Survival Unit III

Fred Lonberg-Holm, Joe McPhee, Michael Zerang.
Weikersheim, Germany, October 2015. Photo by Martin Schray

Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley, Chris Corsano

IBeam, September 8, 2015. Photo By Peter Gannushkin


Olaf Rupp and Rudi Fischerlehner
Manufaktur, Schorndorf, Germany, September 2015. Photo by Martin Schray


Art Bailey, Kirk Knuffke, Michael Wimberly, Michael Bisio
October 2015. Zurcher Gallery, NYC

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Le Rex – Wild Man (Cuneiform, 2015) ****

By Eric McDowell

Swiss quintet Le Rex brings their music to the people—literally. According to their website they like to record in public places like “department stores, farms, construction sites,” and even “scrap yards.” This preference seems in keeping with the spirit of their low-maintenance and portable all-acoustic set-up. From the top down we have Benedikt Reising on alto sax, Marc Stucki on tenor, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, and Marc Unternährer on tuba, plus Rico Baumann on drums. Having recorded their first two albums all over Corsica and Switzerland, the group followed up their US tour with a sojourn in one of the centers of free jazz, Chicago, to make Wild Man. The music on this latest effort bears the stamp of a wonderful variety of influence and inspiration, from New Orleans second-line and the AACM to Swiss clockmakers and alpine dwarves. There’s even a track in celebration of Richard Kiel, the actor who played Jaws in the James Bond movies. All this is to say we get everything we’d expect—and more—from a band called Le Rex on an album called Wild Man: playful, energetic music free of self-serious pretentions. Or as they themselves describe it, “a kind of cunning adventure jazz.”

Piece by piece, and even within individual pieces, the adventure unfolds as a series of constantly shifting stylistic strategies, with a dedication—and ability!—to groove that both grounds the listener in each moment and dramatizes each redirection. In other words they keep us on our toes, mixing things up just as we’re getting comfortable. Naturally a lot of this work falls to Baumann, who’s more than up to the task. Take for example “Home Alone,” which spends its first half pushing and pulling us back and forth from full to half-time feels without falling out of the pocket and then launches into a slow, snare-dragging march—all in two minutes. Or “Don’t Lean on the Case!,” inspired by the words of a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, which somehow takes us from a driving sixteenth-note hi-hat groove into a sort of Afro-Cuban 6/8. In other places we find hard-swinging second-line just shy of overdone (“Dwarf”), festive calypso with some infectious unison playing (“Riff Raff”), or flirtations with tender balladry (“Hymn to the Cold”).

The overall effect is surprise that comes off as both sure-footed and spontaneous. This requires planning and a kind of selfless submission to the chart, but don’t think that Wild Man doesn’t give each member of the quintet the liberty to stretch out and explore. “Anchor” starts off with a moderate finger-snapping swing that gradually frays apart underneath a marvelously slurred and breathy tuba solo by Unternährer—but it doesn’t end there: over an accelerating rhythm section in the second half of the tune, Stucki pushes a furious solo into the upper registers. “Le Clic” showcases some more nice sax work, as well as a tasteful drum solo à la Roy Haynes. The album features Tschopp’s excellent trombone playing throughout; see the dueling solos on the free-leaning title track, or the open-ended introduction to the leaden swinging final cut, “Be in Shape!,” one of my favorite moments on Wild Man. They aren’t afraid to bury it late in the album—knowing, I suppose, that we won’t be able to stop listening before the whole thing’s over.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Left Exit - Mr K (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

By Stefan Wood

Let's be clear: this is not the group Last Exit. There's no Peter Brotzmann, no Bill Laswell, no Sonny Sharrock. No ear splitting music, no shredding nor thunderous pounding of the senses. This is Mr. K's Left Exit, Mr. K being the duo of Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (sax) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). Joining them on this album are Michael Francis Duch (bass), and Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (sax/clarinet). Their music is minimal, using silence as it's fifth group member, hovering close to the bottom register and at low volume, tense and atmospheric, with only a few moments of high pitched bursts that are satisfyingly climatic.

 Throughout the eight tracks on the album, the group effectively paints an abstract canvas of sonic gestures and modes, building compositions that emphasize a sparseness and economy of voices that are quite beautiful. Nyberg and Holm are practically breathing into their instruments, like crickets. Duch has a hypnotic rhythm to his bass playing -- a low, faint register that is nevertheless insistent and penetrating. Winther's percussion shimmers like light on a rippling ocean -- again, not pounding, and not soothing, but atmospheric, accenting the overall tone of the music. 

Left Exit may not be earth shattering like Last Exit, but it is no less compelling. Fine abstract compositions, excellent improv. Recommended!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink – 1971 (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray (with some help from Colin Green)

Peter Brötzmann’s seminal trio with Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, which ran from 1970 to 1975, is well-documented. There are four albums by the actual trio (Balls, FMP 130, Outspan No. 2 and Tschüs) and four more if you also count the albums on which Albert Mangelsdorff augments them on trombone (Outspan No. 1, Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End). Is there a good reason for a further album from that period? Well, it‘s always great to get “new“ material of one of the best European free jazz trios of all time, and the album‘s a missing link between Balls and FMP 130 (the 1971 albums Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End include Mangelsdorff).

1971 is a compilation of a 26-minute live track recorded at the legendary Burg Altena festival, hitherto only available on a hard to find LP sampler: 2. Internationales New Jazz Meeting Auf Burg Altena (JG-Records, 1971) and two previously unreleased tracks from recordings made shortly before the festival gig at the Radio Bremen studios.

It‘s also an albumtypical of the trio, whose governing dynamic was three very different musical temperaments clashing into each other. In particular, “Just For Altena“, the live track, is classic, iconoclastic, played-to-pieces stuff with all its advantages and disadvantages (for example: it was difficult for Van Hove to prevail against the two power players). Bennink proves he is a drummer who‘s not interested in smooth transitions but in abrupt interruptions, definite solutions and harsh accents. He structures the piece with abrupt stops and sudden changes, from massive cymbal work to his huge additional set of percussive instruments. At that time he was famous for his varied arsenal with all kinds of flotsam and jetsam augmenting his traditional kit – including the floor and the walls of the room – quite literally, his playing was off the wall. He‘s not preconceived or arbitrary, however. His distinctive qualities are intensity and quick, accurate responses to the contributions by Brötzmann and Van Hove. But despite Bennink’s brutal eruptions and the fact that there‘s still a lot of thickly textured power playing, the track still leaves considerable space for Van Hove’s delicate and harmonically intricate work. In contrast to earlier recordings by European free jazz bands, this trio opened up for a number of solos and duos, especially between Bennink and Van Hove. Although Brötzmann is better known for introducing the “aesthetic of screaming“ into free jazz (as Ekkehard Jost puts it in his very good book Europas Jazz (Fischer, 1987)) he was also a mediator between the two extremes Bennink and Van Hove represented. Of course, there are his notorious overblown passages and his emotional outbursts,  sometimes at the threshold of pain, but there are also almost hidden, blurred quotations of shanties, military marches and traditionals (“When the Saints Go Marching In“) and even some tender moments - something more to the fore in his current playing. In general, you can recognize a tendency to transparency, contrast, respect and structural distinctiveness in the trio’s playing,  despite the collective ecstasy and emotional intensity: In other words, the band developed its own distinctive style.

This development is even more apparent in the two studio tracks “Filet Americain“ and “I.C.P. No. 17“. “Filet Americain“, a Van Hove composition, is more a sound excursion by the band’s standards. Van Hove at the prepared piano comes to the fore and includes new music allusions, delicately supported by Bennink on all kinds of additional material. Then again, after a short Brötzmann interlude, the Dutch eccentric is ready to end the piece with a hefty drum solo on his regular kit. It’s a different version compared to the one the trio recorded on Balls but there are similarities in the sound and form of the piece, and is further proof that free jazz can be well structured in spite of its focus on improvisation.

“I.C.P. No. 17“ starts with a reed battle between Brötzmann and Bennink, another distinctive feature of the trio (Bennink is an amateur on these instruments and approaches them with a musical curiosity he regards as perfectly legitimate). The track also highlights a more sonic side to the trio – again with Van Hove playing very melodic lines to contrast with the reeds’ abrasive sounds.

In a nutshell: the album fills an important gap in the Brötzmann discography, looking back to where he started and forward to some of his current playing.. It‘s also a very good, rock-solid, classic European free jazz album, to be enjoyed by anyone interested in this kind of music.

1971 is available on CD and you can buy it from and

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The various faces of Susana Santos Silva (Day 2)

By Stef

Susana Santos Silva - Impermanence (Bandcamp, 2015) ****

"Impermanence" is a hard to categorise album. It brings composed pieces, with strong themes and arrangements, yet it also deliberately colors outside the lines, disorienting listeners who thought they were on an easy ride, and obviously also offering a lot of space for improvisation.

The first track, "Many Worlds" is a good example of this, the angular theme is soon disrupted by electronic sounds, and then the whole carefully organised edifice collapses for some undefined music, with a moaning trumpet leading the way into this wonderful universe of strong contrasts, because before you know, you're listening to some post-boppish rhythmic band interaction, only to end with electronic high-pitched tones. "Many Worlds" indeed, and it also give a good idea of the album's title "Impermanence", the common ground of shifting sounds, changing ideas and life that floats through multiple forms, from solid tangible ground to ephemeral abstractions and everything in between, never repeating itself, always re-inventing itself, and so is this music.

The band are Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn, João Pedro Brandão on alto and flute, Hugo Raro on piano, Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass, Marcos Cavaleiro on drums, and Malle Colbert offers field recordings for two tracks.

"Obvlivious Trees" starts with a very intense and in-your-face dialogue between muted trumpet and arco bass, as if both are arguing or quarreling or even fighting each other, yet then the plucked bass takes the lead position, guiding us into more boppish territory with a flute solo, supported by percussive piano chords, then again shifting into a disciplined drums solo to end the piece.

"Imaginary Life" is playful, starting with unison horns supported by light piano arpeggios and sophisticated percussion and when the band stops, Santos Silva's trumpet takes over for a unaccompanied solo that is full of contrasts between ferocity and gentleness.

In contrast, "Geringonça" is wild and energetic, starting like mayhem, yet gradually the band folds into patterns and even quietens down a bit as if collecting their thoughts for the unison theme that only emerges in the last seconds.

One more track that really stands out is "Sound Of Thought", a piece that starts with what could be an impression of my own thought processes, full of chaos, darkness and opacity, yet halfway these various conflicting and contrasting sounds coalesce into one, resulting in a lightly boppish song, in which the alto plays a beautiful solo, before being joined by the trumpet, and all's well that ends well.

In short, the most accessible of the albums reviewed here, with often beautiful themes and heart-rending solos, even if the band does not shy away from adventurous moments and even daring conceptual ideas.

Susana Santos Silva & Kaja Draksler - This Love (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

This is by all means a recommended album, if only because we have a wonderful duo by two of Europe's most promising female musicians, Susana Santos Silva from Portugal on trumpet and Kaja Draksler from Slovenia on piano. The album is quite balanced in terms of compositions : two tracks by Draksler, two by Santos Silva and two joint compositions, organised in a circular way on the album, bookended by the improvisations and with Santos Silva's composition at the centre.

The opening track, "Laurie", is playful and fresh in the beginning, opened by the trumpet, with a strong entry by Draksler with some fast right hand runs, suggesting it as a kind of theme full of suprise and wonder, echoed immediately by the trumpet, then the intensity increases, driving the discovered material into denser and more hectic territory, without losing the playfulness, taking it to quieter moments with the occasional pause, then up again moving it into darker realms, with growling multiphonics and dramatic piano-playing.

"This Love" is a quiet ballad, lead by the piano, gentle and mysterious, reinforced by the warm tones of the flugelhorn, deepening the emotional power of the piece, that is at the same time open-ended and determined, a strange kind of paradox that gives the music a special quality, as if certainty and uncertainty are both at play.

"Hymn To The Unknown" is dark and brooding, a typical Santos Silva composition, on which the eery trumpet tones are supported by deep rumbling in the piano's interior, a piece that keeps evolving in tone and nature, with open spaces, small percussion by Draksler on the strings, evolving into lightness and quiet beauty.

"Foolish Little Something" is a playful unison high tempo piece with rhythmical complexities thrown in to increase the fun, with an atonal chaotic middle part, a nice collision of ideas, and quieting down towards the end.

"Forgotten Lands" I would call a typical Draksler composition, clever and disciplined and fresh, built around arpeggio chords for the left hand, and post-boppish phrases with the right, sweet and somewhat nostalgic, and again the trumpet's deep tones add a wonderful addition to the composition, making the piece both jubilant and solemn.

"You Persevere" ends the album with again an open duo improvisation, one which uses more extended techniques on both instruments, more adventurous in nature, and really strong, with Santos Silva demonstrating her incredible sonic skills on the trumpet, not to show off, but to create an uncanny and eery soundscape, supported by a piano that produces apparently endless sustained notes and percussive scraping.

I would suggest you listen for yourself. Both young artists have produced an album worth looking for, with music that is on the one hand balanced and controlled, and at the same time adventurous and exploring, and in doing so creating strong musical and emotional contrasts, often within the same composition of improvisation, taking the listener by surprise, but then surprises of the pleasant kind.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Susana Santos Silva - Exclusive Interview

Free Jazz Collective : A few years ago you were mostly known in Portugal, now you play all over the world and in different bands. How do you explain this difference? What changed everything? 

Susana Santos Silva : It's kind of a normal development, though I also think that, on the one hand I was a bit lucky and, on the other hand, I really went for it at some point! 

There were a couple of things that helped a lot. One of them was to be part of the European Movement Jazz Orchestra in 2007, where I met Kaja Draksler, someone I've been connected since then. It was the first time I went to play abroad with musicians from other countries whom I met for the first time then. Until then I had only been playing, since I was 17 years old, with the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos in Porto (OJM). 

The other important step in my musical life was to move, for a little while, to Rotterdam in The Netherlands, where I met Gonçalo Almeida. When I arrived in town he put together the band LAMA. Later on we released our first album, Oneiros, on Clean Feed and this was probably the biggest step for me to get out in the world. 
The 12 Points Festival in Dublin, for emerging young musicians, at which I played with my quintet in 2011, was also a important event, I believe. 

This was the lucky part of it all. The other reason was that a very important change in my life happened a bit more then three years ago. A change at many levels and from then on I'm really living accordingly to what I believe and who I really am, as a human being and as a musician. I stopped trying to be what I thought I should be and I started to truly speak my heart out. For me music is a strong passion and a way of living and I think that I've kind of started to get all that I give back from the world. 

Free Jazz Collective : Your three latest albums "Impermanence", "If Nothing Else", and "The Paradox Of Hedonism" are completely different in nature and in style. Does the style make a difference to you? Which do you prefer naturally? Will you ever make a choice among these approaches or are they all valid for you? Improvised vs composed?

Susana Santos Silva : Styles don't make any difference. The important thing is that the music is well played, sincere, honest, with an open heart and mind. I also like playing without a safety net, which means that risks are taken and boundaries and limits are pushed continuously. Right now I have an inclination to prefer improvised music in general because it's so much more "authentic" somehow, I feel so much freedom … Anything can happen, there are no "shoulds" or "musts", and there isn't  that thing of getting a bit stuck on what is written… I can let myself go completely, and that feeling has no comparison whatsoever with anything else. When expectations disappear, when time gets suspended and space is not a place anymore and all there is is nothing… except for that musical communion… it's truly magic, beautiful stuff!

But all music is valid, of course, and I do like to play written music. The "Impermanence" project is all music written by me for this specific band. It was recorded within a Jazz Association in Porto, Porta-Jazz, and except for Torbjörn Zetterberg, all the musicians are living in Porto and are part of this association. There's also a lot of improvisation and I've tried to find open spaces within the structures so everyone could express themselves freely. It's not easy to find this balance between composition and improvisation and for me it's just a work in progress so far.

"If Nothing Else" is an album I really enjoy listening to, which is normally something hard for me to do! It's improvised music but with a great sense of structure and development within each song. And that's what can be so beautiful in an improvised piece of music, that all the notions of composed music, like the development of an idea, theme and variations, counterpoint, leitmotifs, dynamics, question-and-answer phrasing, different layers, textures, and so on, can just happen spontaneously, in the moment.

Free Jazz Collective : You seem to like duets, as with Torbjörn Zetterberg or with Jorge Queijo. And we look forward to your new album with Kaja Draksler. What is so special about the duet for you? 

Susana Santos Silva : A duet is a one-on-one conversation type of meeting, that's quite special and intimate. It's two people discovering one another in a very direct and beautiful way and with no one else in between, so there's nowhere to hide. It's also very challenging musically and technically. I like to connect that way with other musicians and I like the challenge.

Free Jazz Collective : Who were your role models in music/trumpet-playing? And what are the key learnings you have from them?

Susana Santos Silva : This is always a tough question to answer… There are too many to name, and for so many different reasons, that I always skip to name any. But what I learned with all of my favorite musicians through history, is that what is really important is that I tell my own story. As a musician I'm a mix of many different influences from all kinds of music and musicians, as well as from life itself and everything that surrounds me. But when it's time to step on stage to tell my story it's my voice that comes out of my horn. I could never tell someone else's story.

Free Jazz Collective : What would you like to achieve? What is your ambition with your music and with your trumpet playing? What would you like people to say about your music in 2115? 

Susana Santos Silva : I'm a perfectionist and very ambitious, two things that might work against me and the relaxed life I would like to live. I would like to do so many things, there's one million projects in my mind all the time. 

Yet I don't feel like I need to achieve anything specific really. I'm living an amazing life right now. I'm playing, I'm living from it. I am meeting wonderful people around the world and I can live from my passion! It's not easy, don't get me wrong! It's often hard and complicated but at the same time it's really beautiful! I want to keep doing my thing, experimenting and exploring new paths, new ways of telling my story. 
I don't have any wish whatsoever for people to listen or to talk about my music in the future, honestly. But on the other hand, if people listen to it, now or in 2115, and if I touch people in any way, if my music heals their pains, even for some minutes, if I bring people some joy or hope, or even just a smile, if my music makes someone think out of their ordinary system of thoughts, if my music makes any difference in this world, then I will be extremely happy to be able to give something meaningful back to society!

The various faces of Susana Santos Silva (Day 1)

By Stef

It's amazing how some things suddenly change for people when they're young, and their talent becomes recognised, and it's as if they're hot, and everybody wants to play with them, in various settings and contexts, and it's no different for Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santo Silva, who has been reviewed before on this blog and with high appreciation.

This year, she is even more prolific, with five new albums as a (co-)leader, all five of a totally different nature, including Lama's "The Elephant Journey" which was reviewed earlier this year.

The constant elements are the trumpeter's stellar playing, with a deep and warm sound all her own, even in the more adventurous moments, and with a clear interest in philosophical topics, as we can decode from the song titles.

We start with two albums today, and we will review the two other ones tomorrow, with an interview with the trumpeter somewhere in between.

Susana Santos Silva, Tom Chant & Vasco Trilla - The Paradox of Hedonism (Discordian, 2015) ****½

The "Paradox of Hedonism" is philosophical concept that says that you cannot acquire pleasure or happiness directly, they can only be acquired indirectly. And like this title, the other tracks of the album are all philosophical themes, either related to this paradox, or a little more remote like Nietzsche's "Will To Power". Our friend Wikipedia will tell you more about all this here. Pleasure and happiness are consequences, not objectives.

So what does this mean in musical terms? This is the task of Susanna Santos Silva on trumpet, Tom Chant on tenor and soprano saxophones, and Vasco Trilla on drums and percussion. The interesting thing is that you would expect a very abstract and high brow affair, yet it isn't. It's actually quite the opposite. It's a kind of organic improvisation, like the sound of nature or even better the sound of animals. You can hear them interact in short screams and statements, sometimes angry, sometimes gently, energetic or calm, but actually going nowhere at all. It all takes place in the moment, without clear direction other than what is happening right now, moved forward in reaction to what the other musicians are doing. The sounds are very close to the listener, as if you're part of what's happening, or at least in the middle of it, which makes it both intimate and disconcerting at times.

The result is really excellent, and despite it's obvious lack of accessibility, I also find it the best album of the three reviewed here. All three musicians share the same musical vision and maintain the approach despite the variety of angles by which they attack the concept. It's also relatively unique, which makes it fascinating.

This will not be for everyone's ears, but more than worth exploring for the more adventurous listeners, who will not be disappointed.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Susana Santos Silva, Zetterberg & Lindwall - If Nothing Else (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

The second album is of a totally different nature. These are sounds of great distances, with an unusual line-up of trumpet, bass and organ, played by Susana Santos Silva, Torbjörn Zetterberg and Hampus Lindwall. Santos Silva and Zetterberg will be known to our readers, but Lindwall probably not, at least not to me, and that's because he is mainly a performer of classical contemporary music, and he also is the "titular organist of the Saint-Esprit Church in Paris".

So the sound of great distances, with the trumpet played with as if from the other end of a huge resonating space, with the organ offering an incredible somber and eery depth, and the bass is in between, probably closest to the listener, but equally epic in nature, and can be at times reminiscent of the Scandinavian sound of some ECM albums. It is expansive, open-ended, grand. Yet in contrast to the ECM sound, it has a darkness that is at times uncanny, as on "Atonality", where the muted horn plays a sad improvisation supported by quietly wailing arco bass and the distant organ, that gives a single bass drone and a few sustained chords, and then the whole intense edifice reduces itself to atonal, barely audible sounds.

The album consists of eleven improvisations, and they keep their unique approach to the overall sound and interaction in a very consistent way, often fascinating, daring, and above all mesmerising and moving. Even the last track, "One Note Song", is exactly what it says, yet when the beginning sounds like the sustained sound of a fog horn of a distant ship, the shifts in intensity and timbre turn it into something more somber and devastating, with just one note, just to showcase the vision behind the music and the quality of the three musicians to deliver it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irina-Kalina Goudeva - Triptych #6: Recomenzar El Infinito (CD/DVD, Kadima collective, 2015) ***½

The classically-trained Bulgarian, Copenhagen-based, double bass player Irina-Kalina Goudeva has developed an eclectic aesthetics has led her to experiment with crossovers between Barouque music, contemporary music, avant-garde, jazz, free improvisation, and electronics, often involving other media as dance, reciting poetry, and visual installations. Her triptych release - the sixth in this series of the Jerusalem-based label of Kadima Collective, after previous ones by other innovative double bass players as Mark Dresser, Joëlle Léandre, Tetsu Saitoh and Barre Phillips - offers an insightful overview of her art.

The disc feature seven compositions by modern European composers - Ejnar Kanding, Edith Canat de Chizy, Pierre Jodlowski, Line Tjørnehøj, Mogens Christensen, Jexper Holmen and Bo Jæger - written especially for Goudeva, for her playing the double bass solo or with electronics, solo voice and for her Arild Trio with guitarist George Vassilev and drummer Christophe Fellay. The enclosed booklet offers a thorough description of each composition. Each of these intriguing compositions suggest different sonic textures but all sound as demanding as the intense physical power needed to play the double bass. Still, all are balanced with a moving, delicate simplicity, as if the musician, Goudeva, is dancing with her instrument, tempting it, seducing it and being charmed by its sounds.

“Vola”, for double bass and electronics by Pierre Jodlowski, follows the myth of Icarus and weaves an arresting parallel logic of the transformation of sounds. Noises that suggest sounds of flying bird evolve into sparse notes and light rhythmical patterns, exploring the full sonority of the double bass and extending its palette with clever usage of electronics. The 18-minutes “Echoes from Fragments” for solo double bass by Mogens Christensen, enables Goudeva to demonstrates her rich-genre blind language and her commanding technique, including her unique extended bowing techniques, producing a multifaceted, nuanced texture. She sings with great emotion the poem of Pablo Neruda “En ti la tierra” to the music of Jexper Holmen.

The DVD is divided to compositions that are presented with  animation and motion graphics, created by Casper Øbro, most notably the poem cycle “Landscapes” by Bo Jæger to texts of Danish poet Morten Søndergård, and to compositions that show Goudeva playing live. The latter compositions explore Goudeva unique, highly evocative and sensual holistic approach to performance art.  The theatrical, choreographed “Menada”, after the mythological story about a snake that turned into the goddess Menada, for voice and double bass, written by Bulgarian composer Julia Tsenova for Goudeva, is the most remarkable one. It is a-one-woman show that integrates voice, dance, playing the double bass with visual effects. This compositions show Goudeva dressed with a tight body cloth, entranced in a kind of shamanic ecstatic and sensual ritual with her double bass, as a love object, exploring the instrument timbral spectrum. Her body becomes the sound, celebrating her profound spiritual-sensual connection with the double bass, almost reaching an emotional climax. The trailer to her multimedia theater composition, “Oración Del Fuego” (The fire Prayer), continues this ecstatic vein, but in a much more restrained manner. This composition also relates to the mythological story of Menada, but this time to the times when the goddess renounces her powers and experiencing forms of terrestrial life. Her technical virtuoso playing is highlighted when she leads a string orchestra, playing Astor Piazzolla “Kicho”, written originally for the double bass.

Goudve is a one of a kind performance artist. Her art deserve more attention.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ahleuchatistas - Arrebato (International Anthem, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I've been mesmerized by the fearsome math rockers Ahleuchatistas. The North Carolina based guitar/drum duo of Shane Parish (guitar) and Ryan Oslance (drums) deliver some carefully constructed progressive music, leaning toward the heavier rock side, but still balanced tunefully with space and melody. I had been listening and following along, but somewhere in these carefully constructed twisting passages, I lost count and decide to just go with its flow.

As the collective brain of Wikipedia has it, "math rock is a rhythmically complex, often guitar-based, style of experimental rock and indie rock music that emerged in the late 1980s" - which is why I suppose I am thinking a bit about King Crimson as I listen - "it is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), counterpoint, odd time signatures, angular melodies, and extended, often dissonant, chords."

And that's pretty much what happens here, in fact on the opening track you can hear a puzzle being built, with a catchy looped riff and the drums connecting in unexpected ways. To my ears the duo is far greater than the sum of its parts. Building over loops and tricky rhythmic patterns, the tracks move from the driving (Sundowning) to the anthemic (La Faena) to the prickly (also LaFaena) to metal (Power With) to the down right unusual (Shelter in Place). The precision of their shifting patterns however does not fall into a rut, and the ever morphing patterns keep the music ever in motion.

I never thought I'd take to this type of music, something about the genre seems cold, but Arrebato is an incredible listen - the Ahleuchatistas certainly know how to add it up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Akira Sakata & Jim O’Rourke with Chikamorachi & Merzbow – Flying Basket (Family Vineyard, 2015) ****½

By Joel Barela

Family Vineyard, we thank you. For whatever part you had in gathering these players together. For packaging and distributing this piece. Often, fans of jazz and its many tentacles are spoiled. Never so popular or engaged by the public as other genres, it continues to produce not only competent players but virtuosos; and, given its concentrated talent pool, said players often end up in the same room. That said, there are special units and there are special units.

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. Akira Sakata and Jim O’Rourke (living in Japan for years now) united with the superhuman rhythm section of Darin Gray (double bass & percussion) and Chris Corsano (drums) also known as Chikamorachi. And because that much power and royalty apparently underwhelmed, they also invited Masami Akita, the electro-noise-nik known simply as Merzbow. Recorded at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin in 2014, Flying Basket is indeed a behemoth, but perhaps not the behemoth that you might expect. True, in physical wax form, it takes two records and four sides to completely encompass its nearly 72 minutes. Yes, it’s at times predictably volatile. But, to start, my recommendation is that you attack the piece digitally. Is it worth splurging for the physical LP? Of course. The sound is fantastic; the packaging, superb. But having listened to the piece – a single, monstrous jam – without the interruptions of side flips and needle placements, it’s hard for me to go back. And it’s not my own impatience. It’s the disruption of the record’s immaculate pace. Small disturbances can seem canyon-like when the players are in the midst of reloading for their next eruption or letting Sakata explore in his decisive and rhythmic lines.

We begin.

We get Sakata nearly solo for almost five minutes. Cymbals creep in after portions of the ensemble alternate attempts to scratch into the piece, small tugs, children-on-the-sleeve-of-a-parent tugs. There is no real low end for almost seven minutes. Sakata is persistent and pristine throughout, beautiful even. As a group rumble takes form, Sakata remains completely composed, the center of these centrifugal movements. It is in this initial sweep that Merzbow makes his machines heard. The clicks and hisses threaten to overwhelm Sakata's horn, the bones of the movement upheld through the hornsman's experienced shifts and swift runs. It proves a victory for humanity, cliche as that reads. Programming can compete with composition but seems almost inept when set against the improvisation and free association of the mind, even fed through fingers and lungs and lips. Of course, to be fair, this is Sakata. At fifteen minutes, all components - and especially O'Rourke's guitar - are fully integrated in a full on maelstrom. For a few eruptive minutes, the savagery continues. Midway through the eighteenth minute however, the piece cedes to feedback, signaling the end of the initial sonic sun flare. Bells spice the feedback, as they had with Sakata's original deployment. A minute later, there is near silence. On wax, this would signal the transition of "Part I" to "Part II". But, as I said above, it's near silence, not complete silence. Sure, it's almost peaceful, but wax flips are disruptive even to more meditative moments and this "peace" is the peace of a haunted house.

Eventually, Merzbow's sonics transform this calm into something more laboratory-like. But it doesn't stop. In fact, the "break" doesn't give for nearly eight whole minutes. And even then, scratching strings and Corsano's kit raise the temperature only ever so slightly. Sakata returns near the album's midpoint - spiced by Corsano - and he's now on clarinet. For a few minutes, everything is slightly more jovial. Like it took the two nearly half-an-hour, but the giddiness of rediscovering the other's music finally prevails. Corsano's rolls have a special excitement. Merzbow returns with some "water" for these bones. A stock is rendered. It's reduced. And the ingredients begin to add themselves once more. Many things are masterful here, but perhaps none more so than the patience. The players seem to take quick turns tasting the stock. A pinch more here, a dust there, and some of that more fluid, more lovely Sakata. Until, at 36 minutes in, it's just him for a few staggering weeps.

And we’re halfway through.
In the opening moments of the piece's second half, O'Rourke presents his own take on the blues, dismantled and stretched until its joints crack. Merzbow accentuates with notes that sound as if they've come from a field recording of a workshop. Around 44 minutes in, Corsano attempts to push the pace. O'Rourke, however, is resolute. This dissonance would be enough, a near perfect balance, but Sakata returns and erects another sonic sculpture on this landscape. As it did earlier in the piece, Sakata's playing invigorates Merzbow into a chase; again, a losing cause, as Sakata's creativity is simply too much for a machine, but a chase with enough hands to grab the rest of the band and pull them into another eruption. O'Rourke is particularly inspired. In fact, it is his playing that finally forces Sakata into an about face. Anyone familiar with O'Rourke's work with Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi may have seen this coming. Yes, he plays bass in that ensemble, but the man obviously takes notes. The burst is short though; and minutes later, it's Sakata alone again.

This essentially begins Part IV.

Each time Sakata solos, it seems the exact right treat at the exact right moment, but it's this five minute solo that brings us to the doorstep of the hour-mark and truly makes you crave the room. To see this bit of music in person must have been special. In the album's final thrust, Merzbow makes his presence more belligerent than at any other point on the record. And, with just over eight minutes remaining, a voice appears. It’s Sakata, and he’s screaming. In the liner notes, he is credited with playing the alto sax, clarinet and "throat." I couldn't reduce his violent howls to any one descriptor any better. Family Vineyard's site also nails its description of O'Rourke's playing in these final furious minutes, saying that he "bleeds his guitar of all melody." Sure, an end-all explosion where all players sound like they’re trying to melt their instruments is a tad predictable, but no less expected than Sakata showing up to these sessions with a horn. Point being, it’s just better than other explosions. Even if the others weren’t titans in their own rights - not to diminish their contributions – this would be worth grabbing. It’s almost incomparable to hear a monster like Sakata begin the final movement of a 72 minute piece with a solo so beautiful before screaming a lung out and laying the whole damn thing to rest. If you’ve got an hour and then some to spare, grab a drink and let this thing do its work. Hell, make time for this. You can even keep the drink. It may take an hour to hear his actual voice, but Akira Sakata is calling, and you really should listen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Achim Kaufmann - Later (Pirouet Records, 2015) ***½

By Martin Schray

Achim Kaufmann is one of the most under-estimated musicians in the jazz world, something he has in common with one of his mentors, Georg Graewe. But this might change now since Kaufmann was awarded the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Prize, apart from the SWR Jazz Prize Germany’s most prestigious prize in jazz (although it comes along with only €15,000 this is hardly anything compared to prizes like the MacArthur Fellowship and its $265,000).

Along with the prize Kaufmann has released his new solo album Later, which consists of cover versions of some of his idols (Ellington, Monk, Nichols etc.) and his own compositions - and compared to his work so far it is a very accessible recording.

It has been one of the major characteristics of Kaufmann’s music that he has always explored free spaces within the compositions - and he has always done that in a very unagitated way. That’s why he often falls back to the music of Herbie Nichols, the master of the break and intricate harmonies as stylistic devices. Kaufmann adopts the swing of the Nichols compositions but adds a certain melancholy to it (“Shuffle Montgomery“), or he combines it with a Hans Eisler tune (“Portrait of Ucha/In den Weiden“) which works surprisingly well. But Kaufmann is also a man who thinks out of the box, which is why he has chosen two pop songs as well - just to interpret them in his very own way: First he derives Syd Barrett’s “Dominoes“ of all psychedelic faintness turning it into a romantic ballad and then he stresses the desperation and the need to change in Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue“.

Kaufmann plays free music in a way which has nothing to do with free jazz, as the German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT put it, by letting the chords and the single notes breathe. He manages to create an exciting kaleidoscope of music which lives from a very dense atmosphere which even reminds of the better Keith Jarrett albums, it is music for the very early hours of the day - for the blue hours.

Kaufmann, who is actually closer to harsher, more adventurous music (think of his marvelous projects like SKEIN, Grünen, AAA or his duo with Michael Moore, whose composition “Dave“ is also on this album), reaches out for a bigger audience with this album. It would be nice if he succeeded with this attempt. He deserved it.

Later is available on CD and as a download.