Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Z3 - Pale Fire (Whyplayjazz, 2014) ***½

   
By Martin Schray

Philip Zoubek is an Austrian pianist and composer who lives in Cologne and is part of the scene around the “Loft”, a wonderful location for improvised music and new classical music, which is run by WDR Symphony Orchestra flautist Hans Martin Müller. Zoubek is known for his extended techniques preparing his piano with pots, plastic stuff and glass jars (and many more) but for this album he has chosen to put this stuff aside (at least mostly). His trio with Benjamin Weidekamp (cl, bcl) and Christian Weber (b) refers to Jimmy Giuffre’s seminal trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow but Zoubek intends to continue their approach adding his own musical experiences so that the music is more than a mere homage.

Pale Fire” lives from a constant clash of composed material and improvised passages, Zoubek wanted the improvisation to take part in a complex communicative space where all the musicians are aware what the others are doing and where roles and functions are permanently in flux.

This is less intellectual than it sounds, tracks like “Melos” are constant shapeshifters as well as to rhythm and sound, intensity and beauty. The composition starts like a classic Giuffre piece, the melodies jump like jaunty grasshoppers, there is a sense of wildlife on a summer meadow, lively, joyous, exuberant – but towards the end the atmosphere changes: the sounds of the clarinets and the bowed bass are gloomy and dark, only the piano tries keep the mood from the beginning alive. There is immediacy and subtlety, there are condensed compositional parts and extended improvised spaces and especially when the instruments seem to melt into each other, the album has its best moments – for example in “Two” (my favorite) and “Hu”, the longest track, where Zoubek comes back to prepared piano.

My friend Julia Neupert (who is also the host of the SWR radio show) was absolutely enthusiastic about the album and I have to admit that I was rather reluctant after the first listening. Yet, the music has hidden qualities that I recognized only after several attempts, it is music that needs attention.

Pale Fire” was recorded at the “Loft”, most of the music was played live at a gig the band played after two days in the studio.

Listen to an album teaser 




Monday, July 28, 2014

Schizzi Di Orlando Furioso (Neos, 2014) ****

By Stef

"Orlando Furioso" is an early sixteenth century epic poem about the knight Roland who tries to keep the invading Saracen hordes out of Europe, and is based on the "Chanson de Roland", which describes the battle of Ronceveaux during Charlemagne's reign. The Italian epic is about war and love and with lots of fantasy (actually truckloads of them - see the drawing by Gustave Dore below to give you some idea). It is a poem that inspired many musicians, including Vivaldi.

Now we get some modern improvisers who give it a try, by playing solos, duos and trios, consisting of D.M. Visotzky on alto saxophone, Béatrice Zawodnik on oboe and English horn, Barry Guy on double bass, Brice Pauset on harpsichord and Leonardo García Alarcón on organ.

These are all classically trained musicians, well versed in new music, jazz or avant-garde to bring this to a good end. Barry Guy is the most prominent musician, opening and closing the album with solo pieces, and engaging in duets with the oboe, the saxophone and the harpsichord.

Like the poem, the music is full of drama, inherent tension and wild musical imagery. I have never heard an oboe like Béatrice Zawodnik makes it sound on this album, so raw, so harsh, so devastating. But then there is also the organ, like you are invited into a church, into the sacred, and how Garcia Alarcón manages to get glissandi and microtones out of a church organ is a mystery to me, and also that instrument sounds different, and despite the crushing power it emanates, it also trembles. And then imagine the use of the harpsichord in free improvisation, in duets with an alto saxophone, or with a plucked bass in accompaniment, it is unheard and by itself worth the listen.

The duet between the oboe and the organ is the highlight of the album, a painful sound of loneliness and despair hovers over the heavy and angry organ sounds.

The pieces are short, all twenty-four of them, all around three minutes long, just long enough to create some drama around the verses that inspire the improvisations, but not really long enough to expand and explore.

Not everything works, but the overall result is quite fascinating, and some of the interactions are truly superb.


Jamie Saft: Plymouth & The New Standard

By Paul Acquaro

Two new recordings from RareNoise show quite different sides of the playing of keyboardist Jamie Saft. Deep dark organ on one and a modern jazz piano approach on the other.

Plymouth - Plymouth (RareNoise, 2014) ****½



It would probably be incorrect to call either of these recordings a Jamie Saft album, as they are both strong group efforts, but his keyboard work is the connective tissue between them both.

The first tune, 'Manomet', propelled by organ, is a force of nature. The tandem guitar work of Joe Morris and Mary Halvorson ratchet up the intensity as drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Chris Lightcap give track a living and breathing pulse.  In a way, I hear this first song as fusion in the Tony Williams Lifetime vein, or even early Weather Report with more bite. The intensity that it achieves is just excellent.

Track two, ‘Plymouth', starts with a rumble from the lower end of the electric piano, but a third of the way through, we begin hearing the organ creep in along with a heavy beat and fuzzed out and pitch bent lines from the guitars. Track three, 'Standish', clocking in at 30 minutes, is slower to build. Distinct sections emerge with stronger back beats, or guitars creating suspense, ending with a straight ahead jazz-rock climax. With the three tracks spread out over an hour, there's a lot to listen to.

It you're looking for the individual and distinctive stylistics of Morris and Halvorson, this isn't the place. If you are looking for a dense patch of hot steamy musical tar festooned with thorny rose stems to roll in, you're home.

Give a listen here.

Saft/Swallow/Previte- The New Standard (RareNoise, 2014) ***½



A real about face from the aforementioned Plymouth, the New Standard’s piano trio approach is melodic, rhythmic, and very accessible. Each song suggestive of an arch-typical jazz standard, but at same time there is something unique and slightly subversive happening.

Saft's piano, Steve Swallow's bass guitar and Bobby Previte's drumming equally 'steal' the show. Track one, ‘Olivine', kicks off with a straight ahead swing. You hear the changes coming, you anticipate the beat, and can feel the bass walking, and according to the press, that's what this album is all about - a straightforward session with simple charts, recorded to analog tape in Saft's upstate NY studio.  The sound is rich, the playing is loose but flawlessly so, and the tunes are, well, tunes and have a somewhat familiar vibe to them even as they are original in their delivery and feel. Saft busts out the Hammond on ‘Pasture', a laid back jazz hymn that dates you not to feel something. The following track ‘Scrapes' is back to the piano where the minor melody is driven by a restrained march-like pulse.

The whole album feels comfortable in an exciting way. The songs have a familiar feel and even somewhat identifiable melodies, however, none that you have heard before. It’s not free jazz, but it’s highly enjoyable!

Give a listen here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Second Exit - Spoon (ForTune, 2014) ****½

By Ed Pettersen

This album is a revelation.  Often I’ll sign up for a review of an album or artist I know nothing about and it can be a beautiful thing like Second Exit’s latest.  Brimming with innovative, expansive playing, playfulness, bulbous vocabulary and verve it is never boring and constantly tickling the listener.  Sax, bass, percussion, electronics (keys?), maybe some guitar….who cares!  It’s flippin’ fantastic.  

I often wax poetic about space and use of silence but this gang has it in spades.  This album is a joy to listen to.  When they solo you actually hear a lyrical speaking voice and from where I sit you can’t say anything better about a musician.  The question is who are these folks and how did they all come together to make such splendid noise in the same language.  They sound like they were having a ton of fun.  3 tracks, the first “Mysterious Colors” runs over 27 minutes but trust me, it’s worth it, the second track “Some Message From Oliver”  a piano-based meditation just over 5 minutes and “Well Ride” closes it out around 12 minutes.  

Brilliant.  Get.  This.  Album.  It will make you smile.

The band is Piotr Łyszkiewicz on tenor & soprano saxophones, percussion; Ove Volquartz on contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone;  Piotr Zabrodzki on bass guitar, synthesizer, piano;  Michał Trela - drums, percussion


Sound & Fury - Pulsacion (Ektro, 2013) ***½


I’ve been lucky this month. A second album by a group I knew nothing about that is extremely worthwhile. A bit more composed I imagine than most records we get at the FJ blog, Sound & Fury’s latest is bouncy, groovy, superbly recorded, very tastefully arranged and not over played. Textures are woven smartly utilizing elements of the band from sax, flute and horns to electric guitar, bass (both plucked and bowed), percussion…everything inhabiting a wide sonic spectrum without getting in each other’s way. If free jazz can be sexy this is it. 7 songs, most in the 5 to 10 minute range (and one clocking in just over 13:00) in a wide palate of tempos and textures with a Latin flair. 

 Recommended.


See also Dan Sorrelis' review of the same album. 



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Natura Morta - Decay (FMR, 2014) ****

By Stef

After their self-titled debut, this is Natura Morta's second CD, again with the same trio of Frantz Loriot on viola, Sean Ali on double bass and Carlo Costa on percussion. In a way, they perfect their approach: stretched sounds on the strings are supported by sparse percussive interaction.

You can only say this: it is intense, very intense, hypnotic even at moments and utterly strange, beautiful, horrifying and compelling. The trio's great quality is the incredible amount of restraint demonstrated to conjure up a vast atmosphere of desolation. It is fascinating to hear completely improvised pieces that are so coherent.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.



Jeff Cosgrove - Alternating Current ***½

New to me drummer, Jeff Cosgrove, is matched up with Matthew Shipp on piano and William Parker on bass. From the beginning of the first track there is a subdued, almost trance like state set. The telepathic interaction between William and Matthew, who have countless dates under their belts together is evident from the beginning. William’s bowing of his bass weaves in and out seamlessly of Matthew’s dissonant jabs at the ivory. The opening track, “Bridges of Tomorrow” is a text book example of how a piano trio can improvise. You can hear Jeff, Matthew, and William take turns leading the music, falling back to their musical brethren, on the re-engage when necessary. In a setting where it can be easy to “over play”, this trio lets the music release while they play instead of forcing the notes.

During the first half of “Bridges of Tomorrow”, Jeff plays the supporting role well, but the magic happens when he finally opens up his entire drum kit and take control during the second half. While emotionally, the music does not hit one extreme or the other, it definitely takes you on a wonderful ride. “Alternating Current (for Andrew Cyrille)”, the second track again starts with Parker bowing his bass. Jeff starts with brushing while Matthew comes in making long melodic runs which instantly took me to his solo album “Songs”. A beautiful tribute track to a free jazz legend, building to a light frenzy before falling only to rise and fall again, you are quickly mesmerized. The finally track, “Victoria” a Paul Motian number, is played with the finest of delicacy. A somber number, which feels even more so in the piano trio format. The Motian influence on Jeff Cosgrove is most noticeable on this number through his use of ride cymbal and tender approach.

All in all, a solid date, as one would expect with Matthew and William, and though Jeff Cosgrove doesn’t add anything new or spectacular, you still have to marvel at his ability to hold his own and lead a worthy set.

Friday, July 25, 2014

François Tusques - La Reine Des Vampires 1967 (Finders Keepers, 2013) *****

By Stef

I just watched "World War Z" and "Warm Bodies", recent zombie movies of questionable quality, as well as "Under The Skin", an utterly bizarre movie with a phenomenal soundtrack by Mica Levi, hence this video below too. Especially in horror movies, the soundtrack is essential. Watch a suspense scene without the sound, and the effect is gone, making the scene slow or even completely silly. Keep the sound, and take away the picture, and the effect is in all likelihood still present. Nothing like sound to create emotional experiences.

But now for the topic itself: in 1967, French avant-garde composer and pianist François Tusques was asked by director Jean Rollin to make the soundtrack for a vampire melodrama, called "Les Femmes Vampires" (the vampire women), then erroneously announced as the first French vampire movie ever. Tusques assembled a band with Barney Wilen on tenor sax, Eddie Gaumont on violin, Jean-François Jenny-Clark and Beb Guérin on bass. As you can expect, the music is eery, haunting, full of dread, anticipation, angst, anxiety and fear. It is ominous, dark, unpredictable, gloomy and sinister. It is equally well-paced, slow, refined, sophisticated, precise and accurate. In contrast to what was the norm at that time, the soundtrack has no clear theme, just sounds full of dramatic tension and effect. The violin, the sax and the bass create long phrases hanging in mid-air, coming from nowhere, not seeming to go anywhere, yet with astonishing presence when they are in the here and now, immensely powerfully.

The album gives the complete recording of the session, even if only parts were used for the soundtrack (think of Mike Oldfield's score for The Exorcist). The A-side presents the full pieces from which some snippets were used in the movie, the B-side brings material that was not used in the movie, even if it is equally strong. When Rollin made his second vampire movie, "La Vampire Nue" (the nude - female -vampire), he re-used the material on the A-side, rearranged it and all this without Tusques' prior consent.

To have this music back, now, after almost fifty years, is amazing. When you watch the movie excerpts on Youtube, the movie looks incredibly dated, real sixties' stuff. And probably the most amazing thing is that when you listen to the soundtrack, it still sounds incredibly modern. It is today's music. Think of the vision and the audacity it must have required then.




Mica Levi - Under The Skin (Insound Vinyl, 2014) ****


The movie by Jonathan Glazer can be highly recommended - taking into account of course that I'm not a film critic - because of its weird tension, great imagery, audacious editing and overall atmosphere of doom, loneliness, horror and alienation (you actually never get a clue about what's happening), and in which Scarlett Johansson drives around Scotland in a white mini-van, doing away with local male individuals. I had never heard of Mica Levi, but I read that she's a songwriter and singer of a pop-band, as well as DJ. Maybe I should rethink my opinion of these three categories of musician, or I should be happy that she does nothing on this album of what you expect those kinds of musicians to do. The soundtrack has scores for violin, ambient and electronic sounds, with possible references to John Cage and György Ligeti, and Bernard Hermann's piercing violin score for the shower scene in Psycho.

Like the movie, Levi has ventured far beyond the norm, maybe redefining the concept of soundtrack. You could almost turn it round, and say that the movie is the videoclip for the music. Almost, because if Tusques' album really can be listened to as a stand-alone piece of music, the soundtrack for the "Under The Skin" has the main theme repeated into the various tracks, which works better in a movie setting than when you listen to the album.

Nevertheless, a fantastic listening experience. Not jazz at all. But a fantastic listening experience. 



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mikolaj Trzaska galore

By Stef 

Polish saxophonist and bass clarinetist Mikołaj Trzaska has a more than impressive career, not only within his own country, but increasingly internationally, an evolution we can only applaud. His music has also made an interesting evolution, or better still, it is a tree with many different branches, going into full power free jazz mode (with for instance Peter Friis Nielsen and Peeter Uuskyla), and lyrical sensitive modern jazz with the Oles brothers, European free improv (with Brötzmann and Johannes Bauer), and more jewish inspired sounds with Ircha. Next to all that he was also the co-founder of Miłość, one of the best known bands of Polish "yass" as the country's specific variant of jazz is called, and let's not forget his work for the dramatic arts, probably also an influence on the story-telling aspect of music. In any case, what he does is worth listening to, it's actually really worth looking for, and this for each of the branches that grow out of the solid tree. And that tree is one of real humanity, authentic expression and lyricism, even in the wildest formats, and a deeply rooted sense of adventure. And does everything work? No, surely not, but that doesn't matter: he's taking the risks and without taking the risks you don't get anywhere, let alone shape listening experiences. 

In the end it is a matter of choice. He's been very prolific in his output recently, and here are some albums that require highlighting. 


Mikolaj Trzaska, Melbye, Hojgaard & Lohse - Live At Mayhem (7 Records, 2013) ***


It has taken me a year to write the review on this album. Primarily because I don't like to write negative reviews, of which I do not really see the point. But then again, Trzaska is such an important musician in my opinion, that not reviewing it would not be good either. Trzaska is performing with a Danish trio on this album, with Jeppe Højgaard also on saxophone and clarinet, Adam Melbye on double bass and Rune Lohse on drums. Even if the sound quality is not ideal, the album starts well, yet somehow the efforts taken never really gell. There is a lot of searching going on among the four musicians, yet they never find the sound they want to bring, to the extent even that I think that sometimes some of the band members take a step back to avoid too much confusion, and not surprisingly the best part is the first half of the second side, on which silence and quiet solos create a good atmosphere, but it ends in absolute mayhem, no sorries for the pun. 

And do you get value for money? "These records are the product of a year's work. Each record is made into one LP and is sold for the price of 2,000 $ a piece. If you choose to buy all 7 you will get a discount", writes drummer Rune Lohse on the website for his label. Luckily cheaper version exist via iTunes and other download sites. 


Mikolaj Trzaska, Devin Hoff & Michael Zerang - Sleepless In Chicago (No Business, 2013) ****½

Things get phenomenally better with his trio with Devin Hoff on bass and Michael Zerang on drums. Trzaska starts with a slow and lyrical intro on his alto, setting the sound for a twenty-minute improvisation, that despite its many changes of fierceness, speed and phrases retains its initial concept, demonstrating how great an improviser Trzaska is. He explores emotional content, sonic possibilities, soaring, singing, howling like you've rarely heard an alto howl, yet keeping focused at the same time on the improvisation's foundation. Strong stuff, and Hoff and Zerang are perfect to achieve the fantastic end result, and if they already shine as a trio, they also get some time for solo activity. 

The second side starts equally slowly and lyrically, at times almost sounding like a spiritual invented on the spot, with feelings going deep into everyone's mutual understanding of places for which no words exist. It is sad, it is yearning, it is exalted, full of joy too, and then listen how Hoff's bass reinforces the feeling with his deep rumblings on bass, and Zerang's creative emphasis of moments, supporting the alto or even on the quieter pieces sufficiently strong to keep the percussive power going, shaping wonderful contrasts. 

Of all the sax trios around, this is possibly one of the highlights of the year. It is not the most innovative, because this is free jazz in its most essential delivery by a sax-bass-drums trio, and they do not do anything else than do what so many improvising sax-bass-drums trios have done for fifty years now, and still what you get to hear is of such a solidity, such a purity, such power and such flawless delivery, that it dwarves even some of the giants. 

Inner Ear - Return From The Center Of The Earth (Bocian, 2013) **½


Inner Ear is a new band, with Trzaska on saxophone and bass clarinet, Steve Swell on trombone, Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba, and Tim Daisy on drums, a band that performed also twice, at the same moment as "Sleepless In Chicago", with the first part recorded at the Hideout in Chicago in March 2011, and the second part at the Elastic in August 2012.

The overall sound is more linked to European free improv than the jazzy blow-outs on "Sleepless In Chicago" and the quality is also less. Trzaska, Swell and Holmlander are not always on the same plane, often on a kind of sonic collision course, with Trzaska trying to get some lyricism into the proceedings, but when failing this, also resorting to long howls and fierce shouts.

It is a strange album, one that has its good moments, for sure, but this is not sustained throughout. Indeed, when taking risks, you sometimes fail, and I guess this is one of those moments, including the bizarre abrupt ending of the music on the last track, as if the label had also heard enough, and just switched off the sound.


Mikolaj Trzaska, Mazur & Pandi - Tar & Feathers (Gusstaff Records, 2014) ****½


The brilliant mastership goes on with this equally strong "Tar & Feathers", now with Polish acoustic bass guitar player Rafał Mazur and with Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi. Mazur's skills on his custom-made instrument add a lot of weight to the overall sound, with a tone that is clearer than an acoustic bass, allows for more speed, more rock-ish, while still maintaining the natural acoustic sound. Pandi we have reviewed before, with his collaborations on Ivo Perelman's "One", and with Slobber Pup, two bands in which Joe Morris also features. Recently, Pandi also toured with Zu, the Italian power jazz band.

This rhythm section already gives you an idea of where the music could lead : to regions of high intensity and power play, and it is wild, violent at times even, but then Trzaska's lyricism, the beauty of his phrasing, the deeply felt blues and 'Weltschmerz' that resonates throughout his improvisations and spontaneously generated themes, add a sensitivity to the music that is strangely not in contrast with the rhythm section, because the interaction between all three musicians is so good, so fluent, so coherent, that the result is almost magical. Descriptions like violent sensitivity, or raw sophistication, come to mind, or a Jackson Pollock aquarel, if that exists, in any case a merging of opposites, a suspension of differences, an eruption of beauty.

The performance was recorded live at the Club A38, a ferry boat floating on the Danube in Budapest, Hungary, for an enthusiastic audience.


Riverloam Trio - Inem Gortn (FMR, 2014) ****


Two years ago, No Business released "Riverloam Trio", a collaboration between Trzaska and British musicians Olie Brice on bass and Mark Sanders on drums. Their first album was great, and when the three musicians met again in New York, they recorded this CD, possibly somewhat more accessible than the 500 copies LP of the first record. Again, the collaboration is a success, with Trzaska as the lead voice managing to remain inventive, and instead of having a sixty-minute blowfest, the trio gives us eight tracks with great variety, including lyrical beauty, relentless blowing, an intro ("Beware Of The Porter, Part 1") full of surprise, some bluesy stuff, and much more. Of all the albums reviewed here, the trio is really a balanced trio, with Brice's arco often going into full dialogue with the sax as the second lead voice, and Sanders' drumming is a listening experience on its own. The great thing about this trio is that all three artists take initiative, while being able to listen and adapt to the other player's initiatives.

The Yiddish title, "Inem Gortn", means as much as "In The Garden", and it is only on the track with this name, that Trzaska picks up his bass clarinet, and brings us one of his phenomenal soulful, spiritual, deeply emotional solos, then leaving Brice the full space for an equally strong bowed solo. Sanders gets his own solo moment near the end, sufficiently long to entertain, but the trio is really at its best when they play as a trio.

Great stuff, again, raw power and sensitive lyricism.


In short, three highly recommended albums, not surprisingly all trio albums, slightly different in approach, yet spectacularly good in the quality and depth of the musical delivery, even if a little less so in the formal innovation.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Primitive Arkestra - Dolphy's Hat (Slam Productions, 2014) *

By Stefan Wood

The Primitive Arkestra is a loose collective of musicians (sometimes a quartet, other times a large twelve piece group), with the common element being Dave Haney as the leader, who is also the pianist.  Dolphy's Hat is a collection of works performed live between 2008 and 2013.  The musicians performing with him are mostly well known:  Roy Campbell, Julian Priester, Steve Swell, Adam Lane, Marc Smason, Frank Clayton, Oleg Ruvinov, Nadya Kadrevis, Rosalyn DeRoos, Doug Haning, Michael Wimberly, Matt Cercily, Dan Blunck, Juan Pablo Carletti,  Blaise Siwula, David Bindman, Avram Ferver, David Arner, Liam Sillery, Bob Reina, Chris Jones, Mark Flynn, Jack DeSalvo, Matt Lavelle, Nora McCarthy, John Murchison, Stan Nishimura, Diana Wayburn, Frankie Wilson, and Constance Cooper.

The works are all improvised, unrehearsed, with minimal directions.  Haney says "The themes are simple and secondary to the forms."  The music reflects that intent.  "Leopard's Boulevard" is probably the strongest track on the album, a three minute burst of music that recalls Ayler or the more progressive free jazz from the 60's era.  The rest of the album is not as compelling.  The loose structures don't provide direction or impetus for the musicians, and for the pedigree of the musicians here to have such a result is strange.  Overall the album is somber, ponderous, and suffocating.  There's a gravitas that undermines the purpose of playing the music.  To wade through the fifteen minute opus "Freedom Thirty-Five" requires a strong listening stamina, trudging through the repetitive bleats of the horns, progressing to a Dolphy-like bass clarinet solo then to a guitar, bass, and horns that interact but never seems to really add up to anything.

The sound quality of the recordings are variable, which is understandable, given the multiple recording dates.  But, as in the aforementioned track, certain musicians seem off mike, so when they play they sound like they are in the far end of the room.  Moments of clarity are brought down by moments of murkiness.  It really becomes a difficult listening experience.  To give the album title "Dolphy's Hat"  implies a tribute to Eric Dolphy, by playing his compositions or in the spirit of his music, but except for some brief moments, this is not the case. The album is meant to be heard as a document of different live performances of this group, but it comes across as unfocused and obscure.