Copenhagen Jazz Festival: July 2015

Lotte Anker, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Gerald Cleaver Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Aarhus Jazz Festival: July 2015

We All Like - Katinka Fogh Vindelev (voc), Katrine Grarup Elbo (vio), Josefine Opsahl (vc), Sara Nigard Rosendal (perc) Photo by Eyal Hareuveni

Jazzwerkstatt Peitz: June 2014

SOKO STEIDLE - Rudi Mahall, bass clarinet; Henrik Walsdorff, saxophone; Jan Roder, bass; Oliver Steidle, drums. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Riverview Jazz Festival, Jersey City: June 2015

Tony Malaby's Paloma Recio w/ Ben Monder, Billy Mintz, & John Hebert. Photo by Paul Acquaro.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival: July 2015

Raymond Strid & Ståle Liavik Solberg. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Spanish Donkey - Raoul (Rare Noise, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The second Spanish Donkey release begins somewhere beyond where the last ended. Joe Morris' seething and scalding guitar is a hot iron pressed again the flesh, and the microtonal keyboard work of Jamie Saft is grinding and eviscerating.

Direct and relentless, the 33 minute epic 'Raoul' begins with Morris' fuzzed-out melody and drummer Mike Pride adding muscle and flair. As Saft creeps in on the organ, the tension rises and Morris begins a wholehearted embrace of the wah-wah pedal. The piece is a tremendous tone poem that could be dedicated to mastodons sinking into tarpits as lava pouring down a volcano ignites the forest around it.

The album is a less about the individual voices as it is the dark and foreboding movement of sound. It's at once sludgy, defiant, nuanced and textured. The shapes of the sounds are as important as the notes themselves which, like on the track 'Behavioral Sink' rises from the slash of Saft's organ and the metallic clang of Morris' guitar.

A hearty listen to say the least!

Available at the Downtown Music Gallery

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jason Roebke – Every Sunday (Clean Feed, 2015) ****

By Chris Haines

This new album by Jason Roebke sees the double bassist playing in a trio with guitarist Matthew Schneider and drummer Marcus Evans.  There are three extended tracks, the longest twenty-three minutes and the shortest fifteen minutes.  The trio gels extremely well together and as a unit they serve up a sort of cool-free jazz, which winds it’s way along in an exploratory fashion developing as it goes.

It starts with the title track, which is the longest piece, presenting Jason Roebke playing solo at the beginning who is very carefully joined by the others, as they enter as if trying not to be noticed.  In fact, one of the strengths of this album is the overall equality of sound that the individual musicians bring to the group collective.  Schneider’s melodic lines are often left open-ended in a continuous melody-like way and do not demand the focus of the music, at times switching to much more textural and harmonic playing to allow the bass and drums to come to the fore.  Using a steel strung acoustic guitar his playing very rarely dominates, and brings with it the nostalgia of older acoustic jazz combo’s.  The sound of the recording also adds to the overall textural appearance of the music containing the ambience of the Hungry Brain Club in Chicago where it was recorded.

As well as the more structurally open sections of the music there are times, such as on the last track, “For Jimmy Woods”, where a swinging post-bop shuffle canters along rhythmically, albeit gradually deconstructing as it develops.  The beauty of the music contained within Every Sunday is the fine line that is trod between more structurally traditional elements and playing that is completely free, which the group absolutely nails whilst creating a relaxed and serene album with spicier moments.  It is the presence of the sound of the group and it’s textural quality that you are left with after the album has finished, leaving a lasting impression and the desire to listen again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Spring Heel Jack with Pat Thomas, Alex Ward and Paul Lytton – Live in Antwerp (Treader, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Spring Heel Jack, whose core members are John Coxon (g) and Ashley Wales (electronics), are responsible for one of my all-time favorite albums combining improv, alternative rock and electronic music – Live (Thirsty Ear, 2003), on which they were augmented by a super group consisting of William Parker (b), Evan Parker (ts), Han Bennink (dr), Matthew Shipp (e-p) and Spiritualized’s J. Spaceman (g). Especially the last 20 minutes of “Part II” belong to the most dramatic, melancholic, psychedelic, cinematographic and beautiful moments this kind of music can offer.

Wales and Coxon launched their career in the pop business as producers, composers and remixers (for example for Everything But The Girl’s hit “Walking Wounded”) before they started to concentrate on free improvisation with Disappeared (Thirsty Ear, 2000), for which they invited the British jazz legend John Surman (b-cl) in order to expand their musical possibilities – a concept they have followed ever since. Apart from the above-mentioned musicians they have worked with John Tchicai, Roy Campbell, Kenny Wheeler and Wadada Leo Smith (among others).

So you might imagine that I was thrilled when I heard that there was a new album – but then it turned out that Live in Antwerp was recorded at the WIM free music festival in 2007, a year before Spring Heel Jack’s last studio album Songs and Themes was released. Nevertheless, it’s always good news when you can get access to previously unreleased material of one of your favorite bands. For their penultimate concert Wales and Coxon teamed up with Pat Thomas (piano and electronics), Alex Ward (clarinet) and Paul Lytton (drums).

In contrast to Live, Live in Antwerp consists of London-based improvisers only, it is looser and more focused on a classic free jazz impetus and despite the electronics it is much more acoustic than the electric jazz/fusion approach of the Live band. In addition, Live in Antwerp presents the quintet as a real unit (Live was often split up in sub-groups) which makes the music more coherent. But in spite of the more organic impression and the differences to previous albums there are still the typical Spring Heel Jack characteristics: abrupt harmonic changes, juxtapositions of drums, clarinet and piano in front of electronic thicket, sudden beautiful moments popping up from total chaos, the changing of silence and energy or electronics holding the whole 50-minute performance together.

Spring Heel Jack are a unique band, maybe there will be really new material one day. The concept as such is still promising and exciting.

Live in Antwerp is available on CD, you can buy it from and from the Downtown Music Gallery.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Brett Higgins - Atlas Revolt (Tzadik, 2015) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

According to Tzadik's description, Brett Higgins' Atlas Revolt "blends latin, r&b, soul, film soundtracks, jazz and more into moody and infectious grooves." That just about wraps it up neatly - by mixing attractive klezmer modes with a strong rock backbone, Atlas Revolt fits in well with many of its label-mates, nestled somewhere between Electric Masada, the Dreamers, and Marc Ribot's Asmodeus.

The opening track is a rousing workout that readily showcases the talents of this Toronto based band. First we hear drummer Joshua Van Tassel who creates a pretty straight ahead groove for bassist Higgins and violinist Aleksandar Gajic to fill with an inspired folk melody. Keyboardist Robbie Grunwald adds a minimalist solo that provided just enough Fender Rhodes shimmer to the song. Guitarist Tom Juhas plays with a clean, dry tone that distorts tastefully around the edges. The song is a group effort, it eschews virtuosic solos in favor of a developing a inspired group sound.  The follow up 'El Metate' works in a similar vein, delivered as a highly approachable song whose timeless melody is cast in a lightly muscular setting. Another track, 'All About that Starry Dark' begins with heavy atmosphere, its theme unfolding broodingly. 'Zagazig' is a delightful track, sporting an ebullient beat that meets a coy melody that opens up with a most unusual sawtoothed solo from the guitar (a sound reminiscent of Mclaughlin on 'Go Ahead, John' from Miles Davis' Big Fun). 'Electric Sinner' is the centerpiece of the album to my ears and the tracks relaxed groove gives the musicians a lush underlayment to build upon.

Overall Atlas Revolt is something somewhat familiar, but re-assembled here in a refreshing and enjoyable manner that will no doubt deservedly pick-up a number of fans. Highly enjoyable and worth checking out!

Available at Downtown Music Gallery

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR - Infanticide (Auand Records, 2015) ****

By Antonio Poscic

Every once in a while, a band comes along that revisits and refreshes genres that might seem stagnant and lacking any innovation. In the case of SudoKu KilleR, the quartet led by Italian double bass player and composer Caterina Palazzi, we’re offered a twist on the often stale, old paradigms of jazz-rock. However, while jazz-rock really is a prominent element in the foundation of their sound, an idea fleshed out in the contrast between the guitar and the saxophone, their sophomore release Infanticide actually presents a delicate blend of different approaches and styles.

The adopted sound and employed idioms feel more like a symptom of Palazzi’s and her cohorts’ concepts that revolve around a certain loss of naivety and innocence in perceiving the world, a dedication to Nirvana and Cobain’s demons that extends beyond the record title. It’s from these thoughts that ambience and atmosphere emanate, accompanied by a predominantly noirish, brooding, and melancholic vision resembling film music. The band thus often resorts to slow, patient buildups during which the instruments move sinuously to each other, leaving behind a taste of carefully constructed, fragile structures and sparse yet lush notes within a negative space left by the lingering music. With all the looseness and sparseness in the playing, a false sense of lack of compositional maturity comes to mind. False, because even when they’re visiting and drawing from the worlds of surf rock, psychedelia, and post-rock, each composition on this record is nothing but carefully thought out. The only real criticism can be directed towards the lack of more improvised, freer segments that fit so nicely on, for example, the eponymous “SudoKu KilleR” and the wonderful “Futoshiki”, and that can be heard during Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR’s live performances.

Noisier freak outs, that tend to appear after brusk transitions, are question marks and exclamation points, not constants. There’s not much straightforward rocking out here. Instead, the music is dominated by Giacomo Ancillotto’s distorted scratchy guitar improvising freely but subduedly and Antonio Raia’s saxophone rising to the forefront with interesting melodies, while everything’s being held together by Palazzi’s double bass that also gives a note of mystery to the sound and Maurizio Chiavaro’s mercurial, but firm drumming. Because of all this, Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR appears to be a pure jazz band playing occasionally rock influenced songs rather than a fully melded jazz-rock unit. Their five long, cohesive tracks could even be described as Scandinavian contemporary jazz with a smidgen of avant-rock mixed in. And it’s for the better.

Contrary to what the names of the quartet and the album suggest, Infanticide doesn’t feel like an aggressive affair nor a mind-boggling conundrum. Instead, it shows four masters cultivating a dark but vital bonsai tree, patient and careful. It’s rare nowadays to craft a unique, recognizable sound within a well-established genre - something that Caterina Palazzi SudoKu KilleR achieve with apparent ease and by stepping outside of the genre’s boundaries. Recommended for listening during those warm, insufferable summer nights.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Signe Bisgaard - Meander (Finland Studio Records, 2015) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Signe Bisgaard is a young Danish, Aarhus-based composer-pianist who focuses on exploring the improvisational possibilities in through-composed music. The title of her debut solo album, Meander, alludes to the curved, stretched course of her compositions. Likewise, Bisgaard compositions move organically between through-composed music and open improvisational passages, offering surprising detours from any familiar, conventional courses.

Bisgaard assembled an impressive ensemble of eleven musicians to record her challenging compositions, among them trumpeter Jakob Buchanan (who often collaborates with pianist Simon Toldam and percussionist Marilyn Mazur), sax player and flutist Julie Kjær (now playing in Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit and before with London Improvisers Orchestra), sax player Christian Vuust, guitarist Mark Solborg and Norwegian percussionist Helge Norbakken (member of pianist Jon Balke’s ensembles). This ensemble transforms Bisgaard's arresting musical vision into a unique listening experience.

Bisgaard's compositions demand careful, repeated listening as the layers upon layers of her ideas and compositional strategies become clear. At first, her lyrical compositions sound minimalist and restrained, balancing between delicate, subtle contemporary chamber music and reserved, even sparse manners of improvisation, still, relying on her ensemble to find intuitively the right balance. But with each listen, Bisgaard's unorthodox architecture of compositional ideas, fresh instrumentation and thoughtful arrangements, together with her unique sense of sound exploration, starts becoming decipherable. By then, it is already clear that the gentle, patient playing of all the ensemble musicians, especially Buchanan, has a strong and lasting emotional appeal.

Bisgaard, as a pianist, takes a modest role in her arrangements. She plays a beautiful and contemplative solo on “Das Kleine Rote II”. She sounds as almost offering a philosophical perspective on the meeting between contemporary music and an improvised one.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Nick Fraser feat. Kris Davis & Tony Malaby - Too Many Continents (Clean Feed, 2015) *****

 By Peter Gough

It's the middle of August, the Toronto Blue Jays are leading the MLB Eastern Division (with 11 straight wins), and local drummer Nick Fraser has just released an album on Portugal’s Clean Feed label. It’s hard to decide which fills me with more civic pride. I’ve seen Fraser perform a handful of times, mostly at The Tranzac (Toronto Australia New Zealand Club), a social venue sympathetic to new and adventurous sounds. He is a masterful colorist, and his measured, thoughtful shadings evoke the gentle artistry of Bob Ross. Dialogues with his bandmates appear intuitive and sincere, and unlike the Blue Jays, who last won a pennant in 1993, Fraser’s been steadily perfecting his craft in the city since moving from Ottawa in 1995.

I’m proud of Fraser’s achievements like I am of trumpeter Darren Johnston and percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, two other Canadian-born artists thriving in the international creative music scene. Too Many Continents finds Fraser leading a trio with two heavyweight improvisers who need no introduction - pianist Kris Davis, and saxophonist Tony Malaby. On second thought, labeling anyone ‘leader’ of this date might be inaccurate. The three have been friends for twenty years and seem to communicate their ideas telepathically.

On my second pass through the album, the cover image of The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys (ECM, 1979) flickers through my mind. You know, that wonderful black and white shot of the group seated around a gingham-clothed table drinking coffee? Too Many Continents sounds like that photograph. Natural. Comfortable. This is not to suggest that it doesn’t take chances or stray from familiar territory. Were the Art Ensemble ever tame or predictable? Neither are Fraser and company. Malaby is in top form, sputtering and bubbling above the others in ‘I Needed It Yesterday’, tethered by Davis as Fraser navigates. Davis employs a sustained single note pattern in ‘Nostalgia For The Recent Past’, fueling a restless Malaby to launch into a manic discourse. Fraser really seems to bloom at this point in the album, absorbing the energy of his companions, but never overshadowing them. There’s plenty of fire and fury here, bookended between the controlled burn of sensitive ballads.

This album rewards repeated listenings. It’s wholly musical, well paced, and there’s not a wasted note within. There’s an undeniable bond between the three, and this kinship results in a totally organic, balanced session. Nick Fraser’s Too Many Continents is a grand slam. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Joshua Abrams – Magnetoception (Eremite, 2015) ****½

By Eric McDowell

In a recent Invisible Jukebox interview in The Wire, Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams speaks about “constructing an environment” through his music. “One is creating a space to immerse the listener in sound,” he explains, “and creating room for slowness, for a different rate of attention perhaps.” Magnetoception, Abrams’s third Natural Information Society album for Eremite, demonstrates this concept wonderfully.  

Fans of 2010’s Natural Information and 2012’s Represencing will find themselves in familiar territory here, marked most notably by Abrams’s guimbri (among his other instruments) but also by Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker’s electric guitars, Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium, and Ben Boye’s autoharp. (Hamid Drake, a new addition to this particular project, plays a variety of hand percussion as well as drum kit.) But as a double LP Magnetoception gives the group a new opportunity to stretch out, breathe, and craft an immersive sound environment.

The album opens with “By Way of Odessa,” a side-long piece whose meditative ambient patience, punctuated by Drake’s frame drum, focuses the listener’s attention not by grabbing it but by creating space for it. Eventually the guimbri picks up, before dying down again. The rise and fall of the track’s energy foreshadows the album’s larger structure, more an organic sinuous movement with multiple climaxes than a simple linear escalation.

One climax comes at the beginning of the third side with “Translucent.” The tune’s odd-meter ostinato, carried by the guitars and Abrams on acoustic bass, keeps us entranced but alert, as if we’re burrowing down towards the heart of something, yet not quite there. That heart might come soon enough with the title track. “Magnetoception” finds the album at its densest and perhaps most dramatic, a tightly woven sonic textile of jittery muted guitar, insistent guimbri, and tireless drumming. The group’s natural, protean interplay is in evidence here too, with Drake wrenching the breakneck 6/8 groove into a shuffle for a few glorious bars at one point. Elsewhere brief solo interludes like “Of Night” (Abrams on clarinet) and “Of Day” (autoharp) provide contrast and help contract the scope of the music before opening out again.

“The Ladder” brings things to a close with mid-tempo interlocking guimbri and tabla overlaid by shimmering autoharp and carefully measured guitar lines. This final track leaves us neither too high nor too low, but safely in the middle ground of the album’s dynamic energies. And if Abrams is as inspired by the Gnawa tradition of ritual healing as he is by their use of the guimbri, then “The Ladder” can be said to deliver us out of Magnetoception’s restorative environment better than we entered it.

Magnetoception is available in an attractive LP edition limited to 875 copies or as an iTunes download. Listen to samples on the Eremite website.   

Available from the Downtown Music Gallery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ozo - A Kind Of Zo (Shhpuma, 2015) ****½

By Stef

The specialised Clean Feed sublabel "Shhpuma" keeps surprising with their excellent choice of new music coming out of Portugal. And this piano percussion duo performance is another hit in the bull's eye. Paulo Mesquita plays prepared piano and Pedro Oliveira prepared drums.

It isn't jazz, Mesquita comes from a classical background, and the typical 7th chords are totally absent from his playing, making the music probably more accessible to non-jazz fans, but then the nature or the character of the music is "fire music" if I can use the term. The duo improvises but more on rhythmical and percussive core ideas than with lyrical expansion. Mesquita is excellent at keeping his music focused on a few key ideas, to be explored in immediate interaction with the drums, and I must say that the role of the drums here is quite unusual and without a doubt playing a role as important as the piano. Oliveira does not have a classical background, he's been playing in rock and pop bands mainly, yet the interaction of both musicians is free improv of the welcoming kind, something that may please broader groups of listeners, but then again, they're not afraid to take things far beyond the accessible.

It's hard to find immediate musical references. Benoît Delbecq comes to mind at times, Michel Wintsch too, and at moments even Jarrett, but then this music is still too different, more dramatic, more percussive, more explosive, more evocative of nature, with quite a unique voice.

The end result is quite amazing. Listen to this video to get an idea (and don't be misled by the quiet opening)


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Nu Band - The Cosmological Constant (Not Two, 2015) ****

By Stef

Joy and sadness join hands on this album. "Joy" because that's the nature of this free bop band, with Joe Fonda on bass, Lou Grassi on drums, Mark Whitecage on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Thomas Heberer on trumpet. "Sadness" because one of the four leaders of the quartet, Roy Campbell Jr, is no longer among us. His contribution to the band, as a musician and as a composer was quite critical and that can be heard, especially because the band had been playing together for thirteen years when Roy Campbell passed away.

For Thomas Heberer to fill this gap is a true challenge, not only because of the human interaction with the rest of the band, but also because he musically comes from a different background, the European free improv scene, with the ICP Orchestra but also with his own music, which is more avant-garde than free jazz.

The Nu Band's music is characterised by a very open approach to composed themes, which set the scene, and then the band goes on a journey to explore the team, as you might expect from the genre. They sing, they swing, they dance, they bop, they can holler like the blues, but then they loosen up and go on a wonderful expansion of their own compositions. There are few bands like them, and I must say that Thomas Heberer does a great job here, feeling clearly part of the band, and not just a replacement, penning two compositions for the band, and without trying to emulate Roy Campbell, his sound has never been so soulful or bluesy as on this album.

The music is again phenomenal, a treat for the ears, and again delivered by all four musicians. But so are the compositions : the slow "Dark Dawn In Aurora" sounds like instant standard, the long "Time Table" is more abstract in nature and "5 O'Clock Follies" is a joyful swinging piece. And that's the great thing about this band, they play jazz, in all its varieties and subgenres and blend it into one coherent and highly enjoyable whole.

Listen to "Dark Dawn In Aurora", as recorded by your humble servant last year in Brussels.