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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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Simon Nabatov Quintet - Last Minute Theory (Clean Feed, 2019) ****

By Stephen Griffith

It doesn't take a huge leap of faith to assume that fans of this genre of music have mental lists of favorite musicians who've never received acclaim commensurate with what they perceive to be their talents. The Russian born pianist Simon Nabatov is at the top of my list. Sure his releases receive positive, often glowing, reviews and I've never encountered anyone even slightly dismissive of his technically intricate while still melodically welcoming playing. But I just don't think he's gotten the push his talents merit and he doesn't get mentioned as often in discussions as Schweizer, Crispell or Shipp for example.
The first Simon Nabatov Quintet release was the delightful 2001 collection of pieces inspired by sections of the underground Stalin era Russian novel "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov, a tour de force of literary interpretation. The intervening 18 years have featured mostly smaller groups, primarily on Leo, including other Soviet era literary interpretations, as well as less programmatic undertakings. The current release marks his Clean Feed debut with a different New York centric group of saxophonist Tony Malaby, Brandon Seabrook on guitar, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

If being on the new label exposes him to new listeners, this would serve as a good introduction to his playing and compositions. The opening cut, Old Fashioned, starts off with a bouncy bop-ish melody after which the piano bass and drums start stretching the boundaries before Seabrook's guitar adds some scratchy discordant figures to produce some tension. Then Malaby's tenor enters with a Charlie Rouse type solo adhering closely to the melody which frees the piano and guitar to chatter at each other. They briefly restate the melody in unison at the 5:30 mark followed by a controlled chaos winding down to a quiet conclusion. Two of the songs seem titled based on Cleaver's drumming: Rickety begins with a clattering rapid stop and go rhythm around which the song is built and Marching Right Along starts with a martial cadence which reoccurs throughout the song alternating with more understated and subdued tempos. Malaby has some fine soprano features in Slow Move and Marching Right Along and Formanek is responsible in Afterwards for getting things moving again after everyone else dropped out. Seabrook's guitar is the wild card in the mix by lobbing electric darts and bombs to keep things from getting too relaxed and serving as a good foil for Nabatov's lyricism. But the leader is in fine form here as well. If his playing isn't as out front as in some of his trio dates (Tough Customer is a particular favorite) he is constantly interesting within the quintet format.
So maybe this will raise Simon's critical exposure. Or maybe it was a misapprehension on my part of how he is thought of. I was heartened to see the late Eric Stern included Last Minute Theory in his Best of 2019 list and that he was instrumental in helping Nabatov meet musicians when he first came to New York. I thought of that quite a bit while listening to this.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Benjamin Piekut – Henry Cow: The World is a Problem (Duke University Press, 2019) *****

By Phil Stringer

A problem that all writing about music presents is analogous to Alfred Korzybski’s dictum, ‘A map is not the territory’. Self-evidently, reading about music is not the same as listening to it. Some writers resolve this by a companion recording. Benjamin Piekut doesn’t do this but he presents a convincingly thorough account of the territory to which Henry Cow’s music was a response. And, at numerous points in my reading, I paused to marvel that the response to the tensions, conflict and chaos Piekut documents, was remarkable music.

Piekut, an Associate Professor of Music at Cornell University brings both integrity as an academic researcher and theoretician and also, a necessary outsider perspective. There are eight chapters following the chronology of Henry Cow, bookended by two chapters that are addressed primarily to the ‘scholarly reader’. The chapters about the band draw heavily on interviews with group members and contemporaneous music journalism, to produce what Piekut describes (p.xiii) as an ‘unusual hybrid form combining collective biography and argument-driven cultural history’. Rather than the slightly apologetic tone here, I think it a cause for celebration that form clearly and appropriately serves function. A major clue lies in the book’s subtitle, ‘The World is a Problem’. It is important not to underestimate Piekut’s task and his achievement in writing a fascinating and immensely readable account.

At the Café Oto, London, launch in October 2019, Piekut, with Henry Cow members, Georgie Born, Christ Cutler and Tim Hodgkinson, spoke about one of his aims. To use the band in effect as a case study (my interpretation) to investigate the wider socio-cultural context of a decade from 1968 to 1978. Arguably, in meeting his aim he has written about the problem of memory and the construction of a meta-narrative that attempts to balance multiple perspectives that, in themselves, will always be contested. This was quite apparent at the book launch with some tensions over memory unsurprisingly, unresolved. Inevitably, personal memories and perspectives are just that, personal.

As a case study, Henry Cow provides insights into the multiple interacting factors that affect a group of people as they endeavor to understand, respond to and manage a series of problems. The account of recording their first album, ‘Legend’ or in the book, ‘Leg End’, highlights and sets the tone for many of the problems the band were grappling with then and as the book elaborates, continued to. In the main, this was because they were problems that were difficult if not impossible to resolve due to inherent contradictions. If a group of people set out with an espoused theory demanding potentially exceptional moral and political commitment, then the practice of that theory will almost inevitably create a contradiction between the purity of the vison, the pragmatism required by everyday living, and the personal qualities of individual actors. So, the language of liberation (say in relation to gender politics and equalities) used by some may be experienced by others through everyday practices as the language of oppression. In Henry Cow, it appears that the women were generally marginalised and one of the ways in which this surfaced, for instance, occurred as the band toured more, and more frequently in Europe, where gender inequalities were exposed especially concerning childcare.

That first album though, highlighted the problems of finding an audience and recording. The group ended up signing to Virgin and were immediately thrown into the contradictions of capitalism’s demands for the commodification of their music, hardly compatible with socialist if not Marxist ideals. They were also confronted with trying to reconcile the noble aims of non-hierarchical music making and collective composition, with the engineering demands of recording music and human auditory perception. Additionally, they were working out what kind of music they were making and the tensions between free improvisation and tightly written frameworks. Increasingly, we read of the unresolved struggle to balance communal living, and the problem of the extent to which Henry Cow was a closed or open system and, therefore, the extent to which personal identity was subsumed by group identity. Oh, and somewhere in all of this, there was the matter of getting enough income to pay bills, fix the tour bus, pay rent, buy food.

In this world of problems, if there is a problem for a reader, certainly one is to hold in mind is that at the time, the individual group members were relatively young and like many twenty-year-olds then and now, grappling with figuring stuff out. Another is to reconcile all that Piekut reveals about the tensions and conflicts of human relationships with the music that emerges. My listening again, in light of reading, was enriched and I ended up thinking that in general their music stands the test of time and remains as relevant as it did in the 1970s, not least given the current social and political climate in the UK.

There are two additions that would help a reader. First, an appendix listing the chronology of the band and when members joined, left, rejoined, and who played what and, second a discography.

Why would this book appeal to anyone had never heard of Henry Cow? Well, I think that anyone that is interested in the development of British underground or counter-cultural music through the late sixties and seventies will find this book fascinating. As will anyone that is interested in the working out of a musical response to prevailing sociopolitical circumstances. And, as much as anything, it provides universal insights into a group of people and managing complex relationships where, at times, it seems that what would help most would be a psychological understanding of intergroup processes.

The great appeal of the book for me, though, is that Henry Cow is one of a number of groups and musicians holding a formative place in my listening through the late 60s and into the 70s. Henry Cow were making music that then, as now, was alive with possibilities for experimentation, blurred idioms, improvisation, and creative conflict. Ah, creative conflict. Quite easily, Benjamin Piekut has produced an account that conjures up Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and, “I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in yourselves.” The attempt at collective music making that was Henry Cow, gave birth to many dancing stars.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Evan Parker Roundup, Part 2 of 2

Evan Parker Photo © Caroline Forbes

By Nick Metzger

“You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
- Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Listening to and reviewing all of these Evan Parker related albums has been a privilege and a learning experience for me. I’d already been doing some deep listening after the release of the “Topographie Parisienne” set, I mean I obviously re-listened to “Topography of the Lungs” to see how the sound of the trio changed between recordings and that set me onto re-listening to the Parker solo albums I owned (and caused me to buy a couple that I’d been holding off on to fill in the gaps). Then I dipped into the numerous group recordings (again with Colin pointing out some real gems I hadn’t listened to), terrific one-offs, and his long running groups (with the Schlippenbach Trio/Quartet, with Guy and Lytton, with Bailey and Stevens, with SME, with the Global Unity Orchestra, with variants of the Electro-Acoustic groups, etc, etc, etc).

It’s really incredible how evolved his playing has become, even if the underlying notion seems to have been there since the beginning. There really are no albums of him playing in a different style; he always plays in his style. I think of the early work of someone like Jackson Pollock and how it’s pretty far removed from his famous drip paintings, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Parker. There aren’t any recordings of him playing like Coltrane, even though he’s a devotee, or any of his other known influences. I wouldn’t call anything he’s done “skronk” or “fire music”, it’s too sophisticated and carefully controlled, yet anyone who’s listened to his solo material knows that it is challenging to listen to, and I myself have to be in the right frame of mind to properly enjoy it. Anyway, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, and I think that’s a signpost of genius and we’re all fortunate that the well has turned out to be so deep. The only metaphor I can offer is that I’ve found his playing to be like river rocks. Early on it was coarse and craggy, but over time the currents of his music (insert eye-rolls here) seem to have eroded the sharp edges somewhat, even as the original shapes remain intact. So here’s to whatever Mr. Parker comes up with next, I’ll be looking forward to it, whatever the shape, and I know I’m not alone.

Evan Parker, Lotte Anker, & Torben Snekkestad - Inferences (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****

On “Inferences” Parker collaborates in a trio with fellow saxophonists Lotte Anker and Torben Snekkestad for a 2016 performance in Copenhagen at the KorcertKirken Blågårds Plads. On this release Parker plays soprano saxophone, Anker plays soprano and tenor saxophones and Snekkestad plays soprano saxophone and trumpet. These three musicians complement each other’s playing very nicely and have a natural rapport with which they produce two very impressive improvisations.

The trio builds up a lot of texture on the first piece, with Anker's tenor providing a foundation for the sopranos over the first half. Layered split notes, growl, tongue slapping, and trills are the order of the day. The Parker/Snekkestad interactions are beautiful, very playful and communicative, and they become something else entirely when Anker switches to soprano. At about the halfway point the three are engrossed in a beautiful and harmonically rich engagement that sings and howls. At about ⅔ of the track duration Snekkestad starts making some really intriguing noises on the trumpet, a most interesting and welcome extended technique that is excellent and complementary to the swirling sound of the sopranos. The trio rounds out this first track with an extremely busy and piercing interchange, quenching the last couple of minutes with reed pop and hiss.

The playing on "Kairos" is more open and less textural than the previous track. It feels as if there is a drama that unfolds within the piece and the players are very attentive in their interactions, at least it seems that way to me. The track gives a classical music impression in the way it develops from slight probing on through more complex passages, and on to resolution(?). I may be making this all up as well, reading into it too much as one searching for words sometimes does. But it's an excellent piece nevertheless, and the contrast with the intensity of the first track is appreciated. Fantastic music.

Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, Lol Coxhill, Chris Corsano - Tree Dancing (OTOROKU, 2019) ****

This unexpected but essential release recorded at Cafe Oto in 2010 captures the one-time-only pairing of Joe McPhee and the late Lol Coxhill joined here by Chris Corsano and Evan Parker for a great set of improvised music. All of these musicians are legendary figures in free jazz circles so I won't go into their respective backgrounds, but wanted to just briefly remark on what a fantastic project Cafe Oto has been for this music, both as a venue (so I've heard anyway) and now as a digital distributor for many of our favorite record labels. Check out their online store and empty your wallets, tell your significant other that you had my permission, I'm sure that will go over well. Anyway, I'll get on with it.

This concert took place during McPhee's residency at Cafe Oto in 2010, and he begins "First Dance" by thanking the participants and guests for their support, as well as commenting that the day before was Ornette Coleman's birthday (80th). McPhee then unleashes a solo of otherworldly, soulful beauty in his singular fashion. An extraordinarily touching bit of playing that envelopes the listener in a swath of damp-eyed mists before they are abruptly swatted away by Corsano who ushers in a quickening of tempo. McPhee abides and the duel ensues. Corsano is vivid here, producing roiled waves of sound for McPhee to skirt over with his full throated articulations, alternating between bluesy ruminations and screeching blow-out. On "Second Dance" Parker's familiar swelling tenor growl appears from the silence, joined in short order by Coxhill and McPhee on soprano emitting shrieks and short darting figures. The three converse masterfully in their reed-speak, and I find it remarkable how clearly you can discern their distinct voices. The recording is a little lacking on this one, specifically in the left channel there is some clipping, but that's of very minor significance. Brilliant and satisfying trio interplay.

"Dance 3" builds more gradually and is initially less dense than the previous track, more exploratory, Parker briefly twisting breathless circular sound knots below the sorano chatter. Corsano is reserved across the first half, pattering around in the margins, sensitively exploring his kit. The quartet picks up some momentum over the latter half as they start to warm to each other and their surroundings. On "Dance 4" individual solos evolve into a group interplay, with an honest-to-goodness near-freakout occuring in the last minute. McPhee starts the track off on alto, followed by Coxhill, both taking extended, bluesy solos that accelerate as Corsano puts stick to skin.

The "Fifth Dance" begins with a better than two minute solo/wind-up of percussion, after which the trio digs in with McPhee on pocket trumpet. The exploratory vibe of the previous track rides here, with give-and-take being the order of the day. The "Sixth Dance" is a quickie of crackling percussion and a bit of mottled sax trill from McPhee and Corsano that, lasting only a few minutes, hits like a splash of cold water on a hot day. Finally, the "Last Dance", which begins with Corsano wrecking his skins accompanied by the tremendous bassist John Edwards, whose presence sends the group into fits, exploding with energy, wringing the wet rag completely dry. I'm not sure that you could top such a denouement if you tried.

Available from Café Oto.

Setola Di Maiale Unit & Evan Parker - Live At Angelica 2018 (Setola Di Maiale, 2019) ****½

This remarkable recording was made during the 2018 AngelicA International Festival of Music, and to mark the occasion of the Setola di Maiale (Pig Bristle in English) record label's 25th anniversary. The Setoladimaiale Unit is features many of the label's most prominent artists including label head Stefano Giust on percussion, as well as composer Philip Corner, and dancer Phoebe Neville (the latter two play the gong intro). The rest of the unit includes Marco Colonna on clarinets, Michele Anelli on contrabass, Alberto Novello on electronics, Martin Mayes plays the Alphorn (a horn used from the 17th century as a form of communication in the mountainous regions of Europe), Giorgio Pacorig on piano, Patrizia Oliva provides voice and electronics, and our Mr. Parker plays both the tenor and soprano saxophone.

"Intro" draws up the curtain on this collection with a duo of gongs slowly developing from silence, hardly played, just tappings and hints of rhythm that segue directly to the first piece. Squeaks of electronics and snatches of wordless vocals complement the dramatic and turbulent forming. Parker doesn't take over the piece, but neither is his presence subdued. He's consumed by the group and their communion, emitting traces of his distinct cadence in the sophisticated concoction. "Second" is all the more mysterious and entrancing, with water noise, clarinet, and electronics swirling in a heady dance with the vocals, horns, and piano. The percussion really begins to wallop at around the midpoint, causing the group to roil and the clarinet to sear. Parker lays out his rough eddies over otherworldly vocals and warm percussion as the track fades. Very nice indeed.

On "Third" bass clarinet wrestles with the trombone's forlorn wails and moans, underpinned by a surreal bed of vocals, chimes, and strings. In time the horns, piano, and electronics encroach, ushering buried words within a busy percussive field. "Fourth" carries in on prickly piano and electronics, the trombone wheezing and hissing like the winds of an alien planet. Briefly the horns raise a flag before slipping back below the surface and a wooden flute takes the fore, then the trombone, buried beneath layers of wool which dampen its screams. Malleted cymbal rolls elicit the return to a busier soundscape, subtle and a little strange but more than inviting. The final piece "Fifth" serves as a culmination as well as a crest, the ensemble simmers with all manner of delicious little noises as the instrumentalists trade sentiments. The electronically manipulated vocals add a hallucinatory sense and the crowding of the aural field adds a tinge of anxiety, driving the listener to the edge of some unseen abyss before rolling back from the precipice and vaporizing. A remarkable piece, it's as enchanting as it is thrilling.

Evan Parker & Matthew Wright Trance Map - Crepuscule in Nickelsdorf (Intakt, 2019) *****

Finally, we have this wonderful album that serves to tie together (either directly or indirectly) some of Parker's most interesting work in the field of electro-acoustic music. The Trance Map+ quintet is a descendant of Parker's partnership with Matthew Wright, with whom he released the original "Trance Map" album on his own psi imprint back in 2011.The other three members of the quintet all have histories working in Parker's electronics projects, Adam Linson plays bass with the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and John Coxon and Ashley Wales (better known as Spring Heel Jack) worked with Parker on 2004's tribute to Steve Lacy "Evan Parker with Birds". It's also significant that the quintet was assembled for the 2017 Hull UK City of Culture festival "Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story" which celebrated the renowned composer with whom Parker and Derek Bailey among others worked with on his 1971 album "World within Worlds". In many ways that album was a pre-cursor to Parker's more electronics oriented material, and is one of the first of its kind to blend electro-acoustic experimentation with live free improvisation.

On the first track the listener is met with quite literal birdsong, digitally manipulated it hiccups and echoes across the stereo field. Parker's soprano provides a moor in the disorienting flutter of the comings and goings as he starts out to meet and engage with the wild soundscape. Snatches of his own playing are caught in the snare of the samplers, broken down into granules and globules, and released back into the open for him to engage with. The second track gets on noisily, further breakdowns in linearity clouding perception and making it impossible to tell where one sound ends and another begins, let alone what the source is. Parker sounds absolutely organic next to the trickles of static and malfunction. He appears briefly with a fluid call and is responded to by the mimicry of the machines doused in the slurry of their logic.

The third piece bristles with movement, blowing wildly like a vortex of sound fragments, xylophone, perhaps some double bass groan, organic yet pixelated and becoming more and more so as the track progresses. Parker's playing is fantastic here and is backed by electronic crackle and some non-standard, rhythmic samples. The fourth movement blossoms in hiss and noises flickering with modulation. An undercurrent of hum commingles with the lysergic insect noises whilst Parker goes into his act, setting up a sequence of notes which is sampled and then laying out a counter motif on top. The fifth section crackles effervescently like a paresthesia of the middle ear. In addition to the thin ribbons of circular breathing Parker adds staccato squawking that is subsequently sampled and remade into 16 bit video game noises. The double bass groans with the grainy sounds of long, slow bow pulls.

The sixth and l section is only a few minutes long, and begins with Parker alone briefly before the cosmic fizz again foams up and overtakes him with its odd loops and primordial jelly. The final track, lucky number seven, continues the leitmotif, gurbling and blurping noises hugging the symmetry of the structure's pointillism. The sounds the group conjures are insanely delectable, a highly successful fusion of noise, live sampling, synthesis, and free improvisation.

To offer a final thought, all of these albums are worth a listen for fans of Parker's music. And while I've scored them all differently, it's really based on my own tastes (and in the moment at that, they often shift dramatically from day to day) and so I would encourage you not to read too much into the ratings as I'm not a real critic, just a fan, and you know what you like better than I do.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Evan Parker Roundup, Part 1 of 2

Evan Parker. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.
By Nick Metzger

Evan Parker had a very prolific year in terms of material releases and those we’ve covered thus far have impelled some praising write-ups from members of the collective (Lee’s Weekertoft reviews, Eyal’s Topographie Parisienne review, and Stuart’s Chiasm review, specifically), and still we are left with somewhere in the ballpark of ten or more releases without comment. The spectrum of his recent releases encompass the majority of his interests, with recordings both new and archival, from albums in collaboration with old friends to his signature solo soprano work to his spectacular electronic phantasmagorias; we got a little bit of everything. I’ve reviewed them in no particular order, and not all of the releases include Parker as the featured artist, however his participation is the common denominator in these write-ups. My hope is that these reviews can shed a bit of light for those who don’t know where to start or spotlight them for folks who were unaware of some. Special thanks to Colin for his help in leaving no stone unturned.

Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton - Concert in Vilnius (NoBusiness, 2019) *****

Whenever I listen to this trio, their group intuition and their shared complex musical language (which they have refined and coagulated via practice and the passage of time) never cease to bring a smile to my face. Having played together since at least 1980, and with Parker and Lytton collaborating long before that, they’ve built a vast catalogue of records together over the years. I’ll spare you any otiose rumination on whether they constitute proper free improv because of their familiarity and long-built rapport, as I think Parker states it best himself in the program notes for his 1992 show in Rotterdam “I think that in that debate at times sight of the wood was obscured by the trees. Certainly by the time a theoretical position is arrived at in which it is thought the term ‘non-idiomatic improvisation’ is the best description of something as instantly recognizable as Derek Bailey's guitar playing we have reached what E. P. Thompson called in another context ‘the terminus of the absurd’.” What I will say is that I love the music and I go out of my way to get ahold of any new or old material the trio issues.

“Part 1” starts with the familiar sound of Guy’s slinking, popping pizzicato dancing with the polished fluidic language of Parker, his nuanced and gradual attack smoothing the flickering edges of his playing, as Lytton gently and perfectly stitches it all together with irregular rolls and the rapid thump of his kick drum. With this trio it’s all about the interplay; the implicit telepathy of a group that has collaborated long enough for their roots to become entwined as a sentient bundle. Reaching for a metaphorical precipice of the potential for reed and brass, for gut and wood, for stick and stretched skin, a vast rippling sculpture garden of air pressure variation versus time. The second offering finds Parker unfurling golden spirals of circular breathing early in the track. Guy's playing broods with a deep resonant menace, intermittently striking sparks with his severe arco and violent plucking and slapping. Lytton is a maelstrom of crackling energy, more combustion than creature, heavily working every strikable surface of his kit. There is a brief remiss about halfway through before Parker leads them up and out with some of the tightest, textured improvisation you're likely to hear. Maybe my favorite piece ever by this trio...maybe. It's as refined a distillation of their expression as you're ever likely to find.

On Part 3 Guy pummels his prepared bass, his aggressive snap, strum, and rattle is a force of nature served solo across the first quarter of the piece. Eventually Lytton's skittering percussion begins to accent the controlled chaos of Guy's playing before he really sinks his teeth in and gets the sticks moving. Parker doesn't reveal himself until the midpoint, entering the fray with clicking and popping and harmonic squawk, segueing into an eruption of chrysopoeia over the latter half of the piece, swelling in volume and intensity, his breathing and measure staccato a roiling cipher issued to his band mates who meet the upsurge head-on in a colossal wave of sound. Part 4 closes the album with a fragment, or brief conclusion almost for show. A gorgeous little nugget of sound brimming with what's been stated, as if to show that they open it up like a steam valve once the boiler is hot. Their creativity flows like a river here, and this might be their very best offering depending on your tastes.

Camera phone footage of Part 3 via Youtube:

Evan Parker, Agustí Fernández, Ivo Sans - Locations (Vector, 2019) ****½

On “Locations” Parker is joined with a longtime collaborator in Catalonian pianist Agustí Fernández and the fantastic, assiduous percussionist and artist Ivo Sans who plays with Fernández in the SAI trio with dancer Sònia Sánchez, and has also performed in duos and other groups with Parker, amongst his numerous projects. Parker and Fernández have been working their chemistry over the last couple of decades in various undertakings. They’ve released music as duo, in trio with Herb Robertson, as well as with the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio. Both men are participants in Barry Guy's New Orchestra project and Fernández has also played as a member of Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Here we are presented with a set of terrific studio-recorded improvisations captured in Barcelona in 2017.

On “Location 2” Fernández’s piano broods; a bed of low register tones dredged in staggered runs of the upper. Parker's playing is in his classic vein, fractals of timbre and rapidly tongued chatter varying in attack from smooth and woody to a hectic squawk of bird call with trailing harmonics and ghostly false notes. Sans' percussion strikes the right balance between texture and timing with his rubato rolls and groaning cymbal grima. For “Location 6” Fernández goes directly for the offal of his piano, maniacally ripping and scraping at the innards. Parker and Sans are mindful of his exertions and play at the periphery of his outburst, adding thoughtful contrasts of varying timbre. “No” begins quietly with some light wooden sounds from the drums and a scraping rumble from the keys over Parker's pad clatter. The intensity increases linearly towards the conclusion, with sails unfurled towards the end, the atmosphere full of activity. Parker and Fernandez duel briefly at the beginning of “Location 3” until Evo enters with a flurry of agitated percussion that re-establishes the direction of the improvisation. Fernandez goes berserk, attacking his instrument and wringing ferocious cascades of notes from the insides. Parker follows suit and chuffs up his tone considerably, keeping tempo with the aggressive rhythms of the piece. A brief dance between piano and drums followed by a stanza of Parker's infinite breath and the trio closes with some very nice fanfare.

“Location 4” is a short, subtle piece of abstract rolls and cymbal work, barely there saxophone hiss and harmonics, and the half muted thumping of a piano played as percussion instrument, extremely tasty stuff. “Location 5” gives me the immediate impression that Fernández has been buried alive inside his piano, as it issues a lot of near unidentifiable low end activity originating far away from the ivories portion of the instrument. Evo's playing is busy but remains low intensity, he keeps the sticks moving swiftly about his kit whilst Parker provides a writhing contrast by tactically uncoiling his smooth edged runs bringing to mind an immense snake worming its way through jagged underbrush and frayed mulch. “Resolution” is a short piece that swells up gorgeously to seal the album. Rattling percussion, full broad piano, and Parker's golden horn it’s absolutely the comeliest piece on the album, like the smell of the open air on the morning after a violent storm.

Purchase via Vector Sounds.

Hideaki Shimada, Evan Parker, Roger Turner - Kanazawa Duos (Pico, 2019) ****½

On "Kanazawa Duos" the Japanese violinist Hideaki Shimada duals with Parker on soprano saxophone on the first cut and free improvising titan Roger Turner on the second. Hideaki has released albums of layered, electronically manipulated solo violin since the mid-80's under the moniker Agencement as well as working with other experimental Japanese musicians such as Tetuzi Akiyama. Like Evan Parker the English percussionist Roger Turner has been at it since the beginning, working closely with Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton, John Russell, Carlos Zingaro, Annette Peacock, Fred Frith, Cecil Taylor, Parker, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, William Parker, Paul Rutherford, Joelle Leandre, Marilyn Crispell, Henry Grimes, and many, many others. He's forged relationships with many Japanese artists throughout the years such as Toshinori Kondo, Otomo Yoshihide, Kazuhisa Uchihashi, and Chino Shuichi, playing with the latter in the 2009 Hana-Bi shows in London. So now that we have everyone's credentials in order, let's move along to the music.

Like the eponymous painting style “Spring Tachism” bursts with energy and expression, Hideaki providing his via electronically manipulated fiddle and Parker on the soprano saxophone. Hideaki squelches and hums swell and decay, and it's hard to identify his violin as such as it's mainly masticated by his processing. His soundcraft provides a certain amount of grit for Parker's hiccupping and piercing trills. Near the midpoint the electronic manipulation is scaled down and the piece acquires a chamber music character (almost), before the effects reemerge like jungle insects fluttering above the ever flowing river of Parker's metallic gambol. “Autumn Crags 2” with the ineffable Roger Turner is a little bit different. Instead of the contrasting but complementary methods of the former track these two play directly off of each other. Hideaki's processed violin is met head-on with Turner's keen ear and broad sonic palette. Turner's quivering percussive sculptures provide something of a counterpoint to the chirping and strepitous motion of Hideaki. Not a lot of build up or dynamics, but a lot of texture and interplay.

Evan Parker - Work in Progress (Vortex Jazz Club, 2019) ****

To be honest I've always been pretty intimidated by the thought of reviewing an Evan Parker solo album. Some part of that is due to an insecurity in my ability to relay what I'm hearing properly without sounding like an ass, and some is due to the reverence in which I hold his solo work. I don't own all of Parker's discography (a problem I work at from time to time, when the means are there), but I do own most of his solo albums. They fascinate me. No one else sounds like him, really. And while his solo work has certainly evolved over the years, you can hear it's underlying logic in as early a recording as "Saxophone Solos" which was released in 1975. That was about 45 years ago, think about that. 45 years. Think of all that you've taken up and put aside in 45 years (if indeed you've even been around that long), And yet Evan Parker's solo saxophone logic is still extant and still being refined. Surfaces polished, edges rounded.

It's different now, but if you listen to his oldest solo material against his more recent work a common thread remains. The flight of a flock of starlings, the geometry of spider webs, the hexagonal shape of honeycomb, the fractal growth patterns of flora, and Evan Parker's solo soprano saxophone music. It's the physical manifestation of his internal mathematics and it is vital and always worth listening to. Anyway, enough of that. EP donated the tracks on "Work in Progress" for the fundraising efforts of the Vortex Jazz Club, which he has called his 'spiritual home', and where he has maintained a long-standing monthly residency. It's the first official EP solo release in almost a decade (the last being 2010's "Whitstable Solos") and judging from the title I assume these are meant to be taken as sketches and ideas and not really a proper solo album, but there is plenty of great material to digest here nonetheless.

The first track "Piece 1" provides the vortical, multi-layered tonic of quickened notes associated with Parker's work. There is some gorgeous playing here that remediates any thought of 'sketches' in the derogatory, as Parker fills the last couple of minutes with some of the best playing I've heard from him. Scrumptious. On "Piece 2" the listener is treated to an ambulo of sparkling overtones swirling above the honking fundamentals in another startlingly potent storm of sound. The third piece is really the first I might call a sketch due to its short duration. Even so it serves as a coda to the second piece, as it shares similarities and tactics. The last track entitled "Short Pieces" is the longest of the four and is constituted of several short passages broken up with brief silences, definitely sketches, that provide an interesting glimpse into Parker's methodology. What I think is most impressive here is the amount of control displayed, not that it's particularly surprising but he makes the high speed shifts in register and patterns sound as seamless as fake teeth.

Evan Parker & Joe Morris - The Village (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2019) ****½

Although they've worked together in various groupings and ensembles over the years, this record documents the first duo concert given by Evan Parker and guitarist Joe Morris. It's title is a nod to the West Village in Manhattan, where this show took place in the Greenwich House. In his notes, Morris states that he noticed that those who collaborate with Parker hardly ever play in unison with him, preferring modes of juxtaposition, and that he'd decided that if they ever played together he would focus on the unison whenever it was appropriate. It's an interesting observation. Parker's collaborative work is wholly different than his solo material, not that some of the techniques don't bleed over from time to time. His playing in a group context generally leaves space for the other musician(s) between phrases, baiting them into filling the gaps. Like Parker, Morris has what I would deem to be an instantly recognisable improvisation style that is in many ways similar in his use of phrases and spacing, so I was intrigued with how the two playing 'in unison' would come off.

"The Mound" makes up a little over 70% of the albums content with its near 40 minute run time. Parker is on tenor saxophone and Morris plays very clean electric guitar. Their dialogue is busy and masticates the air in the room. Both artists make heavy use of brisk, harmonically rich runs with the timbres and techniques used being very complementary. It's a very textured and full sounding recording for a duo that wouldn't work as well with additional players, at least not with what they're doing here. As for playing in unison it works out very well (and as a side note we're not talking perfect unison, obviously) and I'm not sure there's another guitarist who could pull it off aside from Morris. His playing seems tailor made for this sort of meshing of the streams and his decision to forgo any effects is the right one. Careful listening reveals that, in general, one player leads and one follows closely behind. And who is leading switches several times over the piece. It's an extremely satisfying listen, but you can tell that it's made to be listened to intently, otherwise much of the detail and dialogue is lost.

On "Groove" Parker switches to soprano sax and Morris' guitar is prepared with (perhaps) a shard of balsa woven through the strings (I've seen video of him using tongue depressors in this manner). Parker's tone is alternately fluid and hiccuping and Morris' preparations give his playing a buzzing percussive pop that's a welcome change-up. The piece builds up in intensity and they really let loose during the final third of the track, with their dynamics building up peaks and dipping into valleys. They never linger on any one thought longer than necessary, a superb show of improvised music.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Earth Tongues - Atem (Neither Nor, 2019) ****½

By Stef

"Atem" means as much as "breath" in German. Oxygen. It is our life force. The essence of it. "Earth Tongues" is the trio of Joe Moffett on trumpet and objects, Dan Peck on tuba, cassette player and objects, and Carlo Costa on percussion. This is the third album by the trio and possibly their best.

It is not long, a little over thirty three minutes, and that's OK.

The three musicians produce sounds that have never before been produced by their instruments. They reduce, make abstractions, and strip music to its bare essence. They create micro-sounds, layer upon layer, slowly, carefully, almost quietly, with precision and caution. When timbral purity is achieved, when this deepest abstraction of sound is created, all the micro-sounds coalesce into something meaningful. Like a multitude of sonic molecules in some primordial soup that bounce back and forth, sometimes leading to nothing, sometimes forming living cells. What you hear is beyond words and description, beyond categories and categorisations. It is sound stripped of all cultural and musical expectations, reaching a level of sonic essence that lies at the core of life. It lives.

The result is an almost organic sonic experience. It is the bubbling organic mass that once produced life, the scraping of tectonic plates, the rumbling sounds that create geisers deep under the earth's crust, the sound of wind against rocks, the sound of leaves of grass rubbing against each other, of small creatures in the undergrowth, of deep moaning sounds of other animals, the chirping of ciccadas. No matter. It lives. Complexity emerges from simple things, and it gets a life of its own, something deeply organic. Something out of thin air. The trio create life out of sound.

They manage the listening experience by introducing minor repetitions, things to hold on to, like little sonic strings of DNA, even if the rest of the sounds are unclear and hard to discern and hard to predict. You - as the listener - experience surprise after surprise in this unfamiliar environment. But even if things are strange and unpredictable, they have deep roots in life itself, deeper than music, deeper than feelings, deeper than reason, deeper than evolution, deeper than any form of organisation. It exists. It breathes. It interacts. It creates.

You can listen to it dozens of times and identify with pleasure little things you had not noticed before, or you can anticipate with pleasure the strange sounds that you know will come soon.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

GPS Trio - Blast Beat Blues (Rataplan, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Fourteen minutes long and packed from start to its all-too-soon finish with energy, drummer Devin Gray’s GPS Trio is a compact and powerful firecracker of an album. Just judging from the names of the GPS, you can pretty much form an opinion on what the group will sound like: G for Gray, a thoughtful composer and a fierce free player. Then there is P for Chris Pitsiokos, a unique voice on the saxophone, the ‘newcomer’ has already a readily identifiable sound, a wide pallet of influences and a penchant for piercing tones. Finally S for Luke Stewart, a busy electric and acoustic bassist and bonafide sonic explorer.

Crack open (or download, or stream, or whatever) the album and fire up “Internet explorer,” within 20 seconds the intensity is at max. Pitsiokos is smearing notes all over the spectrum and Grey is delivering a dense matrix of beats. Stewart is on acoustic bass, I believe, fingers running up and down the neck, playing and scratching at notes with his bow. Then, suddenly, the switch flips and the last 45 seconds of the 2 minute 40 second tune turns into a search. What happened? Was it all too fast? Too soon? That’s doubtful as the opening bars of the follow up “Data points nowhere” is just as fierce as the last track’s start. Halfway in we’re … umm … treated to the aforementioned piercings from the sax. The group rides it out until the slightly more melodically generous “Anna-lytics,” which for the most part is built around syncopation, extended techniques, and some intense saxophone runs. The most relaxed track is the last one, "Nevins all the way," to which Stewart lends a nervous edge with his bowed etchings.

This power pack of an album is over before it has begun, almost. However, what you hear is a hard hitting explosion of energy that begs for a - hopefully longer - sequel.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Gil Scott-Heron & Makaya McCraven - We’re New Again (a Reimagining by Makaya McCraven) (XL Recordings, 2020) ****

By Martin Schray

I’m New Here was Gil Scott-Heron’s final album before he passed away in 2011. It was an unusual one. Scott-Heron was a prominent figure of black music, especially in the 1970s. He influenced musicians across genres, not only jazz, but also soul and hip-hop artists. But then his career slowed down due to drug, health, and legal difficulties, which led to imprisonment. His last album before I’m New Here was released more than a decade earlier.

Eventually, Richard Russell from the hipster label XL Recordings (The Prodigy, The White Stripes etc.) tracked him down and told him that he wanted to produce a new album by him. Russell finally persuaded Scott-Heron, who was a bit reluctant first. In the end he agreed to deliver fragments with which Russell could work. Nevertheless, Scott-Heron thought that “this is Richard’s CD. My only knowledge when I got to the studio was how he seemed to have wanted this for a long time. (…) All the dreams you show up in are not your own.” The whole thing could have gone terribly wrong, but I’m New Here is a masterpiece. Russell used Scott-Heron’s lyrics and voice as a blueprint, he was like a theater director dealing with his literary source. He transferred the old hero into the musical present. I'm New Here is not a retro album, no standstill on a high level. A stripped-down production, heavy bass-drunk dub tracks, mighty swinging beats and electronic soundscapes transplanted Gil Scott-Heron into a completely new world of sound. In this environment, Russell focused on one of Scott-Heron’s main qualities: his rumbling baritone, which aims directly at the listener’s guts. The result is a dark, melancholic, yet proud and self-confident piece of music.

Ten years later drummer Makaya McCraven chose a very different approach. The man, who is one of the most interesting and successful jazz musicians at the moment, took his familiar crew (Jeff Parker on guitar, Brandee Younger on harp, Junius Paul on bass) plus Ben Lamar Gay on different instruments and invented arrangements, which sound more like a modern version of Scott-Heron’s music from the beginning of his career. With its crystal-clear harp sounds McCraven’s morphs “I’m New Here“ into a Don-Ellis-French-Connection-like soundtrack, including Gospel Choir on the refrain that brings the track close to soul-jazz, a genre Scott-Heron is mostly associated with.

What is more, McCraven splits “On Coming From a Broken Home” into four parts, which makes sure that the central topic of the album, the early life of a black youth in a so-called “broken home“ is always in the focus. Scott-Heron was raised by his grandmother Lily Scott, he pays tribute to her with these lyrics stating that the upbringing in such surroundings doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a personal disaster: “I want to make this a special tribute / To a family that contradicts the concepts / Heard the rules, but wouldn't accept / And womenfolk raised me / And I was full-grown before I knew / I came from a broken home“. The four parts are backed by very different music: electronic textures, acoustic blues guitar, ambient jazz, African percussion and flutes, each highlighting the different lyrical themes. Finally, McCraven chooses a different order of the pieces. While Richard Russell’s version puts Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil“ at the beginning of the album and therefore suggests that the demons of the young man are there from the beginning, McCraven uses it to close the album. Musically he takes a horn sample from one of his father’s recordings (Stephen McCraven was a jazz drummer who worked with Archie Shepp), a gloomy groove reminiscent of Ron Carter and a rock guitar. The individual demons a man has to fight might be the result of the circumstances of life in general.

All in all, We’re New Again (a Reimagining by Makaya McCraven) is a very good album, an interesting approach with which Scott-Heron would have certainly been satisfied with. For me, the original version is a new classic. McCraven's version, while it doesn't replace the original, is a must hear.

We’re New Again (a Reimagining by Makaya McCraven) is available on vinyl and as a CD.

Listen to “I’m New Here“ here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Susana Santos Silva, Zetterberg & Lindwall - Hi! Who Are You? (Matière Mémoire, 2019) ****½

By Stef

In 2015, Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva teamed up with Swedish musicians Torbjörn Zetterberg on bass and Hampus Lindwall on organ. The combination is relatively unique, as is their sound. Santos Silva is one of the leading voices in contemporary improvised music, often performing together with Zetterberg. Their collaboration with Lindwall is more selective. In 2015 they released "If Nothing Else", and we are happy that the next iteration of their music is now available, albeit in only 300 vinyl copies, so you'd better hurry.

The sound of Lindwall's church organ is critical to the overall feel of the music. Under the influence of his organ teacher, Rolande Falcinelli, he moved to Paris in 2002 and studied at the Conservatoire de Saint-Maur-des-Fossés and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Lyon. He is the Titular Organist in Saint-Esprit, Paris.

In an interview with us about their debut album, Susana Santos Silva explained their approach as follows: "It's improvised music but with a great sense of structure and development within each song. And that's what can be so beautiful in an improvised piece of music, that all the notions of composed music, like the development of an idea, theme and variations, counterpoint, leitmotifs, dynamics, question-and-answer phrasing, different layers, textures, and so on, can just happen spontaneously, in the moment".

Most of the music is acoustic, but frequently altered by live electronics. The result is a strange sonic world, that is at once brutal, haunting, reverent and riveting. The performance was recorded in the Engelbrektskyrkan, a church in Stockholm, selected amongst others for its recently restored organ, that has 91 stops, 5 manuals and pedals. 

The resonance of organ, trumpet and bass in the church makes this an even more special performance. In a way, you have to be in the space itself to fully enjoy it, even if the sound quality of the album is also astonishingly good. 

Highly recommended!


I had the luck to see the trio perform in 2017 in the Saint Jacob's Church in Ghent, Belgium, where I recorded the following video vignettes with my smartphone. Not the ideal quality, but it gives an impression of what this music means in a real church. The trio is of course high up on the balcony next to the organ. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Sammy Stein - Women in Jazz: The Women, The Legends & Their Fight (8th House press, 2019) ****½

A couple of years ago I picked up a book edited by Renata Da Rin and William Parker called Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music. It came to mind as I was reading Sammy Stein's new Women in Jazz as the topic obviously intertwined a bit. Both books incorporate interviews heavily into their construction, but whereas Giving Birth to Sound lets a picture of individual musician's journey through the jazz world emerge from their words, Stein's investigates and shapes a story, supported by the interviewees insights and descriptions, of the current state of women's experiences, good and bad, in a predominantly male industry. 

Stein is a direct and positive writer, and the impression that you take away from the book is an upbeat, and honest, assessment of this current state of women working in jazz. She discusses women's successes, from the struggle for acceptance to the pushing of boundaries, and does not sugar coat the injustices and mistreatment along the way. Stein approaches this broad topic in a scientific manner, interviewing and grouping emergent themes into categories such as the sexism of yesterday and today, reactions to successful women, and ongoing change in attitudes, just to name a few, and splices in first hand quotes between her own descriptive interpretations. 

Stein lays the groundwork with a visit to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. She follows with a chapter on the rather tricky question of "what is jazz?" and then moves on with developing a review of literature that reveals many of the underlying assumptions and conclusions of what women encounter in the jazz world, and the varying perceptions and attitudes that need to be overcome or are slowly being overcome. This is then capped off with succinct but thorough profiles of some of the pioneering women in jazz, ranging from Bessie Smith and Billy Holiday to Alice Coltrane and Carla Bley, underscoring that women have always been an influential and driving force in the development of jazz.

The interviews that then follow reveal a lot about the artists, the conditions, and the various ways people relate to the challenges that they have had and still come up against. Many of Stein's subjects are vocalists, but there are a number of instrumentalists as well, such as saxophonists Jane Ira Bloom and Kim Cypher, guitarists Mimi Fox and Faye Patton, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, as well women who are in the publicity and management side of the music business. All the perspectives - and there are many - help to form the picture of the challenges and attitudes that women in a traditionally male dominated industry endure and overcome. Some of the interviewees have a pragmatic point of view, and others more defiant, but most all seem to agree that the industry is has moved, and continues to move, in a positive direction for women.

Lastly, Stein discusses the future of jazz, and spends a good number of pages on jazz education. Possibly a topic that invites as much passion as the main one here, she broadly traces the development of jazz education, from the more male-oriented 'cutting session' to its gradual acceptance into the academy. Stein notes that while 50 percent of the students in music schools studying jazz are women, that number decreases dramatically afterwards, especially when looking at the number of women registered with the music licencing bodies like ASCAP, BMI and so on. Appropriately, she wonders, what is happening here?

While I would have been interested in hearing from more voices from the experimental side of the idiom (perhaps a second edition?), Women in Jazz is a fair and even-handed report from the field, with a welcome accentuation of the positive.

I'd like to leave off with a quote from the book, from saxophonist Kim Cypher, who I think captures the spirit of the book well:
I think it is an exciting time for women in jazz right now. We are living in a time when anybody can do anything and women are empowered as we continue to move away from an industry that was traditionally male dominated. It is exciting to see so many incredible female jazz musicians on the scene, especially in terms of instrumentalists.
Women in Jazz is a great read and a excellent and contemporary report on an important topic.

Learn more/order Women in Jazz here.

Women in Jazz was awarded the 3rd spot in JazzTimes' 2019 Readers Poll.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Art Ensemble of Chicago - We are on the Edge (PI Recordings / Erased Tapes Records 2019)***(*)

By Hinrich Julius

Anniversaries deserve to be celebrated – and with this recording, two of the historic five members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago do celebrate the 50th anniversary of the band. Roscoe Mitchell and Don Moye gathered an ensemble of 18 musicians (including a conductor) and dedicated the recording to the deceased members Lester Bowie, Shaku Joseph Jarman and Malachi Favors Maghostut. The ensemble includes well-known artists connected both to recent versions of the Art Ensemble and to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) like Nicole Mitchell, Hugh Ragin, Jaribu Shahid, Tomeka Reid and Junius Paul. Three strings and three basses in addition to three percussionists give it a flavor unknown to other recordings of the Art Ensemble and with reservations it can be called a nice and successful recording - not the highlight of the ensembles output, but in large parts a worthy addition to the catalogue.

Yes, it is a record of the Art Ensemble of Chicago – even with the augmented personnel. Since its beginnings other musicians have been members or at least been integrated for a recording, at the beginning especially in the position of percussion and then also as guest stars like Fontella Bass (Les Stances à Sophie, Pathé Marconi, 1970) or Cecil Taylor (Thelonious Sphere Monk: Dreaming Of The Masters Vol.2, DIW 1991 ) . The Art Ensemble was always liberal in allowing its members to do other projects as described in the highly recommended book by Paul Steinbeck: Message to Our Folks (University of Chicago Press 2017 ) . The ensemble also continued with new part-time members when Joseph Jarman dropped out of music for 10 years before returning in 2003. Today two of its historical members are still alive and active with especially Roscoe Mitchell producing both improvised (e.g. Bells for the South Side, ECM 2017 ) and composed music (e.g. Littlefield Concert Hall Mills College March 19-20,2018 Wide Hive 2019 ) on a continuous basis. This recording contains more composed passages than earlier Art Ensemble records probably due to the influence of Mitchell, but it also is a continuation of traditional spirits of the Art Ensemble – Black Power, Groove and Melody.

It is not easy to evaluate the music’s quality, as parts are charming and draw you in, while other pieces even do annoy, although in a calm and peaceful way. In its review of 50 years AACM, this blog called the already mentioned record with Cecil Taylor the Art Ensembles’ Swan Song, its last relevant recording. Reviews of a concert of a smaller version of this Art Ensemble at the Berlin Jazzfestival in November 2019 make you hesitate to judge positively. The performance was called stale (“altbacken” in German ). It was neither black nor future, but rather conventional chamber music. And yes, partially these evaluations are true to these recordings as well. Largely it is composed music, pleasant, but not too pushing the boundaries of avant-garde music.

Percussion focused music / groovy, melodic pieces in my eyes work best (Bell Song, Saturday morning, the old Chi Congo 50, Oasis at Dusk). These songs are performed not as wild as on older records; the percussion instruments create a wide sound, very rhythmic and pulsating. The melodies are simple and enjoyable. It is a refined version of this music, not harming anyone, nice and very uplifting. It seems that Don Moye shared more responsibility for these pieces as they carry his name as composer.

Images of Black Power music shine in pieces featuring Moor Mother / Camea Ayeva (We are on the edge, I greet you with open arms, Mama Koko). She does not sing, she does not cry, but rather recites. The texts deal with the situation of black people in the US and refer to situations today and in the past, but set against a modern-conventional chamber-music background. At first, I was confused as the presentation seems to take the blood and life out of the old style protest songs. Composed strings introduce the title-song: “We are on the edge of victory.” "Victory" seems to mean that black people are now going to colleges and are able to move out of the projects, however, it is not said what we are on the edge of, and at one point it becomes "we are on the edge of open fire. A new hell." Ayeva's words are layered, there are twists and folds. What are the victories then? Once original expectations of old raw protest music is left behind, one can enjoy these refined versions.

Modern chamber music fills the rest of the recording (Jamaican Farewell, Villa Tiamo, Fanfare and Bell, Variations and Sketches from the Bamboo Terrace). Roscoe Mitchell composed Jamaican Farewell for a classical tenor (Rodolfo Cordoba-Lebron) – short interludes in the overall-composition. Many jazz musicians flirt with classical singing, and a short flirt it is here. In all pieces with strings, the orchestration is nice, modern, but not harmonically challenging. Dissonances are there, but swiftly resolved. “Fanfare and Bell” goes the furthest and allows longest frictions, while “Variations” stays blunt quite long and slightly gains through the classical baritone of Cordoba-Lebron. These pieces are new to the world of the Art Ensemble and I have to admit I had my difficulties with them. It is the attempt to extent the bands repertoire to a new field and repeated listening helps enjoying it.

The recording came out as a double CD-Box on PI Recordings / as Double LP (Studio recordings) / Four LP Box (Studio and Live concert), both on Erased Tapes Recordings. The CD-version and the Box contain as extra a live performance of nearly the same ensemble at the time of the recording in Ann Arbor “Live at the Edgefest” at the time of the recording. Both singers/speakers are not participating. The same pieces are performed and one can hear that the ensemble primarily follows the written charts. The live recording offers a very welcome addition of “Tutankhamun” – spirited, groovy and with Mitchell squeaking joyfully against the full ensemble.

In this recording, the old Art Ensemble continues to exist. Both surviving members enjoy the possibility to continue with its old traditions – one rather on the percussive, groovy path (Don Moye), the other with a vision of black, composed music (Roscoe Mitchell). They are older, so why not allow them a more gentrified version of the old uproar. Overall not a recording that pushes the boundaries of modern jazz or music in general, but a pleasant output of a band that has accompanied many of us in most of our active listening-time. Recommended – with above reservations to anyone who is open to enjoy a soothing version of the old anarchic Art Ensemble.