’s brief solo to create a heavy blanket that subtly hides the groove laid down by Minaie and Munsey.

The whole album drifts between an electro-acoustic dreamspace, overtly represented by the improvised transition pieces (“Petite Feast,” “Driftwood,” “Undertow,” and “Prelude: Tree Fruit”) between the more composed ones (“High Tide,” “Seedlings,” “Requite,” “Schema,” “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento,” and “Skyline”). But much of the credit also goes to Munsey’s use of The Bunker Studio, where the album was recorded. Home of recordings by David Torn, Tim Berne, Vijay Iyer, and Dave Douglas, among dozens of others, The Bunker provides Munsey’s producing, mixing, and mastering side with a draft of tremendous depth. The results are heard everywhere, and “Schema” and “Skyline” are among the album’s sonic highlights. Both combine a balladic timbre with a driving melody, “Skyline” in particular foregrounds the richness of the album’s mix.

Taken together, the elements that make High Tide one of the year’s highlights should also build excitement about Munsey beyond his reputation as a producer. The quintet’s debut is an excellent preview of what’s to come, and not to overdo the comparison to Eisenstadt, but Munsey clearly has a deep well to draw from, and I expect we’ll hear from him increasingly over the next few years.

Available on vinyl, CD and digital at Bandcamp

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Rudi Mahall Olaf Rupp Kasper Tom - s/t (Barefoot Records, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

It can be a pretty special event when Berlin based guitarist Olaf Rupp and clarinetist Rudi Mahall get together with the Danish percussionist Kaspar Tom. It does not happen too often but when it does, musical sparks fly. For those unable to catch these rare appearances, we luckily have the eponymous titled recording, expertly captured by Rupp in concert at the popular Berlin Jazz spot Soweiso in late 2018.

Let's begin with just a little history: Mahall and Tom have released recordings with legendary pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach; Mahall and Schlippenbach have also released a duo recording; and Rupp and Mahall have also recorded together, for instance on Happy Jazz from a few years ago. All excellent recordings, this particular constellation of musicians is something else entirely. Wide ranging and free roaming, the music is at times rooted and other times floating free of any and all tethers. 

So where to start? One could focus on Mahall. The clarinetist - either on the lovely bass or precise Bb version of the instrument - works effortlessly a spectrum running from the traditional to avant-garde, always playing with a full-bodied tone. His playing can be fluid and connective like during the opening bars of the closing track "Zugabe", or fluid and abstract like on the closing moments of the opening track "Opening", or textural and exploratory like on the later half of the track 'Turm'. One could also focus on Rupp, whose playing is unconventional and evocative. He doesn't rely on the typical approach that one may associate with guitar, but rather is able to approach the type cast instrument like it is made for free playing, while not losing its spirit. He plucks, he uses chord fragments, sweeps and unusual arpeggios to make both melodic and non-melodic sounds, pretty much simultaneously. Finally, it may also be tempting to single out Tom's work on the drums. Like his partners, he employs abstracted playing, often pointed, using non-rhythmic pulses and often abruptly stopped cymbal hits and sharp hits on the drum as an equal voice in this trio.

However, it's best to enjoy the sound that they make together. Leading each other along, the music exudes a palpable sense of camaraderie and a friendly pushing of each other's playing. The melodies are very abstract and rely on the interactivity of their playing and quick witted responses. Like on the track 'Vier', where the three are engaged in a multi-layered game of call and response, Rupp smears the tonal palette with distorted tonal clusters and percussive vibrations, Mahall injects slippery lines,  oiling the connection to Tom's akimbo accents. The pulse and approach would be impossible with one alone. Bound by the disconnects, the music defies expectations, it can possibly drive one to madness, and/or raise your level of consciousness to heretofore unimaginable levels - or maybe something in-between.  

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Quintet - Events 1998-1999 (PNL, 2019) *****

The limited-edition (500 copies) 5-disc box-set Events 1998-1999 chronicles a defining time in the history of the Norwegian free jazz - the passing of the spirit from two legendary, father-figures of the Nordic scene - bass player Bjørnar Andresen (born in 1945) and alto sax player Carl Magnus ‘Calle’ Neumann (born in 1944) - to three young musicians from the vibrant Oslo scene - drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, already then the tireless and resourceful driving force that he is still today and the one responsible for the compilation of this box-set and its release on his own PNL label, guitarist Ketil Gutvik, who continues to collaborate with Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit, and double bass player Eivind Opsvik, shortly before he relocated to New York.

Neumann and Andresen played in the most important outfits and albums of Norwegian free jazz of the late sixties and early seventies, shortly before Norwegian jazz caught global attention, but there are not many recordings of them playing free-improvised. Andresen recorded with local heroes as the Svein Finnerud Trio (including the iconic Plastic Sun, with drummer Espen Rud, 1970, reissued by Odin, 2018), guitarist Terje Rypdal (the self-titled, debut album for ECM, 1971), recorded sax player Jan Garbarek’s sophmore album (Esoteric Circle, with Rypdal, bass player Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen, Flying Dutchman, 1971) and played in the Scandinavian group of American composer George Russell (Listen to the Silence, Concept, 1973, with Garbarek, Andersen, Christensen and Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson) and few decades later with Crimetime Orchestra (his final recording, Life is a Beautiful Monster, Jazzaway, 2005, with keyboards player Bugge Wesseltoft, sax player Kjetil Møster, bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love among others). Neumann played on Rypdal’s debut album (Bleak House, Polydor, 1968), the Svein Finnerud Trio (Multimal with poet Trond Botnen, Polydor, 1973). Both Neumann and Andresen were considered quite eccentric, outspoken and “somewhat out of control” characters (Andresen used to go on stage during young bands performances, grabbing the microphone and explaining the music to the audience), and already retired from music business several times before Nilssen-Love convinced them to team with him and his comrades.

The Quintet released only one album during the short time it was active, the out-of-print March 28, 1999 (bp, 1999), documenting The Quintet second live performance at the Vossajazz festival. Events 1998-1999 - literally - set the record straight about this unique group for its 20th anniversary, and adds four previously unreleased studio and live recordings, believed lost even by members of The Quintet, extensive and insightful liner notes, including by Nilssen-Love remembering Andresen (he dedicated his duo album with Ken Vandermark, Seven, Smalltown Superjazz, 2006, to Andresen), Gutvik interviewed by Lasse Marhaug (who co-produced the box-set with Nilssen-Love, mastered the original recordings and designed the artwork) and Arild Andersen conversation with Nilssen-Love. Many others - relatives (mainly Ospvik’s father, Peter), musicians, photographers, journalists and festivals and clubs directors and curators, sound engineers and anyone who played even a small part in The Quintet’s exciting times - contributed anecdotes (like: Nilssen-Love was apparently pissed off with Gutvik's playing, but kept encouraging him with tapes of music he thought Gutvik needed to hear) and stories (including the one about its farmer’s groove, i.e, Nilssen-Love played a rolling groove on top and the two bass players create a rumbling, mystical groove underneath it, like an old tractor driving on uneven ground), details about the discographies of Neumann and Andresen and rare photos to this box-set.

But the story of The Quintet is not over yet. Andresen died in October 2nd, 2004, but the remaining members of The Quintet, including Neumann back, again, from retirement and with double bass player Per Zanussi, have reunited for the last, ‘comeback’ performance at this summer's edition of the Oslo Jazz Festival, to mark the release of Events 1998-1999. Nilssen-Love says that after the soundcheck, “we will all visit Bjørnar’s grave, say hello and pay our respects, then go back to the venue and perform what will be our very last concert as The Quintet”.

Events 1998-1999 emphasizes that the music of The Quintet still sounds fresh and powerful. The 
Quintet was a truly democratic unit, with no rules or prescription where the music should go, just letting the music happen. The first disc is a 45-minutes session recorded at Opsvik’s father, the furniture designer Peter Opsvik’s showroom in Oslo in July 8th, 1998. Neumann’s soulful, Ornette Coleman-ish tone set the emphatic, searching atmosphere of this session while Andresen’s deep-toned rumbling and sudden vocalizations cement the intense commotion. Nilssen-Love already has a dominant role in shaping the energetic dynamics of The Quintet and Gutvik rounds these dynamics with melodic, jazzy lines.

The second disc features four improvisations that were recorded for the Norwegian Broadcasting Service’s (NRK) Radio, in Oslo in March 19th, 1999. The Quintet sounds in its element and in top free form. The music flows in a free-associative mode and Gutvik sounds now as if he has done a quantum leap into totally, free-idiomatic mode. Andresen, Opsvik and Nilssen-Love build layer upon layer of percolating rhythmic patterns, including the introduction of the famous farmer’s groove on the second improvisation, while Neumann keep soaring brilliantly high above.

The third disc is the March 28, 1999 recording from Fraktgodsen, Voss, mastered by Audun Strype. The Quintet began there its triumphant set of performances in the major jazz festivals of Norway, soon to headline the Oslo and Molde jazz festivals. The quintet was in a perfect spiritual form and played two extended pieces. On the first piece The Quintet builds patiently its powerful rhythmic interplay towards the ecstatic, climatic coda. Andresen, Opsvik and Nilssen-Love demonstrate the uplifting effectiveness of their farmer’s groove on the second piece, pushing Neumann and Opsvik to some beautiful, highly emotional dances, again, up until the cathartic conclusion.

The fourth disc is from the Blå club during the Oslo Jazz Festival in August 14th, 1999. The Quintet has to win over a talkative but apparently appreciative audience that just needed more and more from doses of its potent rhythmic recipe, especially of the unstoppable Andresen who simply plays all over his bass. Opsvik suggests a surprising lyrical vein mid-piece the first improvisation with gentle and 
emotional arco playing, soon to be joined by Neumann, but Andresen insists on keeping shaping the multilayered groove. Andresen even keeps the audience amused with some jokes on the second piece.

The fifth and last disc recorded at USF, Bergen JazzForum in October 29th, 1999, with Zanussi replacing Opsvik, who moved to New York to pursue his studies. Nilssen-Love takes the lead and offers a tough and fierce course from the very beginning until the end of this set, pushing the others to a highly intense interplay but one that surprisingly also unearth a strong bluesy vein. Neumann rides freely on Nilssen-Love’s fast-shifting pulse with his soulful-singing Coleman-ish tone, Gutvik fully justifies Nilssen-Love trust in him and Andresen and Zanussi suggest their version of the farmer’s groove on the last piece. The Quintet played again in the DølaJazz festival in Lillehammer in 2000 but all musicians felt that it had run it course by then.

Five stars not only for the great music, but also for filling the missing historic link, the generous liner notes and the immeasurable love and passion invested in the research and production of this box-set.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Gunter Hampel - 'Bounce' Live at Theater Gütersloh (European Jazz Legends, 2017) ****

By Hinrich Julius

The Freejazzblog so far never reviewed an original recording of Gunter Hampel. This is surprising as he is one the founders of free jazz in Germany if not in Europe. In 1964 the record “Heartplants” by Gunter Hampel Quintet did introduce a new form of European jazz liberated from conventional bebop structures. Players like Manfred Schoof and Alexander von Schlippenbach were members of the group. He moved to Holland and then the US and continued to work with international players like Jeanne Lee (his later wife), Willem Breuker and Anthony Braxton (“The 8th of July” Birth records). Marion Brown and Perry Robinson were further international long-time partners. Most of his recorded output appeared on his own label Birth Records, first on LP, from the 90s on CD and in the last decades on CDr / DVD / Blueray – a step intentionally done to keep full artistic control. Especially the very Do It Yourself method of the produced output in the later years can be a reason why there has not been any coverage in the Freejazzblog. One also has to admit that some of the younger recordings do not always fulfill audio expectations.

Here we have a professionally produced concert with recordings from 2017, which came out in a series devoted to 15 European Jazz legends who each gave a concert in Gütersloh usually introducing current bands who all came out as CD. Gunter Hampel played with his touring band including two further Germans: Bernd Oezsevim on drums and Johannes Schleiermacher on sax, flute – together the so-called “European Trio” with a long recording history. The group is completed by Cavana Lee-Hampel - the daughter of Jeanne Lee and Gunter Hampel. During the last years I had the chance to listen to several concerts of them in Northern Germany and the group can best be described as a real touring band that never fails to entertain a crowd. Often they are accompanied by Ruomi Lee-Hampel, brother of Cavana who films and records the concerts.

Now to the music: It starts with JOY – the musicians enter the theater from the back, drumming and singing a swinging melody titled “Kindred Spirits” – and the spirit conveys fun. The next piece already demonstrates why his influence on Euro-American jazz is so essential. On “New Waves / 2004” the band gives a jumping, catchy melody, that offers the structure of later solos of the members. The rhythm is liberated, but a continuous pulse keeps the danceable character of the music.
Warhorses of Gunter Hampel's bands follow. “Godzilla” steps in elegantly offering the basis for a single line vibraphone solo by Gunter Hampel (with other part of the records demonstrating that he is to be regarded as one the most individual vibe-player around). The following scatting of Cavana recalls the singing of her mother. This comparison probably is not fair, but in a concert some years ago in Hamburg even Gunter Hampel got confused, presenting her as Jeanne Lee after one of her solos. She, Gunter and large parts of the audience reacted positively with a happy smile on the face.

“Godzilla” is part of many recent concerts and concert recordings. Vibes and drums offer a background for Johannes Schleiermacher on sax. One has to call it a solo, but Hampel’s music does rather aim at collective soloing or at least parallel soloing. Two, three or all four musicians climb around a given melody, creating a modern form of a dixieland group – sometimes marching, often searching, always collective. All musicians improvise listening closely to each other and following the threads of a given melody. Hampel displays his skills also on flute and bass clarinet. Bernd Oezsevim provides a pulsating underground on drums with short outburst demonstrating his skills.

“Bounce”, “Workout” and “Magic Touch” do not offer polished modern jazz. The spirit of the players holds the pieces together. They rub each other. Regions of disharmony are sustained only to join each other in the melody. It is good to have a recent typical concert recording of Gunter Hampel on an easily available and professionally produced recording. A master of European-American Free Jazz is among us and still producing music as good as in earlier years.

P.S. The CD ends with a short interview with Gunter Hampel (in German). The interviewer Götz Bühler tries to give Gunter a platform to talk about upcoming plans for his 80th birthday and mentions possibilities in Göttingen or Berlin. Simple answer: “Berlin”. Interviewer has to start again. Now he just had his 82nd birthday –later concerts were produced on Birth records and were available as radio recordings – “Happy Birthday”!

From Hampel's 80th Birthday celebration:

Hinrich JuliusBorn in Northern Germany (Hannover), now again living there (Hamburg). For many years a follower and fan of improvised (jazz) music in its many forms. Spending most of my time working at the university and with wife and daughter, who often have to tolerate the music.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Kang Tae Hwan & Midori Takada - An Eternal Moment (NoBusiness Records, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

An Eternal Moment is the third in a line of previously unreleased Chap Chap tapes from NoBusiness documenting live performances of alto saxophonist Kang Tae Hwan in 1995, after 2018’s solo Live at Café Amores and 2017’s Prophecy of Nue with pianist Masahiko Satoh and percussionist Midori Takada (the Ton•Klami trio). The 77 minute recording expounds on the fruitful relationship of Kang and Midori, previously recorded in duo format for only a few minutes on Korean Free Music, while also capturing the saxophonist during the chrysalis of his style.

“Syun-Soku” is a ~40-minute set. Kang catalogs extended techniques: multiphonics; overtones; key clicks; gurgling; circular breathing; microtonality; breathwork; possibly voicings and mutes. Midori matches this timbral range by singling out aspects of the drum kit, a muted skin mimicking wadaiko, shimmering cymbals, the snap of the snare. The two players shift these timbral motifs out of phase with each other, unhurried. They instead communicate mostly through tempo and volume. So Kang’s bird chirps share time with both Midori’s wadaiko and cymbals, and Midori’s cymbals share time with both Kang’s bird chirps and key clicks, and so on. There are a few moments in which they sync, amplifying to transcendent, dramatic effect. These moments are typically signalled by Kang building skronky, snaking, spiritual, folky, multiphonic melodies reminiscent of Ned Rothenberg and Evan Parker, or a more petulant, resonant skronk, simultaneously glassy and metallic, like a shawm or buzzing fly recalling Michel Doneda, three players to which Kang often draws analogies and with which he’s recorded.

A kind of collage and personalization of these players’ styles continues in the second half of the fifteen minute “Solo.” It’s a noisier, less smooth, more austere, less jubilant version of his solo style than is present on 2011’s prodigious masterwork Sorefa, Kang’s last recording released before NoBusiness’ series. The first half of “Solo” is reminiscent of Steve Lacy’s “Ducks” - a piece that characterized a portion of the soprano player’s solo career - but in multitudes, frenzied and cacophonous, disturbed to flight.

The sidelong “Dan-Shi” begins with Midori on marimba, with a fluid rhythm that ebbs and flows in volume and tempo, accompanied by metallic feedback from Kang. Following a similar structure as “Syun-Soku,” though with more immediate communication in timbre, Kang transitions to a circular multiphonic honk after Midori transitions to a fully-utilized drum kit, and moves to soulful calls as Midori moves back to marimba responses.

Looking back on how I’ve described this music, it might seem derivative or formulaic. It’s not. It’s something to be heard and felt rather than described. And though it’s pieces may be traceable, the whole is distinct. Midori’s mastery of color provides perfect environments for Kang’s style that is often both playful and soul-wrenching. It’s a strong recording from the relatively under-recorded altoist, and one of the stronger recordings of this year for sure.

An Eternal Moment is available digitally, on CD, and on LP.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Somersaults – Numerology of Birdsong (Westhill Records, 2019) ****½

‘Numerology of Birdsong’ is the second album by Somersaults, who are Olie Brice on double bass, Mark Sanders, drums and percussion and Tobia Delius on tenor sax and clarinet. It follows their eponymous debut on Two Rivers (2015) and now this free flowing group have released another beautifully put together recording. Olie Brice and Mark Sanders have played as a bass/drum unit with jazz luminaries including Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker, Mikolaj Trzaska, Rachel Musson and Ken Vandermark. Toby Delius is a member of the legendary Dutch collective the ICP and Olie and Mark had long wanted to work with him. Now, on 'Numerology of Birdsong' they have and it was worth the wait. The trio have an October tour planned in the UK and Europe. This release is on Olie Brice's own label West Hill Records.

Just 5 tracks make up the CD and the first, 'Seek Stillness in Movement' is aptly named for its gentle melodic themes, which are transcended and interspersed with diverse and interesting percussion and bass lines. One section is a rhythmic repeat on drums with mesmeric bass and another a bass solo section - both equally interesting and uplifting - the sound quality is really good, which is so important for bass-led sections and hard to achieve in live recordings, which this is. The sax which leads in from the bass section is gentle but the drive begins early from bass and drums and the piece builds towards the end, complete with walking bass (read for that, 'faster, faster') and a glorious crescendo of sound from the drums. 'Numerology Of Birdsong' is peaceful, beautiful and there is a sense of listening. The woodwind warbling is perfect for the title and the bass breathing deeply underneath imparts the essence of hidden depth, perhaps danger to a small, fragile melody of a bird. The intuitive percussion bangs and crashes its warnings whilst the bird continues to dip and soar. Melodies are created, frantically chased and vanish into the depth of the percussion and bass lines yet occasional whoops and calls can be heard and eventually a heavier woodwind line emerges creating a steadying influence over the still heaving rhythms. Beautiful and so full of life.

'Turdidae' is breathy sax over deft and fast moving bass and percussion with a steady growing melodic development as the piece progresses whilst later stut notes and whistles add texture and layers. 'Thisteltuig' has a gentle start, but don't be fooled. As the piece evolves more layers are added, the textures deepen and, over the constant traveling bass, the percussion and woodwind have a riot with squeaks, trills, riffles and screeches. The final section with a resounding, deep, full throttle bass line under breathing, breathy sax is interesting.

'A Probable Warbler' finishes the album and there is little probability about this track- it is great improvisation and sees all three musicians exert themselves both as leads and supports in many directions. This is a standout track and simply great free jazz.

This is a great album, full of interest, differing tones, hues and colours and there is a huge amount of communication going on both between the players and with the listeners, all of which adds up to great improvised music.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Gard Nilssen – The Norwegian Drummer Everyone Wants To Play With

Everybody loves to play with Norwegian drummer and sonic adventurer Gard Nilssen, and not only all the forward-thinking musicians of the local Norwegian and Swdish scenes, but also American guitarist Bill Frisell and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusere, who joined Nilssen’s groups during this summer’s Molde Jazz Festival where Nilssen was Artist-in-Residence.

The versatile Nilssen may be considered a high-priority fugitive by the jazz police. His musical universe is shaped by the most adventurous heroes of jazz on both sides of the Atlantic - Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders and Alexander Von Schlippenbach and Chris McGregor. But as the title of an album by one of his groups, Cortex, suggests, Nilssen spirals these high-brow influences into an inclusive Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed, 2018) that is charged by more common additives from the lexicon of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or Frank Zappa and local art-rock singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør.

Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity - To Whom Who Buys A Record (Odin, 2019) ****½*

Nilssen formed the unplugged Acoustic Trio, featuring reeds player André Roligheten, known from local groups as Friends and Neighbors and Albatrosh duo and leader of his own quartet, and Swedish double bass player Petter Eldh, in 2014. To Whom Who Buys A Record - a clear reference to Ornette cpleman’s To Whom Who Keeps A Record (Atlantic, 1975), is already the third album of the trio, after two acclaimed ones - Firehouse and the 3-discs Live in Europe, with guests Swedish reeds player Fredrik Ljungkvist and Norwegian sax players Kristoffer Berre Alberts and Jørgen Mathisen (both albums released on Clean Feed, 2015 and 2017).

To Whom Who Buys A Record is the outcome of four years of constant touring and over one hundred performances, and it was recorded live in one room and with no amplification. This albums offer the trio in its prime, perfecting its loose yet deep and close interplay, but, still, sounding greater than the sum of its parts.

The Ornette Coleman connection affects the telepathic interplay and dynamics of the Acoustic Unity. It sounds as owes eternal debt to Coleman’s seminal quartet. The powerful rhythm section of Nilsssen and Eldh dances with the same kind of joyful intensity like the one of Blackwell and Haden on - surprise - the openningr “Mr Cherry” (and alluding to Coleman’s repertoire on pieces with titles as “Broken Beauty”, “Rat on a Skateboard”, “Dancing Shadows” and “Elastic Circle”). The Acoustic Unity plays with same kind of uplifting-Dionysian energy of the Albert Ayler Trio on the seminal Spiritual Unity on pieces like “MasakrÜke” and “Bõtteknott”. But the Acoustic Unity is much more than a reflective unit. It has a strong voice of its own and a totally democaratic dynamics. It sometimes sounds rugged and raw, often delicate and moving and always, wherever it finds itself, sounds smart, searching and charismatic one.

What are you a waiting for? Go and buy this record, the physical one, and know that you have invested in the creative spectrum of the future music business.

Bushman’s Revenge - Et Hån Mot Overklassen (Hubro Music, 2019) ***½ 

The power-trio Bushman’s Revenge - comprised of Nilssen, who also plays here also on the vibraphone, Wurlitzer and electronics, bass player Rune Nergaard, and guitarist Even Helte Hermansen - is often described as the missing link between Ayler and Black Sabbath. The trio was founded in 2003 when all three musicians were still at their early twenties and Et Hån Mot Overklassen (in Norwegian: A Mockery of the Upper Class) is its tenth album and the first one to be released on Hubro Music label after a decade-long work with the Rune Grammofon label.

Bushman’s Revenge’s mockery of the jazz upper class is a clever and twisted blend of prog-rock with twangy blues jam, gothic soundscapes with smart improvisations and hypnotic tamboura drones with found-sound samples. Bushman’s Revenge is a trio that enjoys its constant state of multiple and restless identities and never stop clashing and experimenting with new sounds and textures. The best way to deal with it is by simply succumbing to its seductive sonic spell and stop analyzing where one instrument ends or does and where and when another begins.

Bushman’s Revenge takes its Aylerian connection to the most soulful, psychedelic angles and blends its formative, muscular Balck Sabbath ingredients with strong, experimental tendencies (continued on the Molde Jazz Festival with expanded line-up that will feature Swedish reeds player Per "Texas" Johansen and creative, local keyboardist Anja Lauvdal). On Et Hån Mot Overklassen the trio relies less on its sheer power and more on colorful imagination that asks the listener to find the missing links to classics as in Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, soon to be twisted into Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages and morphed again with dynamics of Tony Williams Lifetime’s Emergency! or the meditations on John McLaughlin’s Shakti’s Natural Elements, always processed through Bushman’s Revenge arresting, hypnotic spells. Throughout these brilliant ideas and guess games you can familiarize yourself with the great Hermansen, one of the most modest and underrated guitar heroes that walks these days on this planet. Just listen to his work on the passionate yet delicate ballad “Moves Away From The Door”.

Amgala Temple - Invisible Airships (Pekula, 2018) ***½

Amgala Temple is another power-trio, but one that exhausts its muscular power to its fullest, and a local super-group that brings together blues guitar hero Amund Maarud, bassist-keyboardist-guitarist Lars Horntveth, known as Jaga Jazzist, and Nilssen. The cover and the title of its debut album - Invisible Airships - already hints about the direction of this trio - spacey-psychedelic jam improvisations that search for new sonic frontiers while embracing the art of the moment. If Bushman’s Revenge is described as the missing link between Ayler and Black Sabbath then Amagle Temple may link between Sun Ra adventures in deep space and Swedish psychedelic-prog Dungen or between early Deep Purple and the Nigerian, Tuareg singer-songwriter-guitarist Bombino.

Amgala Temple knows how to control its mighty, wild power. The trio plays with radiant elegance, virtuoso solos, intoxicating grooves and intensifying tension spiced with many surprising twists that lead to the cathartic climaxes. Nilssen sounds as unstoppable, force major hat challenges and keeps pushing Maarud and Horntveth to higher, freer stratospheres. Just listen to the many ways that Nilssen and Maarud climb the heavenly stairways on “Bosphorus” or how Nilssen solidifies the infectious groove of “Avenue Amgala” or cements the aggressive-dramatic atmosphere of “Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine” along the hyper-athletic solo of Maarud. “The Eccentric” even invites you to test your dancing moves, but only if you are fit enough to keep up with the energetic flow of this trio. The last piece “Moon Palace” will remind us all that soon enough we may find out that Sun Ra’s space is indeed the place to be.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Anthony Braxton - Quartet (New Haven) 2014 (Firehouse 12, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

Producer, engineer, and Firehouse 12 proprietor Nick Lloyd and his partner composer/trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum have been responsible for releasing some terrific music over the last decade plus via their Firehouse 12 record label, including instant classics by the likes of Myra Melford , Mary Halvorson , Tomas Fujiwara , Ingrid Laubrock , and of course Tyshawn Sorey whose Pillars on FH12 was voted FJC’s 2018 album of the year. Anthony Braxton has also delivered a couple of excellent sets for the label, 2007’s epically brilliant (and brilliantly epic) “9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (12+1tet)” and 2016’s “3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011” the latter of which was recorded in-house and mixed + mastered by Mr. Lloyd himself. Braxton’s latest on Firehouse 12, “Quartet (New Haven) 2014”, finds him matched up with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, guitarist Nels Cline, and drummer Greg Saunier in June where they pay homage to some of Braxton’s favorite popular music artists in four varied and intense hour-long improvisations of carefully rendered give and take. This monster four disc set is the product of a two day recording session at Firehouse 12 arranged by Bynum at Braxton’s request after he had seen (and been blown away by) a Cline/ Saunier duo set during the Willisau festival in 2013.

For lovers of low register reeds and no wave guitar skronk and/or combinations thereof, this collection offers up a quadruple helping of sputtering, croaking acoustic-electric gruel. The way the story goes is that Braxton had arrived for the sessions loaded up with his full range of saxophones as well as some graphical scores and instructions which he for whatever reason promptly abandoned (the scores and instructions that is) for a more free approach to the improvisations. This decision appears to have two effects on the record. For one, the attentiveness and enthusiasm is top notch throughout the entirety of the recording. Braxton in particular sounds fantastic here, his free playing during some sections sounds totally ecstatic as the maestro loses himself in the moment to unbridled sonic bliss. The second effect is that there isn’t a lot of variation thematically or structurally for such a lengthy collection of pieces. This might make listening to it straight through a bit of a chore for some, and I’ve personally enjoyed it more listening to a disc-at-a-time over the course of a week or so. But I’d like to stress that the intensity and quality of the improvisations more than make up for any apparent lack of structure and I found myself returning to this set over and over again this summer.

Each of the four improvisations included in the set is dedicated to a popular musician that Braxton admires. Here we get dedications to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, James Brown, and Merle Haggard, respectively. The group combines sections of enthusiastic and intense interaction with unhurried explorations of space and timbre, sounding relaxed and engaged throughout. There are a multitude of ideas expressed in each piece as the quartet doesn’t tread on anything for too long and their extensive set of instruments provides for a colorful listen. I’m happy to report that Braxton honks on the big contrabass sax again and again, and every time he seems to stir up the sediment, rousing the group into a whirl of collective activity. He’s similarly devastating across his range of saxophones (everything but the tenor here) and changes horns frequently to complement and/or to disrupt. Likewise, Braxton’s one-time student and long-time collaborator Taylor Ho Bynum employs a range of horns (and mutes I would assume) on these improvisations including cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo and bass trumpets, and the trumpbone. His playing is steeped in Braxton’s language music and can be brittle and squawkish as well as warm and buttery depending on the need. Guitarist Nels Cline is well known in free improvising circles and I’ve always found him particularly exciting and crafty in his playing (there’s a craftsmanship to his amp-driven bedlam that he’s chiseled from years of experience). His use of pedals and electronics is also greatly to my liking and he unloads some really wild sounds across this collection. Of the four, Greg Saunier is the member with which I’m least familiar with. Having never heard his band Deerhoof, the only reference I have in my collection is his trio with Mary Halvorson and Ron Miles on 2017’s New American Songbooks, Volume 1 which I liked very much and intend to revisit soon. This is a different pairing altogether though, finding him to be a powerful and versatile drummer with exceptional stamina. “Quartet (New Haven) 2014” is a fantastic addition to the Firehouse 12 catalogue and it’s an exciting and worthwhile listen that fans of Braxton will be glad to dive into head first.