Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jason Adaisiewicz’s Sun Rooms - From The Region (Delmark, 2014) ****

By Josh Campbell

A vibes trio album for me can go one of two ways, fully engaging or background music. Luckily, and amazingly I might add, Adaisiewicz’s Sun Room seemingly creates both. On this, the third release from the trio, Adaisiewicz is with Mike Reed on drums, and newcomer Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass, replacing Nate McBride. Haker-Flaten continues adding a steady bass, picking up for McBride flawlessly. Having listened to the previous albums, Spacer and Sun Rooms, multiple times, I can say this is right in line with those two releases. Adasiewicz is always engaging, and lets be honest, there are not many vibraphone players these days, especially playing in a freer form.

If your unfamiliar with Sun Room, it should be noted that they play with a larger focus on swinging. This isn’t to say you can’t hear Adaisiewicz patterned twinkling/pounding of the vibes, but if your expecting Adasiewicz to sound like his duet with Peter Brotzmann or his endeavor with Rob Mazurek and Starlicker you may be disappointed. But I definitely recommend giving this a chance. You will find within the toe-tapping that is inevitable, that you will look at your speakers and wonder just how Adasiewicz does it. With Reed powering the band, Adaiewicz and Haken-Flaten show massive amounts of creativity. From the opening of Reed and Adasiewicz on “Leeza”, to the assault of Adasiewicz on his vibes halfway through “The Song I Wrote For Tonight” you will be engaged. Hoken-Flaten opens “Two Comes One” with a beautiful solo, eventually being met by his bandmate Adasiewicz into a tug and pull propelled by Reed. A beautiful set of tracks, though not everyday listening for myself, something pleasant that you can put on and enjoy, especially if, like myself, your other half may be tired of hearing all that “noise”.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014)

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) ***

By Paul Acquaro

Mostly Other People Do the Killing is a group that has created an identity on creative parody, musical juxtaposition and incredible technical facility. Their albums have been given pretty rave reviews here … just going back a few years we covered the live Coimbra Concert, their take on smooth-jazz take with Slippery Rock, and the exploration of early jazz on Red Hot. Each time they quote, mash-up and generally celebrate jazz through deconstruction and proficiency. But with Blue, an uncanny remake of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, they seem to have reached the end of one possible path: an album that is one gargantuan quote. Or as the press materials indicate, the recording "draws attention to the aspects of music that are the hardest to talk about: timbre, time-feel, articulation”.

How do I feel about this album? I can honestly say that I don’t know. Blue seems like something that was an incredibly meaningful labor of love for the musicians. They have expressed a great deal of reverence for the album and the musicians who created it, however, how necessary it is as a recording will remain to be seen.

I haven’t really spoken about the music, which may actually prove to be my point in the end. The group, Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ron Stabinsky (piano), Moppa Elliott (bass), Kevin Shea (drummer) are all top notch, versatile and creative musicians. The music needs no introduction here (if it does … hi reader, meet Kind of Blue), it's wonderful and timeless, and features solos that are worthy of being transcribed, studied, and played. But as a recording, my feelings are in line with what Greg Applegate wrote about the album on his blog “If you buy this one, it should not be because it is something new. It is most emphatically something NOT NEW.” Also, read the write up in The Atlantic as well, it gives some great context to the album. They say, "the joke is that no one has ever tried to recreate a record quite like this, but for the last six decades, musicians have performing music that sounds a lot like Kind of Blue and the other milestone records of its era."

In summary, I am going with my labor of love theory. It’s not an album that is pushing boundaries, but it is a piece made for discussion and for raising some fine existential questions about what is jazz and where does it go from here.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) **

By Stefan Wood

Let's cut to the chase:  Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Blue is a note for note reiteration of Miles Davis' landmark jazz album, Kind of Blue.  The bands members:  Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto and tenor sax), Ron Stabinsky (piano), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Kevin Shea (drums) have subsumed their own identities to recreate, in as exacting a manner as possible, the Miles Davis group that created the original album.  The question one might ask is -- why?  What is the point, especially if it isn't a reinterpretation, when one can just buy the original?  Anticipating this, the response can be found in the liner notes, which is an essay written by Jorge Luis Borges on Pierre Menard, an early 20th century writer who spent a good portion of his life recreating chapters of Cervantes' novel, Don Quixote.

Quoting from the essay:  “Thinking, meditating, imagining,” he also wrote me, “are not anomalous acts—they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional exercise of that function, to treasure beyond price ancient and foreign thoughts, to recall with incredulous awe what some doctor universalis thought, is to confess our own languor, or our own barbarie. Every man should be capable of all ideas, and I believe that in the future he shall be.”

The act of recreating the process that led to the making of the novel through the technique of deliberate anachronism and fallacious attribution.  Menard wanted to re experience the novel by channeling Cervantes through himself to create chapters of the book.  Are we to infer from this that MOPDTK, by channelling Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, they have created Kind of Blue?  There is little need to describe the playing on the album, there are no deviations, no signature MOPDTK traits that appear.  It is as if one is listening to Kind of Blue.  But this is not to say that Evans is as good as Miles, or Irabagon Coltrane.  They aren't.  I don't think that is the point. There are differences in the subtleties of the playing; the life experiences are too different.  It is a testament to their skills as musicians that they do evoke the mood and the feel of the album.  This exercise is similar to Gus Van Sant's frame by frame recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."  But, as a listener and a potential buyer of this album, is it worth it?  My rating gives you my answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blaise Siwula, Harvey Valdes & Gian Luigi Diana - Tesla Coils (2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

When live electronics are well done the results are often unique and rewarding, which just so happens to be the case with exciting electro/acoustic trio Tesla Coils. Comprised of sax, electric guitar and laptop, these skilled and daring musicians bring to life the brilliant Tesla coil metaphor. Like cool blue lightening bolts trapped in a glass sphere - painless to touch but alarmingly responsive - the trio creates a contained tempest together.

Between the freely improvised interactions of the trio, Blaise Siwula's melodic saxophone lines, Harvey Valdes' crackling textural guitar playing and Gian Luigi Diana's thoughtful live sampled remixing, the music grows in the most unusual ways. Listening alone to Siwula, you can imagine a classic free jazz blowing session, to Valdes you hear noise improv and rapid fire single note lines, but mix it in with the laptop and you have a new thing altogether.

Highlights on the album abound but what is most interesting is how Diana creates a third instrument (or more!) through the juxtaposition the other two instruments. Listen closely in 'Secondary Coil' at how around the 5 and 1/2 second mark there now two saxophones bouncing off of each other, or the brittle crackle of the guitar at the beginning of “Discharge Terminal’. Through out the 3/4 hours of the album there is hardly a dull moment. If you get a chance to hear them live you won't be disappointed either - this is a crackling group.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mats Gustafsson & Albert Oehlen – Jukebox Series #1 Single (Trost, 2014) ***½

By Julian Eidenberger

To kick off their new “Jukebox Series”, Trost Records provide us with a single pairing up the jubilarian with German painter Albert Oehlen. It’s certainly a somewhat unexpected collaboration; but then again, Gustafsson is a restless soul, constantly looking for new challenges, constantly seeking to push the envelope – so why not team up with someone from the visual arts? Besides, Oehlen is no complete stranger to the world of music. In the 80’s, he was part of the Neue Wilde art movement – alongside enfant terrible Martin Kippenberger – which had close ties to German punk/NDW music. Moreover, he’s worked together with German free jazz musician Rüdiger Carl.

Here, Gustafsson and Oehlen find common ground in a “deliberately indeliberate” method; the single’s two tracks are the outcome of a somewhat inscrutable creative process, with the two collaborators warping each other’s contributions, sometimes beyond recognition. The only thing we know for sure is that Gustafsson plays (baritone?) sax, while Oehlen adds a violin’s violent caterwauling (some non-assignable extra noises such as percussion and hollering are thrown in, as well). The cleverly-titled Riot in Brain Cell No.9 is the first of these two tracks: True to its title, it eschews any semblance of sustainable structure, attacking the listener with a series of low-pitched saxophone honks and screeching violin. Intermittently, a martial (or carnival-like, depending on your interpretation) drum roll crops up, cheered on by background hollering. Three minutes in, the racket suddenly stops, but after only a few moments of silence, the violin grinds on for another two minutes. This is “rough music” in the truest sense of the word. On the flipside, Dirty G-String Boogie presents what appears to be a remix of sorts; some of the first track’s elements crop up once more, but this time, they’re half-heartedly incited to a dance by restrained electronic beats.

While it’s over before the riot can spread to the “entire prison”, this is nonetheless a fun record and a fitting way to celebrate Gustafsson’s “big” birthday (and Oehlen’s too, as I’ve just realized!).

Happy birthday Mats!

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Agustí Fernandéz & Mats Gustafsson - Constellation (Clamshell, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Apart from his power projects like The Thing, Mats Gustafsson has always been interested in working with pianists. At last year’s Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf (where Gustafsson lives by now) he played with one of his all-time heroes: French free jazz icon François Tusques. The audience was enthusiastic, but in the end, the collaboration had some weaker moments, especially when Gustafsson switched to the bass saxophone. His own approach did not always match with Tusques’ way of music-making. However, his style perfectly complements the playing of Majorcan pianist Agustí Fernandéz, with whom he has already collaborated on a few occasions: They’ve played together in Barry Guy’s New Orchestra as well as in an energetic trio alongside Peter Evans, and they’ve recorded the superb duo “Critical Mass” (PSI, 2005) and the great trio album “Breakin’ the Lab!” (with drummer Ramón Prats).

The title of their new album “Constellations” is programmatic since the record comprises ten tracks, seven of which present both musicians as masters of extended techniques. Improvisations like Altinak or Ursa make you feel as if you were trapped in a huge pinball machine; the music is an emotional up and down, seesawing permanently between sounds produced by playing “inside” the piano and unconventional saxophone noises. Fernandéz uses various different materials to manipulate the strings of his instrument, creating eerie gurgling, rattling and scratching sounds which clash into Gustafsson’s high energy outbursts on the saxophone. At times, though, these tracks show yet another facet of the duo’s interplay: they sometimes become cut-up sound explorations, nervous and erratic, with Gustafsson’s playing reduced to little more than clicks, clacks and plain breathing – classic examples of this very “constellation.” Gustafsson and Fernandéz are playing mind games with the listener, constantly subverting expectations.

Another constellation is presented in the remaining three tracks, in which Fernandéz simply concentrates on the 88 keys of the piano – and these pieces are clearly meant as an homage to Cecil Taylor’s music. Fernandéz is obviously influenced by that pioneer’s style and technique, which becomes evident in the disconnected fast runs, arpeggios and the hard touch. Gustafsson is at his best when he can dance around these dense harmonic structures (he sounds like Evan Parker on Mintaka, for example). Listening to these tracks is like watching two bumblebees in full speed chasing each other.

“Constellations” is an excellent album; fans of both musicians (like me) can’t go wrong.

You can buy it from

Watch an older performance here: 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fake The Facts: Soundtrack (Trost, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

When I read novels I often do this with music on, usually just to have a constant background noise which helps me not to lose my concentration since I am easily distracted by other noises - from adjacent apartments, for example. At the moment I am reading Donna Tart’s new novel “The Goldfinch” and lately I chose Fake the Fact’s new album “Soundtrack” as background music. Parts of the novel take place in Las Vegas, especially on the outskirts of this city. There is a passage which describes the place like this:

I was not aware quite how eerie Canyon Shadows got at its farthest reaches; a toy town, dwindling out at desert’s edge, under menacing skies. Most of the houses looked as if they had never been lived in. Others – unfinished – half raw-egded windows without glass in them; they were covered with scaffolding and grayed with blown sand, with piles of concrete and yellowing constructing material out front. The boarded-up windows gave them a blind, battered, uneven look, as of faces beaten and damaged. As we walked, the air of abandonment grew more and more disturbing, as if we were roaming some planet depopulated by radiation and disease.

After a while, “Soundtrack” did indeed become a soundtrack to the pictures my imagination produced while I was reading – in this case to a somewhat David-Lynch-like film.

In the context of this “film in my head”, a track like Polyphony of a Metropolis functions as a close up of the life in the sand surrounding Las Vegas, the bugs crawling busily (guitar), the snakes winding their way through the deserted estates (baritone sax), the sun (computer sounds) burning down relentlessly on the whole scene.

The musicians (Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Dieb13 on turntables, Martin Siewert on guitar, and electronics) are like cameramen, bringing to life this scenery with the possibilities of analog electronic sounds. The opening track, Socks full of Sawdust, is like an echo of a lost civilization – full of tattered guitar static mixed with electric rubble, vinyl scratching and bar piano samples – but the hectic saxophone interspersions already cast the shadow of the future disaster.

As usual when he is more into sound explorations, Gustafsson hardly blows his horn; it is more of a dark gurgling trickle, while Siewert's guitar sounds like nerve impulses of the brain. Meanwhile, Dieb13 maps an electric universe – it‘s a cosmic playground of sounds stripped down to its bare bones. “Soundtrack” is indeed cinematographic music, in a fascinating and horrific sense.

Listen to it here.

Mats Gustafsson at 50

By Martin Schray and Julian Eidenberger

Mats Gustafsson is a maniac, a man of conviction, a crusader for free music. That’s what he has in common with people like John Zorn, Peter Brötzmann or Ken Vandermark – he just can’t help it (Alex von Schlippenbach recently said that he will have to play until his body refuses to go on and that this was clear from the very beginning when he started making music). Gustafsson even said that in an interview with Something Else webzine:

“I play music because I have to; I have no choice. In order to fight the stupidity back and to show new perspectives, new ways, new doors. Influences might be basically anything that kicks me — and that I can make into a personal statement. As long as you put your own personal language and voice into it, and not try to imitate or copy, you are cool, you are good. If you make music for other reasons, you ought to stay at home. I’m not here to entertain, as Ayler once said.”

On the other hand he has entertained us with dozens of projects and he seems to be on top of his prolific creativity at the moment, as his involvement in Fire! (and Fire! Orchestra), The Thing, Fake the Facts, Swedish Azz, Birds, Tarfala Trio as well as in duos with Thurston Moore, Agustí Fernandez or Paal Nilssen-Love (etc.) demonstrates. And, as if that weren’t enough, the dedicated vinyl aficionado is about to realize even more projects in the near future: Now that he has founded his own The Thing label, he is going to be increasingly active in label work as well, releasing new records and reissuing old ones (such as The Thing’s back catalogue on vinyl). As far as music-making is concerned, he has – allegedly – a whole batch of duo projects up his sleeves, and he is also said to be writing his first symphony. But whatever it is he’s currently working on, we are eagerly awaiting the outcomes.

Happy birthday, Mats. Keep on keepin’ on!

(We will be running reviews of Mats' recent recordings until Wednesday, which is his birthday)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy (Pi Recordings, 2014) *****

By Josh Campbell

Tyshawn Sorey has consistently released albums about every two years. With the every album he has changed the configuration of his lineups. His latest is Alloy, released on the Pi Recordings label, is a traditional piano trio configuration with Corey Smythe on piano, who also appeared on Sorey’s That/Not, and Christopher Tordini on bass, who previously appeared on Oblique-I. Anyone familiar with Sorey’s work will undoubtedly hear his fingerprints all over the music. For the unfamiliar, Sorey’s compositions tend to focus as much on space and touch, leaving you in a space of reflection and thought. Probably due to the lack of a brass or wind instrument on this album, Alloy reminds me most of his 2009 release, and one of my all-time favorite albums, Koan.

Given Sorey’s penchant for space in his compositions, the piano trio setting proves to be a wonderful avenue to display his sound. “Returns” begins with Smythe searching through the keys to find the right notes, as Sorey and Tordini lock in behind. As the searching increasing a mild chaos ensues only to return to a more melodic and contemplative tempo.  “Return” flows directly into “Movement”. Building on melody, Smythe weaves in and out of Sorey’s light cymbal play and Tordini’s steady beat. After two 15 plus minute tracks, the trio jumps into “Template”. Honestly, Template will either scare the crap out of you, or make you wonder if you cd player changed discs. The surprise of the album, 2 and 1/2 minutes into the track Sorey lays into a groove on his drum kit that will shock you and make you undoubtedly bob your head in approval. It’s so beautifully out of place I love every time it kicks in, and I’m never expecting it. Finally, Sorey ends with the 30 minute “A Love Song”, and returns to the meditative spacial compositions that Sorey specializes in. This album is already rivaling Koan as my favorite Sorey led album, and currently my favorite release of any artist this year. Released in the typical Pi Recordings digipak, This album has excellent sound quality with one of the most beautifully mic’d pianos I have ever heard.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Circum Grand Orchestra - 12 (Circum Disc, 2014) ****½

By Antonio Poscic

For a while it seemed that the big band format in creative and adventurous jazz was slowly fading into oblivion. The economic situation was and is not favorable (culture somehow always gets the short end of the stick) and there are various, often insurmountable challenges and problems when composing and creating music for such groups. For many musicians, the effort is either just not worth it or they feel that the needed inspiration and creative catalysts have been depleted. When two years ago Peter Brötzmann announced that he was retiring his Chicago Tentet, the future looked bleak. But here we are, in the final third of 2014, and a multitude of great big band albums have already been released in the past 9 months. Lille’s Circum Grand Orchestra, a sort of supergroup or collective comprised of musicians gathered together under the Circum label, make an interesting and fresh proposition with their new album “12”.

There are two guitars in this band, but before you get a chance to call it “rock influenced” or even “fusion”, you realize that the only thing borrowed from rock here are the energy, the bite, and some rhythmic patterns. Indeed, the electric guitar is used in a nuanced and clever way, sometimes hinting at fusion, but never crossing into kitschy territories. And this is only natural as the core of this record stems purely from free jazz and improvisational origins. Yes, the songs are composed because it’s hard not to have at least some sort of foundation when dealing with large groups. Yes, the band follows some predefined patterns and sections. But the structures are only loosely set, leaving a lot of space for the musicians’ improvisations and experimentations. Basically, it’s authentic big band (free) jazz with elements from various genres mixed in, performed with a sense of flow and joy.

Music that is not afraid to wear various motifs and influences on its sleeve. Circum Grand Orchestra take the middle road between accessible, easily enjoyable jazz and intricate, contemplative improvised segments. Especially striking are the duos and dialogs that take place between different combinations of instruments throughout the tunes. Even though it’s a large ensemble (two guitars, two basses, two drums, a piano, a five-piece brass section with saxophones, trumpets, flugelhorns, clarinet, and vocals), each musician has a distinct, individual voice, but it also completes and complements all others. There’s so much airiness and space in the music, pensive moments that makes you feel, at times, as if listening to merely a trio or a duo. The band works great whether everyone’s playing with full force or improvising within a smaller subgroup. What this dual paradigm means is that you’ll start following an infectious, swinging melody or a rhythm only to wind up in an improvised section carried on by two or three instruments and their sparse notes.

Bassist Christophe Hache, who takes over leadership and compositional duties from Olivier Benoit, claims that the compositions were inspired, peculiarly, by French chansons. This can be heard throughout the album, more on a subtle, structural and inspirational level rather than in the form of pure expression. Whether you’re listening to the opening “Tan son nhat”, that right away shows what the band’s capable of with a massive, imposing sound, or to a quieter track like “12”, the music is consistently captivating and beautiful. The highlight of the release probably comes on the aptly titled “Graphic”, a song featuring an awesome build up and groove, dissonant vocals, and a rather loose approach confined by composed parts. Yet, there’s a feeling that improvisations and solos build the structure of “Graphic”, not the other way around. This tune also shows Circum Grand Orchestra’s remarkable ability to remain cohesive during the busiest sections. But there are many surprise on the other tracks too, from giallo atmospheres on “Padoc” to songs dominated by rhythm (“Principe de précaution”) and noisy, Bailey-like guitar solos (“Hectos d'ectot”). Production is luckily great and makes the music shine even further. The sound is punchy, clear, and airy, regardless of the number of instruments playing concurrently. Really, the only criticism that I can think of comes from the fact that the musicians and the band as a whole don’t take many chances or risks and are often content to remain on the melodically and rhythmically defined “safe” side of things. Maybe not a record that will astonish you with something new, but a highly enjoyable and fulfilling accomplishment.

Standing alongside with releases such as Angles 9’s “Injuries” and Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra’s “Live in Ljubljana”, Circum Grand Orchestra triumphantly shows that the big band free, creative jazz format is alive and kicking. Highly recommended.

Circum Grand Orchestra are: Julien Favreuille and Jean-Baptiste Perez on saxophones, Christophe Rocher on clarinet, Aymeric Avice on trumpet and flugelhorn, Christophe Motury on flugelhorn and vocals, Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Sébastien Beaumont and Ivann Cruz on guitars, Stefan Orins on piano, Nicolas Mahieux on double-bass, Christophe Hache on bass, and Jean-Luc Landsweerdt and Peter Orins on drums.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ton Trio II - On and On (Singlespeed Music, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ton Trio II is Aram Shelton on alto saxophone, Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum playing drums, and together they deliver a showcase of musical dexterity and ideas that grabs you the moment the needle finds the groove, or the laser hits the disc, or the data streams to the player.

Vittum's pulsating drumming helps kick off the album with 'This Reminds Me'. Shelton soon enters with a simple but effective theme that re-emerges occasionally as the song develops. Building in intensity during his solo, Shelton plays it cool with precision and control. "We Were Told," track 3, begins with a deliberate tempo as Brown and Vittum provide delicate support to Shelton's plaintive melodic work. Brown takes his cues from the Shelton as he builds his solo, and when they are both freely improvising around the melody, the trio's telepathy is most acute. The music never let up, even through the last track "Turncoats", which begins with a folky melody but following a short martial drum passage, quickly becomes a driving affair.

On and On is a nicely balanced mix of composition and free playing. The restraint that the group retains throughout, and the time they take to develop the tracks, really helps to accentuate the melodies, the dynamics, and the general thoughtfulness of the playing. On and On is a nice ride from start to finish, free, composed, and otherwise.