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Gorilla Mask: Peter Van Huffel (as), Roland Fidezius (b), Rudi Fischerlehner (dr)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur; 1/17/2020

Silke Eberhard Trio: Kay Lübke (d), Jan Roder (b), Eberhard (c)

KM28, Berlin; 1/13/2020

Schlippenbach Trio: Alexander von Schlippenbach (p), Evan Parker (ts), Paul Lytton, (dr)

Tempel, Karlsruhe, 12/10/2019

Bassdrumbone: Gerry Hemingway (d), Mark Helias (b), Ray Anderson (t)

Eric's House of Improv @ Zurcher Gallery, New York, NY 11/09/2019

Schnell: Christian Lillinger (dr), Pierre Borel (as), Antonio Borghini (b)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 11/15/2019

Friday, January 24, 2020

Rafael Toral, Mars Williams, Tim Daisy - Elevation (Relay Records, 2019) ****½

By Gregg Daniel Miller

Clicks, bird calls and chirps, toms and brushes, slow and then hastening, a subdued anxiety leading to a throatier sax and growled trills over snare rolls spilling out round the edges. That Rafael Toral
plays “feedback, modified amplifiers and electric oscillator” gives his dialogue with Mars Williams’ saxophone an electric edge that toys with the notions of sound, tonality, and lead instrument. In addition to “saxophones,” Williams is on “toys & busted-up autoharp.” They make a whole lot of something from nothing, grabbing sounds from the detritus of noise making; not turning it into monument – more like the feeling of the air in a room turning into weather, or a quick-sketch of some delectable with sprinkles slowly turning edible

Throughout these three long-form pieces, Tim Daisy’s percussiveness allows the other two musicians a rhythmic floor over which they can work, but if your ears shift focus (especially on the first two tracks), the percussion becomes the all, and the richer noises turn out to simply ornament the drier pulses of the drum kit. At times we’ve got for the most part three percussionists playing at different registers with different toys. The third track becomes almost a lullaby, like those urban night noises over tinnitus that keep you awake at the edge of sleep slowing coalescing into morning birds and car alarms when you realize you’ve finally slept. Incidental music for the free noise fan.

Portugal-based Rafael Toral, whose aesthetic this record most embodies, explains his approach as heavily influenced by Zen, trumpeter Sei Miguel and John Cage, identifying the “defining features in [his] practice and thinking [. . .] as space, silence, unpredictability, agency, responsibility and acceptance . . . .” I prefer Elevation to Toral’s Live in Boston (with Chris Corsano) which as a more stripped down version (drums & feedback noises) has less sonic surprise built in.

Tim Daisy owns and operates Relay Records and is an important player in Chicago’s free-improv scene. My colleague Tom Burris (in his review of Daisy’s 2014 very excellent, but more “free jazz” record, October Music Vol. 1: 7 Compositions for Duet) calls Daisy “Chicago’s most imaginative drummer.” Daisy’s work on Elevation underscores the deep continuity that underlies free improvisation using traditional jazz instrumentation and what we find here, noise electronics with saxophone & other percussion subordinated to that concept.

Mars Williams has performed with Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, and various rock bands. With Paal Nilssen-Love’s trio, Boneshaker on Thinking out Loud or Fake Music, Mars Williams’ playing is a mix of fiery and meditative. Here on Elevation, Williams uses his saxophone less as an expressive extension of intention, and more as another miscellaneous toy adding playful, inventive, thoughtful incursions into the feedbacks and silences.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Search Versus Re-Search: Stephen Haynes, Damon Smith, Matt Crane, Jeff Platz

Search Versus Re-Search (Setola Di Maiale, 2019) ****
Theory of Colors (Umland, 2019) ****

By Dan Sorrells

The group now known as Search Versus Re-Search is evidence of just how formidable a working band can become when improvisational energies rightly align. With membership drawn from across New England, the quartet of guitarist Jeff Platz (Boston), bassist Damon Smith (until recently Boston), cornetist Stephen Haynes (Hartford), and drummer Matt Crane (Providence) is a union of four highly sensitive and generous players. The band underwent a flurry of activity in 2018 and 2019, playing a number of shows throughout the Northeast and quickly recording two albums.

Theirs is music full of fine detail and supporting gestures, centered on convergence rather than confrontation. In the liner notes to Theory of Colors, Joe Morris aptly notes the group’s “mastery in the improvisation of form” and throughout both albums, the band tends to favor framing and occupying spaces and moods over counterpoint or trading lines. Despite the short time between records ( Search Versus Re-Search was released on CD in January 2019, followed by Theory of Colors in September), in some respects Theory of Colors already sounds more assured, and it moves away from the longer improvisations of Search in favor of a handful of shorter statements, some as brief as one minute.

Smith’s rich bass tone emerges as something of a centering force across both albums, melding his arco rasp with Haynes’ low sighs on “Bonshō,” or flirting with a swinging groove as he strides along Crane’s ride cymbal on the jazz-inflected “This All Is Everything.” Haynes, focused for many years now on cornet, continues to develop his masterful use of mutes, voicing smeary strokes and brassy textures that erase the idea of—or really, the need for—discrete notes. He whispers and wheezes before more enthusiastically joining an excellent colloquy between Platz and Smith in the unhurried “Midnight and Noon,” the conversation selflessly highlighted by Crane’s careful brushwork. Platz in particular is fascinating in this context, which is unbounded in a way not found in his previous work. Here, and on tracks like “Elevational View” and the title track from Theory of Colors, he dips into curious pedal effects that highlight new aspects of his playing.

There’s something else important that this group touches upon through its allusions to Josef Albers, its fixation on color, and its eventual incorporation into Crane’s visiting artist residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine: improvisation as an educating force. If there’s a unifying thread running through this group’s work, it’s the idea that, for musicians and listeners alike, improvisation is both a searching working-through and a broader means for reflection and instruction. Through sound, the quartet embodies Albers’ lesson to “note that balance, proportion, harmony, [and] coordination are tasks of our daily life, as are also activity, intensity, economy and unity.” In each meeting, Platz, Haynes, Smith and Crane commit to an ongoing educational practice in which they not only learn the changing contours of how to create music together, but in doing so, teach the rest of us about music in dialogue with the other arts, about the spaces we listen within and the communities we inhabit, and ultimately, something about our own expectations and sensitivities.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall – Fifty Fifty (Trouble in the East, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

The most recent duo recording of pianist Aki Takase and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, Fifty Fifty begins with a playful toy-piano-driven jaunt written by Takase titled “Toolbox.” The next track, another Takase composition, consists of a short, repeated tangling groove. The third, Mahall’s first contribution, “Ein Loch ist ein Eimer” (“A Hole is a Bucket”) begins with some abstract riffing, then falls into a melody not unlike that on the previous track. And, except for a few tracks like the wistfully beautiful “Rest Area” (another Takase piece), the album hops along winsomely like this for the rest of its 30 minutes.

In full disclosure, I was fortunate enough to catch this duo playing music from this album at the release show last summer at Sowieso. I have wanted to review it since. The record almost never lives up to the performance, and that rule holds true here. That said, this album does capture a lot of that parlor intimacy. Think a stripped-down version of Die Enttäuschung (another Mahall project) with the same level of ludicity (in terms of both play and skill), quirky melodicism, and intricacy. Think a much more adventurous Vince Guaraldi or Monk without the underlying solemnity. This album is quick. It is idiosyncratic. It has no pretenses to gravity and few to seriousness. That said it is also clear that these two stalwarts of the Berlin free jazz scene and long-time collaborators have a deep connection and some interesting ideas to play with. And, they seem to derive an immense joy from jamming together. One sees it when they play live and one hears it on Fifty Fifty. Is this the most inventive or intricate music that these musicians have composed and performed? No. Rather, it is a light-hearted and engaging stroll through a quirky, 1950s jazz inspired landscape. This is good music.

This is fun music. And, it is a welcome respite from the alternately irreverently harsh and heady ernste Musik I usually spin.

Fifty Fifty is available as a limited-edition LP from Trouble in the East Records and through Bandcamp.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Big Bad Brötzmann Quintet - Karacho! (Euphorium) ****½

By Martin Schray

15 years ago, in 2004, Oliver Schwerdt and Christian Lillinger met for the first time and Schwerdt had the plan to spark off a band that was supposed to play classic free jazz of the 1960s and 70s. The two invited East German free jazz icon Luten Petrowsky to join on saxophone and clarinet and finally played their first concert in 2006. In 2008 they recorded White Power Blues (Euphorium Records) and expanded the trio to a quintet with Robert Landferman and John Edwards on the basses - the wonderful New Old Luten Project. The focus here was clearly on Petrowsky, even if the whole band was an extraordinary powerhouse. Petrowsky incorporated the golden age of free jazz, his powerful style being the icing on the cake of outstanding group improvisations. After eight recordings altogether (if you count the trios and septets as well), the project had to come to an end due to Petrowsky’s poor health. Nevertheless, Oliver Schwerdt wanted to continue the project and who else would be more perfect than Petrowsky’s West German equivalent Peter Brötzmann (how he did that you can read in the extensive liner notes if you read German).

In 2017 the new band with Schwerdt (piano, percussion, little instruments), Brötzmann (saxes, clarinet, tárogató), Lillinger (drums, percussion), Edwards (bass) and John Eckardt (bass) - the latter has replaced Robert Landfermann - came together at the old spot, where they recorded the New Old Luten Quintet CDs: the naTo club in Leipzig. From the very beginning the band was playing at a very high energy level, which is mainly due to Brötzmann’s incredible volume (Schwerdt mentions how surprised he was about that). Brötzmann, who has discovered his soft side with some of his recent releases (see Colin’s great review on his latest solo album here ) and even admitted a certain fancy for songs, seemed to swim in a fountain of youth that evening. Very often his trio with Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink comes to mind (listen to the music around the 8:30 mark), now the energy of the New Old Luten band is propelled further by the two basses, which provide extra driving force and texture. Once again Brötzmann uses his familiar riffs but he does that with a surprising brutality that is reminiscent of the old fire-breather of the 1970s. An example of this is the end of the set when Brötzmann throws in his almost famous Master-Of-A-Small-House theme, but it’s crassly overblown, distorted, torn to pieces. For fans of Brötzmann’s FMP period this might be worth the purchase of this CD alone.

However, the real sensation of this recording is Oliver Schwerdt. He has really grown as a pianist, his performance here should establish him among the top German free jazz pianists. His playing brings together influences of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Fred Van Hove, and even Cecil Taylor. For this concert he soon realized that it wasn’t possible to use highly differentiated chords, they would have drowned in the vortex of the sound of the others. Even clusters were difficult, Schwerdt says in the liner notes, which is why he decided to use cluster tremolos, a real machine gun fire of notes. This really seemed to push Brötzmann, who delivered one of the best performances I’ve heard from him in the last five years. Schwerdt’s project really succeeds in creating a modern version of 1970s free jazz, and for fans of old-school-fire-music this recording is an obvious must.

Karacho! is available as a CD. You can buy it directly from Oliver Schwerdt here.

Ask if you can also get the mini CD of the intro performance of the Schwerdt/Lillinger/Brötzmann trio, which opened the evening and which is equally great.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Félicia Atkinson – The Flower and the Vessel (Shelter Press, 2019) ****

By Kian Banihashemi

Félicia Atkinson is a multifaceted French artist who I have just recently discovered last year with the release of her collaborative album with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, titled Limpid as the Solitudes. That album quickly warranted many listens and became one of my favorite musical experiences of 2018. This year Atkinson returns on Shelter Press with a solo release that spans seventy minutes. Without looking deeply into the context of this album, there are some influences that stand out. The cover displays the Japanese art of arranging flowers known as Ikebana, and I believe there is no other visual depiction to more accurately describe the music on this album. Using human constructs and designs to represent the natural world in a different, but just as delightful manner. This introspective record is a product of Atkinson's more recent experiences, and one of her outlets used to connect to the natural world around her. The influences on her music aren't direct or derivative, in fact they're almost hidden. Morphed, underlying, and abstracted; they are presented through Atkinson's own personal perception. And the result is always as beautiful and natural as the source material.

Many different techniques are applied in the making of this album, with a prominent one being Atkinson's ASMR whispering. While ASMR has become more popular during recent years, Atkinson's application of this unique sensation never appears to be kitschy or tacky. The ASMR is not overdone, and in fact adds to the sometimes disorienting and intimate atmosphere that this album provides. This is mostly due to the variety of vocals that Atkinson implements into her soundscapes. For example, the muddled fluid speaking on "Shirley to Shirley" comes in pulsating waves that are reminiscent of the tides. While on the subsequent track, "Un Ovale Vert", there is much more space for the vocals to open up, as chimes indicate the presence of a soft breeze, with delicate vibrations surrounding you. The smallest sounds come echoing back, supplying an entrancing experience that requires your full attention. The song "You Have to Have Eyes" is the best example of this immersion and serves as a very profound listening adventure. The intense buzzing drone contrasted with the slowly pouring poetry creates a moment that transcends time; you can live in this space.

"Linguistics of Atoms" is a stark and bleak break in the album, taking you right to the gateway of "Lush" and "Joan" which draws you into a dense, forested world where life is found everywhere. Behind this, some brooding and contemplative keys are sure to warn the listener of a darker unknown lying hidden in the shadows. "Open / Ouvre" and "L'Enfant et le Poulpe" are more curious explorations with tones and note placement, as well as the close-to-the-ear whispers. And while perhaps both of these tracks are explorations concerning some of the same aspects, they are not much alike. Sometimes it may seem that certain sounds are misplaced or obtrusive, but deeper repeated listens can show you the contrasts and complements which these sounds hold, and their more sublime presentation compared to previous songs on the album. The closer, "Des Pierres" is the only track recorded in an actual studio setting as Atkinson creates an alien surrounding while Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O'Malley shapes crushing drones that have the ability to move mountains. At twenty minutes long, "Des Pierres" is a monolith of a piece while never in the slightest appearing to be repetitive or drawn out. In many ways, it is a summary and bookend of this project and the mindset behind it. Implementing many of the techniques prior, to create art that is vital and lasting. Throughout this album I listened to the words being spoken, the poetry that is so personally orated, but kept getting caught on one word here and there. It is a difficult to task, trying to mentally transcribe it all but perhaps the beauty lies in its mystery. From here I can only guess where Atkinson will go next, but I have no doubt that it will be a product of her creativity and educated understanding of the oneness that encompasses our underappreciated planet. The Flower and the Vessel is not limited in how it may impact you, this project touches upon more than just the sense of hearing. A whole spectrum of sensations is available to explore, and it's surreal to know that we have such easy access to it all.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Here to Play - Here to Play (s/r, 2019) ****½

By Gregg Daniel Miller

Like a sonic kitchen-garden, “Here to Play” is a bit messy, homegrown
yet welcoming.

Neil Welch (tenor sax + effects), Kelsey Mines (bass), and Gregg Keplinger (percussion) have put together an engaging array of free play sounds. It’s best on big speakers–to capture the range of that double bass. This grouping is not quite a sax trio, because the relationship between the three instruments is much more egalitarian. Generationally apart, these 3 musicians have been important players in the current renaissance of creative music in Seattle, and this is their first release as a trio.

Neil Welch (the sax half of Bad Luck) can make his tenor sound like pitched air around a windbreak. He has full control of multiphonics, flutter and mouth noise effects, electronic pedals. Plus, he can create instantly engaging melodic lines–and then throw them away at will.

Kelsey Mines’ throbbing bass and bowing brings to mind the heavyweight (sadly departed) Dominic Duval–his sure, resonant sound; Mines’ is somewhere between Duval’s work with Joe McPhee on Trio X and his CT String Quartet. Mines’ interesting other project (Earthtoneskytone) with guitarist Carlos Snaider is a smoother affair, featuring angular compositions and abstract lyrics, strongest when they both sing. Here to Play is looser, less about prepared precision and more about communicating free expression as such.

My first exposure to the playing of percussionist Gregg Keplinger was on disk 1 of the unbelievably great Not Out for Anywhere on Sol Disk (2004), with Reuben Radding (bass) and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter – one of Carter’s very best outings, by the way. Keplinger can play the hits like he means them. His drumming smacks of Elvin Jones for whom he manufactured drums, once upon a time, but then he played a month or so ago at Café Racer in Seattle in a percussion duo (with Jen Gilleran) without any proper drum kit—all miscellany, cymbals and sticks and resonate objects (including, from Gilleran, metal gingerbread music boxes with turn-the-crank random). There was space and sensitivity, playfulness and glee. All that abundance shows up on Here to Play.

“Arwen’s Dance” is perhaps the strongest straight-ahead statement with multiphonic overblowing as the hymn, and free soloing all 3 at once. This tune rocks out, as does “King Kep.” There are moments in “Arwen’s Dance” where the whole band simply flies.

“Storyteller” parts 1 and 2 and “Sonic Wind” are open-form, searching numbers, the former featuring arco bass over miscellaneous crash percussion, the latter led by long-held multiphonic notes singing– like where the wild things are for real, and gentler than you’d have thought.

Adorno wrote of radical music that it should be a “herald of the threateningly eruptive, the ungrasped.” Here to Play is in that tradition—though as a tradition, a style, an approach to sound-making and collective improvisation, with a history, NAMES, forms and instrumentation, we have to take up the question of what this music means today for us. Maybe it is something less (radical), now, and all the greater for that, as it develops and matures. The roots are there. Now come the flowers and the fruits.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Tomas Fujiwara - 7 Poets Trio (RogueArt, 2019) ****½

By Olle Lawson

Tomas Fujiwara – Drums/compositions.
Patricia Brennan – Vibraphone.
Tomeka Reid – Cello.

I’d like to tell you as little as possible about this music...”  (Fujiwara, liner notes)

Tomas Fujiwara knows how name his bands – The Hook Up, Triple Double and now we have the wonderfully titled 7 Poets Trio, another unique release from Parisian label RogueArt.

Opening with a rainfall of brushes, 'Blend' meticulously builds and blossoms as we try to place which instrument in the trio could be producing the sound of resonating water glasses.

The gracing beauty of Tomeka Reid’s cello draws out contextual atmosphere and a beckoning narrative but hold on – is that an electric piano now?

As the piece develops over its 18 minutes and segues into KP Mexican musician Patricia Brennan’s vibraphone becomes fully discernable in its acoustic rendering. Fujiwara’s patterns of evolving drumming slowly move to the fore – ever present, yet so subtle in their evocation – a whirring sewing machine of meshed, percussive complexity suspending the trio’s living tapestry of sound. As bowed cello moves to pizzicato – and with surprising bounce – Tomeka takes a solo of sorts as her lines cross-weave the intricate interlocking vibe-chimes and revolving drum shapes. These pieces were specifically conceived with the trio’s sound-personalities very much in mind.

'A Realm Distorted/Questions' leaps into action with a stop/start rhythm full of two-note stops, imbuing a kind of oblique chamber funk. Ms Reid stealth-walks her bass line then moves into a free-cello squall before the trio descend into full chiming breakdown, to near silence, finally arriving at an almost nursery rhyme-like theme – Ms Brennan vocalizing along as she explores her full tonal palette – before Tomeka closes the piece by artfully drawing melodies in the air.

Fujiwara opens 'Cruisin’ With Spencer' with a carefully constructed solo drum foundation, effortlessly mapping out a rolling sound web for Brennan to adorn with a shimmering of clear vibraphonic tones.

Fujiwara’s deceptively simple Brooklyn street walking beat carries Spencer with a tip-toeing urban swing that features some of Ms Reid’s most accomplished cello ‘bass’ playing committed to disc, thus far.

'Gentle Soul' begins as a more abstract affair – a trio improvised opening of drum skin, rustled papers, bowed strings and digital vibes. Pulling free of this textural mesh is a plaintive cello refrain of such warmth that it almost becomes a hook – one could dance or cry to this music.

At six minutes – and replete with a false-stop – Ms Brennan tumbles back in with a now distorted sound, turning her vibraphone into a 70s electric organ or flanged electric guitar (maybe even a touch of wah pedal in there) before a short coda ties up the last threads of this moving tapestry.

It is no surprise that every piece here is a dedication and Fujiwara has succeeded in creating a uniquely orchestrated sound for this clearly personal project. There is such generosity, restraint and warmth in both the writing and drumming that lucidly showcases such a diverse array of sounds from the other musicians – at times there could be 7 Poets at play – but always held tightly together with Fujiwara’s subtle percussive interlacing.

Intriguing music.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Elliot Galvin - Live In Paris, At Fondation Louis Vuitton (Edition, 2020) *****

By Sammy Stein

Live In Paris At Fondation Louis Vuitton ​is a solo release from Elliot Galvin. Galvin has prodigious talent which early in his career maybe lacked direction but not now. His confidence and experience have grown to such an extent that he sets his own path and it is for others to follow if they are able. Galvin plays entirely improvised, an aspect which in itself displays the confident place from which he is now playing. His quick thinking and understanding of two part arrangements, whether in harmony or as a counter-intuitive but musically linked exploration shows his musicality and ability to think in the moment. He has built himself a reputation as one of the rising stars of European jazz and improvised music. He plays solo and in trio, and is a key member of Mercury Music Prize nominated band Dinosaur, and a free jazz duo with saxophonist Binker Golding. This album assures him of his place not as a rising star but as one who is set for the long haul.

For four albums Galvin’s critically acclaimed trio with bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Corrie Dick has been the main focus and they have achieved many great things. Elliot has proved he has quite the gift of keyboards, along with an extensive arsenal of electronic and extended acoustic sounds.

On this recording, we hear Elliot Galvin just on piano - no electronics, no echoes, no tinkering - and it is a revelation in every sense of the word. Stripped back, laid bare, the talent before the listener is personal, and nothing short of brilliant in its creativity, lyrical story-telling and musicianship.
The iconic Fondation Louis Vuitton building is a new cultural centre designed by American architect Frank Ghery adjacent to the Jardin d'Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne of the 16th arrondissement. Ghery’s extraordinary glass sails float above the surrounding parkland. This live recorded concert was described as being completely spontaneous, free improvisation, an approach that matches the free-flowing lines of Ghery’s architecture. That Galvin's strengths have moved beyond arrangement and keyboard exercises is now crystal clear. Each of the tracks demonstrates Elliot Galvin's ability to improvise to a very high level, and to express his musical ideas into compelling and moving forms in the instant.

I asked Galvin about his feelings recording the album and he told me, " I didn't expect this concert to become an album. I always wanted to make a solo piano album, but it never quite felt like the right time. After I finished this concert and listened back to the recordings it just felt right, everything fell in the right place and I wanted to share it with people because it sounded like me. Solo, improvised piano is where I feel most at home, it's where I started when I was 6, just making things up and seeing what I could create. In many ways it feels exactly the same now."

After initial applause from the audience 'As Above' begins suddenly and without fanfare as Galvin launches into a thunderous opening run, followed by series of gentler 4s over chords and a beautiful openness comes into the music, the notes clear with definitive space between them, each placed with the exactitude of an expert. It is beautiful, it is changing and it is definitely challenging for the player. Galvin makes good use of the entire keyboard and offers changes in rhythm and tempo yet there is a linkage throughout the entire piece. The quietude of the middle section contrasts with the opening and ending. What comes across in complete clarity is the quality of the piano which Galvin is playing. Apparently this is a Steinway of considerable age and quality, here possibly having one of the greatest workouts of its life and the tone is wonderful. The thundering section which follows the central respite is followed by another change, this time open strings and echoing pedalled notes. It is a beautiful way to open the CD.

'Time and Everything' begins as a quieter study with the (just in tune) top notes of the piano being worked effectively over reverberating low notes before there is a single repeated note which heralds the onset of a more melodic line. This evolves into almost classical progressions and a diversion of right and left hand which is staggering in its complexity, yet delivered with the practiced ease of a master. The second half of this track is pure beauty.

'Coda' is short, sharp and rather sweet as Galvin thumps out chords in logical sequences on the piano with extended and shortened related gaps, showing his timing as well as his playing is well honed. There is that touch of madrigal style which is often part of Galvin's style inserted again as well.
'For J.S.' is fun, lively and enjoyable. Galvin uses the spaces in this piece almost as much as the notes which are played, creating an effective and enjoyable effect. There is a lovely section where both hands are running up and down scales in almost perfect opposition so they come together, then veer apart yet it is all somehow connected. In the middle section there is a clever run with the right hand taking a break-neck speed down the keys, to be taken up seamlessly by the left hand so the full extent of the keys are covered as a single run. The final section is darker, heavier and atmospheric.
'Broken Windows' is eerily charged at the beginning with slow, gentle higher end notes which are put together in pairs and triplets to impart a sense of relaxed playing before the piece develops, and the sharps give it that sense of glass broken, pieces falling and shattering, out of the solid frame and onto the ground, drifts into minor keys adding to the effect. A clever and well delivered piece with great atmosphere and nuance.

'So Below' is simply a clever, dexterous delivery of great improvised music. It swings from light to heavy, offers thunderous lower notes with trinkling lighter upper octaves and numerous bangs, plucks and slides over the keys at different points. A highlight of the album - but not the only one.
This entire album is another revelation from Elliot Galvin - this time not only of a great pianist but also of a natural improviser, weaving patterns, creating different landscapes and taking the listener with him on the lyrical journeys he creates and travels through as he plays. What is striking is the silence of the audience and the sheer business of the piano as almost without knowing it the ears are assailed first with lightness and joy and next minute by tumultuous hefty chord lines of volume and strength. Listening to this musician you are taken someplace else, lifted and driven - which is what great music does.

If all this was not enough this was not enough, I was trying to think what was so different about this recording and it hit me - Galvin has introduced an element of emotion and feeling- he includes soul, almost pathos. The recording has caught a moment in time when Galvin was at his improvising best, and he shared this with the listener - and it is a good thing.

This CD is impressive; it shows the maturity of this young musician who feels as if he has been on the scene for a long time but is still relatively young. The sense here is that Galvin is a musician who will enjoy a long career in jazz, the only barrier to this is being if he himself decides not to. Enjoyable, hugely engaging and such an impressive performance. Elliot Galvin, in his quote to me said this sounded like him. Well, I am glad he has done this solo recording and revealed just part of the potential he has. For once, words fail to express the wonder felt at this music.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Year of Insubordination

By Dan Sorrells

Insub—previously known as Insubordinations Netlabel—is a label run by long-time creative partners Cyril Bondi and d’incise (who sometimes work as the duo Diatribes). Over the years, the label has released music from their many multifaceted projects, as well as from other like-minded musicians. The four albums released in 2019 spanned the spectrum of experimental music, from one-man studio experiments to lengthy, orchestra-sized engagements.

Michael Pisaro/Insub Meta Orchestra – Achilles, Socrates, Diotima (The Poem of Names, No. 2) (Insub, 2019) ***½

Magnus Granberg/Insub Meta Orchestra – Als alle Vögel sangen mein Sehnen und Verlangen (Insub, 2019) ****

These two long commissions highlight the considerable aesthetic space that’s still available within the narrow ambit of minimalist, indeterminate music. Michael Pisaro is a longtime Wandelweiser member, and while the collective’s label has released work by Bondi and d’incise in recent years, I’m not sure they’ve directly engaged with Pisaro’s music before now. Magnus Granberg has an established working relationship with the pair, and all three have performed each others’ work across several releases on labels like Insub, Another Timbre, and Edition Wandelweiser.

The Pisaro piece shuffles awake with almost incidental sounds, the 28-strong Insub Meta Orchestra trying their best to sound a fraction of their size. As the piece approaches its second half, some more-or-less conventional orchestral swells appear, which gradually splinter into shimmering spectral shards as the music becomes more dense and ominous. It’s tempting to try to chase down the significance of the names in the title or the relationship between this piece and “The Poem of Names” (the third movement of 2018’s Shades of Eternal Night), but I suspect these are fool’s errands. Knowledge of the process doesn’t necessarily elucidate Pisaro’s work; how much of this is a result of specific instruction or improvisation spurred by broad compositional suggestions changes little for the listener. I get the sense that the genesis of much of Pisaro’s music lies in the tension between arranging some deeply private elements with others meant to invite interpretation. Still, it’s not hard to hear in those opening moments the same weather captured in the field recordings from Syros that were used in last year’s piece: gusts of wind, or the surf rolling onto the shoreline. As with past engagements with Pisaro’s work, I’m always compelled to listen, but often leave feeling there’s an unbridged gap. There’s something inscrutable in his music that I’m desperate—and always feel I’m failing—to understand.

In contrast, the Granberg commission felt easier to engage with and ultimately to digest. It’s often quite beautiful music, but didn’t lodge in my mind the way Pisaro’s does. The instruments are more individuated in Granberg’s piece, which is moody but also brightly highlights the variety within the ensemble. Diffuse shapes and hues phase in and out as activity is passed between subsets of musicians. The silences and gaps serve a structural, framing function, implying a ghostly pulse that keeps a feeling of forward momentum. It’s a comfortable piece of music that can surprise in its fine details, but in marked contrast to Pisaro’s unsettled spaces, lacks the dangerous undercurrent of uncertainty. The Granberg is walking a forest path in the long rays of the late afternoon sun; the Pisaro is trying to make your way out in the dark as the rain sets in. Pisaro once said in an interview that he was “deeply challenged by the idea of silence,” which had “come to mean contingency” to him. How far to open that door to contingency is a question to which both of these commissions offer distinctive answers.

A Spirale & Chris Cogburn – Autocannibalism (Insub, 2019) ***½

A brief, precarious set crafted almost entirely from guitar and saxophone feedback (the Italian duo of Maurizio Argenziano and Mario Gabola), subtly—even imperceptibly—bolstered by Cogburn’s percussion and electronics. “Autocannibalism” is an apt and slightly humorous description for this medium, which is always at risk of running away from its creators and consuming these fragile improvisations. The group’s approach is interesting, in that they don’t create the expected long-form drones of beating sine waves, but instead work in smaller gestures, relying on volume control and proximity to ease short tones in and out of existence. I imagine simply maintaining control of the feedback partly necessitates this approach, and the result is more often a call-and-response dialogue that juxtaposes tones of varying grit and clarity rather than a sustained effort at timbre-building or teasing out harmonics. These snippets culled from basement recording sessions are probably the only way this music can come to life, but they’re of interest nonetheless.

d’incise – Assemblée, Relâche, Réjouissance, Parade (Insub, 2019) ***

The four short “L’Angland de St-Donat” pieces that beginAssemblée, Relâche, Réjouissance, Parade are studio assemblées of “bowed metallic objects,” electric organ, harmonium, banjo and bass, and are softer, more elastic explorations of the lodes d’incise has mined more energetically in groups like La Tène. Each presents a ritualized constellation of small sounds around reedy harmonium and organ drones. The longer “Le désir” pieces are stranger, but more effective. In these works, resonating metal sticks are bowed over a background of detuned organ recordings. The repeating three-note motifs that undergird “Le désir certain” are deceiving, set against a pedal drone that makes them sound slightly out-of-tune, creating a dizzying, destabilizing effect despite their lockstep rhythm. And this is before you add in the skittering bowed-stick improvisations, which sound a bit like uncooperative, spacetime-warping violins. It certainly occupies a novel space, although at 15 minutes, it slightly overstays. “Le désir serein” relies on overlapping sustained organ drones, creating weird, psychedelic pockets of dissonance. Throughout, a steady repeating note sounds out, a guiding light providing bearings in the dark. Of the two, it’s the easiest to become immersed in, and is a pleasantly disorienting experience.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Dan Weiss Trio Plus 1 - Utica Box (Sunnyside Records, 2019) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

It seems every year there is at least one piano trio album that upends and reinvents one of the oldest formats in the genre. In this case, it’s not quite a trio, as the first transformational move made by drummer, composer and bandleader Dan Weiss is to add a second bass player. But the result is much more than the sum of its players, as Weiss and pianist Jacob Sacks are joined by bassists Thomas Morgan and Eivind Opsvik together and separately, the four together drawing on some of Weiss’s finest compositions to date.

Much was made, rightfully, of Weiss’s Starebaby, a fantastic album of metal-jazz with a band I was lucky to see live at the Angel City Jazz Fest a couple of years ago. That band delighted several of u s and has apparently recorded its follow-up album. In the interim, however, Weiss returned to one of his earliest groups, a trio with Sacks and Morgan. And the group jumps right into the deep end with the nearly 20-minute-long title track. The liner notes describes the subtle, gradual shifts of “Utica Box” as “a la Morton Feldman,” but this is texturally different from Tyshawn Sorey’s Feldmanian piano tri o . In Weiss’s hands, texture rhythm, and melody warp in unpredictable ways. In the opening minutes, the trio plus one balances Sacks’s piano with a loping, hypnotic beat. The combination sounds like a backing track custom-made for producer and rapper RZA. Later, when Weiss shifts into a hip-hop/EDM-inspired rhythm, it’s Sacks who restrains the group, maintaining a brilliant combination of timbre and tempo, as the meta-commentary of the titl e provides a framework for Weiss, Sacks, Morgan, and Opsvik to meditate on a seemingly linear melody from prismatic angles.

The album features three of these lengthier songs, “Utica Box” at the start, “Orange” at its center, and “Bonham” as the closer. In a number of ways, each one of these showcases Sacks’s mutability. He’s become one of the foremost players, with an ability to push himself to remarkable limits. Around the midpoint of “Orange,” he takes a 180-degree dynamic pivot that opens the door wide for Morgan’s excellent solo. Separating each of these extended tracks are relatively short excursions, “Jamerson,” “Rock and Heat,” “Please Don’t Leave,” and “Last Time One More Time.”

“Last Time One More Time” is one of the more contemplative and evocative songs on the album. The title, inspired by Weiss’s daughter, was, interestingly, one of his large-ensemble compositions, reconfigured for this quartet. I haven’t heard the other arrangement, but this appears to have been completely overhauled, as it fits the two-bass voicing beautifully. Morgan previously performed on David Virelles’s superb Mbókò, in a double-bass quintet with Robert Hurst, but he comes at Weiss’s music from a completely different angle, and his duet with Opsvik on “Last Time One More Time” is wonderful.

Throughout, I was repeatedly reminded of the album’s cover art, where an outline of an orange contrasts with orange paint in the shape of a pear. However Weiss does it (and it is an amazing feat), his music lives in a binomial space, each half provided equal room to breathe and stretch, or else both sides fold together into something like an orangear or pearnge.

Album available direct from Sunnyside Records, and you can visit Dan Weiss here.