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Friday, May 24, 2019

Szilárd Mezei Túl a Tiszán Innen Ensemble - Citromfa (FMR, 2018) *****

By Nick Metzger

The Tiszán is a river that at one time flowed entirely within the borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. It of course flows as it always has; only the immaterial boundaries of human dominion have changed. It passes to the east of the city of Senta, where composer Szilárd Mezei has lived all his life. From there it merges with the Danube (Europe’s second longest river, which passes to the south of Novi Sad, where Szilárd and many of his colleagues perform and where this album was recorded) in the very heart of the Vojvodina province, and then on some 1300 km to the Black Sea. Túl a Tiszán Innen roughly translates to English as Beyond the Tiszán from Here and is the name bestowed to Mezei’s ensemble dedicated to the union of Hungarian folk, jazz, and classical music. For their third release “Citromfa” or Lemon Tree, the 11 piece ensemble presents a 9 song, 2-disc set with a run time of just over two hours, every second of which is filled with intriguing, exotic, and beautiful music. Using the themes of traditional Vojvodinian folk songs as a foundation, Mezei extrapolates remarkable arrangements from the simple melodies that extend and supplement their underlying essence, elevating them to a higher level of sophisticated expression. This advancement is enriched by the implausibly brilliant musicians Mezei surrounds himself with. Joining Mezei on this release are his long time colleagues, drummer István Csík and double bassist Ervin Malina (who make up his trio), as well as the remainder of his Septet: Bogdan Rankovic on bass clarinet, alto saxophone, and clarinet, Andrea Berendika on flute and alto flute, trombonist Branislav Aksin, and Ivan Burka on vibraphone and marimba. In addition the ensemble features Béla Burány on baritone and soprano saxophones, violinists Tijana Stankovic and Ákos Keszég, pianist Marina Marina Džukljev, and of course Mezei himself on viola. This album was released late last year and I’ve been under its spell since. The words have been slow to come to me, and so I do apologize for the tardiness of this review. I’ve used the English translation of all the song titles below with the intent of demystifying the content for our non-Hungarian speaking readers.

After a brief introductory passage, the first track "A Young Herdsman from Sándorházi" is centered on the sing-song melody of the original tune superimposed over a piano/double bass ostinato. Berindika's flute playing is beautiful here, fluttering over the surface like dragonflies darting over a pond. Just as striking is Džukljev's piano, which along with the rhythm section provides the beating heart of the piece. "Sour Cherry Grows on High Trees" begins with the main theme sketched out in various shades of contrasting timbre, the embellishments and counterpoint building as the song unfolds. The complex inter-ensemble playing is grounded by the hearty rhythm of the piece. The strings are more prominent here, as is Askin's trombone, and we get a tasty solo from Malina on the double bass towards the end. "Come with me to the Ball, My Sweet Darling" is a moody arrangement that begins with a captivating bit of orchestral-tinted potpourri. It plays out dramatically, with the soft, romantic passages erupting into swells of harmony and bouncing rhythm from the full ensemble. There is a particularly nice segment towards the middle where Rankovic's bass clarinet wraps ribbons of reedy color around Džukljev's velvety piano line. Burka's quavering vibraphone solo near the end is a gorgeous and subtle touch. "My Chestnut Horse's Been Lost" retains the orchestral feeling of the previous track, building up a forest of sound that is haunted by Berindika's flute and Mezei's viola. Dramatically rendered but much more somber than the previous track, it's perfectly placed in the album's track sequence. The last piece on the first disc is called "A Women-Ridiculing Song" and features a romping, ornery melody hovering on a post-bop rhythm which is pocked with piano stabs and soft marimba. Rankovic throttles his saxophone, yielding a fierce solo of fiery passion.

The second disc begins with "My Mother's Rose Tree" which is built around an uplifting, regal melody that’s almost anthemic in its rendering. Csík provides a rolling bed of uneven percussion for the folky strings and the sparse, complementary piano. The ensemble takes turns soloing over this foundation, where a single voice appears and is eventually overlapped and overtaken by the next soloist. The saccharine theme is repeated in intervals by the ensemble like a child returning to an unguarded cookie jar. There is a brief section of group improvisation towards the conclusion of the piece before the final statement of the main melody that imparts a sense of totality and closure. “While the Betyár is Drinking at the Bar, His Sweetheart is Crying in the Window” is a bellicose and animated beast that juxtaposes melodious strands of folk melody with volatile, aggressive playing from the ensemble. The piano passage is especially brooding, finding Džukljev utterly attacking the keys. Burány delivers a terrific solo on baritone sax, resplendent with assertive squelches and honks. The next piece is a medley of descants, "Gosh! What a Bad Place This World Is/When Sándor Rosza Gets on His Horse” and is my favorite piece of the collection. It’s cinematic in its advance, building from the gentle melancholy of flute, bass clarinet, and pizzicato string figures to several swelling crescendos of exquisite orchestral airs. The combination of bass clarinet, baritone sax, and trombone is a favorite of mine and provides a thick bed of roiling thunder for the gentle showers of flute, strings, and piano. Csík’s percussion is faultless and subtle; he illuminates the very edges of their swirling sonic world with light rolls and whispering cymbals. The solos on this piece are a particularly outstanding example of how in-sync the ensemble is with Mezei’s arrangements. The piece sounds like organic clockwork, the players in lockstep with the aspirations of the maestro. The final piece of the collection, the eponymous “All the Twigs and Leaves of the Lemon Tree” features another captivating piano ostinato as the root, at times highlighted with flute, soft reeds, and brass. Mezei and Csík summon beguiling solos that are both mellifluous and full of dynamism, after which the ensemble closes the set with a multifaceted flourish of symphonic verdigris.

Mezei’s sonic brew is intoxicating, and I haven’t been able to get enough of it. This third double disc collection from the Túl a Tiszán Innen Ensemble is a masterwork of infectious melody and intricate orchestration (if you haven’t heard them I warmly endorse the other two collections as well). This music is his own; it’s where he comes from and where he’s going. Certainly there are allusions to the music of Bartók, Mingus, Szabados (another artist underappreciated in the west), and Braxton but they are mostly peripheral. Mezei’s work is singular in its constitution. He’s a gifted artist, whose drive and passion is the equivalent of the aforementioned masters, but who has emerged at a time when much of the world’s cultural fixations have become moribund and oblivious. But like the Tiszán, Mezei’s course will flow as it always has, towards his muses and passions with determination and ambition; and for those so inclined, the juice is well worth the squeeze. Highly recommended!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Solo Piano Research of Søren Kjærgaard

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Danish, Copenhagen-based pianist-composer Søren Kjærgaard researched the concept of Multi-layeredness in Solo Performance at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen in the years 2016-2018. During his research project he has performed solo piano recitals and given talks on his research in Tokyo, Oslo, San Francisco, Zürich and Copenhagen. This research yielded two distinct solo piano albums.

Kjærgaard is known from his trio with double bass player Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille, which has recorded four albums, his work with Danish multi-disciplinary artist Torben Ulrich (father of Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich), which has born three albums, and his free-improvised performance with Fred Frith, Koichi Makigami and Jakob Bro.

Søren Kjærgaard - Concrescence (Ik Music, 2019) **** 

Concrescence was recorded at The Village studio, Copenhagen, on 14-15 July 2017, and offers 18 introspective, concentrated micro-cosmoses that unfold in a dialogue between composition and improvisation, between concept and the immediacy of the moment. 

The short pieces point to the rich language Kjærgaard has developed and the diverse influences that shape his aesthetics, ranging from the iconoclastic ideas of Morton Feldman’s evocative minimalism, to the dense chord clusters of Henry Cowell and the indeterminacy of John Cage, to the contemporary voices of improvising, classical pianist Cory Smythe and contemporary composer Nico Muhly, known for his collaborations with Björk, Grizzly Bear and Glen Hansard. 

Kjærgaard weaves these distinct attitudes into a rich and highly personal thesis about the multi-layered potential of the solo piano format. He employs conventional and extended techniques as a mean to suggest a provocative yet subtle interplay between movements, speeds, textures and dynamics, as well as between avant-garde, scholastic innovations and more song-like but still experimental textures. Piece like the minimalist and exotic “Precipitations”, the lyrical ballad “From Ornette To Sun Ra By Way Of Miss Ann South” or the emotional homage to Cowell, “Bells for Henry,” capture best Kjærgaard's idiosyncratic language. 


Søren Kjærgaard - Live at Freedom Music Festival (Ilk Music, 2019) ****½

Live At Freedom Music Festival captures Kjærgaard performing at KoncertKirken, Copenhagen, on September 1st, 2017. It focuses on six extended improvisations, linked as a five movements suite, that explores a more extroverted and contrast-full use of the piano. 

The live format enables Kjærgaard to explore his deep interest in the tension between different experimental approaches and techniques of playing the solo piano, free-improvisation, and modern jazz. The “First and Second Movement” investigates Feldman-esque expressive, ethereal, and almost silent minimalism. “Third Movement” dives first deeper into the indeterminate, chance-based compositional ideas of John Cage and David Tudor, but later sketches basic rhythmic patterns. On these cerebral pieces Kjærgaard investigates the sonic timbral qualities of the piano, attentive to the singing potential of each tone. 

The last shorter three movements - “Fourth” through “Sixth” - connect the contemporary, experimental approaches with a great lineage of revolutionary jazz pianists. The dense tone clusters of Henry Cowell sound as part of the poetic aesthetics of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley. The last, most lyrical and emotional “Sixth Movement” converges best Kjærgaard’s imaginative, spontaneous ideas of rhythmic flexibility, abstract minimalism and cantabile melodicism. 

And a litte more here.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fire! Orchestra - Arrival (Rune Grammofon, 2019) *****

By Sammy Stein

In 2013 and 2014 when The Fire! Orchestra released Exit and Enter there were 28 musicians. Then in 2016 Ritual saw the Orchestra sheering off 7 of its players and with Arrival a further 7 have dispersed leaving 14. The central core of Mats Gustafsson, John Bethling and Andreas Werlin remain, along with singers Mariam Wallentin and Sofia Jernberg and now a string quartet has been added creating a rhythm and horn sections at minimalist setting whilst the string quartet fulfil the 'orchestra' part of the ensemble's title, providing foils for both horns and vocals. Drummer Andreas Werlin also produced the album. What the new line up does is create more possibilities, it widens the canvas and increases the spectrum for scoring - and this has been taken advantage of, as you would expect from musicians of this experience.

Arrival is a collection of compositions and songs, most composed by Gustafsson, Werlin and Berthling except 'Weekends' which is by Mariam Wallentin, 'Blue Crystal Fire' by Robbie Basho and 'At Last I Am Free' by Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards. The inclusion of covers is a departure for Fire! Orchestra but then again, the unexpected is always expected with this ensemble. Regardless of composition credits, most band members contributed to the development of every track and this collective input is present in no mean amounts.

This CD transverses a range of emotions and moods and is infused with rich, textured layers, providing qualities of which more is found with every listen.

' (I Am A ) Horizon' opens and CD and immediately it is clear this recording is different from earlier Fire! Orchestra recordings. This track, beginning with the searing, achingly beautiful violin opening, draws you in and envelops you. The additions are subtle from the woodwind and additional strings buzz and thrum until a theme is created by the keyboard over which the vocals enter and the song is developed - a sad, yearning, lyrical tale, made poignant by the trumpet improvisation behind, while the second voice, with its high alluring siren call adds more emotion and all this is counterbalanced by the bass clarinet and deep, deep contrabass, which underpins the latter part of the vocals and then emerges from the background to create an 11 riff repeat, before the track ends with a blast of horns and rivulets of sound to finish. 'Weekends' ( The Soil is Calling) is a number of two parts, the first sets off on an Eastern groove, dictated by bass and top drum and countered by steady, lingering brass and then keys before the vocals, in perfect harmony, enter and the song develops along its own, unique groove, until it slows and everything, including the vocals, diverge and travel away before coming back together again. The vibrato on the upper voice contrasted with the tremelo in the accompaniment is glorious. The second half of this track is instrumental with the ensemble free forming and developing the work into an entrenchment of sounds , from which picking out individual instruments, apart from the sax lead, is almost impossible but they are all there and the groove returns for the final third with vocals returning too. A wonderfully didactic piece for anyone looking for an exemplar of free musicians working together. The ending is special.

' Blue Crystal Fire' begins with breathy, rhythmic, contrabass which creates a gentle, relaxed atmosphere, like a sleeping behemoth. Yet, the beast is stirred as the vocals enter, the folky, whimsical tones contrasting wonderfully with the opening. The emotion of the original recording by Robbie Basho is here but changed and more ethereal and pitching it against the sonority of the contrabass is a genius touch. The opening of 'Silver Trees' is , literally, heralded before deep, reedy breaths serve to engage the listener, capturing and accompanying them further into the misty, ether which this track conjures up with its musical manoeuvrings and interplay after the first third between wood and strings, over which mystic words and phrases are imbued with life by the singers, duetting at one point in a conversational questioning, answering each other in beautiful harmonics. There is a lovely cello solo, which then retreats, yet still scaffolds the wood and brass over the top for the second third. The final third is more familiar with deep woods maintaining a set rhythm under the strings, brass and vocals, which now rap, wail and orate rather than sing, sounding like the offspring of a triadic union between Nina Hagen, Crass and a banshee. Rasping strings take this one to the close. It is a song of many, many parts and in places, completely wonderful.

' Dressed In Smoke, Blown Away' is , from the get-go a truly glorious beast. Baritone sax, throaty, loud and with the devil in its delivery, roars and wails, angry, unfettered, only held in check when the ethereal contrasting vocals drop over the top. There follows a bit of a dust-up with vocals trying to be heard over raw strings and rude rasping woods -but they give way and for a short time, the vocals reign supreme - then, once again the ensemble almost drown the lyrics. Yet it works so darn well, with vocals emerging, grabbing air when they can, delivering a few lines before being sucked away by the instrumentation. Then, half way through, everything changes for a vocal solo before sustained keys and then strings weave a different colour into the fabric of the number. This is amazing music, period.

'(Beneath) The Edge of Life' is short, opens with shaum-like percussion set against violins in folk-steeped manner with echoed violins and vocal lines adding to the Celtic feel to this number. ' At Last I Am Free' is a great interpretation of the Chic number with the opening a slowed version of the second verse of the original number and the rest vocally a more or less straight delivery of the song in ballad form but don't expect a Chic delivery - this has been taken under the parentage of the Fire! Orchestra so is warped, waffled and fluffed with some interesting creative lines.

This album has so much energy yet it is a controlled, reined in energy which burgeons and effervesces against the restraints of the compositions. This serves to create a sense of engagement, of wanting more and it is magically entrancing. There are layers under layers - perhaps to be expected given the number of players and different sections within but the amalgamation of bop, swing, straight and traditional music with improvised free playing is complex and almost incomprehensible to anyone not involved in the writing. Which is why it works because the numbers are delivered with such care and the arrangements penned with such attention to detail that the overall effect is deceptively simple - impressive sounds, great music and an album which takes you somewhere else. Explosive, gentle, happy, sad, melancholic, lifting - every emotion is here in spades. This is a wonderful album.

  • Mariam Wallentin- voice
  • Sofia Jernberg - voice
  • Anna Lindal - violin
  • Josefin Runsteen - violin
  • Katt Hernandez- violin
  • Leo Svensson- cello
  • Susana Santos Silva- trumpet
  • Per Texas Johansson -oboe bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet
  • Christer Bothén- bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet
  • Isak Hedtjärn- bb clarinet, alto saxophone
  • Mats Gustafsson- baritone sax
  • Tomas Hallonsten - keyboards
  • Johan Berthling - bass, electric bass
  • Andreas Werliin- drums.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mathieu Bec/Michel Doneda - A Peripheral Time (FMR Records, 2019) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

As we object fetishists all do, I occasionally search and hunt down new material from artists that I really appreciate. Be it in the ever expanding Discogs database or just surfing the internet. It has proven fruitful in a number of occasions. Michel Doneda is one of those artists. Along a handful only other musicians he has explored, in every direction possible, the sonic possibilities of his instrument. He does not, in any way, confine himself between even the blurred lines of free improvisation, and is willing to explore and dynamics that shape the sounds he produces. Be it those coming from his instrument, those from the recording space and the interactions with other musicians.

Before A Peripheral Time, I wasn’t aware of Mathieu Bec’s work. What never ceased to impress me through is that for over an hour, his limited resources (only a snare drum) proved limitless in regards to sound. His raw, non-technique oriented approach makes him really unique. If there was not any image of him playing I would totally succumb to the idea of him (like a modern version of Paul Lytton) performing with a vast variety of drums and percussion instruments. Even though I consider Doneda a master of the sax, it’s Bec who attracts most attention on this recording.

This is an improvisational duo though, and the interaction is amazing. Bec uses a variety of approaches and Doneda follows eagerly with the same amount of passion. Their playing as a duo is pretty intense, employing 'a raw animistic approach,' as Bec himself describes it, and he is absolutely right. Sometimes it feels like it’s a battle between them. Even though the sheer volume is totally bearable, the levels of energy and pathos are high up in the stratosphere. Considering that all four tracks of the CD last more than ten minutes (with the titular track clocking just under half an hour) the intensity of their playing never fails the listener.

It seems always so difficult that, at some other points during this CD, they incorporate silence as a means of subverting themselves. It’s those moments, and their integration throughout A Peripheral Time, that convince me they are out on a search, not following one single path. Even though this path (high energy improv following a cohesive straight line) takes most of this CD’s time, they dare to change it, re-approach themselves and allow us to look for more. They take risks, do not take themselves so seriously, and present with clarity and pathos all the swifts and changes that real discoveries produce. They feel like this is an ongoing relationship with more audio fruits to come. We will be waiting.

@ koultouranafigo

Monday, May 20, 2019

N.O. Moore/ John Edwards/ Eddie Prévost - Darkened, Yet Shone (Matchless Recordings, 2019) *****

By Stuart Broomer

There’s always some special interest in hearing a musician freshly arrived, more so when the musician is in company as elevated as bassist John Edwards and drummer Eddie Prévost. I suspect, though, that guitarist N.O. Moore would likely attract some attention in any fit company, for he brings a highly personal conception to an instrument often sullied by redundancy.

Moore is an electronic guitarist, a musician whose sounds include ones you wouldn’t necessarily assume are coming from guitar, including some that sound like radio waves, oscillator or synthesizer. At the same time, he eschews effects like looping, instead fixing his playing, as one might assume from his partners here, very much in real time. That quality of his playing, in fact, its nowness, is so strong that after repeated listening to the four tracks of this CD, I don’t have a strong sense of each track’s shape, as if the immediate attention demanded by the music’s instants precludes the imposition of larger temporal patterns, while simultaneously contributing to an ultimate coherence. Listening to this music, one is absorbed in this music, like one of André Breton’s soluble fish.

Moore combines with his sonic arsenal a sense of detailed nuance, subtle shifts in picking and fingering, that unites the trio in its sense of living and interactive detail. The play of volume and timbre extends throughout the group, so that their are patterns of resemblance beyond physical differences. Edwards’ range of arco effects and Prévost’s cymbals and tight snare often cross through Moore’s electronics, creating both strange ambiguities and a special fellowship.

Mindstreaming for metaphors for the way Moore approaches the guitar, I had a sudden flash…it’s as if John Milton or William Blake returned to earth and, finding language exhausted and bereft of sense, turned instead to the electric guitar. There must be something in that slightly skewed title. Googling (both cause and answer to said exhaustion and sense-paucity) for some imagined confirmation, I find, after a few entries for the release of this CD, two germane quotations, one from Milton (Book 1 of Paradise Lost, lines 597-604)—
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs: darkened so yet shone
Above them all the Archangel; but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
Set on his faded cheek, but under brows
Of dauntless courage and considerate pride,
Waiting revenge.
and perhaps its source:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that well in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
That contrast of darkness and shining is everywhere in the contrast of acoustic and electronic sound patterns here, but it also speaks to the bright intensity of the music’s ongoing interaction and the mystery of its larger structures, including, perhaps, the grim embrace of the historical moment.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Rest in Peace Sensei Tetsu Saitoh (1955 - 2019)

Tetsu Saitoh, photo by Frank Schindelbeck

On Saturday, May 18th, just before noon Japanese great double bass player Tetsu Saito passed away after a long battle with cancer. The self-taught Saitoh was born in Tokyo on October 27, 1955, and began playing the bass only when he was 22 years old. In the last three decades he became one of the prominent free improvisers in the Japanese scene, playing with such local heavyweights as sax player Kazutoki Umezu, drummer Sabu Toyozumi and guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi. Soon he proved himself as one of an elite group of musicians who expanded the vocabulary of the double bass and kept innovating the extended techniques of playing the bull fiddle.

Bass aficionados may know Saito from his seminal collaborations with fellow bass masters - Joëlle Léandre (Joëlle Et Tetsu - Live At Yokohama Jazz Promenade Festival 1996, Omba, 1998), Barre Phillips and Nobuyoshi Ino (October Bass Tri-Logue, PJL, 2001), the homage to Peter Kowald with Phillips, Léandre and William Parker (After You Gone, Victo, 2004), the bass orchestra Bassmasse of Sebastian Gramss with Phillips, Achim Tang, Robert Landfermann, Ulrich Phillipp, ‎and many more (Schwarm, gligg, 2013) or the recent homage to another visionary bass player, Italian Stefano Scodanibbio, organized by Gramss, with Barry Guy, Mark Dresser, Phillips, and Léandre (Thinking of … , Wergo, 2014).

But Saitoh was more than a virtuous bass player and imaginative free improviser. He said that “a musician only needs to sing one song in life… I will always try to sing my own song”. But this statement reflected most his modest character; throughout his life, Saitoh sang many beautiful and expressive songs. His musical vision was truly free, genre-blind, brought faraway traditions to the present and encompassed compositional strategies and improvisational techniques from classical music, Spanish flamenco, Argentinian nuevo-tango, Brazilian choro, Japanese traditional folk music, Korean shamanic music and, obviously, jazz. He had worked with Butoh dancers and modern dancers - most well-known is his close friend Jean Laurent Sasportes (who has worked with Tanztheater Wuppertal directed by Pina Bausch), Noh theater actors, painters, poets and filmmakers. His works responded to current affairs as Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, that caused the meltdown of three reactors in Fukushima nuclear plant. No matter what kind of music he played, it was always his own. He always suggested new perspectives and nuances in his interpretations and his improvisations. If you want to experience his idiosyncratic, rich vision you may begin with his most beautiful, last solo album, Travessia (Travessia, 2016).

Saitoh understood music as the healing force of the universe in the deepest sense possible, long before he had to struggle with the symptoms of cancer that forced him to limit his activity. He saw music as a method to self realization, here and now, and free improvisation as one of the truest forms of such enlightening realization. But he was not bound to any kind of ideology or mysticism about his virtuous qualities. He was gifted by a profound knowledge how to connect people with music, manifested in his work with handicapped and disabled, most notably dancer Ryotaro Yahagi who became another regular collaborator. Everyone who knew Tetsu-san, even if only through his albums, DVD’s or correspondence with him, fell immediately in love with music, his uplifting energy, humble manners and his compassionate sense of humor. Once you knew him, he became a dear friend.

Saitoh had plans to perform solo and with friends for the coming months, but was open about his medical condition in his Facebook posts. He kept uploading video clips from recent performances as the last one in his youtube channel with another long-time comrade, sax player Michel doneda and traditional Japanese musician Shun'ichiro Hisada. Unfortunately, sensei Saitoh left us too soon, way too young. He will be missed.

Please visit Tetsu Saitoh website, Travessia:

The Wøøøh - Music For Weddings And Funerals (Ormo, 2019) ****

By Stef

Three Danish musicians, Lars Bech Pilgaard on guitar, Henrik Pultz Melbye on tenor sax and clarinet, and Rune Lohse on drums, meet French bassist Sylvain Didou for this formidable piece of music. One long improvisation is stretched over two tracks ("Wedding" and "Funeral"), and the listener is treated to a haunting mixture of drone, noise and jazz.

On "Wedding", the four musicians create one gigantic wall of sound, that moves forward relentlessly, barely shifting in colour and harmonics, mesmerising and trance-inducing, frightening and horrifying. Pultz Melbye's sax keeps repeating the same phrases frantically, madly over the violence of bass and drums and deafening guitar sounds, and then, near the end, without relinquishing the piece's core idea, they deliver the same but now in a quiet mode of agonising sensitivity, with the struggling sax taking the lead role.

On "Funeral", the rhythm and approach are deliberately hesitant, raw and pumping, chaotic in its intent, yet somehow things coalesce into a crazy blend of harsh distress, until after four minutes a simple sax vamp creates a single anchor point for the three other instruments to move in the same direction, picking up energy by the collaborative effort, power and violence, and before you know it, the funeral has turned into an absolute nightmare. Things quiet down again, luckily, and a repetitive electronic pulse is the only continuity in freely improvised sonic emotions. Anything can happen and it does as you enter a world of eery, disturbing and disorienting sounds, full of agony and darkness (it is a funeral after all (but then the wedding did not sound like a wedding either)), first like free improvisation, then again shifting patterns start to emerge, built around a repeated deep note on the sax, and despite the vague structure, the music remains ephemeral and never turns solid.

This is daring music, and an incredible listening experience.  A kick in the teeth.

Listen and download from Bandcamp ... and definitely watch the video!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Tetuzi Akiyama/Ken Ikeda/Chihei Hatakeyama - erroribus humanis et antinomy (OTOOTO, 2019) ****½

By Nick Metzger

I’ve probably listened to this record more than any other thus far in 2019, as I’ve been extraordinarily busy tending to the non-music related activities in my life and this type of music lends itself well to both active and passive listening. It sounds fantastic whether you are attending to it or not, and will wriggle its way into your subconscious if given half a chance. “erroribus humanis et antinomy” (translated from Latin: human errors and antinomy) documents two meetings between Tetuzi Akiyama on guitar, Ken Ikeda on electronics, and Chihei Hatakeyama on guitar and electronics. The uber-prolific Akiyama is one of my all-time favorite guitar players. His work has appeared here sporadically in the past, as his musical practices tend to overlap with the interests of the blog. He’s a special artist and one of the most unique voices in modern improvisation today, whether playing solo or with acclaimed artists such as Taku Sugimoto, Toshimaru Nakamura, Oren Ambarchi, and Alan Licht. Ambience master and video artist Ken Ikeda has been very active in the free improvisation arena as of late, releasing terrific albums with Eddie Prévost , Toshimaru Nakamura, and David Toop. I’ve also been a fan of producer and guitarist Chihei Hatakeyama since his days on Kranky Records. There’s a meditative beauty to his music that radiates into the listener’s headspace like a narcotic, and when I saw him teamed up with Akiyama and Ikeda for this record I knew it would be a pretty special set.

The first track “I” begins with a quiescent hum of electronics over which Akiyama’s guitar is very subtly strangled. I’ve always enjoyed the unconventional sounds that Akiyama can wring from his instrument, and in my opinion his sense for melodic abstraction is unsurpassed. Examining the underlying hum a little more closely reveals a sort of skittering, fractured dynamic layered with high pitch swells that echo and decay back into the simmering EAI sauce. There are some low tones that simply hang tranquilly, like taut but motionless flags buried far back in the mix. Ikeda, true to his Touch Records roots provides a bed of ambience for the guitarists, peppered with delay modulation noises and light electronic pings. Hatakeyama (I assume) is the source of the swelling, delayed tones, though I’m half guessing here. His playing is like celestial birdsong, a benevolent specter residing in the right-most channel (again, I’m guessing here, but I believe the mix is: Akiyama – L, Ikeda – M, Hatakeyama – R). “II” begins with Akiyama’s scratched out notions as Ikeda and Hatakeyama swell from the ether. A subtle untreated guitar arpeggio grounds the piece as all manner of electronic effects are peppered into the amalgam. It’s truly difficult to tell who is doing what here so I won’t bother any further. The resulting sound field is gorgeous, at once serene yet highly active, like a still pond teeming with colorful, busy fish just beneath the surface. “III” is slightly noisier than the preceding songs, lots of grainy artifacts and unconventional guitar sounds agitated in a vibrant, kaleidoscopic dust cloud of haze and shimmer. Ikeda at times sounds like rain on a paper roof, at others like a malfunctioning public-address system. Akiyama’s guitar work is unmistakable, and it works brilliantly with Hataeyama’s hiccupping, whooping delay undulations and granular fragments. The last piece “IV” is the shortest and perhaps the most straight-forward of the set. The mostly untreated guitar around the periphery surrounds Ikeda’s electronic glow as it radiates from the center of the mix and yields a symmetric soundscape that nicely rounds out the album.

Although this is way outside of the jazz idiom, I find this type of free improvisation just as enjoyable. It’s measured for sure, but there is plenty for the listener to take in. It’s all about subtle dynamics, soft details, and the building of sonic textures and it succeeds marvelously at that. I’ve found that this sounds best on headphones or played at high volume on decent speakers in an otherwise quiet space in order to really get the full experience. And even though I’ve listened through the album a couple dozen times I have yet to tire of it. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Guillermo Gregorio & Brandon Lopez - 12 Episodes (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet) and Brandon Lopez (contrabass) play freely across twelve tracks lasting 39 minutes on 12 Episodes. I love duos because each player is given ample time and space to really display their personality and still engage in player to player communication. The duo is a rare and welcome format for these two; I believe this is Lopez’ first recorded duo and Gregorio has only recorded the format with Paul Giallorenzo on Multiverse and Ran Blake on Something To Live For. The duo do well for themselves and I hope it’s the first of many meetings, especially considering Gregorio’s penchant for developing lasting relationships with physical, violent strings (e.g. Fred Lonberg-Holm and Kent Kessler) and Lopez’ penchant for playing such strings.

The 12 tracks are structured in such a way that the first two thirds of the recording last as long as the last third, with the earlier vignettes having only enough time to explore one thread though they navigate few thematic changes in the longer tracks too. Despite the tracks’ structural monotony, each one is timbrally rich. Gregorio cuts up mellifluous lines with overblown distorted tones, circularly breathes furiously flurried flights, and utilizes key clicks, air notes, tongue clicks, and perhaps some light voicing. Lopez switches up his typical, physical arco by tapping the strings with the bow, sawing below the bridge, tapping and rubbing the body, preparing the bass by threading something through the strings, plucking the strings so hard they buzz against the neck, rubbing the strings so hard the flayed sound is almost like a chair creaking (think Raging Bull), and splaying out bowed tones’ chroma like a prism disperses a ray of light. And though there aren’t many thematic changes to listen to each other for, the communication between the two is present and prompt, with each player matching the cadences and complimenting the textures of the other.

Beyond the somewhat limiting structure of the takes, my only criticism is that Lopez tends to resort to a walking - or rather lumbering - bassline when Gregorio falls back to more mellifluous playing, and I think some syncopation or unequal time would have complimented Gregorio’s more subtle angles a bit better. However, this is a rich, colorful study from two masters that’s just as much fun as Gregorio’s legendary Hathut run or Lopez’ recent exceptional work, including this year’s Old Smoke with Steve Baczkowski and Chris Corsano (also on Relative Pitch).

12 Episodes is a CD-only release.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Keeping Up with Slovenian Percussionist Zlatko Kaučič

Readers of the blog may know the work of the Slovenian drummer Zlatko Kaučič, especially his recorded collaborations with European heavyweight improvisers such as Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández. Ab Baars, Phil Minton, Barry Guy, and Maya Homburger. Kaučič single handedly fostered a scene for free music in the newly founded Slovenia, mentored younger musicians, ran venues, organized local festivals, and always encouraged all around him to keep pushing their boundaries. Now, a bit about his music...

Zlatko Kaučič - Diversity (Not Two, 2018) ****½

The Polish label Not Two has released, since its inception, special box sets that have celebrated special projects from Ken Vandermark (including DKV Trio & Joe McPhee), Mats Gustafsson, and Barry Guy, as well as important anniversaries such as celebrating 40 years of Joëlle Léandre's professional career as a musician, and more recently that of Kaučič, who celebrated last year his 65th birthday. The 5-disc box Diversity encompasses a series of intimate, free-improvised meetings with old and new comrades, all highlight his idiosyncratic percussive language, focused on his own set of ground drums, percussion devices and his distinct playing of the electric zither.

Diversity begins with a live recording - a trio with Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández and British tenor sax master Evan Parker, captured at Sound Disobedience Festival, Ljubljana, Slovenia, on October 2016, and titled Butterfly Wings. Kaučič recorded before duets with Parker (Round About One O’Clock, Not Two, 2011) and Fernández (Sonic Party, Not Two, 2014), while Parker and Fernández have collaborated regularly since the mid-nineties as a duo, as well as in Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and Octet, and in a quartet with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton; however, this is the first recording of this trio. Kaučič colors the abstract, free-formed interplay with imaginative kinetic energy. He resonates Fernández inside-the-piano playing with subtle zither sounds on '#2', offers minimalist, poetic interventions to the tranquil and mysterious duet of Parker and Fernández on '#3', sings peacefully with his percussive devices on '#4', and sketches inventive, quiet percussive sounds on the last, dark and enigmatic '#7'.

The second disc, Kras, is a duet with Parker, recorded live at Jazz & Wine of Peace Festival in San Michele del Carso, Italy, in October 2016, two days before the trio with Fernández. Parker plays the tenor sax while Kaučič adds the drum set to his percussion devices and the electric zither. Both Parker and Kaučič have mastered the sax-drums format and here opted for reserved yet highly conversational, free jazz dynamics that explores twisted, melodic themes and minimalist textures. The 20-minutes “#2” distils best their profound connection. Kaučič begins with ripples of meditative zither sounds, Parker answers with beautiful, lyrical ideas and Kaučič continues coloring this conversation with powerful, rhythmic drive. The following #3” deepens the delicate, fragile vein of the zither and the sax and the short encore “#5” is the most expressive piece here.

Kaučič calls playing solo “a necessary evil” as he is forced to “lay yourself bare and expose your true self”, and the third disc, Rainbow Solitude, is exactly that. Kaučič was recorded at studio Input Level, San Biagio di Callalta, Italy on April 2016, playing ground drums, various percussion instruments and devices and the electric zither. The short nine pieces stress his unique melodic approach, often contrasted with the distorted and otherworldly sounds of the zither, and encompass broad range of sonic references that are apparent in his meetings with other musicians. You can find traces of gamelan on “Drive Through Obstacles”, delicate touches of cymbals on the meditative “Tonal Flow”, peaceful layers of resonant sounds on “Memories”, noise machines on “Sip Of Story”, disturbing cinematic tension on “Pokrovček”, meditative and ceremonial sounds on “My Home”, cheap sci-fi sounds on “Himna Za Mojo Teto Karlo”, a dramatic story on “Predor” and a playful, folky song on “Mlin”.

The fourth disc, Anima, recorded at Saint Martin's Church, Šmartno, Slovenia, on September 2016, with Danish tenor, alto and soprano sax player Lotte Anker and Polish trumpeter Artur Majewski and acoustic bass guitar player Rafał Mazur, both recorded later with Fernández (Spontaneous Soundscapes, Not Two, 2017), and all appeared on Anker’s recording from the same location (Plodi, Klopotec, 2017). Kaučič plays the ground drums, percussion and the electric zither. The atmosphere of this meeting is, again, minimalist and peaceful, focused on patient structuring of nuanced, fluid textures. Anker plays in an impressive subtle and poetic manner here, especially on “Iconic Thoughts”, “Unison Creation” and “Trte”, where she cleverly contrasts the urgent attacks of Majewski, while Kaučič comments and steers this quiet yet expressive commotion with delicate touches of the cymbals, skins and the zither.

The last disc collects two duos. The first is 'Med-Ana' with late German trombonist Johannes Bauer, recorded at the Old Movie Theatre, Medana, Slovenia, on September 2012; the second, Šmartno Suite, in memory of Bauer, with British vocal artist Phil Minton, recorded at Brda Contemporary Music Festival, Italy, in September 2014. 'Med-Ana' is a beautiful homage to one of the greatest free-improvisers of the European scene, emphasizing his passionate, highly playful and talkative interplay with Kaučič. Both sound like close friends who enjoy sharing amusing secrets and wild stories. Kaučič adds some subtle dadaist percussive inventions and interventions to Minton's vocal gymnastics but eventually manages to discipline the stream of Minton’s whispers, moans, whistles and overtones.

Massimo De Mattia SuonoMadre - Ethnoshock! (Caligola Records, 2018) ***½

Kaučič plays here in on a live recording from the Italian quartet of flutist Massimo De Mattia, featuring vibes-balafon-electronics player Luigi Vitale and keyboardist Giorgio Pacorig, captured at Piazza Metteotti, Udine, Italy in July 2017. The cover photos and the liner notes are from Italian reeds player Marco Colonna (with whom Kaučič recorded a trio with Agustí Fernández, Agrakal, Not Two, 2018) relate to the movement of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and calls for listening, respect, acceptance, maturity and welcoming. This quartet suggests that music paves the way for such compassionate values.

The quartet equates the unpredictable mass movement of people to the unpredictable elements in any free-improvised meeting and demonstrates that society and music face the same issues. But, at least, with this inventive quartet, the future sounds more promising. 'SuonoMadre' insists that there is a place to all sounds, old, new and futuristic, acoustic and electronic, jazz-tinged and more traditional sounds. Chaos forces all out of their comfort zone and offers dynamics and solutions, You still need open ears and minds but then the music flows, almost as by its own will. Then, the different, individual languages of the four musicians melt organically into a new sensual, seductive language. A language that spreads playful, melodic chants that can drive away the old demons of hate and fear. Free-improvisation is indeed a political practice and a very humane and compassionate one.

Cene Resnik Watch the Dogs Trio - Shades of Colors (Not Two, 2017) ****½

This great album somehow slipped beneath the radar. It brings together fellow-Slovenian tenor sax player Cene Resnik, a frequent collaborator of Kaučič, with another of his close collaborators, Italian double bass player Giovanni Meier. The trio was recorded in “beautiful old church” - St. Mary of the Annunciation - in Crngrob, Slovenia, in September 2016.

Resnik a soft and gentle voice, often a lyrical one, rooted in jazz legacy but totally free. Maier and Kaučič are perfect partners for this kind of chamber, intimate - a collection of “Conversations That Never Stop” as the last piece is titled. Both color the searching yet harmonious phrases of Resnik and his careful and patient investigation of overtones and multiphonics with minimalist but precise touches, offering great timbral sensitivity. Kaučič work with the cymbals and inventive percussive sounds throughout the extended pieces “Zemlja (Suite of Crngrob)”, “Thieves Came Quietly”, “Satellites” and the last piece is truly remarkable, always enriching the deep melodic veins of Resnik with great senses of imagination and invention.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Quatuor Bozzini – Phill- Niblock-Baobab ****

By Nick Ostrum

The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. I only recently came across them on Cassandra Miller’s Just So, which I loved . A quick internet search reveals that they have interpreted everyone from contemporary composers such as Miller and Linda Catlin Smith to John Cage (of course they did) to, now, Phil Niblock. And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.

Phill Niblock-Baobab is no exception, though it is a very different beast than some of their other releases. (For you Niblock fans out there, you likely already know what to expect.) Originally penned for orchestra, the two tracks on this album - “Disseminate” and “Baobab” - have been chopped and reconfigured as 20 separate tracks, each consisting of a single instrument, performed by the quartet of Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, and Isabelle Bozzini. The result, per the notes of Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez, is a sort of “hardcore drone” of microtonal layerings, albeit created by a chamber quartet. In that, it reminds me of a less wandering and less entangled take on Zeitkratzer’s Metal Machine Music recording . As seems fitting for such acoustic drone, these tracks are characterized by sonic modulations rather than melodic shifts or unpredictable sounds. In this sense, the music sounds deceptively mechanical, as if it were a series of digital loops. Of course, the acoustic nature of the music belies this. Apart from the brief fade-in and fade-out marking the beginning and end of each piece, these songs have no prescribed course. They simply and glacially fluctuate, as the listener’s ear wanders from tone to tone.

This is music to listen to closely. This is music to read to, to tune in and out of. This is music to mediate to and contemplate. If full, subtle, and loud new music is your thing (and, yes, this should be played loud), Baobab is well worth the listen. And, if you are not yet sure whether you enjoy this “hardcore drone,” this compounded, aggressive monotony dense with rich timbral subtleties, then this album is an excellent place to start.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Nate Wooley - Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Nate Wooley (trumpet, effects) recruits Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), and Ryan Sawyer (drums, voice) for three original compositions spanning 53 minutes on Columbia Icefield. Halvorson and Wooley have collaborated with some frequency, perhaps most famously on Crackleknob with Reuben Radding and in various settings with Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra and its alumni. Sawyer recorded with Wooley on Seven Storey Mountain III & IV and Seven Storey Mountain V. And Alcorn recorded with Halvorson on Away With You. So there’s some significant familiarity among this new quartet, and its communicative possibilities are perhaps further nurtured by Wooley composing these pieces with these musicians in mind.

Wooley grew up near the mouth of the Columbia River yet only recently visited its headwaters, the glacial landscape from which this recording borrows its name, and the extreme environment inspired Wooley “to express what is most natural and most foreign to us simultaneously,” manifested by a theme of dualism/counterpoint threaded through each piece. If you take the stream’s path to its origin, the kinetic water becomes static glaciers, fertile valleys transition to scablands, relicts of an ancient hellscape flooded by fiery basalt succumb to ice, the squandered Hanford site leads to the pristine Canadian Rockies, and the dams, levees, plants, and mills that currently yoke the river lie by evidence of the biblical Missoula floods. The dualism in the story of the watershed is mimicked in the music by the frequent counterpoint of Alcorn and Halvorson’s dueling guitars, Wooley’s textural fermatas soaring over the discrete notes of the others, Wooley’s trumpet transforming from a mellow, dark, soft, reflective tone to a breathy bluster almost instantaneously, and the relatively tight compositions providing seemingly small windows for improvisatory outbursts. Even the titling reflects the theme, with “Lionel Trilling” named after the literary critic because Wooley thought it was beautiful that he could love and hate someone so much, or “With Condolences” being a dryly humorous apology for butchering John Berryman’s words and then making Sawyer vocalize those butchered words (rather than the common “funereal” or “tenebrous” interpretations, despite it being the fastest and free-est track). The entire experience feels like a continuous push and pull, ebb and flow, wax and wane, call and response, an exploration of counterpoint.

This kind of equilibrium of conflict frequently feels like it’s about to boil over, but the playing is relatively timid until Halvorson and Alcorn’s fiery solos in “Seven In The Woods” or Sawyer’s fills in “With Condolences.” Along with these solos, other individual highlights include Sawyer’s brushwork complimented by effects like disintegrating tape from Wooley on “Seven In The Woods” and Wooley sounding like a hot air balloon burner on “Lionel Trilling.” The progressive structure and guitarwork on “Lionel Trilling” reminds me of the Chicago-Louisville strain of “post rock,” which I enjoy and also hear in Wooley’s buddy’s band, Marker. I’m partial to the headier, quieter aspects of Wooley and a part of me wishes the compositions allowed the players more freedom to improvise with each other (particularly Alcorn and Halvorson), but Wooley doesn’t disappoint.

Columbia Icefield is available digitally and on CD.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Michaël Attias - échos la nuit (Out Of Your Head Records, 2019) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Sax player Michaël Attias is often described as one of the most questing and keenly collaborative figures on the New York jazz scene, His first solo album, échos la nuit (Echo by Night) finds him collaborating with himself, playing simultaneously “left-hand alto (sax)/right-hand piano/right foot sustain pedal”. This album was "twelve years in gestation and recorded in a little over an hour ". No overdubs, just "melodies in free fall… The reverberation is from the room and the sympathetic resonance of the piano strings set into vibration by the sound of the saxophone."

The 12 short pieces were improvised, recorded at La Maison en Bois in Abéville-La-Rivière, France, in December 2017. Still, all highlight his highly personal concept of sensual lyricism, “a kind of musical synesthesia, but where music is the only subject and the only object”, as his friend and close collaborator Anthony Coleman calls it (Attias guested on many of Coleman’s albums, beginning on Selfhaters, Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Culture, 1996).

These instant, supposedly simple, compositions allude to Attias' nuanced and imaginative language as well as his unique sense of space. The mysterious “Trinité” plays with angular-serpentine Monk-ish lines and brings to mind Steve Lacy interpretation of Thelonious Monk work. The whispering, seductive alto sax on “Grass” adapts North African scales. “Fenix III” borrows a chord from the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, with whom he performed and later was inspired by him to compose “Nerve & Limbo” (Nerve Dance, Clean Feed, 2017). “Circles” is a deep meditation on extended breathing techniques where every touch of the sax key and every blow is a decisive one. “Rue Oberkampf” goes back to Attias’ early twenties in Paris studying Schillinger Technique of Musical Composition. “Song for the Middle Pedal” charms with its quiet innocence. “Sea in the Dark” and the last “Echoes II: Night” offers dark, film-noir narratives, still, surprises with their suggestive, poetic tone on both the sax and the piano.

And back to Anthony Coleman that reminds us the wise words of Morton Feldman: “Now that everything’s so simple, there’s so much to do.” You should listen to the many, enchanting things that Michaël Attias does.

Even more...

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Catching-up with Paul Dunmall (Day Two)

By Colin Green

Paul Dunmall, Frank Paul Schubert, Sebastiano Dessanay, Jim Bashford ‎– Sign of the Times (FMR, 2018) ****

A set from October 2017, and multiple saxophones again, with Dunmall covering soprano, alto and tenor (left) and Frank Paul Schubert on soprano and alto (right), their third recorded outing together. They’re joined by Sebastiano Dessanay on double bass and Jim Bashford, drums, who both played with Dunmall as a trio earlier in the year at the same venue ( Live at The Lamp Tavern (NOL, 2017)).

The title track, at just over half an hour, progresses organically, underlying continuity being provided by a core cell sounded out in the saxophone duet with which it opens. The music traverses an inventively varied landscape, Dunmall and Schubert alternating and combining as their lines are gradually pretzel-twisted, a hedonistic mix rising in intensity and urged on by tumbling drums. There are arresting interludes for bass, first plucked, then bowed, after the last of which the music rises slowly from within and fades gently with overlapping statements of the core motif.

‘Talbot’ has moments of tremendous heat, escalating from sizzling to pan-flame as the saxophones sound out within a narrow range, almost as one, balanced against nocturnal passages made up of rattling bass, percussive clicks and split notes. ‘Blues is the Colour of my Beloved’ is a broken blues shuffle eventually transformed into repeated phrases and rapid exchanges; insistent and compelling, simple but effective.

Paul Dunmall, Percy Pursglove, Tony Orrell ‎– Nothing in Stone (FMR, 2018) ****

A gig recorded at Jazz at the Bristol Fringe, Clifton (some good pubs) in September 2017, with Dunmall switching between tenor, alto and soprano, Percy Pursglove on trumpet, doubling double bass, and Tony Orwell, drums, whose association with Dunmall goes back to their days in the band Spirit Level. I’d not come across Pursglove on bass before, but as can be heard on the title track, he has a fine, meaty sound, he and Orrell providing a pulsating backdrop for Dunmall’s funky tenor and rousing crescendos.

The other two lengthy pieces are good examples of the subliminal connotations, fortuitous conjunctions, and metamorphic conversions favoured by free jazz and the ability of improvisers to inject and pick up on changes in pace, mood and sonority, however small. ‘Speaking in Tongues’ presents alto intertwined with trumpet sprays, moving into a calypso feel, then reduced to a shrunken bass line, brushes and saxophone plosives. Dunmall introduces a vibrato-laden melody, teased out in swirling runs supported by mallets, which is suddenly left exposed, cadenza-like. Abstract textures evolve into contractions and inversions on trumpet and sax, and the trio ends with a simple statement of the earlier tune. As the title suggests, ‘Blue India’ is a series of tableaus alluding to different realms and points of connection. Dunmall’s virtuosic soprano launches the piece with tinges of Eastern harmonies (shades of Coltrane’s ‘India’?) but the ensuing bass solo is from a distant region and the prelude to a fierce duo for saxophone and drums (intimations of Interstellar Space?) Sustained, pensive notes on trumpet grow into a stirring lament which provides the foundation for a dialogue with Dunmall, now on tenor. There’re arrhythmic patterns followed by rapid shifts in metre on bass and drums that turn intimate musings to animate surges, then just as quickly into a set of punchy blues choruses.

Paul Dunmall, Philip Gibbs, James Owston, Jim Bashford ‎– Inner and Outer (FMR, 2018) ****

This is the first of two albums recorded at Rain Studios in Kings Heath, Birmingham during August 2018: Dunmall on tenor, Philip Gibbs, electric guitar, James Owston, double bass, and Bashford again on drums.

The session can be heard as a collection of ballads, having a floating, dream-like quality as if composed from fragments of standards that can’t quite be placed. Gibbs’ chiming guitar chords and gloopy pedalling combine with a Ben Webster huskiness to Dunmall’s lingering tenor, producing beguiling layers of lushness. On occasions the contemplative mood is disturbed by bursts of hyperactivity, even wandering into the surreal. On the final track, ‘Outta Time’, a collection of feathery oscillations is concluded in a way that appears to bring the piece to an end, but after a brief silence the drums start up and the music is reanimated, taking on a darker, more aggressive tone.

Paul Dunmall, Julian Siegel, Percy Pursglove, Mark Sanders ‎– As One Does (FMR, 2018) ****

We end as we began both days of this survey, with another two-saxophone line-up – Dunmall on tenor (left), Julian Siegel, tenor and bass clarinet (right), Pursglove, doing his double bass and trumpet thing, and Mark Sanders, drums. There’s a special appeal to Dunmall about the formation, a feeling that with a skilled fellow saxophonist they can challenge each other and raise their respective games – as demonstrated across the album, two voices, crafted and expressive, each lending weight to the other. The title track opens with the fruity sound of the pair in unison, and on ‘Woe is Me FO’, Siegel creates dancing figures in serpentine lines whereas Dunmall, soto voce, takes the material in a different direction, splintering, leaving pauses, blurring. After a brief joint chorale, the two tenors merge at full-throttle, completing thoughts begun by the other. During ‘Talk with Me’ they do just that, the duet of sax and silky bass clarinet drawing on one another, creating an impassioned elegy, each new inflection deftly shaded.

Trumpet and clarinet start ‘Fine Lines of Expression’ in a solemn hymn, followed by a ravishing passage for bass clarinet, leaving it to Dunmall to take us back to the still calm of the opening theme. ‘Ever New Down the Avenue’ has a blues swagger, with deliciously reedy clarinet, burnished tenor and tight, piercing trumpet. The album closes with the optimistically titled ‘New Horizons’, muscular exchanges that twist and turn and where Sanders is Sanders: propulsive, textured and alert to all about him.

Speaking of new horizons, what next? Last November it was announced that Dunmall had received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation award, to give him the freedom to develop his creative ideas and contribute to his personal and professional growth; £60,000.00 over three years, no strings attached. At last, a man who has dedicated fifty years of his life to free jazz and improvisation is getting proper recognition. “This award has really opened up so many ideas of recordings and concerts that I can bring into fruition now,” said Dunmall, “and that is so exciting.” It looks like there’ll be plenty more catching-up to do.

Read part one here.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Catching-up with Paul Dunmall (Day One)

By Colin Green

Such are the flood of releases from British reeds-man Paul Dunmall that it sometimes feels like you can never quite catch-up. 2018 saw him feature on eight albums, all on Trevor Taylor’s FMR label which has done so much to support free jazz and improv over the years. The Rain Sessions (FMR, 2018) was reviewed by Paul Acquaro in December and over the next two days it falls to me to cover the rest, albeit more briefly than they deserve. Anyone wanting a refresher on this considerable musician can take a look at the blog’s coverage during our Dunmall week a few years ago, starting here (click on “newer post” to move through the reviews).

Paul Dunmall, John O'Gallagher, John Edwards, Mark Sanders ‎– Freedom Music (FMR, 2018) ****

Recorded in January 2018 at the Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham – a favourite haunt in my teens – the quartet consists of Dunmall (tenor, right), John O'Gallagher (alto, left), John Edwards, double bass, and Mark Sanders, drums. The presence of the latter two is a virtual guarantee of quality.

Dunmall has a particular way of developing material, relying on movement in and around distinct harmonic centres, more modes than keys, travelling from one area to the next like irregular stepping stones. This is likely something he learnt from his intensive studies of Coltrane, though taken into more highly developed areas. It allows him greater fluidity in his modulations, a more discriminating palette of colours, and the resources to construct a narrative that shifts between discernible expressive temperatures. Methodical but unpredictable, it forms a glue that binds his often lengthy discursions into comprehensible progressions, unpacking and reconfiguring musical ideas in seemingly endless chains of association, a continuation of one of Coltrane’s obsessions, and that of other contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic: the propagation of material from primary particles, the smallest units of significance. Dunmall is also indebted to Coltrane for a sense of heroic determination – music as a spiritual quest striving for transcendence, with the exploration of the interior life of a musical figure operating as a simulacrum of other searches, culminating in peaks of vertiginous grandeur that evoke the Sublime, a place where inner and outer worlds meet.

All this can be heard on ‘Freedom Music One’ and ‘Two’, both of substantial duration. The basic elements are presented at the outset of each of the identifiable dramatic zones through which the music passes in a loose sort of head that functions like a gravitational presence. (I’ve a feeling that some of these phrases, often closely related, are actually derived from Coltrane or so similar they could be.) This produces a sequence of vivid arcs that are also deeply melodic improvisations referable, however obliquely, to those initial seeds and their germination. O'Gallagher is perfectly attuned to Dunmall’s thinking and there’s a visceral excitement as the pair become locked in sinuous counterpoint, ascending and hovering on the currents generated by bustling bass and percussion. They end with epic hollering over thundering drums. The shorter ‘Freedom Music Three’ is a lament of dusky introspection. Here, as elsewhere, Edwards and Sanders are at their inventive best weaving a rich tapestry of sound with verve and sensitivity.

As evidenced by the following two albums, Dunmall is too much of a shape shifter to be regarded simply as a Coltrane acolyte, displaying a multivalence that is part of his strength and originality.

Paul Dunmall, Philip Gibbs, Neil Metcalfe, Ashley John Long ‎– Seascapes (FMR, 2018) ****

These are performances from November 2017 at the Victoria Rooms, Bristol, a frequent recording venue for Dunmall, with tenor and soprano saxophones, Philip Gibbs on electric guitar, Neil Metcalfe, flute, and Ashley John Long, double bass, all familiar collaborators and a combination that gives a chamber music feel to the pieces. Full of incessant activity across a spectrum of registers, always fluctuating, barely still, it’s impossible to avoid marine metaphors or thinking of some of those breath-taking sequences from the BBC’s Blue Planet series depicting the sheer variety of life-forms and complexity of dependence in the aqueous space that lies beneath the ocean’s surface. This is exactly what’s going on musically, a diversity of organisms undergoing startling transformations in a wealth of colour -- an airy flute spinning out notes, bubbling guitar, sprightly, fumbling bass and a saxophone that squeezes into the gaps between. Blink and you might miss something.

Collectively, the ensemble conjures up the multiple movement of glittering shoals – bursts of energy darting hither and thither – undulating ribbons of sound looping and gliding, and odd, interlocked configurations that proceed crabwise. On ‘Colour of the Season’ there’s an unusual buzzing tone to Dunmall’s soprano, sounding like an Indian Shehnai (an affect achieved through his embouchure) playing Eastern scales over the watery strains of Gibbs’ guitar; like surface of the sea, present yet undefined.

Paul Dunmall, Alan Niblock, Mark Sanders ‎– Dark Energy (FMR, 2018) ****

A session from the Blast Furnace studio in Derry, Northern Ireland in April 2013 finds Dunmall (on tenor) and Sanders teamed with Irish double bassist, Alan Niblock. The music is largely defined by their relationship with Niblock whose dexterous, fulsome bass and adroit bowing form the point around which saxophone and drums circulate Faint echoes and rhymes drift through the trio, and we hear yet another side to Dunmall, more restrained and circumspect with accelerations and hard-edged runs tempered by start-stop reflections, honking asides and suggestive pianissimo phrases left hanging in the air. On ‘Light Maters’, his expansive saxophone drops back down, withdrawing into abbreviations, squeals and burrs while Sanders skims and skitters across his kit like an animating breeze. With susurrus brushes and soft trills, ‘Life Matters’ is shadows and whispers, barely there.

Below is the trio’s terrific set from the Playhouse in Derry the following month, a denser and more loquacious affair, and an opportunity to see Sanders give a masterclass in drumming.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Giancarlo Schiaffini, Walter Prati, Francesca Gemmo & Sergio Armaroli - Exercises D'Improvisation (Dodicilune, 2018) ****½

By Stef

Some music is so totally boundary-breaking that not one media outlet will mention it, despite the quality it brings. This album is one example of this. The "Exercises d'Improvisations" were 'composed' by French composer Luc Ferrari in the seventies. Ferrari was a musical sponge, and he tried to integrate many styles in his music, from Olivier Messiaen, Varese, Honegger ... but also Cecil Taylor, and later in life, before his death in 2005, he was also interested in the music of DJ Olive and eRikm, who performed some of Ferrari's compositions.

The foundation for each of the improvisations on this album was originally created by Ferrari by recording electronic sounds on magnetic tape around which up to eight musicians are expected to improvise. The instruments are not specified. "Each exercise is based on continuity: harmonic or melodic color, rhythm, etc. They are intended for amateurs, professionals or students and may take place in concerts." Ferrari further indicates that the taped sounds can be used by maximum two speakers, playing at the same volume as the instruments. The interpretation of the music itself, can be done "in any style the musicians want, from classical over 'contemporary' to jazz and even folk music". He writes: "It would be best to escape clichés, and to avoid falling into new ones, it's possibly best to forget all cultural constraints and conventions (...) Every study is determined by a 'tonalité de flou harmonique' (a tonality of harmonic soft focus?), which is best used as the starting point around which to keep evolving. The music consists of schematic hypotheses with which the musicians can play as they see fit, without being held prisoner by them, but rather as a means to communicate physically with the other band members". 

Two other interpretations already exist of his 'composition', one by his wife Brunhild and the GOL Ensemble, the other one by Italian pianist Ciro Lombardi. Needless to say that all three albums are totally different, ranging from ambient over modern classical to more jazzy.

The ensemble we have here consists of Giancarlo Schiaffini on trombone, Walter Prati on cello, Francesca Gemmo on piano and Sergio Armaroli on vibraphone.

What you will hear indeed defies categorisation. Clearly, jazz is very present, if only because of the choice of instruments, but then again, this remains inherently harmonic music, with no attempt to look for dissonance or disruptive sounds. "Exercise d'Improvisation 4" is even almost a straightforward blues in harmonic scale and deep sense of solitude. And yet, the result is quite astonishing. The music is calm, gentle, soft-spoken but intense, with contrasts and tension. The four musicians weave their sounds like a silk veil, delicate to the touch, serene and restful, but within this subdued space, emotions oscillate between joy and sadness, often within the same improvisation.

"It is indeed society in all its aspects (revolt, joy, suffering, intimacy and love) that is the very foundation of his themes that he translated into its creations. Each of his creations therefore implies these contradictory emotions", writes his wife Brunhild Meyer-Ferrari in the liner notes

"Exercise d'Improvisation 1" and "Exercise d'Improvisation 2" are slow, sad and unhurried. Despite the classical nature of the music, Schiaffini's languid trombone and Prati's cello sounds explore timbral innovations that are more common in free improvisation. "Exercise d'Improvisation 3" adds some more joyful elements, especially in the repetitive piano chords, turning even playful near the end of the piece. It is only on "Exercise d'Improvisation 5" that we are moving into real avant-garde territory, with the cello's rhythmic backdrop creating a mad trialogue between trombone, vibraphone and piano.

"Exercise d'Improvisation 6", is more uptempo, driven by the rhythmic tape, and also more jazzy, with more staccato sounds, resulting in a more playful environment. On the last track, "Exercise d'Improvisation 7", Ferrari's tape offers a foundation skittering sounds, which are in sharp contrast to the menacing improvisation that the ensemble builds around it.

It is fascinating to hear how genres can blend into something welcoming and unheard. It is equally fascinating that the foundational tapes, dating from 1977, can now, so many decades later, inspire artists to refresh and re-think and expand on it. All four musicians on this album manage to work with the sparse original hints to create a wonderfully original and subtle listening experience.

Very recommended!