Monday, March 2, 2015

1000 + 1 featuring Eugene Chadbourne – Butterfly Garden ( ) ***1/2



By Hugo Truyens

Jan Klare - alto saxophone & flute
Bart Maris - trumpet
Wilbert De Joode - bass
Michael Vatcher - drums & percussion
Eugene Chadbourne - guitar & banjo

It is strangely paradoxical that a free improvisation exercise can be taped and compared to another taped performance of the same pieces years later, with different people.  These pieces are from a suite called “Butterfly Garden” and the Good Doctor Chadbourne vents in them a long time fascination with bugs, insects, creepy-crawlies and other entomological entities.  This is the Bugworld Experience.  I listened to the septet version first, still for sale from the good doctor’s website, mainly because I discovered that it had Tobias Delius on sax and clarinet. It also had Wilbert de Joode on bass and Michael Vatcher on drums, as does the CD this review is about.  The septet version is languid, in many places some slowed down footage of butterflies in motion, utterly mesmerizing.

So when I start the CD I am immediately alerted by a tribal rhythm and the call of the horn.  This is Bart Maris on trumpet and when he is joined by Chadbourne on guitar and Klare on flute, I’m quickly drawn into a different garden. The Paris Swallowtail stutters by but once in a while his chitinous scales catch the light and reflect it, refract is it ?  The butterfly names are headings for little Ornettian studies in musical behaviour.  You need expert musicians for that, free musicians (Able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another (OED)).  Well, Jan Klare we know from the impressive Deep Schrott and the jolly gang called “The Dorf”, Michael Vatcher is percussionist par excellence partout , one of the not so many that can turn a drumset into a wave, Wilbert De Joode provides solid underpinnings, Bart Maris is one of the true trumpet players (check his Krommekeer) and then of course there is the unforgettable loose cannon known to the world as Dr. Eugene Chadbourne.  Dr. stands for draft refuser if I’m not mistaken. I could check. But my advice is that you go over to the Good Doctor’s website and acquire some of his goodiebags (mine came in a sweatsock).  He plays guitar and banjo on this outing and lends a distinctive edge to the proceedings.  Long Dash Skipper is playing now and Chadbourne transforms it into a demented bluegrass lick.  Playing the banjo is a hoot. Then touching on Reichian territory and off again in a skitterish rant. Not too shy either to dabble into a dirty sleazy bit of surfrock in Buckeye.

Improvisation is the process of devising a solution to a requirement by making-do, despite absence of resources that might be expected to produce a solution. The unifying moments in improvisation that take place in live performance are understood to encompass the performer, the listener, and the physical space that the performance takes place in. This is not me, it’s Wikipedia.  But it’ll do. 
The Silvery Blue unfurls its proboscis and strikes nectar. Sorry, couldn’t resist.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wacław Zimpel/KlausKugel – Music of Hildegard of Bingen (self-released, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

Hildegard of Bingen was a medieval mystic, the Catholic Church considers her a saint. Moreover, she was the first female composer whose works were documented. Basically, they are connected to the Georgian Chant and full of deep religious and spiritual emotion. For Hildegard music was like remembering the Garden of Eden, when there was harmony between the first people and the heavenly creatures. She thought that singing should be an integral part of the liturgy, bringing people closer to God by worshipping the creator with singing.  There is a collection of her spiritual songs (symphonia armonie celestium revelationum) including 77 liturgical songs and melodies about Hildgard’s world of visions, images and thoughts.  Her music is unique in the Gregorian musicology, it is characterized by a wide compass with big intervals like fourths and fifths. In modern classical and pop music there are hints to her music by people as different as Sofia Gubaidulina, David Lynch or Devendra Banhart.

The uniqueness of Hildegard’s music is exactly what inspired Klaus Kugel (dr, perc) and Wacław Zimpel (clarinets) to create a modern ritual with its core set in the European musical tradition. The percussion’s use of space makes one think of a medieval cathedral or a monastery with endless cloisters. Hildegard’s melodies flawlessly merge with the clarinet‘s improvisations, Zimpel uses them as a starting point for his own interpretation. It is meditative music, very quiet and tentative, and although Kugel uses his drums as another melody instrument, he also delivers a very reluctant pulse here and there, which gives the improvisation a special magic.

I am not sure if physical copies exist but you can listen to the complete album here.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Vijay Iyer Trio – Break Stuff (ECM, 2015) ****1/2

By Troy Dostert

Although it’s been a few years since pianist extraordinaire Vijay Iyer’s last trio release (Accelerando), he’s certainly been keeping busy.  Last year alone he made an excellent guest appearance on Trio 3’s Wiring, some fine contributions to Arturo O’Farrill’s Offense of the Drum and a splendid classically-shaped release under his own name, Mutations.  On this recording he’s back with his regular trio, featuring Marcus Gilmore on drums and Stephan Crump on bass.  And it’s a superb document of these musicians’ continual evolution and mutual exploration.

One definite difference from the trio’s earlier releases is the choice of material: whereas the previous recordings included some eyebrow-raising inclusions (M.I.A.’s “Galang” on Historicity, or Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” on Accelerando), here the trio’s covers stay safely within the jazz canon: Monk’s “Work,” Coltrane’s “Countdown,” and Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.”  The group remains just as committed as always to re-envisioning these tunes, however (with the exception of “Blood Count,” played straight, and gorgeously, by Iyer alone).  “Countdown” in particular is virtually unrecognizable, with only the loosest allusions to the understated melody of the original.  And the same spirit of adventure and possibility characterizes Iyer’s own compositions on the record as well.  Whether it’s Marcus Gilmore’s frenetic techno-influenced beat on “Hood” (dedicated to longtime Detroit DJ Robert Hood), or the slightly off-kilter yet irresistible rhythmic foundation of the title track, or the use of open space (and some fine arco bass from Crump) at the opening of “Geese,” each piece offers something distinctive and compelling.  Gilmore really deserves special mention, simply for the elasticity of his sense of rhythm: what frequently makes this music so fascinating is Gilmore’s ability to establish a steady pulse while at the same time subtly altering and toying with it—allowing the listener to engage each track, but never to get too comfortable in doing so.

Ultimately, the trio manages to anchor their rhythmic and melodic investigations within a sense of structure and purpose that is highly effective, giving the record’s tracks a cohesive feel, even when they’re at their most boundary-stretching.  And you can readily tell that this is a trio with deep roots playing together as a unit: there’s no ego or self-promotion involved, as the virtuosity on display is always in service to the demands of the pieces themselves.  Here’s to hoping that there will be many more recordings from this trio, as it continues to reveal new and exciting potential with each release.

Learn more.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Atomic - Lucidity (Jazz Land, 2015) *****

By Paul Acquaro

The opening bars of Lucidity reminded me of something. The refined relaxed piano and unison melody on the trumpet and sax invoked a sound that was at once classic and unique. From what I read here, structure, sound, and attitude referencing classic post-bop / free-jazz, mixed with free passages and virtuosic playing is the winning formula that Atomic has been tweaking over their many albums since 2001. I can't imagine any reason to change it, it's a delight.

I had the pleasure of seeing Atomic for the first date of their recent North American tour. In the opening moments of the show, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist introduced the band - the great Magnus Broo on trumpet, the intense Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass, most recent member Hans Hulbœkmo on drums and then the empty bench of the group's main composer pianist Håvard Wiik. Dues to unforeseen circumstances, Wiik was detained in Europe. With grace and humor, the temporary quartet's modified set list still left the audience gobsmacked. And it was kind of a tough crowd - a glance around the room revealed a number of well known musicians listening. After the sets, Broo explained how they reached back into their repertoire and quickly rearranged the tunes. You couldn't tell. 

Well, listening to the album, you can a bit. The album is a bit less raucous; however, even this is with many exceptions, for example on the title track, they delve deep and energetically into group improv. The moments of reflection, like on 'Start Stop' is where you see how much the piano has an impact on the group's sound. Wiik is reserved, he opts for splices of sound, fragments of melody, outlining and letting the group full in the sound. Fredrik Ljungkvist's clarinet work on the same track is excellent as well, working with ideas that reference blues and mainstream jazz, his sound is rich but light. Broo is on point too, using scatterings of sound and a bricolage of styles to shade in his part of the piece. 

Hulbœkmo, who joined in late summer, taking over from the Paal Nilssen-Love, connects with the group in all the right ways. His playing can be lithe and driving, or flat out powerful, and he locks in tightly with Haker-Flaten who walks, runs, swings and stomps throughout on the upright bass. A highlight of their interplay happens on the track 'Major' while Wiik's piano punctuates, Broo's trumpet navigates, and at the half way point, he plays a fantastic solo with the bass and drums skittering about.  

The gentle and lyrical December closes the album on a sentimental note, but not too sentimental. There is an edge, a brightness, to Atomic's classic sound. There is something subversive happening, and even at its most delicate, it's as tough as nails. Highly recommended.

Take a listen.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio – The Line (Clean Feed 2014) ****

By Chris Haines

Masayuki Takayanagi used to encourage his students to have their own guitar trio, seeing it as the definitive ensemble for a guitarist to be able to learn, experiment within and lead.  This was the unit that he felt his students could be ambitious with, the trio equally providing the basic elements of melody, harmony and rhythm.  Many guitarists enjoy working within a traditional trio format of bass, drums & guitar and there are many great albums that have pushed the boundaries whilst using these instrumental forces.  Luis Lopes is no different in this respect and he has previously released two excellent albums using the trio to great effect: What is When with Adam Lane & Igal Foni as well as the first album by the Lisbon Berlin Trio, comprising of Christian Lillinger (drums), Robert Landfermann (bass) & Lopes himself on guitar.

So it was with great excitement and expectant anticipation that I approached this album, especially after the excellent debut, which was a near masterpiece within the genre and complete with the same line-up.

The opener is Dark Suite (Prologue) providing a quiet and gentle, but slightly sinister start to the album with its tentatively bowed double bass, delicate percussion and diminished guitar motives.  The feeling of this piece being revisited, altered and expanded further on its sister track Dark Suite (Epilogue) later in the album.  At the heart of this album is the thirteen minute Mother Snake, a busy, industrious and chaotic sounding piece, which is full of energy during the first half of the track.  The second half continues with the noise based material but in a continuous drone based way, discarding the more pointillistic texture of the beginning and creating an over-arching binary form where the two textures both contrast and compliment each other.  Unlike the debut where there was a fine balance between the flowing free jazz playing and the forays into free improv, The Line places its emphasis slightly more on the noise-based materials and fragmented free improvisational textures.

It certainly seems that this trio is Luis Lopes’ experimentation unit that forges ahead with the sonic explorations that his other projects might benefit from in a more refined and subtler way.  Having said that I much prefer the rough forms and purely creative play that the Lisbon Berlin Trio has to offer over that of his other work.  This is at times a demanding album and due to the selection of materials that are worked with it is not as immediate as the debut, but the eventual pay-off is nearly as great.



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Marinated Improvisations

By Tom Burris

The following improvisations were recorded in 2012, but released at the end of 2014. 

Barker/Dunmall/Dahl - Luddite  (New Atlantis, 2014)**** 



Ludd-ite, noun, def: one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change.

21st century English working reed-man, Paul Dunmall, joined Yank drummer Andrew Barker and bassist Tim Dahl in NYC for a meeting.  The subject of this meeting was recorded – but what was it about the luddites that was on their minds?  Destruction of technology, or even a major opposition to it, seems a bit unlikely – after all, they're putting it down in a recording studio - but these days one can be considered a luddite for simply carrying last year's iPhone.  It is completely true that our tech age moves quicker than is practically needed.  In fact, it has become such a part of modern life that to live without regard to “keeping up” with technological advances is to almost exist outside of (a large segment of) society altogether.  In our new economy, can the term Luddite be synonymous with Outsider?  Aren't “free” players usually referred to as playing outside?   Let's consider that the modern luddite (sic) is as complex as the thing(s) he rejects – maybe more so.   He must practice what is possibly the most advanced system of all.  He must successfully navigate his way to freedom without a preordained map, electronic or otherwise, via the discipline of intuition. 

On “Shame Game,” the album's opener, the trio moves hypnotically through uncharted waters with all hands on a Ouija board deck.  Once sufficient courage has been worked up, Dunmall easily weaves in and out of Barker's crazy waves of floating trash as Dahl plunks and prods from behind, keeping the big ship moving down an obstacle course through a deep fog.  This is the intuitive map they will follow throughout the voyage.

Dunmall and Barker ditch Dahl on half of the album and perform as a duo, as on the title track.  Barker empties a kitchen junk drawer onto the floor and wades loudly through the glass, plastic and wood while Dunmall plays his sax through a wah-wah pedal into an amp that feeds back often.  He also briefly mimics a theremin before diving headlong into Jimi Coltrane mode.  At times they sound like two teenagers who just heard On The Corner and decided they could do that too; and then at other time it's as if the universe is nothing but pure interstellar space. 

Other highlights:  On “No Pity Party,” another duo track, Drunmall's intense-yet-extremely-melodic playing plows through Barker's multi-directional driving like a Boss.  The track peaks with what sounds like an ecstatic avian conversation around a newly-filled bird feeder.  “Champion” is a leisurely drive that accelerates only during the turns.  Barker spins an egg beater through a drawer of paperclips on “Spells” as Dunmall's rambunctious melodicism astounds with equal amounts of forcefulness and sensitivity. 

At the end of the disc (“Flecks”), birds flutter and leaves rustle.  An Englishman and a New Yorker emerge from the leaf pile, shielding their eyes from the sun.  They begin to play their instruments, slowly coming to life.  The sounds they make function as a spiritual caffeine, fueling new ideas and energy almost quicker than is practically needed.  Aaaaand the world turns.

Joe McPhee & Chris Corsano – Dream Defenders  (MNOAD, 2014) ****

The glorious onslaught of early Joe McPhee reissues in 2014 are still getting fairly regular play around here.  It's still jarring to hear the differences between those early assaults and his patient soft harmonics-blowing today; but it's also a fairly standard line of maturity.  A man learns patience as time marches onward.  He listens better.  He knows when to speak and when to hold back.  Events are filtered through experience.  The elder man still contains the intelligence and fire of his former self; but his actions are no longer held captive by his passions.  A man who has truly grown is guided by wisdom.

Chris Corsano is experiencing a similar transition these days, I think – although it's not as obvious.  He still loves to keep on the attack.  He's still the guy who lists Adris Hoyos as a major influence (and that's a great thing).  But his role as a support player is not just being perfected, but re-perfected over & over with every collaboration.  He still dazzles; but he is also aware that dazzling isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.  He's one of the smartest percussionists working today. 
So the passionate men have matured.  So what?  It makes for deeper music, that's what!  At one point on “Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone (for James Baldwin),” McPhee is blowing super-soft harmonics – so quietly that the sound of clacking keys is almost louder than the notes – and Corsano enters with bowed cymbals, endlessly weaving an eerily beautiful web around McPhee.  It's gorgeous and ominous, like a blizzard at dusk.  Corsano bows alone for a short while.  When McPhee reenters, playing a perfect flurry of notes, it's as if your guide has arrived to gently move you through the storm to safety.  His presence puts you at ease.

At one point during his two-minute solo intro on “Ain't No Thing (for Duke Ellington),” Corsano pounds out a pattern that sounds like the Drummers of Burundi – all of them!  When McPhee enters, his tone is simultaneously warm, inviting, shrieking, splattering and lovely.  It's as if they're both reminding us of their full capabilities, how large their arsenal really is, and how badly they don't want to simply throw it all at us.  “Here's just a short peek at what we could do to you if we wanted to...”  A sophisticated show of force is far more effective than a being exposed to a wild bunch of yahoos shooting their weapons off in every direction until they run out of ammunition. 

McPhee plays around with various two-note riffs on “The Icarus Effect” while both musicians allude to some pseudo-rumba tempo for about two-thirds of the track.  It is a flawed flight, but a fascinating one.  The highlight for me is “Other Evidence,” featuring Monk's famous melody leaping and loping out of the saxophone bell, and being chased by Corsano up a ladder into the clouds within one minute.  It suits its precise and concise author well; the whole track times out at 2:16.  It is perfectly stated.  Perfectly contained.  Perfect. 

Note:  I'm giving this one 4 stars instead of 4.5 because Corsano is often buried in the mix.  It sounds like McPhee was playing through a PA and Corsano didn't have a single mic on his kit.  And the recorder's lone stereo mic was placed somewhere at the back of the room.  But overall, the music here is so rich it's a minor complaint.  And at the price of the download it's a total bargain!

Available here:




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Torben Snekkestad & Barry Guy - Slip Slide And Collide (Maya, 2014) ****

By Stef  

Both Norwegian saxophonist Torben Snekkestad and British bassist Barry Guy have been classically educated and have performed and released classical CDs, but they are equally active in modern music and jazz. On this duo set, both musicians improvise on thirteen relatively short pieces, and what they bring us is more than worth listening to.

The album's title, "Slip, Slide and Collide", is taken from a metaphor of the movement of tectonic plates on our planet's crust, and gives an indication of what both musicians do, but then it doesn't, because it reduces their interplay to some mechanical geographic occurences, instead of intentional dialogues, which can be fierce, but also gentle, and even emotional. 'Utsira', the first track gives a good example of the latter, when Snekkestad's sax howls like a sad dog, with notes being bended to higher pitches, full of agony. In 'Ombo', the two musicians engage in a more parlando discussion, with short bursts full or surprise and antagony.

On the long 'Gurumna" we get the opposite: the bowed bass creates a foundation of long stretched notes, an invitation for the sax to join in the dark and ominous atmosphere, which is wonderfully dispelled by the almost joyous and lyrical 'Silda', on which the sax sounds warm and round, while the bass sounds like tumbling pebbles.

My favorite track is 'Cruit', a sensitive and beautiful interaction between bowed bass and high-pitched sax.

These two artists know their instruments, they sense each other well, and use the space for maximum contribution, including the occasional silence or resonance. One of the better sax and bass duets of the last years.


Monday, February 23, 2015

On Clark Terry

By Stef

Yesterday, trumpet and flugelhorn player Clark Terry passed away at the age of 94. He was not a free jazz musician, not by a long stretch, but a real bopper and bluesman, so I am a little bit out of my league commenting on him. But then again, he has offered me so much musical joy, and still does, when I listen to his albums with the Trumpet Kings, the four trumpet front with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Harry 'Sweets' Edison, and with Oscar Peterson on piano, playing blues and boogie and bop in a great spirit of improvised fun and the happiness of playing together, mostly live with enthusiastic audiences, who still applaud after each solo.

I'm listening to it now, and it's hard to qualify the music as artistic, in the sense of creating innovative listening experiences, yet what it lacks in artistic character, is largely compensated by the entertainment level, the presence of the musicians, the beautiful sounds of the trumpets and the fantastic atmosphere.

Thanks for the great music, Clark!




Ross Hammond & Catherine Sikora – Perfect Plasticity (Gold Lion Arts, 2015) ****½

By Chris Haines

Released this month by Gold Lion Arts this live recording is a cassette only release and is limited to 50 copies only.  Recorded at the arts centre in Sacramento this duo recording documents the talents of Ross Hammond (electric & acoustic guitar) and Catherine Sikora (tenor saxophone).

Perfect Plasticity is a great little set containing four improvised pieces of varying length.  The music the duo offers gracefully moves between bold approaches where melodic lines freely interweave with one another whilst individually vying for prominence and the more delicate attentive playing of lead lines and accompaniments.  A variety of textures and sounds keep the momentum of the music driving forward with more contemplative sections mixing in with knotty and twisted lines.  The space afforded to each other at times is also worth a mention, with either musician allowing the other to come to the fore, which provides a good contrast in the foreground sound.  Sikora’s melodies float along in a freely associative way whilst Hammond can be found providing equally writhing lines to match or considered chordal voicings that provide a decorous counter balance.  In fact, each musician uses a wide variety of compositional tools but in a natural and spontaneous way allowing the music to develop instinctively from within the dyadic relationship.

The two musicians have really provided us with a treat on this recording and I highly recommend getting hold of this one.  The cassettes can be purchased direct from Gold Lion Arts, but hurry, as they won’t last long!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jorrit Dijkstra - Music for Reeds and Electronics: Oakland (Driff, 2014) ****

By Antonio Poscic

Dutch saxophonist and composer Jorrit Dijkstra has had a fruitful and successful year. While he appeared on quite a few excellent releases (such as "New Crosscurrents - Live Bimhuis Amsterdam"), the record that piqued my interest the most was “Music for Reeds and Electronics: Oakland”. Daring, brave, and exploring uncharted territory (at least to my knowledge), it was one of my picks for most innovative record of 2014.

Indeed, a reed quintet enriched with electronics is not something you encounter every day. Dijkstra and his outstanding, experienced collaborators, Phillip Greenlief, Kyle Bruckmann, Frank Gratkowski, and Jon Raskin, present us with an imaginative and peculiar take on the format. As Dijkstra himself notes, this album melds experimental music with short compositions that connect the textural possibilities of reeds and electronics. Free jazz, free improvisation, electronic music, noise, and modern chamber music all converge in a set of 10 inspired tracks.

The quintet’s approach comes across as if each aforementioned style has been meticulously sewn into the others. Modern chamber music compositions provide the basic structure which is then mutated with shades of free jazz phrasing, analog and drone-like electronics, and improvisations. Even though it might appear as such at first glance, this is not a work of hermetic inaccessibility. Of course, it’s not lush either, but rather minimalist, coming closer to current experimental electronic music tendencies than jazz. There’s a sense of strange, idiosyncratic beauty in this intellectually challenging endeavor highlighted by occasional touches of groovy rhythms and melodies (“Feuilles Vertes”). On most tracks, the music eschews categorization. As an anonymous commenter reflected on the “Happy New Ears” award a few years back, the adjective “innovative” is nowadays quite often tied to electroacustic meanders. In that context, this record is no exception.

While as a whole everything works out nicely, there are two minor issues. The first of those is that the especially alluring dialogs between reeds and electronics are not present on all songs. Case in point, the album opens with two tracks played by reeds only, while the really interesting parts “kick in” on the third track “Easel” when the electronic instruments perform for the first time. The interactions, struggles, and counterpoints between reeds and electronics are surely the most compelling aspect of this album. For proof of that, look no further than the tracks “Headlands”, “Lope”, and “Veg”. The other thing that bothered me a bit is related to the very format and arrangement of this album. It’s comprised of short, individual compositions that feel fragmented and disconnected from one another, each revealing a separate world of ideas, all functioning without a binding, collective thread. At times, this can spoil the listener’s immersion in the music. Nonetheless, these are minor quibbles that we might as well disregard.

While “Music for Reeds and Electronics: Oakland” is a great record, there’s still room for improvement. Since this is only the first of three planned releases in the series, we’ll see what Dijkstra and his cohorts have in the bag for us on “Amsterdam” and “Chicago”. The bar has been set very high.