Monday, September 1, 2014

Paulo Chagas - Saxophone Solos (liner notes)

Recently, I had the honor of being asked to provide liner notes for a solo saxophone album by Paulo Chagas. It was my pleasure to do this, and in lieu of a typical review, I am posting my notes here, with a link to the recording which is available from darkpebble-blue wave. 

By Paul Acquaro

I'm on the commuter train, listening to a very early mix of Paulo's new solo saxophone album. The tracks are named and numbered essentially by date and what sax is being used. I am listening without knowing - no track names to fill my mind with interpretations, suggestions, or distractions whatsoever, it is just two Pauls with a saxophone and an ocean between them.

I’m looking out the window as the post-industrial landscape passes me by. Factories are being torn down, entire neighborhoods being turned into generic luxury spaces. My thoughts are in turn shaped by the sounds that both scrape and sooth my ears.

I wonder, what is it like in Portugal, in Paulo's studio, where he has lovingly recorded these expressions of his thoughts and feelings? What was he thinking? Why create something so personal as these improvised solo performances? Are we not hearing his voice, his thoughts, only slightly filtered through an instrument? Is he too looking at what's happening outside? Is he looking inward? Making up stories of things that have yet to happen? I wonder, as the sounds of breath, keys, embouchures, and creation happen.

I've never met Paulo in person but that does not really mean much in this context. I was first introduced to his playing through an album with fellow musicians Bruno Duplant and Lee Noyes called 'As Birds'. It came to me very early in my listening and writing about free jazz. For my review on, I wrote:

Chagas' bass clarinet and sax work is a joy to hear, though I've made my bias clear (I mention how much I love bass clarinet in the review). Not tempering the clarinet's bestial desire to squawk and rumble, but not relying on it either, he let's the instruments sonorous woody sound reverberate...
Parse through that mumbo jumbo and what I meant, and still believe, is that Paulo's playing speaks at both a very elemental and organic level (he lets the instruments be themselves, and in his hands they bloom) and with an emotional rawness that invites the listener to drop preconceptions and simply hear.

Paulo’s own website states that he “is a willfully eclectic musician, having devoted much of his career to experimentalism. Being by nature a maverick, he has committed his life to the research of new (or renewed) solutions and links between the sounds he explores.” Good enough for me, and really a great summary of this recording that you have at hand.

Saxophone Solos is a collection of 9 pieces recorded on soprano and alto saxophone between 2012 and 2014 in Paulo’s home studio. It is indeed an intimate portrait, a window into the sanctuary where ideas grow and the spirit wanders.

Paulo says that there is no set pattern to his creative process, almost anything may be an inspiration, "sometimes I played focused on an idea, a poem, a movie, a picture, sometimes could be a result of a technical exploration, and sometimes it is absolutely spontaneous stuff."

The stuff is good stuff indeed. Born of pure spontaneity and subconscious percolations, his ideas range from spittle riddled fluttering to repetitive rhythmic figures, and from extended techniques to sublime melodies. This very personal music speaks in many tones and always with deep feeling.

Says Paulo, "in this set of pieces I looked essentially for the balance between sound and silence, like a pencil drawing lines and points on the empty white paper"

Listen to natural pulse of the alto sax as a long droning tone begins to bubble. Feel the squawk as he bites down on the reed to get out that idea, that feeling. Take in the brief silence, as one idea seems to end, only to resurge with new vigor a moment later.

In the end, I cease trying to imagine what Paulo is thinking as he plays and just enjoy the thoughts that he has put down. I nod in agreement, I scowl in disapproval, and I smile in agreement. My fellow commuters, they just think I'm crazy, they don’t know the conversation I’m having with a saxophone playing in my ear buds. At they very least the seat next to me remains empty!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Akira Sakata: Artist Deep Dive (Day 2)

The second, and final day of our Akira Sakata deep dive. We begin with a second opinion on Iruman...

Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman (Mbari, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Interestingly enough – especially when you listen how easy it seems to be for Sakata – he has never played in a duo with a pianist before. It seems even more surprising that he does it now with Giovanni Di Domenico, a 37-year-old Italian musician who grew up in Africa and who has played with lots of the top dogs like Arve Henriksen, Toshimaru Nakamura or Alexandra Grimal. His album “Posh Scorch” with Nate Wooley and Chris Corsano was one of my favorite albums in 2013.

“Iruman” consists of ten mainly improvised tracks which combine traditional Japanese music, Western classical music and African influences as well as free jazz moments – but most of all some tracks remind of the music of Jimmy Giuffre.

“A Piece of Silence” sets the tone of the album, Di Domenico’s fragile tones almost show a relation to pianists like Colin Vallon, while Sakata’s bells and shakers sound like windchimes – you might feel like you are listening to an ECM production. Then, “Yellow Sand Blowing from China” presents Sakata on alto, his elegant sound contrasting Di Domenico’s hard touch on the piano. When Sakata plays the clarinet on “Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond”, “Water coming into Rice Field” and “The Peaceful Atmosphere of a Wood Sukiya-style Temple”, the Giuffre’s reminiscences are most obvious, the first one is the most beautiful track on the album being close to the border to classical chamber music, e.g. Brahms’ sonatas for clarinet and piano. When the musicians combine prepared piano sounds and percussion against Sakata’s chanting on “Voice from a Temple in the Deep Mountain”, which is very melancholic in contrast to his singing on “Arashi”, they show that their music is under constant change, all their different approaches are being displayed again and again. The final (and longest) track “Bud II” proves this: Compared to the elegant and subtle improvisations before, this is an aggressive back-and-forth conversation which is replaced by a cool-jazz-like middle part just to break free at the end again.

“Iruman” might even be called a romantic approach to improvisation, hardly ever has Sakata’s world been so accessible - flowing nicely in free structures as well as in an emotional atmosphere. A very recommendable album.

Listen to "Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond" here:

Akira Sakata, Fred Longberg-Holm, Ketil Gutvik, Paal Nilssen-Love: The Cliff of Time (PNL, 2014) ****

If you think that titles like “The Woman in the Dunes”, “The Dancing Girl of Izu”, “Face of Another” or “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” indicate another rather melancholic album like “Iruman”, you are totally wrong.

“The Cliff of Time” rather resembles “Arashi”– not only because Sakata teams up with Paal Nilssen-Love again, he is also augmented by Ketil Gutvik on electric guitar and Chicago scene institution Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Gutvik has won his spurs playing with Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit and with Okkyung Lee and Kristoffer Alberts, and Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love have been part of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Ballister, their marvelous trio with Dave Rempis (among a lot of other projects). This being said, the direction of this musical journey is pretty clear – straight and pure Chicago/Skandinavian scene free jazz.

The most obvious difference to the other two albums is the fact that Sakata abstains from singing and that he only plays the clarinet on one piece – where it also sounds angry and fragmented. He is rather a team player on this recording which gives the others a greater possibility to shine – especially Ketil Gudvik. His guitar displays various influences, from Sonny Sharrock, John Russell, Derek Bailey to James “Blood” Ulmer. Gudvik hits the guitar and tears with both hands at the strings creating a wall of splintering notes, and in combination with Lonberg-Holm’s cello, which is – as usual - very often put through the effect grinder. The result is a tightly knit carpet of unusual sounds, it is like watching glass splinters pouring down from a safe distance.

Sakata uses this background to sound like in his old days with the Yamashita Trio, fresh, iconoclastic, consequent and aggressive. The music here is a rollercoaster of emotions, played by excellent musicians who seem to have great fun. And the sound is transparent and crispy too.

You can buy these albums from

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Akira Sakata: Artist Deep Dive (Day 1)

Yesterday we posted a review of Akira Sakata and Giovani Di Domenico's Iruman. This weekend, we are taking a deep dive into more of Sakata's recent works.

By Martin Schray

Saxophonist Akira Sakata is a legend! From the 1970s to the 1990s it was pianist Yosuke Yamashita’s trio with him and Tateo Moriyama on drums which rocked the free jazz scene, particularly with spectacular performances at the festivals in Moers, Berlin, Montreux and Newport. Among others, their albums “Clay” (Enja), “Frozen Days” (Crown/Panam) or “Chiasma” (MPS) are absolutely recommendable. Sakata has played with the crème de la crème of jazz like Herbie Hancock, Sonny Sharrock, Peter Brötzmann, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Bill Laswell, but also with DJ Krush, Jim O’Rourke and Chris Corsano. All in all he has released more than 100 albums.

Fortunately, 69-year-old Sakata seems to be in good shape and has been touring and recording a lot recently. Last year he played the Berlin A`larme! festival with Michiyo Yagi (koto) and Tamaya Honda (dr), which was definitely a highlight of the program. It was a pleasure to see how Sakata, a very short but elegant and noble appearance, was roaming the location, and how happy everybody seemed to be seeing him. 

Akira Sakata, Johan Berthling, Paal Nilssen-Love: Arashi (Trost, 2014) ****½

On this album you can hear what a champion Akira Sakata is on the alto saxophone, his main instrument. The first track, “Arashi (Storm)”, presents a rather tender and reluctant Sakata, who is backed by Norwegian first class drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Fire! bassist Johan Berthling on double bass. But after only two minutes Sakata accelerates like a middle-distance runner in an Olympic final realizing that the tempo is not fast enough for him. This is classic high energy free jazz on an absolute top level, it seems as if all the three players have gone completely mad and angry. It is a relentless force of nature coming over you, it is –literally – a storm. All Brötzmann and Gustafsson fans will love it.

If you think that this could go on for the rest of the album, Sakata will surprise you – because on the next track “Ondo No Huna-Uta (Rower’s Song of Ondo)” he does what he is also famous for: He sings. Actually he gnarls, shouts, growls and barks, always being at the top of his voice – which is the greatest thing there is, because his voice seems to dance over Paal Nilssen-Love tumultuous attacks. If Yamatsuka Eye and Mike Patton listen to this piece they will get down on their knees.

And as if this wasn’t enough, Sakata has a last trump card on “Fukushima No Ima (Fukushima now)”, the final track: He plays the clarinet. And there is a tenderness and sadness to his playing which is almost heart-breaking, like a lament for the nuclear disaster which took place three years ago. It is a side of Sakata which he also presents on his album with Giovanni Di Domenico.

Listen to some excerpts here and available from

Friday, August 29, 2014

Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico - Iruman (Mbari Musica, 2014) ****½

Akira Sakata has been a standard bearer for free jazz in Japan for over forty years.  Giovanni Di Domenico, thirty years younger than Akira, is an Italian born, Cameroon raised pianist who operates in both improvised jazz and classical worlds.  Together they form a remarkable duo.  Akira has a deep, full bodied tenor sax sound, and Giovanni's percussive and classically informed playing (his influences stem from both Italy and Cameroon, where he was raised) complement each other in unexpected ways, tempering each other's moods, or fused together as one in their improvisations.  Their collaborative effort,  Iruman, is an outstanding work that inhabits both Eastern and Western cultures, deeply spiritual, and very creative. 

Outstanding tracks are "Bud I" & "Bud II"  (a reference to Bud Powell?), two blistering tracks that pulls and twists the listener's ears like taffy.  Akira fills a lot of the space with his bold playing, inhabiting the middle to lower register, while Giovanni's piano does the upper, and it is the progressive changes in the tracks that makes it interesting.  There is a high level of playing, as the improvisations are well conceived and executed -- one is always surprised by the changes in mode and mood.  "Lotus blossom in an old pond" is a classically influenced chamber piece, a mixture of late Eric Dolphy and early Chico Hamilton.  

Two of the most interesting tracks are when Akira uses vocals instead of his sax; "Papiruma" and "Voice from a temple," which are very theatrical; Akira's utterances like in Noh theater, mixed with chimes and a percussive piano accompaniment.  One should note that the titles for each track really do convey conceptually the music performed.  On the final track, "Yellow Sand blowing from China," they are able to convey the winds with a rolling flow of notes, undulating, hynoptic.  Iruman is a successful duets album, conceptually strong and expertly executed.  

Highly recommended.

Available at

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 3)

Rupp – Müller - Fischerlehner: Tam (Not Applicable Records, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Of all the Müller CDs reviewed here lately “Tam” is my favourite one. The band is Müller on trombone, Olaf Rupp on guitar and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Again Müller delivers permanent drones on the one hand and flapping helicopter sounds on the other, he spits, murmurs and puffs soundlessly, while Fischerlehner polishes his drum set with all kinds of found objects, clearly being a drummer in the tradition of Han Bennink and Paul Lovens. The grease between the two of them is Rupp - a marvelous guitarist who plays his instrument in a very upright position and whose fingernails look like claws crawling along the strings - who provides tremolos, superfast arpeggios and flageolets reminding of the great Derek Bailey but also of Thurston Moore.

The result is highly spontaneous music, zigzagging permanently between references to post-rock, Indian meditation music, free jazz elements and new classical music. The sounds condense, intensify and dissolve again, it is an intoxicating growling, pattering and buzzing,  just to be woven and reinterpreted into a complex and hypnotic whole that is both alien and attractive at the same time.
The musical approach on this album is even more about creating atmospheres compared to the other albums, structures and sounds fall apart and find together again, sometimes they connect, sometimes they don’t (in a positive sense). If improvised music is about free conversation and open-ended and self-generating processes, this album is an example par excellence.

“Someone might add a counterpoint, pick up a theme, or join in, and of course as a band you develop a sense for collective sounds and dynamic tension. It’s not really a question of deciding what comes next, but more like a development. A color becomes predominant and then suddenly everything spills into a new direction, or a sequence abruptly ends and suddenly something new is there. I can’t say for sure whether it’s purely intuition, coincidence, group dynamics, fleeting quantum events, or all of the above”, said Rudi Fischerlehner in an interview for the Saalfelden Festival.

My favorite moments on this album are the first part of the second half of “Pre”, where the music becomes very meditative and especially the drums sound like a wind chime which is supported by Rupp’s open, yet precise chords and tremolos, while Müller sets counterpoints sounding like a Wah-Wah guitar or a snarling animal (selectively), as well as the end of “Pei”, where the three play cascades of notes that sound like hailstones coming down on wooden roofs and “Tam”, a seven-minute exploration in drones and night-time jungle spookiness.

It is an album absolutely worth listening to.

You can buy the CD or the download here:

Look and listen here:

or here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 2)

The Astronomical Unit: Super Earth (Gligg Reords, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray
Compared to the almost classical free jazz approach of the Foils Quartet, The Astronomical Unit is much more interested in sounds and textures. Müller and drummer Christian Marien had been playing together for some time, before they were joined by jack-of-all-trades Australian bass player Clayton Thomas, who had moved from Australia to Berlin in 2007 to become a crucial member of the Echtzeit scene (just recently he returned to Australia, which is a major loss for the Berlin network).

On their second album (“Relativity”, the first one, was released by Jazzwerkstatt) the band immediately indulges in a labyrinth of drones. Especially Müller and Thomas, whose extensive use of material like license plates or metal rods which he puts between the strings, build up a really gloomy but also subtle and tense atmosphere. Sometimes they sound like a brooding volcano, there is a constant rumbling, a sensation augmented by Marien adding little dots of sounds, which he achieves by using a whole arsenal of different utensils. Müller is totally himself, snorting, steaming, puffing and chuffing, while Marien’s various drum sounds push the music forward.

Especially the second track, “Anti Matter”, lives from the contrast of Thomas’s bass buzzing (particularly his bowing), Müller’s circular puffing and flapping of single notes and Marien’s extended techniques (like the scratching of the cymbals), it sounds as if you were in the interior of a huge ship which scratches along a quay wall. The piece rattles and vibrates that it is pure joy to listen to. There is hardly any groove or pulse, only at the end of the track there is a deconstructed tribal beat which makes a nice contrast to the rest of the album.

The trio’s tightness, their homogeneity and their finely engraved way of playing make their approach to improvised music so unique, they combine the tradition of American free jazz and improv with the European structural focus.

A very interesting and challenging listening experience – I would like to listen to them in unusual locations like churches, caves or old industrial facilities. 

Listen to them here

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 1)

By Martin Schray

Trombonist Matthias Müller is a musician who is somehow underrepresented on our blog, although he is an excellent improviser and has been playing with lots of the usual suspects such as John Edwards, Mark Sanders, Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, Johannes Bauer, Tobias Delius, Olaf Rupp, Paul Lovens, and many more. In addition, he is also active in the field of contemporary music and he also is a member of Berlin’s highly prolific Echtzeit scene. We will review three of his current projects - Foils Quartet, The Astronomical Unit and Rupp/Müller/Fischerlehner - in the following days, but other band like Superimpose (his duo with Christoph Marien), his trombone trio Posaunenglanzterzett with Johannes Bauer and Christoph Thewes or Trigger, a project with Chris Heenan and Nils Ostendorf with which he has just played in south German caves (hopefully there will be a DVD), should also be mentioned.

Müller’s musicianship is outstanding, he commands his instrument extraordinarily well using all kinds of mutes and circular breathing as well as extended techniques like overtones and overblowing. The recordings reviewed in the following days have all been released recently.

Foils Quartet: The Jersey Lily (Creative Sources, 2014) ****

Matthias Müller’s latest album is Foils Quartet’s ”The Jersey Lily“ with Frank Paul Schubert (ss) – a musician I admire since I’ve heard him on Fabric Trio’s “Murmurs” –, John Edwards (b) and Mark Sanders (dr). Müller and Schubert have already worked as a duo under the name of Foils (they have released their debut on FMR) before they decided to cooperate with Edwards and Sanders, who have also worked as a duo before (e.g. on “Nisus Duets” on EMANEM) and who have played as a rhythm group for some of the most outstanding musicians of the English improv scene (like Evan Parker or Trevor Watts).

From the very first note “The Jersey Lily” is almost classical free jazz, music that lives from the excellent communication between the participants. The contrast between the various tone colors of soprano saxophone and trombone is both unusual and attractive at the same time, yet there is a lot to discover beyond this obvious contrast. In general the quartet’s playing is very homogenous and on a very high energy level, which – especially on the more-than-50-minutes-track “Eddie’s Flower” – doesn’t die down, the music remains concentrated and tight. It demands a lot of agility and flexibility from the musicians – like two table-tennis doubles playing on world class level. Edwards and Sanders put constant pressure to the reeds, which is counterattacked by Schubert and Müller with all kinds of structures and sounds. Both take turns – when one is into fast runs and swift lines, the other one delivers longer notes or they simply duel with each other, which makes a finely spun net of honking, squawking, breathing, flapping and sultry reeds sounds. That’s why the band’s approach might be described as rather textural than narrative, but it is absolutely not a mere mind game, though. Even if the music is sonically investigative and intellectually challenging it is also emotional and gripping.

Or – as Clayton Thomas has put it in the liner notes for the first Foils album:
On the surface, we might hear the echo of Paul Rutherford and Evan Parker, but listening closely, the tempos are all wrong, the durations extended to the point of breaking, the counterpoint incongruous with that generations thinking. Another language is being spoken here, one that hears with (eight) ears all that Berlin (and British) improvisers have achieved in the past 15 years integrated with musicality and empathy.  
Slightly modified this goes for the quartet as well.

You can buy it from the label:

Watch a complete concert of the band here:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Giacomo Merega, Noah Kaplan & Joe Moffett - Crows and Motives (Underwolf, 2014) ****

By Stef

Do you know Noah Kaplan (sax), Joe Moffett (trumpet) and Giacomo Merega (electric bass)? You may have come across them on ths blog as part of a quintet in Joe Moffett's "Ad Faunum", you may have come across Noah Kaplan's "Descendants" - unlike me - or you may have seen them perform in the broader New York area. In any case, they're not well known, and that's a shame, because they are good, really good.

On this intimate album the three musicians weave calm but intense sonic textures, with lots of emphasis and value on single tones, on shifting micro-tones which result in almost human voice inflexions, and an almost contemplative interplay. They describe it themselves as applying "traditional counterpoint to contemporary improvisation", and the result deserves to be heard to audiences outside New York.

The inspiration for the music came from the 15th Century composer Josquin des Prez' Missa L'Homme Armée, a composition that uses counterpoint and "mensuration canons", in which "each voice sings the same notes, but the length of time each note each note is sung differs", and we get a similar approach here with trumpet, sax and bass singing in layers of sound, creating a beautiful soundscape full of dark and melancholy undertones, full of human angst and despair. Not upbeat, but strange and beautiful.

Listen and download from the label.

Daniel Rosenboom Quintet - Fire Keeper (Orenda, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Readers be warned: the following album is firmly planted in the jazz-rock fusion category - though there is plenty of freedom to be found within these well crafted tunes...

Atmospheric melodies, biting guitar lines, driving complex rhythms all come together so seamlessly and fresh on Daniel Rosenboom's Fire Keeper that you might think the style was (re)invented here. Rosenboom is a trumpeter and composer from LA, he first came to my attention with his work with the woodwind master Vinny Golia a few years ago. We find him now starting the label Orenda and releasing this fiery album that pulls together often misused musical elements and puts them to good use.

The album kicks off with 'Leaving Moscow', which begins with the trumpet spinning an ethereal melody, but it is quickly picked up and inverted by Alexander Noice's incisive and crunchy guitar work ... and right here is where I throw in the cliche: it rapidly becomes some high octane music. The guitarist keeps the engines revved on the nervously twisting intro to the follow up track 'Seven on Seven'. Drummer Dan Schnelle and Bear Trax player Kai Kurosawa lock in tightly, keeping things moving along, even during the breakdown. Appearing about halfway in, the track splinters into free playing, and the guitarist delivers another combustible performance. Metallic touches from Gavin Templeton's flute also provides some nice texture. Deliberately primitive drumming and muted wailing trumpet change the album's direction a bit on 'With Fire Eyes', a track that digs deep into some heavy jazz-rock sludge. Other tunes, like 'Hush Money' starts off with a glam rock like intro only to find the stomping rhythm be festooned with knotty melodic passages.

It's not smooth, it's not forced, it's not free jazz and it's not really avant-garde, rather Fire Keeper is a wonderfully fresh take on the maligned f-word genre, and to my ears it's an album that shows how much life there still is in it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Moskus - Mestertyven (Hubro, 2014) ***½

This time they assembled in a 17th century wooden church, exchanged the grand for an upright and went for a recording session without much prewritten.  Them being Anja Lauvdal: piano; Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson: double bass; Hans Hulbækmo: drums.  Also known as Moskus.  And by their previous album Salmesykkel, nice word, which to those of the Norwegian persuasion among us might sound as Psalmbike.  And that kind of makes sense, there is the feel of psalms there and of a country ride on a bicycle.  Quiet joy.  

The new album is called Mestertyven (master thief).  It is altogether a different ride, still on a bike though.  The countryside has changed and their ears have taken them out on a more roving course, a sparse theme is conjured up out of nothing much (stolen), that theme sets up a drive, a context and over and in this context the theme is played in, out, over and through.  When much is said, all is done and we’re left with the subtle shading of a phial containing Nordic air.  

Titles are Yttersvingen (Outer circuit) which goes out around the bend, on broken rhythm, Leverpostei med Brie (Liverpaste with Brie) which could be too much of a good thing to anyone but it stumbles nicely through the changes here and manages to bring all to a timely end.  Most of the pieces are open ended explorations of the particular soundworld they find themselves in whether it be the pastoral sheen of Tradisjonskvelern or the hypnotic patterns of Tandem med Sankt Peter.  Glasblasern delivers an eerie  tinkling scene of free flowing faeries and manages to pull that off.  Jag har ett agg (I have a grudge) contains a patiently buzzing bumblebee, it is the flight of, but not as you know it.

Sound is used to intensify the silence.  Sounds taken at face value and used, stolen from Monk, Bley, Moondog, some Harry Partch, and shaped into little slips of something.  Quiet exhilaration. Thieves want quiet, not a barking dog.  They will move on to the next house.  The poet alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him and of flinging it abroad again amid planetary music  (James Joyce). Listen. (nice cover too)