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Bad Luck: Neil Welch & Chris Icasiano

Clockout Lounge, Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle, WA. Oct 2022

XPACT II: Phil Wachsmann (v), Harri Sjöström (sax), Erhart Hirt (g) and Paul Lytton (perc)

Maufaktur, Schorndorf, Oct 2022

FUTURE DRONEnyc: Joe Hertenstein (d) / Jon Irabagon (s) / Anthony Coleman (b3)

Peitz Festival, September 2022

Witold Jr.: Moritz Baumgärtner (d), Phil Donkin (b), Kalle Kalima (g)

Jazz am Kaisersteg, Berlin. Sept 2022

Die Hochstapler: Hannes Lingens (d), Antonio Borghini (b), Pierre Borel (s), Louis Laurain (t)

Jazz am Kaisersteg, Berlin. Sept 2022

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Gerry Hemingway - Afterlife (Auricle, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

We all know Gerry Hemingway as an innovative, highly creative and prolific drummer and composer, one of the best of our time, but he is also an esteemed educator, multimedia artist, and a great singer-songwriter. Hemingway released his first collection of intimate songs in 2002, simply titled Songs (Between the Lines), saying that he wanted to “challenge myself to create a recording that would rival the popularity of what gets listened to the most in our household”, after a two years work, with intensive post-production process of editing and mixing.

The follow-up album, Afterlife, took four years to complete. On Songs, he asked vocalist Lisa Sokolov to sing his songs while he played drums, sampler and added backing vocals. Now he is the lead singer, and he says that “some things require a life to be lived before they can happen… It feels to me the time is now to sound a voice to humbly reflect the remarkable beauty of the world, and not hide but rather confront the cruelty of our actions upon it”. If you are bothered by the notion of the title Afterlife, supposedly meant to consoles the living about the ‘other side’, Hemingway assures that it is a “myth we’ve authored to remind us that we are living this life now”.

Hemingway, like in all his musical endeavors, seeks the roads he never traveled on and challenges his experiences as an artist. Now, located in Luzern, he used sonic contributions from local Swiss musicians and longtime comrades like Earl Howard and Ralph Alessi, as well as the advice of Bill Frisell and Nels Cline. Hemingway calls Afterlife an eclectic and not so easy to categorize “songs of love, fear, beauty, being here, loss, courage, frustration, the passage of time, racism, identity and such sweet wonder”.

He transforms pop sensibility into new and deeper territories and proves that he is a very effective vocalist, a kind of 21st-century blues bard and a rapper, with a seemingly unassuming phrasing but quite a personal one, and a songwriter with a compassionate perspective of a Buddhist sage on life and love (“check - what you know / it’s never too late, to let it go”, he sings on the opening “The Creeks Do Rise”; “life like a book that has an end / to a story whose words will send / us out to sea alone” from “Love Me As I Am” and “we can shed a light on shadows / we wish not to see // We will go where we no longer / fear to be” from “The Long March”). “Junkyard Magic” tells a touching personal story about a couple that drifts apart: “Ricky & Randy were like two birds hopping from tree to tree / Spinning tin can wheels of a vehicle called harmony / Ricky was gentle, Randy was proud / Together what they knew best was how to be loud… These two astronauts get ready to blast off and dance on the moon / to dance on the moon / it’s never too soon ~ to dance on the moon”.

But the magic of Afterlife also lies in the rhythmic conceptualizing of the songs. Hemingway’s phrasing, the rhyming texts, the precise editing of the contributing parts of the other musicians, and obviously his own playing on drums and percussion instruments, all construct layered and highly nuanced, sensual rhythmic frameworks that correspond beautifully with the clever and suggestive lyrics. A rare, inspiring gem.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Chattermark - Chattermark (Drollehålå, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

We're always open for new names and new approaches. If you're too, I suggest you listen to this album. 

Chattermark are Norwegian musicians - and wife and husband - Gunhild Seim on trumpet and John Ilja on electric bass. Both use effects, and massively. The trumpet has a recognisable sound on most tracks, but the bass is so heavily distorted and played with extended techniques that it can barely be identified as such. 

We have only one review on Norwegian trumpeter Gunhild Seim in our review catalogue, for her more modern jazz ensemble "Time Jungle" from 2009 (by the way, it's interesting to notice how either my ignorance on female trumpeters has decreased over the years, or that so many interesting female trumpeters have come forward)

This album is of a totally different nature, with Lilja creating huge noise and drone-like sonic landscapes that give Seim the opportunity to add her deeply moving playing. The total effect is one of desolation, doom and despair. The sound of the horn resonates, full of reverb, against the relentless and constantly shifting wall of sound. The duo gives as references the metal and dark ambient band Sunn 0))), composer and electronics innovator Anthony Pateras and Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, whom we know best of the three. 

Chattermark started in 2016, as part of Seim's "Duo Projects", improvisations with selected other individuals, as a kind of manifestation of Hegel's philosophy of "The Other", combined with the zen-like effect of being 'in the moment'. "Part of my duos project is trying to get to know new people, but it is also about playing with people I already know well. When you think of it also as communication with “the other”, duos of any kind (ranging from me playing with my hubby to someone really different for instance different art form, background or skill) can be interesting. How do you REALLY listen and respond to the other person? And is the level of listening in any way traceable, is it for instance audible or visible? Or will it make a lasting imprint in other ways?" she writes on her blog. 

The result of the duo with Ilja is astonishing and relatively unique, both creating a universe of terror and despair. Ilja's sound is so urban, industrial and violent, that it becomes uncanny in the end. Seim either tries to escape from this massive darkness with a few bright lines of light, but every so often her screams and howls on the trumpet intensify the feeling of being trapped forever, a deep and deranged sound of being held captive with no chance of redemption. 

Both musicians present a very daring, courageous and shocking piece of new music, visionary and coherent, and an incredible listening experience. 

Watch and listen to "Mycelium": 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Patricia Brennan - More Touch (Pyroclastic, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

At a point during the track 'Space for Hour' on vibraphonist Patricia Brennan's More Touch, I was pretty sure I heard guitarist Mary Halvorson's patented pitch bends. However, a quick glance at the album credits pointed out that this was actually coming from Brennan's set-up.

Originally from Mexico, Brennan appeared on the New York scene in recently via studying in Philadelphia. Last year she released her debut solo album Maquishti on Valley of Search records and has been playing with Halvorson's recent Amaryllis group and a host of others, including bassist Michael Formanek, pianist Matt Mitchell, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and the Webber/Morris big band. So, it makes perfect sense that the spirit of others seem to float gently through her music, which itself is an exploratory mix of strong compositions and improvisation.

The vibraphone is a wonderful instrument that certainly has carved out a place in jazz's many forms - of course one can point to Gary Burton who fused jazz, rock, and country elements into an influential body of work, or Jason Adasiewicz whose vibraphone playing works so nicely with Peter Broetzmann, as well as, say, Christopher Dell whose work with Christian Lillinger and Jonas Westergaard refactors 'jazz' into post-structuralist sculptures*. Brennan's work here with drummer Marcus Gilmore on drums, Mauricio Herrera on percussion, and Kim Cass on bass, shows yet another way that the vibraphone is a living and changing instrument. Her tonal pallet is expansive in part due to the electronics she employs as well as to the roots of her musical experience (which Brennan mentions in her liner notes, includes Afro-Cuban rhythms, folk, rock and classical).

The opening track, 'Unquiet Respect' begins with strong drum and percussion groove. There is a pause, then Brennan's vibes and Cass' bass come in with a jerking melody. The spikey tones and sharp rhythm wastes no time in showing off the musical incisiveness that ungirds the album. In the middle of the sequence, 'Square Bimagic' is rife with strong Latin rhythmic undertones, but also odd metered patterns and repetitive motives that gain in momentum and build tension. On the other hand, 'Convergences' provides a startling contrast with its spacious and exploratory approach. It is however quite dark, the percussion holds back at the start, giving more room to electronic blips and suspended vibraphone chords, and finally ended in a eddy of musical colors.

More Touch is a vibrant, expressive album that is immediately captivating and keeps offering up more on repeated listening.

*Instead of me continuing with a list of vibraphonists, that will be woefully incomplete, check out a slightly better one here.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Mark Guiliana – the sound of listening (Edition Records, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

At first, it’s hard to believe the press release for this album. Its rich sonic fruit apparently sprouted from silence. Its shapeshifting sonic sculptures are carved from deep serenity. Listen again, however, and it starts adding up. With inner silence, Mark Guiliana has observed the world’s contradictions. Then played them.

“the sound of listening” is Guiliana’s third release as the leader of a quartet. The drummer is joined by Shai Maestro (keys), Jason Rigby (woodwind) and Chris Morrissey (bass). The idea for the album is taken from “Silence”, a book by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. It’s an introspective record that fuses acoustic and electronic influences with contemporary compositions and free improvisations to travel long distances via twisting routes.

That sense of constant change is exemplified by the 'most important question.' A pulse from bass and drums creates a foreboding, dark backdrop. Rigby’s saxophone roams, uncertain. After one minute, a ballad feeling rises. Morrissey’s bass drops into the center of the sound. Then Maestro’s piano drives the track in a dancey direction, before the saxophone twirls and chatters. By the end, the darkness has transformed into bright light. Guiliana’s percussion is exquisite throughout.

The album’s shifting landscapes and contrasting climates are partly the result of frequent changes in instrumentation. Rigby plays clarinet, bass clarinet and flute on 'the courage to be free.' Maestro adds mellotron and ampliceleste. Guiliana switches to synth. Electronic elements add a space-travel vibe. It’s one of four short, organic pieces scattered across the record like wildflower seeds.

'continuation' is the last track, and its African rhythms meet Eastern harmonic ideas from Maestro’s piano. It’s a fitting ending to an album that covers a lot of emotional and musical ground. It’s fun, basically. Perhaps even Zen masters like to cut loose now and then.

For silence to inspire such a profusion and variety of tones and timbres is a neat trick. “the sound of listening” is a record characterized by remarkable openness, honesty and instinctiveness. By staying rigidly faithful to his own vision and voice, Guiliana allows the music to roam and change its spots freely and widely. That might seem like a contradiction. But it’s the truth.

The album is available on CD and digital download here, with vinyl coming in 2023.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Hugjiltu 胡格吉乐图 - Cycle 循环 (Dusty Ballz, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Hugjiltu plays eight environments for tsuur, morin khuur, voice, synthesizer, recordings, and a custom guitar grafting the tunings of Mongolian lute and fiddle on the 41’ Cycle 循环.

Hugjiltu previously played in folk-fusion groups Hanggai and Ajinai but here pursues solo improvisation that engages Mongolian folk musics as a springboard for self-expression rather than a boundary from others’ expectations.

Hear birdsong, cockcrows, water, and wind and urban noise as surrounding sounds chronicle the journey from the country to the city and back again. Honeyed melodies float and flutter against the environment and a warm synthesizer ambiance. Layers of grooves of repeating pickings and soaring bowings. Resonant beating strings and multiphonic throat singing. Bluesy strums and slides, bent notes, low tones, and warm hums. Frame drum palms along some resonating body. A sunny pastoral comfort and pleasantness runs through it. Wholeheartedly a feelgood record.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Eve Risser Red Desert Orchestra - Eurythmia (Clean Feed, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

The dream of an inclusivist orchestral music that stretches from one world to another in an act of embrace is at least implicit in Debussy, realized in varying ways by musicians as distinct as Stravinsky, Milhaud, Ellington, Messiaen, George Russell, Terry Riley and Sun Ra. Few contemporaries, however, have conceptualized the passage as intriguingly as Eve Risser does with the Red Desert Orchestra, an evolution of her previous White Desert Orchestra. The Red Desert Orchestra is intimately connected with the sectional jazz orchestra, the improvisatory vitality of free jazz and the richly communal music of Mali. The cultural reach is such that Risser foregoes written notation, working through the compositions as a group to link those who read music and those who don’t. The music may be regal in some of its textured elegance, but it also feels animated by a spirit of global populism, evident in its broad embrace of sound.

The credits are telling: “All compositions by Eve Risser” with “All arrangements by Eve Risser, Antonin-Tri Hoang, Sakina Abdou, Grégoire Tirtiaux, Nils Ostendorf, Matthias Müller, Tatiana Paris, Ophélia Hié, Mélissa Hié, Fanny Lasfargues, Oumarou Bambara and Emmanuel Scarpa” The individual credits are just as unusual. The 12-member band has multiple members singing and a large percussion section; two synthesizer players create an electronics section. Risser plays piano and sings and Tatiana Paris plays electric guitar and sings, while Fanny Lasfargues plays electro-acoustic bass, no singing.

Among the horn players, Sakina Abdou plays tenor sax and Mathias Müller, trombone. But alto saxophonist Antonin-Tri Hoang and trumpeter Nils Ostendorf both double extensively on analogue synths and baritone saxophonist Grégoire Tirtiaux doubles on “qarqabas”, one of the myriad spellings of the iron castanets played by the Gnawa of North Africa.

Among the four percussionists Ophélia Hié and Mélissa Hié both play the resonant, xylophone-like balafon and sing, the former playing bara, a gourd drum; the latter the djembe, a goblet-shaped drum; Oumarou Bambara plays djembe and bara but doesn’t sing, while Emmanuel Scarpa plays a standard drum kit and sings.

That highly varied ensemble, with sections ranging from wind and vocal choir to electronics to balafons, is integrated in multiple ways, with each musician or section standing out at some moment. “So (Horse in Bambara)” -- each title is identified by one of the languages of the band members -- is a wonderful tangle of elements, fixed and improvised lines pouring over one another; “Sa (Snake in Bambara)” is highlighted by a coiling, exuberant solo by Hoang, while the extended “Desert Rouge (Red Desert in French)” includes Ostendorf’s rough-hewn trumpet lines dancing through a field of rhythmic light generated by the balafons and the shifting figures of reeds and brass and voices, the textures and brightness reminiscent of the combination of minimalism and African percussion in the Mali version of Riley’s “In C”. “Gämse (Chamois in German”) is both hypnotic and moody, from the introductory percussion figure to the strange underbrush of electric guitar and bass which combines with abstract electronics and the reigning ostinato in support of Müller’s burbling trombone and Risser’s moody piano solo. It’s anchored by Lasfargues’ electro-acoustic bass (it resembles a very large flat-top guitar) and concludes with the lustrous unaccompanied wind drction’s almost hymn-like effect.

The brief “Harmattan (African hot wind)” is (I think) Tirtiaux’s baritone saxophone, a deep, hollow wind sound, almost like a bass flute, with saxophone key percussion the principal accompaniment. Even in so striking a program, the concluding “Soyayya (Love in Hausa)” stands out. Beginning in the sea of a comforting minimalist horn line that gradually cedes to passages of restrained electronic squealing and animating hand drums, it eventually turns to the most memorable solo in the program: tenor saxophonist Sakina Abdou passes through warm melody to strangled, passionate squall with grace and reason, somehow both calm and electrifying, suggesting the recently passed Pharoah Sanders but in her own voice. The solo ultimately fades into Paris’s ethereal guitar arpeggios, the program’s last notes.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Christoph Erb, Magda Mayas & Gerry Hemingway Trio - Bathing Music (Veto, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

When you like music that shimmers and vibrates with timbral impressionistic sensitivities, touching on pointillistic fragile soundscapes, you will love this album. 

The trio is Christoph Erb on tenor and soprano, Magda Mayas on piano, and Gerry Hemingway on drums, voice and controlled feedback. Erb has been very active as an artist in Luzern, Switzerland, where he created his own Veto label, and where both Mayas and Hemingway at one time (or still?) taught music at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. You can find an introduction to Erb here, in a review by Martin Schray. An interview with Magda Mayas by Keith Prosk can be found here. No need to introduce Hemingway of course.

The music appears on vinyl, and that explains the relatively short length of twenty minutes on each side, with four tracks in total, a synthesis of a live performance in October 2020. It predates their other trio album, called "Dinner Music", also released on Veto, with just four days. 

The music trembles in intensely vibrating interaction between instruments and space and silence, and conjures up atoms and slivers of sound, arising out of nowhere, sliding into each other as if they were so predestined, while at the same time surprising us, listeners, with new sounds, new perspectives, new aural vistas. The liner notes to "Dinner Music" describe the sound well: "There are long passages where it’s easy to forget that instruments are involved, but never a moment when one wouldn’t want to listen". 

The title tracks also give an indication on the nature of the music: "The Sourrounding Shore", "Under Water Falling", "Mist That Whispers", "Drifting In Morning Rain". It is almost impossible to assess which instrument makes which sounds, and the effort will only detract you from listening. It's unique quality is the mesmerising worlds they create, the coherence of the sonic fabric, that sparkles, scintillates, wavers, oscillates, sending quivers of excitement to the audience that can unfortunately not be heard itself. 

The artistic vision and the technical skills to accomplish it are exceptional, and the album is easy to recommend. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Biliana Voutchkova: DUOS2022

Biliana Voutchkova. Photo (c) Photomusix/Cristina Marx

Biliana Voutchkova is a violinist/composer/multi-disciplinary artist who splits her time between Berlin and the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. She is deeply ingrained in the music scene of Berlin, playing with well known groups such as the Splitter Orchestra and Zeitkratzer, as well as many other groups like Jane in Ether and a duo with clarinetist Michael Thieke. She is also the organizer of the DARA String Festival in Germany and involved in many other endeavors, like for example, the DUOS2022 series on Relative Pitch Records. 
It is this download only series, which we are focusing on here today on the Free Jazz Blog, Voutchkova has developed seven duo collaborations with friends and colleagues. We are linking to the Harmonic Series newsletter, conceived of and edited by long-time Free Jazz Collective writer Keith Prosk. For this month's edition, Keith sat down with Voutchkova to talk about her work (which he has also reviewed throughout 2022). Here on the Free Jazz Blog, Nick Ostrum, Matthew Banash, and Paul Acquaro have written about their impressions of Voutchkova’s DUOS2022 work to date, which you can read in full below.

For those of you curious about Harmonic Series newsletter, there is a Q&A with Keith below. 


Biliana Voutchkova and Joanna Mattrey – Like Thoughts Coming (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

On Like Thoughts Coming, Biliana Voutchkova (here on field recordings as well as violin) is joined by Joanna Mattrey on viola. Having first heard Voutchkova on the long-tone Für Biliana and the surprisingly busy though still understated White Bricks and the Wooden Mutes, I expected something more gradualist and more in line with contemporary classical sounds. On that note, cheers to Voutchkova and her collaborators for continuing to push the boundaries and defy my assumptions.

Like Thoughts Coming is still quiet and subtle. It is just of a different, rougher aesthetic than some of her other work. Voutchkova and Mattrey weave hollow, wooden lines over backdrops of cat-meows, bird sounds, and other whispers and sibilants. (Approach Memory and Of Birds are two cases-in-point.) The elements blend seamlessly together. Rather than music performed over field recordings, the striated strings emerge out of that environmental ambiance, and closely placed microphones capture the viola and violin in such a manner that they seem to bleed backwards into the ambient chirps, squeaks and rustling. In short, this sounds full, which is a notable accomplishment given how hushed and wonderfully jagged so much of this performance is.

Like Thoughts Coming is available as a download through Bandcamp:


Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Zerang – The Emerald Figurines (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Nick Ostrum

The Emerald Figurines features Chicago doyen-of-percussion Michael Zerang and Voutchkova. Zerang, of course, has made the rounds through various avant-garde styles numerous times over his career. On this, he reconnoiters the heavily abstract realms he has been pursuing, for instance, on Uruk , though with slightly more verve, or less restraint. What is remarkable about this release is the ways in which Voutchkova’s heavily percussive and scratchy style blends into Zerang’s pattering, but with, as the title implies, a sheen. Voutchkova and Zerang seem to have like-minds on this session, frequently occupying the same space while remarkably refraining from vying to be heard. Rather, they intertwine organically in a series of pieces that evoke an old building battered on a gusty night. The wind howls through its gaps, squeezes the misshapen wood until it creaks, sounds musically on the rusted pipes, and fills the air with its own windstorm of sounds. Loose metal scrapes and old machines purr irregularly. Loose hinges squeak as if they are chimes. Metallic rain pitter-patters on odd surface. At the end of one track, Voutchkova contributes strange passages of inscrutable labials, fricatives and snarls. This is a lot for such understated music, and all of it from just two (master) musicians. The Emerald Figurines is perplexing but deeply interesting, and it grows more so with each repeated listen.

The Emerald Figurines is available as a download from Bandcamp:


Biliana Voutchkova and Susan Satos Silva - Bagra (Relative Pitch, 2022)

Biliana Voutchkova and Leila Bourdreil  - The Seventh Water (Relative Pitch, 2022)

Years ago when I was first getting into jazz I drove crosstown Charlotte, NC, at rush hour listening to Lee Morgan’s Cornbread and swear I made every light between here and there, about six or seven intersections spaced out just enough to make making them as dense and slippery as Mercury. And for a long time that was my litmus test of an album - how good did it sound in a crosstown drive? Did it make all that static blur by?

I’m much younger than that now and listened to Bagra and The Seventh Water, two recordings from Biliana Voutchkova along with a kindred musician, while walking my dogs on crisp mornings in early Autumn. It worked equally well. Each album is a solid, affirming aural document of soulful, intrepid artists playing idiosyncratic music that stretches time and messes playfully with sonorities.

Bagra has the duo of Biliana Voutchkova and Susan Santos Silva on violin, voice, piano, percussion, objects as they swap, tones, sounds and spirit.

As Voutchkova explains in the notes, “The recording of Bagra was done in one breath. It was deeply enjoyable to be in a state of completely circulating synergy, deep understanding and liberation. The two long tracks of the album are the first we played, released without any editing. And that’s exactly what it sounds like, the two letting it rip live in the studio.

The soundscapes created together are bringing me to a new zone of exploration, into a world of lush and rich sonorous string timbres full of color and spectral overtones, where music and noise happily coexist as pure luminous sound.

Voutchkova pairs her violin with Leila Bordreuil’s cello on The Seventh Water. This recording has twice the songs but less time. The fewer instruments and lesser time don’t matter a bit and only exemplify Voutchkova’s esprit de corps in general.

Music like this isn’t always easy. The way it bubbles and flits, burps and plucks can cause one to check the smoke detector’s battery, you know, make you hear things. But that is one of its strengths and certainly not only one of its many features.

It never ceases to amaze me when artists use their media, instruments or resources to transcend them in delivering an aesthetic promise. Biliana Voutchkova is a deep artist who plays well with like-minded others. The symbioses of these recordings make it stunningly obvious.

Biliana Voutchkova and Tomeka Reid - Bricolage III (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

This edition of violinist Biliana Voutchkova's DUOS2022 series, a growing set of digital releases from the boundary pushing Relative Pitch Records, is a collaboration with Chicago based cellist Tomeka Reid. First brought together in the virtual world for the Goethe-Institut Chicago supported Bricolage series, by curators Magda Mayas (Berlin) and Dave Rempis (Chicago), this encounter then turned into another virtual performance at Reid's Chicago Jazz String Summit and finally an in-person performance at Voutchkova's DARA String Festival in Berlin.

The end result of these meetings is Bricolage III, a ethereal and visceral cooperation, complete with an accompanying video by Voutchkova that expresses a visual side of the duos work. In fact, the video is a visual feast of both monochromatic and colorful textures, and motion that rolls with the flow of the music. In the first section of the film, a close up riven tree bark reveals an intricate topography that seems like it could function as a graphical score to the musicians earthen, woodsy timbres. Later, images of the two musicians hands, in slowly moving poses provides other imagery to the music. The second part of the film begins with the close up of flowers, now in full color, presaging a return to the hand imagery. The music in this section is over a dark, alluring figure from Reid, with Voutchkova adorning it with rough sonorities (entitled 'For giving' on the recording).

On the recording, the tracks are entitled "For showing", "For getting", and "For giving," of which all captivatingly capture the friction, tensions, releases that the synergy of the two musicians generate. The music is full of swirling lines, scratching and percussive textures, and deeply empathetic playing.


Q&A with Keith Prosk

FJB: Tell us about your newsletter Harmonic Series, how did you decide to start it? 

Keith Prosk: I think I started for quite a few reasons! I really truly enjoy contributing to The Free Jazz Collective but I wanted to be more comfortable writing about music that doesn’t have a foot in jazz or is understood to lean towards improvisation; the newsletter still includes a lot of that kind of music, it’s just an avenue to write about other stuff too. And I had difficulty getting my foot in the door of other publications and might have some strong thoughts around music writing so I decided to start my own thing. I copied the email newsletter format from Tone Glow because so much of the networking in this music happens via email and I thought that was fitting. I also appreciate Joshua Minsoo Kim’s longform, raw interviews and adopted a similar approach for harmonic series’ conversations over the typical profiles cut with a writer’s context because I’d personally rather hear it from the horse’s mouth so to speak. There’s the notations - I see I can go into depth about this in the next question. And then there’s reviews, open but often for recently released recordings of music, where we try for a charitable engagement focused on interpretation or decoding how parameters of sound create an experience over evaluation or hand-holding readers through the press package. There’s a lot of variability baked into the larger and smaller features, the only limits are those of the newsletter contributors, and I’m glad to host essays or recurring features on sound in film for instance but it’s just worked out that it’s always interviews and notations so far. 

FJB:  What interests you in graphic notations?

KP: I was probably first drawn to non-standard notation by the novelty of representing sound with something other than standard symbols, the possibility that I could actually understand scores as someone that doesn’t read standard notation, and the rarity of writing or presentation around non-standard notation. Beyond the recurring feature in harmonic series some other writings on non-standard notation that I’m aware of include: John Cage & Alison Knowles’ Notations from 1969 and Theresa Sauer’s Notations 21 from 2009 for books (both out-of-print); periodicals like Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen’s IM-OS, Ryoko Akama’s mumei, Magda Mayas & friends’ Graphème, or Sound American’s exquisite corpse feature; and more infrequent efforts including Christopher Williams’ navigable dissertation Tactile Paths, some Daniel Barbiero writings such as Graphic Scores & Musical Post-Literacy, Casey Anderson & friends’ The Experimental Music Yearbook, a recent issue of Bill Dietz & Woody Sullender’s Ear | Wave | Event, or the Center for Deep Listening’s A Year of Deep Listening celebrating what would have been Pauline Oliveros’ ninetieth year by sharing text scores daily. In quantity these efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to other words around music but I think they’re important for a number of reasons.

Many listeners most often approach sound through recordings and performances and, particularly in the case of the latter, there can be a bias in which one interpretation or realization is considered the way the music should sound, whereas access to the score might illuminate a field of interpretive tensions and possible realizations, especially with something like shape, color, or other methods of conveyance without a standard sound result traditionally associated with them. The experience and creation of sound are so broad to be limited by standard notation or really any system so something as nebulous as everything under the sun accommodates the diversity of approaches to sound composers and performers could have. Similarly from a pedagogical perspective I think it’s beneficial to demonstrate a low barrier to entry in writing music that can allow for a greater range of complexity and can be customized to remain truer to what a composer or piece or performer wants to convey. As a bonus pieces can often stand as visual art or poetry on their own. This is what’s coming to mind for now but I’m always learning and I expect to continue learning for some time because I’ve found the practitioners of non-standard notation number many more than I ever expected, including many people familiar to blog readers that might not necessarily be associated with composition.

FJB: Speaking now of the focus of our feature, how did you discover Biliana's work? What do you enjoy about it?

KP: Blurred Music is the first time I listened to Biliana. I picked it up off a music forum from Alex Tripp, who runs the endaural blog, and I don’t remember whether I was drawn to it by recognizing Biliana and Michael’s names from Splitter Orchester, whose roster I was using as a resource to begin to dig into echtzeitmusik at the time, or having interest in what improv Alex would be into, which the split credit probably gave away. I think Biliana’s sound is often the right mix of frequently conceptual approach, expansive textures, fluid and often slow time, and quiet dynamics that I tend to find comfortable. Following our conversation, I also prefer listening to smaller groups, where I feel I can understand the interaction of individual contributions with group dynamics better, and to things in series, where I think subtle variations across iterations can reveal the kernel of the work. So I was excited to hear that Biliana now has more time to explore sound in series and travel to present it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ken Vandermark/Matthias Muche/Thomas Lehn/Martin Blume - Soundbridges (Jazzwerkstatt, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Imagine the following scenario: A highly likeable German soccer club, whose team inspires mainly (but not only) by its playing style (but not only), augments themselves for one season with an outstanding international superstar (e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo or Erling Haaland). This is what it looks like when three top musicians of the German improv scene - drummer Martin Blume, who initiated this project, Matthias Muche on trombone and Thomas Lehn on synthesizer - invite Chicago legend Ken Vandermark as their turbo.

What you get is, a whole panopticon of what constitutes free jazz in 2022. Brutal, energetic, expressive outbursts; sounds that get lost like in a giant stalactite cave; moments of silence; a back-and-forth shuffling of tones. But what makes the band’s own sound so distinctive? The obvious and most interesting fact is that the bass in the rhythm section is replaced by an analogue synthesizer, which opens up completely different sonic possibilities. This is immediately evident in the short opener “Aperture“, when the pinpricks of the winds are mirrored by electronic gargle tones, or when Thomas Lehn blurs them with textures as in “Aspect Ration“. Here he sounds like a fierce wind whipping wet flags against a wall. What is more is the fact that the quartet excels in small gestures: The musicians harmonize with delicate ease, build tension without resorting to plain crescendos, slip from one unexpected note to another at the last second, find drama in silence and calm in chaos.

In some, rather quiet moments, this is reminiscent of Pauline Oliveiros’s Deep Listening Band, then again of sounds on a Formula 1 race track or a fairground, especially when Muche and Vandermark exchange wild blows, as at the end of "The Thirty-Nine Steps“.

Again, Soundbridges offers a lot: dynamics, wild free jazz, contemplative phases, sound excursions. Everything flows homogeneously into each other as if there were no dividing lines. Through sound bridges, in the most beautiful sense of the word.

Soundbridges is available as a CD. You can listen to it on the usual streaming devices (iMusic, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer …)

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Ivo Perelman - Reed Rapture in Brooklyn (Mahakala Music, 2022)


By Eyal Hareuveni, Sammy Stein, Gary Chapin, Tom Burris, and Paul Acquaro

In 2021, the prolific tenor sax player celebrated his 60th birthday with a major project, a nine-volume box, Brass And Ivory Tales (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2021), seven years in the making, and pairing Perelman with nine like-minded pianists. The improvised dialogues were often the first formal meeting between the Perelman and the pianists and the instant and rapidly evolving synergy was fresh and rewarding. Perelman focuses on camaraderie in his creative process and excels in maintaining his individuality while matching the idiosyncratic style of each of his partners.

In 2022 Perelman had released another magnum opus, the 12-volume Reed Raptures in Brooklyn, in which he meets and improvises this time with 12 reeds players, most of them for the first time. In fact, Perelman seems to be enjoying this approach as has plans to release another box set that documents one-on-one recordings with guitarists. Reed Raptures in Brooklyn is a celebration of the sax (ten different ones) and clarinets (three different ones) family, recorded over six months in 2021. These meetings cover a kaleidoscopic range of sound and offer another testament to Perelman’s dynamic musical evolution.

With Joe Lovano:

The fourteen tracks of Perelman and Joe Lovano demonstrate the different styles of each player, here succeeding in developing a dialogue that features sharp, shared phrasing and often intense, creatively interwoven episodes. Lovano demonstrates his versatility, egged on and encouraged by Perelman’s delirious and, at times, profoundly evocative playing. Creative interludes flow from blues-infused riffs, walking-paced marches, and dramatic, high-reaching held notes making for tone poems that interweave, switch the emphasis, and add color to phrasing, which only two musicians intensely listening and responding to each other can produce. Contrasts between the atmosphere on different tracks, from slower, whimsical melodic exchanges to dramatic contrasts, demonstrate that this pairing elevates both musicians’ playing to new heights. (Sammy Stein)

With Tim Berne:

Sometimes it feels like each duet creates a new space, with new rules, and new physical laws; sometimes it feels like Evo is entering the “world” of his interlocutor. Tim Berne’s compositions are famed and beloved, and his free improv is equally admired (see his Paraphrase sets) and equally a product of his unique voice. This set of five-edged conversations (arguments? contretemps?) sees Berne spending a lot of time in the jaggedy upper extensions of the saxophone—though his tendency to go from there to a low, low contemplative thought is kind of heartbreaking—and Ivo is happy to join him there. I’m sure others will have commented on the uncanny ability of Perelman and friends to reflect back at other (through imperfect mirrors) motifs, themes, moods. They whip and wend like birds in a murmuration. A saxophone dance with no “primas.” (Gary Chapin)

With David Murray:

David Murray plays exclusively the bass clarinet on one channel, while Perelman is on the other. Murray has one of the best bass clarinet voices ever, and it sometimes takes a spare setting like this to appreciate. From the first few seconds, I was loving just the sound of his horn. He’s also got one of the better dry senses of humor in our music. There’s almost this sense that Murray is laying a path, and Perelman is happy to play Alice to Murray’s rabbit. They chase each other around various settings, with wild outcries and celebratory yawps. They are having a great time on this one. I smiled a lot. (Gary Chapin)

With Lotte Anker:

Danish alto and soprano sax player Lotte Anker is the only female and non-American sax player here, but although this is her first meeting with Perelman both share similar aesthetics. Both are fearless and imaginative, kind of stream-of-consciousness, free improvisers who often frame their improvisations into instant, loose compositions. The opening, 90 seconds of “Eight” show how Anker and Perelman can crystalize their camaraderie into a touching ballad. The following pieces are much longer pieces are also much more fiery and energetic, but so is the rapport of Anker and Perelman, both often complement each other’s ideas, interweave their voices and explore a playful and harmonious balance between Perleman’s higher ranges of the tenor sax and Anker’s lower ranges of her alto and soprano. Anker often adds lyrical, melodic veins or hauntingly abstract musings into the intense, energetic dialogues, as on “Six” or “Three”, taking this meeting into deeper spiritual regions. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Ken Vandermark:

Ken Vandermark brought his clarinet to his first meeting with Perelman. They play a set of twelve brief pieces, exploring an idea with short but dense, precisely matching phrases, exhausting their options and with no attachment moving to the next one. These eloquent, balanced improvisations swing between spirited, urgent discourse and lyrical and compassionate musings, almost chamber ones (check “Thirteen”). Hrayr Attarian, who wrote the insightful liner notes to this box set, wrote that Vandermark and Perelman’s dynamics are “musical equivalents of a cross between freestyle poetry and flash fiction”. You may also think about this meeting as a heated and vibrant conversation between kindred souls who have a lot to share and unburden in a short while, with extended breathing techniques and an acrobatic demonstration of circular phrasing, squawks with honks, even if Vandermark and Perelman often have dissonant perspectives. Given their immediate and deep rapport, Vandermark and Perelman just began to explore the potential of such collaboration. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Roscoe Mitchell:

Roscoe Mitchell also sticks exclusively to the low end, playing bass sax. This is the only recording that Perelman left Brooklyn to record, and we should be glad he did. It’s a grand phenomenon for me that, as I plow through my 50s, to be reminded of things that I’ve forgotten. Not forgotten exactly. I hadn’t forgotten how good Roscoe Mitchell could be, but I had forgotten what it felt like to get a first listen to him being one of the most amazing creative musicians of all time. Yeah, I know what I said. These three tracks are a joy. Roscoe plays the bass track with a strategy. His game—a long game—is made of low pitches dropped at even intervals, at a not raucous pace. Perelman skitters over him, and you can hear, sometimes, that Perelman is trying to tempt Mitchell to flight, but Roscoe is not having any. (disclaimer: I don't know for a fact that this is what either were thinking. It's an impression.) And his persistence—in comedy they call it committing to the bit—his ongoing, breath paced desultory rhythmic minimalism becomes something transformational. A slow process over time that you don’t always notice because Perelman is doing some very cool stuff above. But when Roscoe, about halfway through, shifts to more melodic phrases, the satisfaction via contrast is extraordinary. An amazing set. (Gary Chapin)

With James Carter:

The Carter-Perelman pairing, with Carter on baritone, is ebullient and dynamic. Carter brings his range of styles to the fore, and the joy of this pairing is palpable as they come together, drift apart and then slam with such force the air trembles. Carter is controlled, Perelman more spontaneous, but equally, he listens and changes tack several times to align with Carter's dynamic, beautiful playing style. Carter’s blaring baritone is matched by Perelman's equally fiery explosions and tonal responses. There are fleeting echoes of classical compositions intertwined with immense improvised sections throughout which the pair maintain an intimate, witty conversation infused with delight. In a few places, Carter lets rip some rock-infused blasts, which Perelman responds to by allowing Carter to play solo before dropping his reply into the pattern. This is a remarkable and provocative pairing, demonstrating Perelman’s versatility in adapting his playing to allow a fellow musician to bask in the delight of improvisation and doing so himself. From diverse streams, the pair come together in harmony at times before veering off again, each on his own path but constantly surging back to the other. The music flows effortlessly from two brilliant masters. (Sammy Stein)

With Jon Irabagon:

Perelman's duet with Jon Irabagon never had a chance of being a run-of-the-mill affair, that simply is not a choice with these two innovative and energetic musicians. The opener, 'Six,' begins with a squall of notes followed by the sounds of giddy, avuncular baby aliens. The chattering sounds accompany Perelman's nascent melodic lines. Three minutes into the piece, the two have gone through a set of tandem legato melodies, followed by a stretch where Perelman presses against Irabagon's storm of extended sopranino saxophone techniques. Towards the end of the track, they seem to have found a sort of tune with piercing counterpoint from the tiny sopranino saxophone. On the following track, 'Seven,' the two carry on in a deeply syncopated, ping-ponging manner, reaching unusual levels of cohesion - both melodically and in sonic terror. Track 5, entitled "Three," is a jittery piece, made up of shards of contrasting sounds, but comes together to end in an intense burst of intertwining musical purpose. Throughout their meeting, the moments of unfettered sound making is equal to the melodic ideas that they share. (Paul Acquaro)

With Joe McPhee:

Let's just get this out of the way. Both Ivo Perelman and Joe McPhee are absolute masters of improvisation and the instant compositions on this disc only serve to solidify their positions. The most obvious mode of operation here is that McPhee riffs in the lower registers of the tenor while Perelman flies around up in the ether. But that's merely where most of the pieces begin or “go home.” Our heroes also wind around each other in the same register and pop into the stratosphere with similar punch and vigor, making it challenging at times to tell who is going what. This collaboration bears beautiful and often hypnotic results, as on “Five” or considers the magic weaving that conjures up the mysterious feel of duduk player, Djivan Gasparyan on “Two”. But at turns their conversations can become weepy and dark, or they can ascend into an Ayler brothers' style of rapid jabs and punctuation. My favorite of the bunch is “Three,” where Joe howls and brays at the stars that Ivo is punching into the night sky before both tenors begin the speedy process of connecting them with musical lines. McPhee has an epiphany of some sort that prompts him to begin speaking in tongues. When Ivo responds, it's nothing less than overtones of the barnyard and several stalls require cleaning. (Tom Burris)

With Colin Stetson:

Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson brings to his first meeting with Perelman the contrabass saxophone. Perelman and Stetson's duets attempt to find common, resonating ground between the higher register of Perelman’s singing tenor sax, which can be associated with his recent study of bel canto opera, and the vibrating, deep-toned growl of Stetson’s contrabass saxophone, including his extended breathing techniques that add percussive and otherworldly abstract touches. These patient, slow-cooking duets stress, again, Perelman’s uncanny ability to create spontaneous and stimulating synergy. These free improvised pieces sound like introspective and contemplative, deep meditations on the contrasting, sometimes dissonant and quite intriguing sonic palettes of the two horns playing together, but rarely reach turbulent, cathartic climaxes. (Eyal Hareuveni)

With Vinny Golia:

Playful, challenging, but accessible, it's not hard to find your place within the intertwining lines of these two woodwind masters. Golia, a master of a seemingly endless array of woodwinds, here sticks to clarinet, the basset horn - a slightly darker toned mid-sized clarinet - and the smallest of the saxes, the soprillo, trades lines deftly with Perelman in this alluring meet-up. The opening track, 'Seven,' begins with the lightly aching sound of Perleman alone, delivering a seamless stream of notes. A hint of a melody creeps in at some moments, and then Golia comes in on the clarinet, his sound a bit woodier than Perelman's. The two slowly build up their conversation, reacting to each other's musical intentions telepathically. Track two, entitled 'Two,' begins again with Perelman alone, but his arching lines are soon traced by Golia, at times the two seem to stretch their notes out over vast musical spaces, both complementing and competing with each other. Track 'Six' begins with Golia solo, his clarinet a buzz of arpeggiated runs. Perelman reacts with his own vibrating melodies that sometimes seem to spiral away from his horn into curlicues of air. The track ends with a sonorous tone from Golia as he then recaps his kinetic introduction. The interactions are rich and rewarding throughout this entire encounter. (Paul Acquaro)

With Dave Liebman:

The Perelman-Liebman tracks are immersive, and Liebman is given rein to bring his expansive range of style and expression to this series of duets. The silences are as important as the playing in some parts, and Perelman here shows his innate ability to tune towards another musician in exemplary lead or reaction, depending on the nuance of the piece. Each dialogue explores a different part of the unifying language of the music, with some tracks feeling like two or three as the atmosphere switches from sublime to dramatic dynamism. Liebman, at times, takes a suggestion from Perelman and works his emotive response, which intuitively, Perelman then re-takes and places his voice on it. There are moments when Perelman briefly sets up a blues/rock theme under Liebman’s whimsical top line, the line vanishing when the lead switches back to Perelman. At other times, the pair swap short, sharp riffs, reflecting and changing them, often ending as Perelman screams down the scale. These swapped themes echo throughout the tracks, creating a series of interlinked yet distinct conversations. Immersive and completely spell-binding. (Sammy Stein)