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The Thing - Paal Nilssen-Love (dr), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (b), Mats Gustafsson (sax)

Cologne, Stadtgarten, 4/10/2018. Photo by Gerhard Kraus

Shanir Blumenkranz (b), Kenny Warren (t), Yoni Kretzmer (s) and Weasel Walter (dr)

Legion Bar, Brooklyn, NY 4/22/2018. Photo By Paul Acquaro

Joshua Abrams National Information Society: Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), Jason Stein (b-cl), Mikel Avery (dr), Joshua Abrams (guimbri)

Cologne, Stadtgarten, 4/3/2018. Photo by Gerhard Kraus

Snark Horse: Matt Mitchell (p), Jon Irabagon (ww), Mat Maneri – viola , Kate Gentile (d), Ben Gerstein (t)

Jazz Gallery, NYC. 4/27/2018. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Basement Research: Steve Swell (tb), Julian Argüelles (b-sax), Pascal Niggenkemper (b), Gebhard Ullmann (b-cl), Gerald Clever (dr)

Mannheim, Klapsmühl, 4/24/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Plan B (Joe McPhee / James Keepnews / David Berger) - From Outer Space (Roaratorio, 2018) ****

By Nicholas Metzger

‘My friends we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty, let us reward the innocent. My friends... can your heart stand, the shocking facts, about grave robbers from outer space?’Criswell Predicts (Intro to Plan 9 from Outer Space)

I hope I’m having as much fun when I’m 78 years old as Joe McPhee seems to be having on this recording. McPhee requires no introduction; he is a genius improviser and has delivered to the ravenous masses some of the canonical works of free jazz. Plan B finds him matched up with guitarist James Keepnews and percussionist David Berger. James Keepnews (who studied guitar under Robert Fripp via his Guitar Craft program in NY) is also a proficient improviser who has worked with the likes of George Lewis, William Parker, and Hamid Drake. On this recording he is featured on guitar and laptop and serves as the catalyst through which Plan B‘s astral projection unfurls. David Berger began his career with the New Orleans based riverboat band The Flying Neutrinos and is a former member of the National Jazz Ensemble. He brings swing and forward momentum to this record and without it I don’t know that it would render as well as it does.

‘Overture’ finds McPhee starting things off with an ascending theme over Keepnews’ ambient guitar wash; they keep it short and sweet. McPhee inaugurates ‘Space Travel’ with shapes that share a lineage with the previous track as the drums and guitar whirr underneath. Towards the end of the track the guitar shifts to a more processed sound, providing varied electronic sounds that transition nicely into ‘Arrival’. Here the alien sounds take over, with Berger driving the track forward with toms and snare over which McPhee shrieks and growls. Keepnews lurks just beneath the surface with guitar swells and feedback under heavy reverb. ‘A Peaceful Resolution’ originates with Keepnews’ processed piano samples, jazzy guitar chords, and a repeated sax motif from McPhee. Berger really makes this one swing, giving it a bit of a hard bop feel with the sax and piano. ‘Plea’ finds Keepnews providing bass notes and arpeggios for McPhee to converse with. The drums rustle underneath as McPhee squeaks and vocalizes while Keepnews delivers some woozy slide guitar to wind down the A side. Plan B fills the entirety of the reverse side with the terrific ‘Shadow of the Sun Suite’ dedicated to the unprecedented Sun Ra. Right out of the gate we are met again with otherworldly sounds. The guitar has a ring modulated tone under which the rolling drums of David Berger keep pace. Here McPhee’s pocket trumpet provides a squeaking, sputtering counterpoint to Berger’s scrupulous rolls and fills. This all plays out nicely over the increasingly abstract instrumentation employed by Keepnews. Through ‘Parts 1-4’ the track progressively increases and decreases in intensity, with the drums rising and falling in waves over which McPhee alternates sax skronk with trumpet spatter. The guitar changes voicing and texture frequently and unexpectedly which shades the empty spaces with aural bramble and eccentricity, all the while maintaining a jazzy responsiveness. ‘Part 5 (Aftermath)’ begins with a solemn sax melody over heavily reverberated guitar swells and cymbal rolls. This last part is especially beautiful and melodic with soaring guitar lines and bluesy sax passages that ooze a sense of resolution and bring the album to a close.

This LP is unlike anything that I’ve heard McPhee involved with and is a tribute to his artistic elasticity and adventurous spirit. While the cliché is that people tend towards homogeneity as they age, McPhee has shown the opposite, choosing collaborations that are challenging and/or unique. This is as entertaining and enjoyable an album as I’ve heard out of the idiom in quite some time. It’s bursting with action and color, emulating the brilliant Judith Lindbloom print that adorns its cover.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ruokangas/Hako-Rita – Mono and Dialogues (Eclipse, 2018) ****

By Chris Haines

Having reviewed Heikki Ruokangas’ trio album last year, here’s another of his, this time an album of solo pieces and duos with fellow guitarist Henrik Hako-Rita. Compared to the trio album, this time out is a lot more freer and with more ‘out there’ playing than his previous outing. In some respects the pieces on this latest album are more honest and they get down and dig in the dirt, with raw emotional content never far away from the surface of the music, which makes it all the more compelling and interesting. Dissonant and chromatic playing frequently rubs shoulders with more traditionally structured and beautiful melodies, and harmonic structures do their best to contain the stream of conscious playing that spills over the edges of the musical vessels. The second track on the album, Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is a great example of this, which after the initial statement the guitar takes a flight of fancy, not so much soaring into the stratosphere, but more unearthing and tearing holes in the fabric of the harmonic structure, before returning to a variation on the theme to end with an unresolved feel. ‘Warma’ is a solo acoustic piece, containing echoes of Derek Bailey, with it’s edgy and angular phrases and strong attacking of the strings, which the legendary Masayuki Takayanagi would have approved of, as he believed that the strength in which you plucked a guitar string was a good barometer of your inner strength as a person. All of this could also be applicable to ‘Mechanical Crow’, which if anything sounds even more indebted to Bailey’s improvisational gymnastics approach.

As mentioned previously there is also some wonderful melodic material on this album, something that made Ruokangas’ trio album stand out when I first heard it. ‘Ghost Waltz’ is a duo, with a haunting but beautiful melody simply underpinned by straightforward chordal arpeggios, allowing the shape of the melody to speak for itself, with clever use of volume swells and harmonics that become part of the melodic line and not just a superficial add-on which is so often the case. ‘Flamenco Of Rust’, seems to be an exercise in deconstruction, as is the cover of ‘Jos Lahdet Laila’ an old Finnish pop song, but the former also contains the alluring melodic material from which it is born and to which it returns, albeit too briefly in my humble opinion as I could quite easily have listened to some more of this splendid chord/melody playing. The final piece, ‘The Last Robot’ has a gorgeous melancholic ostinato that repeats throughout whilst the second guitar weaves in and out the line in a way that ranges from the subordinate to the most important element, providing interest and sustaining the idea for the duration of the piece.

An album full of contrast, particularly between dissonance/angularity and reflective/structured melodic material, but also stylistically with full-on free jazz blowing assaults, more mannered improvisational environments as in the European vein, blues influenced solos and standard song formats to the rockabilly/surf rock sound of ‘The Real Boy’ are visited across the ten tracks. It will be interesting to see where this upcoming artist will be heading next.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Spectral – Empty Castles (Aerophonic, 2018) ****

By Colin Green

Spectral -- Dave Rempis (alto and baritone saxophones), Darren Johnston (trumpet), and Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones) – is an intriguing ensemble. Formed in 2012, when Rempis visited San Francisco, it was his first opportunity to perform with Ochs, known principally for his work with the ROVA saxophone quartet. Rempis had already played with Johnston when the latter visited Chicago. The collaboration was an instant success, with the three having a preternatural sense of anticipation and response and an ability to construct short and long-range forms spontaneously, described by the trio as “invisible architecture”: discovered structures, rather than imposed designs. There have been two previous albums on Rempis’ Aerophonic label: Spectral (2014) – tight counterpoint, conversational and sparring, full of livid detail and lush resonances -- and Neural Nation (2016), architecturally, on a grander scale with two long improvisations recorded during their 2015 tour of North America, replete with the kind of interlaced musical connections and reconnections suggested by the title.

Empty Castles presents a new challenge and is another instance of how an acoustic can shape performance. It was recorded in Magazine A-168, a 12,000-square foot concrete shell at Mare Island in Vallejo, California, originally a naval munitions bunker dating back to WWII. The vast structure magnifies everything and produces a stark reverberation, an echo almost as palpable as the scaled-up instruments themselves, resulting in the anomaly of a large space sounding positively claustrophobic. As the liner notes succinctly put it: “There was nowhere to hide during this recording session, every note staring back at its creators with fearless eyes”. But if the prospect of three improvisors being scrutinised by their phantom reflections for just over fifty minutes sounds constricting, think again.

Musically speaking, for every loss there’s a gain. There isn’t room for some of the more intricate ensemble passages of previous albums as the resonance creates rich clouds of overtones and blurred edges – a sound world of a different amplitude, more akin to Rothko than Pollock. The trio exploit such diffuse outlines in the opening ‘Dirt Angels’ as long notes and abbreviated gestures seep into one another in a slow-moving procession, setting gritty baritone against vibrant tenor and pinched trumpet. In ‘Luminal’, figures converge and separate, emerging from and engulfed by the fog, calling and answering as from a distance.

Everything is writ large in the unforgiving acoustic, where even the smallest modulation takes on enormous significance. In ‘Protest Portal’ split notes don’t just fracture but bifurcate, with reeds and brass compressed in layers like geological strata. Trills are an important part of the group’s repertoire, moving beyond a merely ornamental function and providing a further textural resource. When sustained in quivering triplicate during ‘This Is Not Vermont’ they create pulsating oscillations, squeezing out condensed saxophone squawks and trumpet cries. Individual weight and density also play a more prominent role. In ‘Splash Zone’ we hear the baritone’s earthy intonations, silvery trumpet, sprays from a distorted tenor, groups of vaguely syncopated notes, ending with a sombre chord in unison, each sonority pushed to the fore. On the other hand, this is an auditory zone which conceals as much as it reveals – the silhouettes and shadows of ‘Little Hymn’ seem to hover on the indeterminate border between the material and immaterial.

Silence can take many forms, and with Spectral pauses and momentary lulls are frequent, acting like line endings or paragraph breaks. On ‘Gravity Corridor’ however, among the imitation echoes, staccato tonguing and breathy smears, some of those silences feel like gaping holes, tinged with the instruments’ fading ghostly contours, a reminder that all sound has a temporary status and inevitable demise. Undoubtedly, there’s a feeling of displacement about much of this music – ‘Bunker’ presents each instrument sealed in its own hermetic halo, touching only at the edges – and an uneasy sense that under the indifferent gaze of doppelgangers a gap has opened up, isolating the musicians, which cannot quite be bridged. Yet there’s also an imposing grandeur to these bold constructions, as the title implies: analogous to castle ruins devoid of human presence. Sometimes, absence means more than just not being there.

The album can be previewed and purchased here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lucas Niggli - Alchemia Garden (Intakt, 2018) ****

By Eric McDowell

Lucas Niggli is what you might call a drummers’ drummer—his mastery of his instrument takes him well beyond its conventional boundaries, opening up new sounds through tireless experimentation, invention, and refinement. Of course, the term “drummers’ drummer” implies that you need to be a drummer yourself to fully appreciate what he’s doing, and it’s no surprise that Niggli keeps company with other drummers, from his duo with Peter Conradin Zumthor to his Trio Klick to his Beat Bag Bohemia international drum quartet. But that’s not to say that nondrummers—whether or not they can explain exactly what he’s doing—don’t hear something special: It’s Niggli’s ability to plumb the depths of his technical and creative resources and return to the surface bearing undeniable treasure that has attracted collaborators associated with a whole range of traditions, sensibilities, and instrument families.

But on Alchemia Garden he’s all alone. His first solo album, released in the year of his 50th birthday by his longtime label, Intakt, it’s the perfect showcase for his unique skills—skills that in many ways do share something with both alchemy and gardening. There’s an undoubted magic, for example, in the way he transforms his tools into sounds. Coming to Alchemia Garden hoping to hear another Drums Unlimited is like coming to Eve Risser’s Des pas sur la neige hoping to hear another Koln Concert—you’re going to be disappointed. Better to take the album on its own terms, forgetting about the drum kit entirely.

Or almost entirely: Whether to misdirect us or offer something of a foothold, Niggli opens the album in relatively familiar territory with a six-minute trap-set exploration. True, he’s playing with his hands, but so did Jo Jones; gradually, though, he pulls back from those elemental sounds, complicating things with what sound like rattles and brushes until by the end he’s off the skins altogether. This departure carries through: From there, tracks two and three—the metal-scape “Flora Glow” and the clacking “Bakossa Dew”—are pure percussive abstractions best appreciated without the anxiety of pinpointing their sound sources. Don’t lose sight of the gold, that is, looking for the substance it came from. (That said, the experience of watching Niggli play some of this material live has a magic of its own.)

While most of us can hear the difference between a drum solo that plays on melodies or “tells a story” and one that’s loaded with superficial pyrotechnics, in the loose confines of jazz we don’t often get the opportunity Niggli gives us on Alchemia Garden: to hear a carefully structured solo drums album. In other words, the drummer’s achievement here goes well beyond creating a marvelous diversity of percussive life—he’s built a true sonic ecosystem whose parts rely on each other to fully function.

It’s a world of textural and technical contrasts. Compare the dry pops of “Go Goblin” to the glimmering cymbals of “Tuned Arrow,” or “Welwitschia” with its insectile chittering to “Ohia Lehua” with its unfathomably deep malleted rolls. Other pieces move from one mode to another. “Seeds N’ Roots” begins with the ominous sounds of rattling shells over a flogged gong only to develop into a showcase for Niggli’s brushwork. And where some tracks will catch drummers’ ears with their subtly masterful technical displays—the dancing ride on “Mimosa,” the relentless bass-drum ostinato on “Booloobali”—still others perplex and mesmerize. Niggli’s search for novel sounds even leads him, on “Pulsatilla,” to using the air itself as a playing surface. And on closer “Hydnora” we hear what sounds like water—a good reminder that Niggli’s virtuoso antics are more than that: They’re a strange but nourishing garden fastidiously cultivated over the course of a fascinating career.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Recent Releases of French clarinetist Xavier Charles

French clarinetist Xavier Charles is a true explorer. Musically speaking, his own music and his collaborative projects range from abstract, raw noise to electro-acoustic textures, sound poetry, free improvisation and even the anarchist-punk of the Dutch The Ex (he already joined The Ex gigs for more than 120 performances, including many with the late Ethiopian sax great, Gétatchèw Mèkurya). Geographically, he seems to be all over the globe, trotting from a recording session in Québec City, Canada to Canberra, Australia and sometimes in between even enjoys the Swedish woods with his Norwegian comrades of "Dans les Arbres" group.

Xavier Charles / Michel F Côté / Franz Hautzinger / Philippe Lauzier / Éric Normand - Torche ! (Tour de Bras, 2017) ****½

This free-improvised session was recorded on May 2016 at the Café-théâtre de Jonquière, Québec Cityduring the local Festival des Musiques de Création, at the end of a short Canadian tour that featured the five musicians playing in different formations. The quintet features three musicians from the local Tour de Bras experimental musicians collective: percussionist Michel F Côté, bass clarinet player Philippe Lauzier and electric bass player Éric Normand plus like-minded Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger and Charles himself.

This meeting of these five distinct improvisers - all are committed to an uncompromising search and research of pure sounds and the timbres of their respective instruments, all in their own personal manners and with their own sense of invention - proves that the language of free-improvisation is truly universal. You just need to have an attentive ears - elephantine ears - trust your comrades and your instincts, and then all sounds - raw, dissonant, distorted, acoustic or electric, melodic, breathy or noisy - find their place in the mysterious great scheme.

The eight improvisations tell different, strange, cryptic stories, with no apparent meanings, clear narratives or comforting conclusions. But all manage to draw the listener immediately into their rich, poetic universes, despite their contemplative, sometimes even austere tones. Nothing sounds radical in these improvisations, even though these musicians do produce some pretty weird sounds. Together, as a collective, they sound much larger, somehow more sensible than apart. You can hear that in the playful “Alaplasse”, where imaginative bird calls collide gently with noisy, electric sounds, in the almost psychedelic texture of multiphonics on “Boudboi” and in the extraterrestrial, minimalist-techno pulse of “Izatrape”. Brilliant.

Psithurism Trio with Xavier Charles - Lure (SoundOut Recordings, 2017) ****

The Australian Psithurism Trio is a collective of sax players - alto sax player Rhys Butler, soprano sax-bass clarinet-prepared drum player, label owner and SoundOut Festival organizer Richard Johnson, and tenor sax player John Porter - which began working in 2012, experimenting with minimalist and free-improvisation. This trio opts for an organic, inter-subjective developing of its music, evolving between the players as if it would have a life of its own. The Trio one-off collaboration with Charles was recorded live at 2017 edition of the SoundOut Festival in Canberra, Australia. This Trio has collaborated before with another innovative clarinetist, Canadian François Houle (Knots, SoundOut Recordings, 2017).

The three collaborative pieces on Lure are more structured, disciplined and patient than the ones of Torche!. The four musicians weave complex and multifaceted textures with an impressive restraint and control and a subtle sense of tension building. All focus on a collective, organic exploration of subtle, fleeting sonic articulations. Throughout these delicate improvisations the Trio plus Charles keep searching for new details and nuances in these polyphonic, microtonal multiphonics but always within a fragile sonic unity, where only Charles stands out with his distinct sound and urgent ideas. This collaboration is best realized on the 24-minutes of “Aebus Albopictus” that lures you -literally - into its enigmatic baths of sensual sonic spells.

Charles continues with two excellent, improvised solos “Multicellular” and “Ameboid”. On both pieces he uses his array of extended breathing techniques - resonant overtones, noisy and chirping multiphonics and raw breathes - to sketch engaging, chatty mini-suites.

Xavier Charles / Jacques Di Donato - ilex (Protagoniste, 2018) ****

Fellow French clarinetist Jacques Di Donato is considered as the most seminal educator of the clarinet in France, an improviser who plays jazz, contemporary music, folk songs and pop songs. He is a generation older than Charles but collaborated with him in the mid-nineties when the two recorded their debut duo album, Du Slavon Glagol (Khôkhôt, 1996). Both returned to perform as a duo in recent years. Ilex was recorded on May 2014 in the pastoral, countryside scenery of Mhère in eastern France, close to where the Roman god Mercury was worshiped.

The 14 improvised pieces stress the rich, playful and highly expressive spirit of this meeting. Di Donato is credited for playing a lawn mower, and Charles, adds a tiny helicopter to his clarinet. Both keep alternating roles and dynamics while employing an impressive range of extended techniques. They move freely between a serene, reserved articulation to an urgent, raw tone, between breathy sounds to gentle, percussive ones, between the playful and humorous to the spiritual and ritualistic, even mimicking the meditative tones of the Japanese flute Shakuhachi on “Bambou”, a busy birds talk on “Amère Coup de Vent”, or keep sketching a delicate, multi-layered texture as on the beautiful “Wisteria”.

It is impossible to know who is doing what since both sound as have developed such a precise and profound vocabulary of their own that extends and connects their ideas telepathically and organically. Di Donato and Charles simply keep fine-tuning their private language with new sounds, colors and dynamics, always with an eloquent elegance and great imagination. No doubt, Mercury would have loved this beautiful offering.

Listen to France Musique here and on Bandcamp.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Henry Threadgill - Double Up Plus and 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg

Double Up Plays Double Up Plus (Pi Recordings, 2018) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill's previous album, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs, with the first incarnation of the Double Up ensemble, was dedicated to Lawrence "Butch" Morris' conduction method, and was given a thorough review by Lee Rice Epstein in 2016. Noting the reintroduction of the piano to Threadgill's compositions, as well as his non-performing role, Epstein wrote:
Threadgill’s Ensemble Double Up debut is a thrilling shakeup of his compositional language, which has admittedly been in a state of near-constant evolution for decades. If it was strange to be missing Stomu Takeishi’s bass on last year’s Zooid double-album, it’s even stranger to have a new album without Threadgill’s flute or Liberty Ellman’s guitar ... Moran and Virelles, both with deep ties to Threadgill, bear a strangely heavy burden of reintroducing piano to Threadgill’s discography. And their solos throughout show a deep affinity for Threadgill’s tonal and rhythmic playgrounds.
A few weeks ago, the saxophonist and composer released two new recordings, one with the Double Up ensemble, where again he assumes the role of composer and conductor, and the other, where he is part of the group and re-engages with Ellman. However, on the Double Up ensemble here, Threadgill has doubled down on the pianos by adding a third. The group is David Bryant – piano, Luis Perdomo – piano, and David Virelles – piano and harmonium. Not on piano is Curtis Robert Macdonald – alto saxophone, Roman Filiu – alto saxophone, alto flute, Christopher Hoffman – cello, Jose Davila – tuba, and finally Craig Weinrib – drums, percussion.

The rich panoply of instruments gives Threadgill many choices to use in his compositions and he mixes the voices well, but this recording is really all about the piano - all three of them - and it is the first sound one hears on the album. On the opening "Game is Up," each piano introduce a distinct strand of  interlocking parts, as the other other musicians slowly filter in. The composition feels somewhat fragmentary and complex as seemingly incomplete melodic ideas appear and then move on, that is until Davila introduces a punchy bass line towards the final moments of the track. Then, a delicious interplay of strings and low brass ensues, and the kinetic crisscrossing strings are buoyed by the big brassy bass lines.

‘Clear and Distinct from the Other’ certainly starts differently than the previous tune. A snippet of sparse melody from a single piano is quickly overtaken by woodwind and cello. A slowly building but fractured melody emerges in their interweaving. The different snippets connect loosely until the brass again introduces a punchy theme, and the modern classical veers into lively modern jazz.

Double Up Plays Double Up Plus is a substantial album but in a very approachable way . It is both dedicated to Threadgill's own musical systems but also organic in its expression. As Virelles states, “it always feels like the blues, funky and soulful.”

14 or 15 Kestra: Agg - Dirt... And More Dirt (Pi Recordings, 2018) *****

On the twin release - fraternal, not identical in this case - Threadgill’s new 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg group's Dirt... And More Dirt, we find the composer also playing along with a large ensemble (14 or 15 musicians), which includes many of the his Zooid and Double Up compatriots like guitarist Liberty Ellman, keyboardist Virelles whose Harmonium playing is a defining sound, and saxophonist Roman Filiu (the whole list of musicians from each group is below). The sound, as you can imagine is full, varied, and truly exciting.

The recording was Inspired by the conceptual art installation “The New York Earth Room” by Walter de Maria at The Dia Art Foundation. Tucked into some prime NYC real estate, the 250 cubic yards of earth in a 3600 square foot space has been on view since 1980 in lower Manhattan. In addition, the osseous clay sculptures of Stephen De Staebler served as inspiration - and when listening to the music, it’s not hard to imagine digging through the ground and unearthing the things from the past, and re-casting them new. The music on Dirt and More Dirt carries that distinction of sounding both thoroughly forward thinking with its angular and twisting themes and complex harmonies, but at the same deeply rooted in musical tradition.

The first track, 'Dirt Part I' begins with Thomas Morgan’s bowed bass and some loosely related percussion. It’s a soft beginning, but as the bowing is replaced by deliberate plucking, the tempo picks up a bit and ground is laid for the entrance of the accordion like harmonium (pump organ), and when the tuba and guitar enter, the sound pallet begins opening up in a most welcoming - though unusual - manner. Ellman delivers a slightly jumpy intervallic solo over a swelling group sound. A series of tracks, parts II through VI follow, each with slightly different theme. 'Part II' is under a minute, and features the pianos of Bryan and Virelles, ‘Part III’ finds the saxophone front and center with the tuba/guitar/piano/drums playing a fine pulsating rhythm, rapidly turning up the heat and cooking up a fine modern jazz tune, only to change entirely by the time the avant-garde ‘Part IV’ rolls around.

“And More Dirt - Part I” kicks off the second suite of tracks. While not entirely different than the first suite, feels a bit more fluid - or rather in the dirt theme - like a fruit bearing potting soil, rich in nutrients and moist to the touch. Christopher Hoffman’s cello and at least one of the ace trombonists are featured in tandem, along with a solid piano driven back up. The suite ends on ‘Part IV’, which begins as a haunting duet between sax and piano, before the whole group enters with an orchestral flourish that simultaneous evokes a feeling of leaving and of something yet to come.

Both of these albums took me several listens to really hear. So, let the complex and unusual harmonies wash over you, be carried away on the eddying confluences of rhythm, and indulge in the piano interplay and the frolicking of the tuba and guitar. Threadgill, now in his mid-70s, has been delivering absolute masterworks, and it's nice to think of these these two as part of a continuing series.

Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus
  • Curtis Robert Macdonald – alto saxophone
  • Roman Filiu – alto saxophone, alto flute
  • Christopher Hoffman – cello
  • Jose Davila – tuba
  • David Bryant – piano
  • Luis Perdomo – piano
  • David Virelles – piano, harmonium
  • Craig Weinrib – drums, percussion

Dirt... And More Dirt
  • Henry Threadgill – alto saxophone, flute, bass flute
  • Liberty Ellman – guitar
  • Christopher Hoffman – cello
  • Jose Davila – tuba
  • Jacob Garchik – trombone
  • Ben Gerstein – trombone
  • Jonathan Finlayson – Bb trumpet, F trumpet
  • Stephanie Richards – Bb trumpet
  • Roman Filiu – alto saxophone, alto flute
  • Curtis Robert Macdonald – alto saxophone
  • David Bryant – piano
  • David Virelles – piano, harmonium
  • Thomas Morgan – bass
  • Elliott Humberto Kavee – drums, percussion
  • Craig Weinrib – drums, percussion

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Jonas Cambien's Trios and Duos

Jonas Cambien Trio  - We Must Mustn’t We (Clean Feed, 2018) ****½

By Derek Stone

In 2016, the Jonas Cambien Trio released their debut recording, A Zoology of the Future. In my review of that album, I commented on the “junkyard of sound” that pianist/composer Cambien, drummer Andreas Wildhagen, and reedist André Roligheten had cobbled together; the pieces there always seemed to be hanging together by the thinnest piece of thread, and therein lied much of the album’s charm. The trio’s newest release, We Must Mustn’t We, moves away from the rickety deconstructionism of the debut and towards a more coherent and “tidy” mode of expression. That’s not to say that they’ve gotten boring or milquetoast; on the contrary, many of these tracks are forceful and dynamic in ways that the tracks on Zoology often weren’t.

In “Swear Like a Bear,” things kick off in a rather subdued and languorous fashion. The drums plod along, Roligheten teases out a repetitious string of notes from his bass clarinet, and Cambien is a man of few musical words. Eventually, however, the pace picks up; the plodding percussion becomes an unstoppable flood, Roligheten spirals off into a frenzy, and Cambien fuses a transfixing motorik rhythm and wild, feverish streams of notes. After that dizzying ride, “Long Long” almost comes as a shock. It’s a lush and romantic slice of easy listening, with Roligheten’s piercing bird-calls replaced by sensual and resonant tenor playing, and Cambien himself opting for lovely melodic phrasings that stray pretty far from the intensely percussive approach of the previous track. “Renaissance” is not nearly as conventional, but still gets your attention right away with its curious blend of musical elements: there’s a leaden, machine-like rhythm in the “verse” that gives way to Cambien and guest Torstein Lavik Larsen’s tuneful lines in the head. “I Must Musn’t I” recalls A Zoology of the Future with its fragmentary rhythms and jigsaw-like melodic constructions: things come together in odd ways at odd intervals, slow down, speed up, scatter apart, and then come scuttling back towards each other again.

Peppered throughout the album are pieces titled with the suffix “-ism” - these pieces are more sparse and elliptical in the ways that they unfold. As far as opening tracks go, “Creationism” is a rather unostentatious entry-point. Cambien’s prepared piano plinks and plunks through a whimsical progression, Wildhagen offers up clacks and taps that are sketch-like in their sparseness, and Roligheten’s soprano saxophone recalls the high-pitched squawk of some exotic bird. It’s intriguing, but is perhaps best thought of as a prelude to the track that follows (the rousing “Swear Like a Bear,” mentioned above). Like “Creationism,” the other “-isms” on We Must Mustn’t We are brief, skeletal and loose, with the various musical elements haphazardly knocking into each other like teeth in a sack. “Survivalism” is once again centered around Cambien’s prepared piano and Wildhagen’s laconic drumming. “Animalism” finds Cambien embracing a more stereotypically “pretty” style, with his sustain-laden notes twinkling dreamily over Roligheten’s delicate soprano cries.

One thing that immediately stood out for me on this recording was the improved clarity of sound. While Zoology sounded a bit diaphanous at times, as if the slightest breeze could send the structures flying away, We Must Mustn’t We is immediate and bracing; rather than simply witnessing the compositions unfold, you feel that you are right there in their midst. It’s a change that suits the Jonas Cambien Trio well, what with their constant emphasis on the manifold textures and timbres that can elevate a piece from “interesting” to downright fascinating.

Jonas Cambien & Adrian Myhr - Simiskina (Clean Feed, 2018) ****

While Cambien’s trio work often indulges in sounds that are raucous, percussive, and loose, it is on Simiskina, his duo recording with bassist Adrian Myhr, that he draws from a more subdued palette. In many of the pieces here, there is the impression that Cambien views the piano (and, particularly, the prepared piano) less as a way to construct textured melodies and more as a way to inject rhythms into certain textures. Myhr generally seems to take a more expressive approach, sometimes producing bulbous notes that act as a low-end bolster for Cambien’s clattering pulses, and sometimes employing arco as a means to “stretch out” and color the pieces in more traditionally melodic ways.

Opener “Hi” begins with hushed rustlings from Myhr and tentative melodic phrasings from Cambien. As the piece transitions more fully into wakefulness, Myhr bows out a series of tactile moans and Cambien grows increasingly restless. If “Hi” is the sonic equivalent of early-morning stretches, “Up” is the sound of the daily to-do list starting to unfurl in your brain - nervy, propulsive, and crowded. It’s a fascinating demonstration of the mastery the two have of textures; Cambien’s prepared piano rattles and bubbles, Myhr rumbles steadily underneath, and there is a distinct sense that the two are being carried along by the same roiling current. In a similar fashion, “On” is characterized by the relentlessness of the duo’s approach. Here, Cambien all but abandons considerations of key and tone, opting instead to hammer out sparse, low-range repetitions. When heard next to Cambien, Myhr’s subtle sound manipulations almost seem complex.

“Do” approximates the percussive quality that many of Cambien’s trio pieces have. Cambien’s lines are only vaguely melodic; more than anything, they seem to be vehicles for a clattering and mechanistic rhythm that is alluring in its simplicity. Meanwhile, Myhr fills out the empty spaces with sonorous notes that lend the piece a warmer glow. “Go” is similar, but Cambien also introduces some of the broken toy-box melodicism of his trio work. It’s a relatively light detour, but one that is very much welcome after the seething low-end excursions of the previous tracks. On the final piece, “Or,” the duo seem to be at their most “traditional” - Cambien’s notes are scant, but they carry a sense of wistful longing that, while not necessarily absent, is much less evident on the other pieces. When taken together with Myhr’s plaintive cries, “Or” is like an icy beam of sunlight that breaks through the tree canopy to reach the ground below. For a duo that often seem to place more emphasis on the way things sound rather than the way they make you feel, it’s a rare moment of vulnerability that, in some ways, allows you to see the pieces that came before in a different light.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton - Music for David Mossman (Intakt, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

In times of drastic reductions of state resources, especially pertaining to culture, creating performance possibilities like running a venue or a festival is often left to the personal commitment of enthusiastic individuals. Their work is of inestimable value for the artists. Some examples (among many others) are Alois Fischer, who has been organizing the Kaleidophon Ulrichsberg since 1978 (the festival itself has existed since 1973) and Hans Falb, who has started the seminal Konfrontationen in Nickelsdorf in 1980, as well as Norbert Bach, who has been running the W71 club in Weikersheim since the 1970s. And there is David Mossman, the man behind the Vortex, London’s number one platform for jazz, improvised and experimental music (together with Café Oto, which is actually just five minutes down the road). The club has existed without any core funding after its establishment over twenty-five years ago.

Saxophonist Evan Parker, who has had a monthly residency at the club for a number of years, says that the Vortex was "my haven from the demands of the road… (it) is for me a space to play 'free jazz'. I cannot imagine life without it". Parker is so grateful for the existence of the club that he’s organized a fundraiser (with Dave Holland) to give his support, since the club needs financial help to keep its operations going and to enable bands to start a career (prominent examples are Polar Bear and the Portico Quartet). What’s more, Parker and his long time collaborators Barry Guy (bass) and Paul Lytton (drums) have dedicated their new album to Mossman and the club.

Music for David Mossman starts with Guy presenting his famous gliding-into-the-notes technique, while Lytton surprises with a high-pitched drum set reminiscent of Tony Oxley, his playing being more muscular though. Guy strums thick chords and only after three and a half minutes Parker joins the duo with a surprisingly tonal, traditional melody which pays tribute to great jazz saxophonists like Sonny Rollins and Ben Webster, even a distant echo of John Coltrane is audible. However, he soon changes to his typical style using the well-known Evan-Parker-elements. The band picks up speed but it’s not the classic boisterous approach, it’s a rather subtle one. Soon they’re zigzagging some of their signature spontaneous routes, the tension rises and ebbs, opening a transition for circular breathing and circular bowing while Lytton supports Parker and Guy with finely chiseled clatter. The music sounds like someone’s rummaging around in a box of sounding metal.

This seems to be a typical album by the trio, providing free jazz on a top level, but nothing new either. Yet, the music offers some artful surprises. Especially the solos by Parker and Guy present an outstanding degree of concentration and resolve, their instruments serve as vessels for their elaborate use of extended techniques. In fact, there’s only one - rather short - Parker solo (when he uses his characteristic circular breathing). Still, there are two other passages when he takes off for a solo but Guy refuses to leave him soaring alone, he chooses to duplicate his sound with razor-sharp tremolos, overtones and harmonics. The same goes for Lytton, who propels an already cyberspeed Parker solo with cymbal barrage (in “Music for David Mossman III“). The result is music of an incredible density, music that varies harmonies and tempos constantly, music that changes its shape. Hardly ever have these excellent musicians shown such a disposition to integrate their individual sounds and typical patterns to an all-encompassing unity.

Or, as Evan Parker says in the liner notes: "Collective free improvisation is the utopian state arrived at in that other 'little life' as the late John Stevens called the mental space of music making that happens when musicians of a like mind play freely together." In the last track, "Music for David Mossman IV", this improvisation rumbles, squeals and seethes like on Tracks, the trio’s first recording from 1983. May this band and the Vortex live long!

Music for David Mossman is available as a CD and a download.

You can buy it from or from

You can listen to the album here:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Three From Stephanie Richards (plus a live encounter)

By Lee Rice Epstein

I already had the album Fullmoon high on my list of anticipated releases, so when trumpeter Stephanie Richards announced the brief live tour for the album’s release would pass through LA, I was thrilled. I also had a chance to catch up with the album proper, as well as Richards’s two other new releases, Trio Music, with Vinny Golia and Bert Turetzky, and Thaw by Resonant Bodies, a duo with Andrew Drury.

Stephanie Richards - Fullmoon (Relative Pitch, 2018) *****

Fullmoon is remarkable, full stop. It’s a daring release for Richards to put out as her proper debut, and kudos to Relative Pitch for supporting her. Relative Pitch has done a remarkable job showcasing albums by women, most recently solo and duo albums from Catherine Sikora, Susan Alcorn, Ingrid Laubrock, Birgit Ulher, Jessica Pavone, and Magda Mayas. And their support of Richards once again shows how valuable a label they are, especially when it comes to free improvisation and experimentation. Over the course of half an hour, Richards, together with Dino J.A. Deane (maybe best known for his work with Lawrence “Butch Morris), charts a wide, deep sonicscape that invites you to plunge straight in. The album is divided into phases of the moon, “New,” “Half,” and “Full” parts 1 and 2. Separating each phase are tracks highlighting Richards’s interactions with a single percussion instrument: “Snare,” “Piano,” “Gong” parts 1 and 2, and “Timpani.” Throughout, Deane samples, processes, loops, and transforms Richards live, the two performing what sounds, initially, like an elaborate dance. But what really struck me was learning the album itself was 2 years in the making. Although recorded in a single day, Richards spent two years re-editing the album in the studio with her husband, Andrew Munsey, who co-produced and engineered the album. Knowing this, when you go back into Fullmoon, you can really hear how intricate and deliberate the entire album is, how purposefully the compositions move from one moment to the next. Look for it to reappear at year’s end.

Stephanie Richards, Bert Turetzky, and Vinny Golia - Trio Music (pfMENTUM, 2018) ****

This grouping, with the greats Vinny Golia and bassist Bert Turetzky, emphasizes the players’ fleetness and facility with a chamber-like setting. The album is a collection of improvisations, some nicely stretched out beyond the 5-minute mark. Golia and Turetzky have a rich history performing and recording together, and Richards folds into place easily. After the brief introductory statement “Solana,” Turetzky kicks off the lengthy “Proprioception,” a term that relates to the movement or position of a body in space. There’s a remarkable adaptive quality to each player’s approach that’s on display throughout the album. As the title of the finale, “The Duo That Became a Trio,” suggests, there’s hopefully more where this came from.


Resonant Bodies - Thaw (Different Track, 2018) ****

Richards has steadily established herself as one of the most engaging experimentalists, so a duo with Andrew Drury, equally adventurous and engaging, seems like a natural fit. Collaborating on a series of improvisations, constantly upend listeners’ expectations of how and when sounds will appear. For example, “Drangajökull” presents Richards playing long, somewhat percussive tones, as Drury complements her with equally brassy percussive notes. This sonorous tension is sustained throughout the album, broken up periodically by Drury’s dramatic cracks and rolls on either timpani or floor tom, as on “Snow Dome” and “Athabasca.” The seismic effects weren’t lost on the performers, who named the tracks after glaciers, having decided the “timbres suggested thawing glaciers to us—groaning, cracking, splitting, of large masses of ancient ice under extreme pressure, moving and melting.” The title, however, adds an additional elegiac layer, and the finale, “RETREAT,” sounds more like a plea than a coda.

Fullmoon album release tour, ArtShare LA, May 21, 2018

Before I pressed play on the album proper, I went to see Richards live on her brief album-release tour. The theater space at ArtShare LA sat about 10–15 of us, and Richards was joined onstage by Dino J.A. Deane, probably best known for his work with Lawrence “Butch” Morris. With Deane set up at a table stage right, the rest of the stage was open for Richards to move from center-stage microphone to playing directly into a snare drum, timpani, or piano, as she switched periodically between trumpet and flugelhorn, and rotated through a series of mutes. Her physical movements reflected both her wide-ranging experiments with sound and space, as well as giving us a visual representation of the track titles from Fullmoon—minus “Gong,” as there wasn’t one in the space. The performance, augmented by Cossa’s excellent visuals, lasted over an hour, and even more firmly established Richards in my mind as one of the leading trumpet players and improvisors. Deane’s in-the-moment sampling and processing of Richards made for some incredibly clever exchanges, and Richards left the stage area a couple of times to give him additional room to improvise. Richards has a way of universally expressing something that feels deeply personal and unique, even while the performance itself (say, a trumpet played against the strings of a piano) may appear radical and oblique.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

João Camões / Jean-Luc Cappozzo / Jean-Marc Foussat - Autres Paysages (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Portuguese violist João Camões marks with Autres Paysages his third collaborative project with French synthesist Jean-Marc Foussat, known also as in-demand sound engineer trusted by Joëlle Léandre, Steve Lacy and many others. On this set of three extended electro-acoustic improvisations Camões and Foussat are joined by French trumpeter and flugelhorn player Jean-Luc Cappozzo, known for his free-improv collaborations with Léandre, Herb Robertson and Gerry Hemingway, but also as one that was invited by Dizzy Gillespie to play with him in concert.

“L'espace Qui Nous Separe” that opens Autres Paysages set the atmosphere - a collective, chamber interplay, delicate and restrained one, that navigates freely between aspects of contemporary classical and experimental music with all the weight of the history of jazz. Cappozzo adds a warm, lyrical dimension that contracts the cerebral and restless tone of Camões and the alien, chilly noises of Foussat. Mid-piece, Cappozzo plays the harmonic flute and Camões adds the myr, an ancient Turkish double reed woodwind instrument, and the atmosphere becomes more dense and tense.

The second piece, “De Tes Yeux Aux Miens” is more suggestive. Camões, Cappozzo and Foussat search for new sounds and dynamics, employing extended bowing and breathing techniques. This suggestive piece shifts between abstract, moody phases, some are quite tense, others more cinematic, just as in a dream-like state. Again, it is Cappozzo who charges this piece with an emotional, melodic core and later even playful playing that balances the tough, uncompromising approach of Camões and Foussat. Foussat offers more weird yet familiar sounds on the last “Berceuse Pour Manuel” - distant dogs barking and bird calls, and together with the flute of Cappozzo and the myr of Camões this piece shifts to exotic, enigmatic terrains, deepening the dreamy mode of this unique trio and its sparse, poetic interplay.

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