Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Jean-Luc Guionnet & Thomas Bonvalet - Loges De Souffle (Becoq, 2015) ****½

By Stef

In October 2010, in Bergerac, France, the MONC cultural arts centre created a major event of avant-garde and experimental theatre, dance, visual arts, flash mobs and music with the entire city as the venue, in a very participatory way with the audience and unprepared passers-by. Look here for more information.

As part of this event, Jean-Luc Guionnet and Thomas Bonvalet gave an electroacoustic performance in the protestant temple of the city. Guionnet does not play his usual reeds, but he uses the church organ as the key instrument for the fabulous sonic landscape they create, with Bonvalet playing banjo, mikes, amplifiers, harmonica and tuning fork (why not?). If you ever thought you knew what a banjo sounded like, I suggest that you watch the video below.

The album contains one 40-minute long soundscape, with the organ offering a kind of endless color-shifting drone as a foundation for an infinity of things to happen, shifts in intensity, harsh counter-sounds, reinforcing feedback and a multitude of little sparkles, as if you're listening to a sonic kaleidoscope which keeps revolving and surprisingly changing and offering new vistas and mind-boggling new sounds.

The music is as attractive as it is frightening, petrifying the listener into immobility while these fascinating sounds keep being absorbed and when the fourty minutes are over, and the listener returns to his more rubbery state, he/she is a little, and maybe a lot, disappointed that the experience is over.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ikue Mori - Light in the Shadow (Tzadik, 2015) ***

By Stefan Wood

Ikue Mori is an award winning musician, having started her career as the drummer for the no wave group DNA, then moving into sampling and laptop electronic music. She has worked with members of Sonic Youth and Henry Cow, with John Zorn and others, and has recorded a series of solo works on the Zorn label Tzadik. "Light in the Shadow" is her latest work, ten tracks of delicate, intricately detailed soundscapes that references traditional Japanese music, middle eastern beats, 50's exotica, and 80's experimental noise.

Listening to Mori's music is like entering into a sonic art installation; one is surrounded by textures and effects that are skillfully arranged in a way that can be engaging. The opening track, "Koya Hijiri" is a fifteen minute long piece that evokes the journey that the low caste Japanese monks take when sent to spread the word of Buddhism. "Mozu," spread though out the album in three parts, are abstract rhythmic works that dip into the "Quiet Village" sound with slight industrial effects. "Basharaf" is an enjoyable piece with a light, funky middle eastern beat. "Orot" is a gorgeous work with chimes, circulating repeatedly. The album's final two tracks "Pomegranate Seeds #1 Sea Nymphs" and "Pomegranate Seeds #2 Underground King" are exotic pieces, light and bubbly in the former, dark and murky in the latter.

"Light in the Shadow" is another fine work by Ikue Mori, one of delicate wonder, incorporating many genres and elements to create her own unique soundscape.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ben Golderg - Orphic Machine (BAG, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

What draws me to clarinetist Ben Goldberg's music - whether it's his interpretations of Thelonious Monk, the rock oriented Unfold Ordinary Mind or  other works - is his bending of the familiar, and how simple musical statements will intertwine and build into dramatic structures. The aforementioned work of Monk works well just by its nature, as does the lyrically oriented songs on Orphic Machine.

A central component of this album is the lyrics, sung crisply by violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt, and derived from the work of the late Allen Grossman, a professor at Brandeis & Johns Hopkins University under whom Goldberg once studied. Goldberg says it best:
"When I first went to college I took a class from a man named Allen Grossman; his weird way of thinking touched something deep in me.  Eventually I had to write the songs on this record, made from statements about poetry that I found in his book Summa Lyrica. I puzzled over them for a long time, and then they became songs."
I haven't read the text so I'll try to let my comments be mostly about the music, but the lovely first stanza sung is a joy in itself 'As soon as I start to read a book, I stop talking.' It is delivered, deliciously phrased, between delicately harmonized passages.

The music isn't 'free-jazz', buts it is an unusual combination of a scholarly text and an expanded jazz group. The songs are rendered by the stellar line-up of Carla Kihlstedt (Voice, Violin), Ron Miles (Trumpet), Rob Sudduth (Tenor Saxophone), Myra Melford (Piano), Nels Cline (Guitar), Kenny Wollesen (Vibraphone, Chimes), Greg Cohen (Bass), Ches Smith (Drums) and Ben Goldberg (Clarinet). Kihlstedt's violin work is lovely, her singing unadorned and precise, Goldberg's clarinet playing is as rich in tone as always, and well established free jazz players like Cline and Melford assist in keeping the music edgy and lean. Miles' cornet is like a breath of fresh air as it rises above the band, saxophonist Sudduth helps add a counter weight to Goldberg flights, and Wollesen's vibes add a nice metallic sheen. The ensemble really cooks on tracks like 'Bongoliod Lens' and ‘Care’, and proceed with great caution and care on the slower ones.

Orphic Machine is a neat one - great writing, excellent musicianship and an unusual inspiration make for a work that is enjoyably off-center.

Available from Instantjazz.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Death Shanties - Crabs (Bomb Shop, 2014) ***½

By Stefan Wood

There are albums that one just stumbles upon, attracted by the cover art, musician lineup, or just by their name.  Death Shanties' Crabs is one example.  It is a crazy name for an improv group, but there you have it, a wild, free jazz duo of drummer Alex Neilson and saxophonist Sybren Renema (trio, if you include the artist Lucy Stein, whose paintings are projected while the duo are performing).

Neilson is known for his folk rock group Trembling Bells, and had led a free jazz group call Tight Meat.  Sybren Renema is a multimedia artist who not only works in the visual arts, but writes, and plays a mean saxophone.  Renema is clearly the star here, horn blazing front and center throughout the album, more Ayler than Brotzmann, but clearly references both, not as bitter but very lyrical.  What stands out in his playing is that on each track he is clearly telling a story, whether playing on the folk and blues influences that they claim to draw upon, or on the 60's ESP/Impulse! New Wave of Jazz vibe.  His playing is outstanding, and Neilson ably complements him without being heavy handed -- it is light at times, blazing at others, always smart in keeping things on an even keel.

The stand out track is "Baby Dodds is Dead," a ripping tune with Renema overdubbing himself, creating a sheer wave of sound while Neilson delivers some blistering percussion.  It is a spiritual tribute to the famed pre-big band era drummer, and it delivers the goods.  An oddity is the final track, "O, Where is Saint George!" which, quite frankly, feels out of place here,  DM Thomas' poem The White Hotel recited over a male chorus and jazz instrumental.  It just doesn't work.  Other good tracks are the opening track "Shadow Boxing with Crabs," "The Life of a Wave," and "Postcards from the Interior of a Star," all brilliantly played, evoking the 60's free jazz scene and breathing new life to it.  A solid album.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Susana Santos Silva & De Beren Gieren - The Detour Fish - Live In Ljubljana (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

By Stef

Yes, sometimes it takes time before good albums get reviewed. Some really good albums even get never reviewed at all!

Take this one for example, a young Belgian piano trio, called "De Beren Gieren" (Dutch for "The Bears Howl") with Fulco Ottervanger on piano, Lieven Van Pée on bass, and Simon Segers on drums, whose music is a fresh re-invention of the line-up,offering playful and light-hearted compositions with often minimal themes and quite intense improvisations.

For this album, they found a wonderful addition in Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, capturing a performance at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2014. Why is there a good match? Because they have a great gift of simplifying themes to their almost abstract essence, in combination with a great sense of pulse and intense group improvisations, while not running away from some structural complexities. The music's abstract and often sketchy quality makes it hard to describe, but it flows in a beautiful, almost organic way, often with a sense of wonder and surprise.

Even on "Weirs", the most avant-garde piece, led by Santos Silva's warm trumpet playing, the interaction works perfectly : the trio respects her introductory low growls, then gradually enters the scene with minimal arpeggiated sounds, and then follows the trumpet through agitated and dark tension. And the absolute beauty is that they do not overdo it. All four remain in full control and just give sufficient effort to create the sound, and nothing more.

Even if recorded in front of an audience, it appears to be absent, but that should not spoil the fun, because this band gives us a fascinating and unique musical vision, that's kept throughout the album with great coherence, and with lots of variation in the different pieces.

Light-hearted, adventurous, welcoming and beautiful.

Friday, May 1, 2015

David Sylvian: “there’s a light that enters houses with no other house in sight” (SamadhiSound, 2014) *****

Reviewed by Joe

The rise and development of noise, electro acoustic sound research, acousmatic composition and minimal music all seem to be coming together in the past few years. The number of serious artists that are investigating the genre has begun to not only expand but also have some popular success. Of course artists like Eno (and his ambient friends), Cluster, Popol Vuh or even Pan(a)sonic have been investigating the various possibilities of noise and minimalism for years. However, more recently we've seen Supersilent (& Co), Christian Fennesz, the Punkt crowd (Jan Bang and Erik Honoré) and more recently Ben Frost, to name just a few, have all made noise more fashionable.

David Sylvian is certainly no newcomer to this scene. His interests date well back to his work within the group 'Japan' and their interesting, and at the time 'individual', take on pop music. With his liberation as a solo artist it became clear that he was interested by a wide range of sonic possibilities, his early albums (Brilliant Trees, Gone to Earth and Secrets of the Beehive) mixed jazz, prog-rock and minimalism. With the arrival of Blemish in 2003, it was clear that Sylvian was making yet another change in direction, working with more experimental musicians such as Toshimaru Nakamura and Derek Bailey. In more recent years he has used his singing-voice almost like a poetic 'bard', incorporating a sort of spoken word quality.

His latest release there’s a light that enters houses with no other house in sight David Sylvian has continued with the idea of the spoken word. Using the American poet Franz Wright, who recites passages from his works (*), combined with sonic backgrounds provided by David Sylvian, guitarist (and sound manipulator) Christian Fennesz and pianist John Tilbury. The effect is quite literally stunning. The combination of ideas and musical resources used spans a large gamut of styles. The basic musical thread running through the 60 minute composition is built from minimalistic soundscapes, these include interludes of piano and guitar in various combinations, and from time to time a string ensemble, brass and percussion (**). The range of musical ideas (or effects) covers a lot of ground from horror movie ambiances to a wonderful string quartet in the closing moments of the piece.

It's impossible to discuss individual sections in this one hour composition as the poetry and music just flow from one idea to the next. The effect of the voice reciting poems, used as a thread, give this album a hypnotic feel, almost as if you are in a dreamlike state. Adding to that Franz Wright's gruff voice - a true master-stroke - you find yourself completely immersed in the piece, unaware of the time passing. The final words (which I'll leave you to discover) of the piece make for a profound ending to this excellent album.  

An album that would definitely have been in my top ten of 2014, if I'd heard it earlier! Very highly recommended.

* If I understand correctly much of the poetry comes from Franz Wright's Kindertotenwald, published in 2011.
** Unfortunately we didn't receive any information other than the sound file, so the instrumentation is a little unclear, especially since much of it is electronically manipulated.

Postscript: It's interesting to remember that David Sylvian has also recorded and produced releases by players Derek Bailey, Toshimaru Nakamura and more recently Stephan Mathieu. I should add the SamadhiSound website is very badly organised and it is often difficult to find past releases on the pages.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

John Russell/Steve Beresford/John Edwards/Ståle Liavik Solberg - Will It Float? (Va Fongool, 2015) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

This British-Norwegian quartet was put together by Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg who had collaborated in recent years with guitarist John Russell (the duo recorded No Step, on Solberg label Hispid, 2014) and with electronics master Steve Beresford (in a trio with Swedish reed player Martin Küchen that recorded Three Babies, Peira, 2013). The addition of double bass player John Edwards, another prominent member of London’s free improvisation scene, was only natural. The recording of the quartet took place at the St. Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Newington, London, in November 2013, later mixed and mastered by another close associate of Solberg, Chicagoan cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Beresford, who plays on a wide variety of acoustic objects and resourcefully uses electronics devices, stresses surprising elements of danger, surprise and even dark humor in what may have sound as a cerebral, classic British free improvisation set. His presence alters the dynamics and the balance of this set to a course of a experimental, playful exploration of nuanced sounds. The spare interplay never attempts to anchor its intense dynamics on a clear pulse, melodic narrative, or structure. Still, this quartet succeeds to form  its own collective identity. Its delicate textures mirror loose puzzles, woven together in a patient flow of colorful sounds that only close to its later phases reveal its own evasive logics and blends surprisingly into an arresting soundscape. Suddenly, on the last piece, "The Third Time" the quartet burst with an innocent excitement, solidifying its raisons d'être - nothing is obvious, expect to be challenged, but this sonic ride guarantees many joyful moments.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ava Mendoza - Unnatural Ways (New Atlantis,2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Guitarist Ava Mendoza has been toying with the phrase 'Unnatural Ways' for a while now. Her 2012 duo release with percussionist Nick Tamburro was titled Quit Your Unnatural Ways, and her current working trio with bassist Tim Dahl and drummer Max Jaffe is called Unnatural Ways. On this album, Unnatural Ways, Mendoza is accompanied by her previous Unnatural Ways line-up of keyboardist Dominique Leone and Tamburro.

Pushing at the edges of free jazz and avant-rock, the album's fiery opener 'Shapeshift' is a solid block of rock based improvisation and composition that blurs musical categories. It features some fierce fretwork, loop augmented rhythms and a shifting undercurrent of tempo. Though heavy at times, the music is still textured and nuanced.

Then it gets crazy. 'Dogsbody' features Mendoza's punkish vocals - with lyrics at least ostensibly about dogs - tangled up with her knotty guitar lines. The following 'No Record' is a nice bit of avant-prog, starting with a Crimsonesque intro that segues into a vintage Janes Addiction-like melody in which Mendoza observes that "everything we do is being recorded".  'Goodnight Irene' is probably my favorite deconstruction of a folk song since Ribot undid 'St. James Infirmary' on his solo guitar album Saints. In Mendoza's hands, the Leadbelly song snarls, lurches, and sticks menacingly to the ears. 'Danifest Mestiny' begins atmospherically, but the surrounding space is boiling, and the track quickly becomes a stomper with lyrics sufficiently obscure to invite a deep listening. The throb of the keyboard gives the song an even more foreboding presence.

Unnatural Ways is a significant statement from Mendoza. It showcases her past musical associations and points to where her music is headed. For me, the vocal parts were a bit of an acquired taste (isn't that the best kind?) but after repeated listening their importance in the music became clearer - in fact the whole thing comes together in kind of a natural way. 

Give it a spin, see what you think:

Mendoza's Unnatural Ways is playing at the Downtown Music Gallery in New York City on Tuesday May 5th at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø: Oslo Wien / Whirl / Lana Trio

By Eyal Hareuveni

29-years old Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø has become in recent years one of the most interesting musicians in the European experimental, free-improvised scene. His love/hate relationship with the trombone has led him to explore the boisterous and brassy side of the instrument, expanding its spectrum until it reaches the registers of the saxophone, trumpet and clarinet. With an impressive command of extended breathing techniques he extends the instrument's sonic envelope to microscopic articulations and electronic-tinged terrains. His recent releases feature his ever-expansive language in different formats.

Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø/Raymond Strid/Nina de Heney - Oslo Wien (Vafongool, 2015) *****

This trio with two great masters of free-improvisation - Swedish drummer Raymond Strid and Swiss, Gothenburg-based double bass player Nina de Heney, was first put together for Nørstebø's exam concert at the Academy of Music in Gothenburg on May 2011. Nørstebø played before with Strid and de Heney in different formats but the three never played together before as a trio, but Nørstebø tells that the feeling of having a common ground came fast. The trio played occasionally since that formative exam and reconvened in 2014 for a six-date European tour.

The debut double-album of this trio confirms the vision of Nørstebø. It feature two whole concert sets from the 2014 tour, the first one from the last day in Oslo and the second, recorded four days before, from Vienna. Each of these concerts evolves in a different way, but on both concerts the trio moves constantly in an immediate, organic flow that alternates between segments of building tension and its release, with a fascinating sense of drama. The highly creative, explorative language of these like-minded, adventurous improvisers, their determined search for new sonic possibilities, as well as the profound trust and understanding how to push forward any idea at any given moment, is simply fantastic.

The Oslo concert features five intense and urgent improvisations. The trio excels in transforming instantly fragments of sound, even almost silent, microtonal ones, into a rich, nuanced mini-dramas. Still, the trio never attaches itself to any sonic event, just letting the energy flow while enabling each musician to follow his impulses. The Vienna concert present two extended pieces, more reserved in their spirit, affected by the reverb on the room, with more opportunities for lengthy solos by all three. The dynamics of these improvisations stress the the total freedom that each musician has, and their different approaches to interaction, suggesting contrasting colors and and even rebellion within the almost telepathic interplay, all with a subdued intensity and great sensitivity to detail. This set, like the one in Oslo concludes with an intense, energetic coda.

Whirl – Revolving Rapidly Around an Axis (dEN, 2015) ****

The Whirl trio - British, Amsterdam-based sax and clarinet player, Tobias Delius, member of the legendary ICP orchestra, Nørstebø and double bass player Adrian Fiskum Myhr, member of the experimental trio Bergljot - is an extension of the Viryl duo - Nørstebø and Myhr that is active since 2010. The three played together for the first time in Berlin in 2012 and immediately realized that as a trio there is a much greater potential than an ad-hoc meeting. This debut album was recorded in a studio in Trondheim, after several European tours that distilled the trio strong identity.

The trio explore powerful improvised, free jazz interplay while stressing microtonal timbral investigations and giving up any need to rely on a pulse. These well-executed aesthetics blend the restless, burning energy of a explorative, free jazz with a great sensitivity to detail of a chamber outfit, all in a rapid, natural manner. This unique interplay even becomes lyrical when Delius plays the clarinet, as on “Pivot”. He and Nørstebø exchanging roles in exploring delicate, gentle voices, and experimental, tough outbursts, while Myhr's economical playing anchors their flights. On “Birl” the expressive trombone of Nørstebø sound as extending the tenor sax of Delius and vice versa, while Myhr ups the tension with creative employment of extended bow techniques. The title piece demonstrates again the impressive sonic spectrum of the trio, beginning with great bow work of Myhr who creates a spare drone sounds, expanded beautifully with light whispers by Nørstebø and Delius.

Lana Trio - Live in Japan (Va Fongool, 2014) *****

The sophomore album of this Norwegian trio - Nørstebø, pianist Kjetil Jerve, who plays in the Chet Baker tribute band Baker Hansen and in a duo with trumpet player Kristoffer Eikrem, and drummer Andreas Wildhagen, who has the honor to play opposite Paal Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit, also a member of the modern jazz quintet Mopti - was recorded live at the Jazzspot Candy in Chiba, near Tokyo, the last stop of a two-week tour in Japan.

The live setting brings the best of this trio. The urgency and immediacy of a live, energetic experience, the time and space to develop the trio non-idiomatic improvisations and the deep trust of understanding of each other and the expressive, rich language of each of these opinionated musicians, especially Nørstebø. The three extended improvisations covers a wide spectrum - from abstract, minimalist segments that are affected by Morton Feldman's innovative work, the European, FMP school of free jazz, referencing the work of Alexander von Schlippenbach and the Bauer brothers, and experimental sonic searches.

The trio moves organically between these fields of music, never surrendering to any manner of linear articulation, pulse, or dynamics but rather keeping building the tension and the intensity of the interplay and expanding its rich palette of sounds. The most fascinating piece is the second improvisation, “Meanwhile, Somewhere”, built around silent pauses, slowly spreading its minimalist, low-volume sounds through the club space, as in a mysterious, meditative ritual, only occasionally the intensity of reserved, sensitive interplay is transformed into a powerful outbursts. The wise drumming of Wildhagen anchors the conflictual interplay of Nørstebø and Jerve in a kind of weird dance that patiently becomes more dense, wilder and powerful but concludes in a gentle, lyrical slow dance. Excellent way to end an excellent concert and a successful tour.

The cover continues the unique artistic line of Va Fongool, this time designed by noise master Lasse Marhuag, showing a pastoral scene from a cruel dolphin hunt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Larry Ochs & Don Robinson - The Throne (Not Two, 2015) ****½

By Stef

Interestingly enough, and despite his long-standing career, saxophonist Larry Ochs never released a duo album, having played in trios ('What We Live', Room, JMO, Sax & Drumming Core), quartets (ROVA!) and larger bands. The same can be said from drummer Donald Robinson, who has been collaborating with Ochs over the years in various bands, including in the late Glenn Spearman's Double Trio.

And now listening to just the two of them improvising to high heaven is an absolute treat : energetic, intimate, ferocious, playing nine tracks each with a different character and set-up, yet all fitting well in an overall coherent vision. That vision is one of lyricism and rhythmic pulse, with Och's sound full of raw granularity and authentic emotions, and Robinson's drumming a delight of drive and unexpected accents, and truth be told, just listening to Robinson - fantasizing the sax away in my imagination, as I'm doing now on "Breakout" - is by itself already a pure treat, but then with the sax the pleasure more than doubles.

Both men create such a fine interaction, full of dynamic power, captivating inventiveness and sophisticated rawness, with no unneccessary fantasies, no frills or fripperies or useless ornaments, just music stripped to its bare essence of lyricism and rhythm, like some ancient tribal dance, a tribute to music itself and some of their heroes - Glenn Spearman, Lester Bowie, Muddy Waters -

This album may be part of my top-10 of sax-drums duos, together with Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, McPhee and Zerang, Eskelin and Hemingway, Hubback and Peijnenburg, Carrier and Lambert, Gratkowski and Drake, Gjerstad and Bennink, Fisch and Wolfarth, Trovesi and Centazzo (taking into account that Coltrane and Ali are somewhere in another space).