Click here to [close]

Joe McPhee & Universal Indians: John Dikeman (ts), Joe McPhee (ts), Jon Rune Strøm (b) and Tollef Østvang (d)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, April 2022

3Dom Factor: Jon Irabagon (s), Barry Altschul (d), Joe Fonda (b)

Jazzkeller69 @ Industriesalon Schoeneweide. Berlin. April 2022

James Brandon Lewis (s) & Chad Taylor (d)

Chapel Performance Space, Seattle, WA. February 26, 2022.

Beatdenker (Joachim Wespel) (g,e), Philipp Gropper (s), Moritz Baumgärtner (d), Evi Filippou (v)

Kühlspot, Berlin. April 2022

Bonnie Whiting (d) & James Falzone (c)

Chapel Performance Space, Seattle, WA. March 31, 2022.

OÙAT: Simon Sieger (p), Joel Grip (b), Michael Griener (d)

Kühlspot, Berlin March 2022

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

PUG LiFE –L ‘Annee Perrotique (akti records, 2021)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The reason why this review is written right now, almost a year after this edition of one hundred copies cd came out, is that only now was I able to purchase it. PUG LiFE is the duo of Taneli Viitahuhta on alto and baritone saxes, flutephone, mouth harp and effect pedals and Lauri Hyvarinen on electric guitar, fuzz box and laptop. Mastered by Ilia Belorukov, the careful listener (plus those who want to put labels on the music) will find resemblances with the anarchic sounds of another Scandinavian duo, SKRONK GBG.

This cd was recorded during quarantine time, which means that all of the tracks for it were recorded separately. L ‘Annee Perrotique blurs the boundaries between free jazz, improvisation (even though the distance between the two musicians forced them to include compositional elements for the very first time) and free rock. Above all the aforementioned, L ‘Annee Perrotique evolves around a “any sound is possible” approach.

The feeling that some of the thirteen tracks of the cd are unfinished snippets of something new to come, puzzled me and, actually, never got a clear answer for it. Approaching all the tracks through a different scope, maybe this was the approach from the beginning. The vast majority of the tracks are aggressive and edgy, making the listener feel quite uncomfortable in understanding the music as a by-product of any jazz based music.

I’m not even sure that the free jazz listener will be pleased from their mostly electric and less acoustic approach- plus their chosen instruments for it.

But that shouldn’t matter at all. L ‘Annee Perrotique is an adventurous listen, a recording that grabs you and demands attention. You can’t make a relaxed in the background approach from it. Its punkish feel is made for ears attached to the anything goes ethos of improvisation without any additional labeling. I will be listening more closely for their next try.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Jacob Garchik - Assembly (Yestereve, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

It's probably safe to say that everyone went at least a little batty during the first two years of COVID. Between shut-downs, bountiful misinformation, stupid behaviors, and most importantly, no live music, we were all knocked off-kilter. There was either too much time or not enough of it in the right places, and some folks use the time quite creatively, like for instance, Brooklyn based trombonist Jacob Garchik.

Garchik, it seems, to know how to use his time in creative ways. This year has found him composing music for the Kronos Quartet Festival, and in previous ones, in addition to playing in the bands of peers and legends like Mary Halvorson and Henry Threadgill, he has been forging his own unique way with gospel music (The Heavens: The Atheist Gospel Trombone Album, 2012), heavy metal (Ye Olde, 2015), and a rhythm section-less big band (Clear Line, 2020). So, out of mid-Pandemic frustrations, Garchik gathered associates at a studio with enough isolation booths to record a series of essentially straight ahead jazz jams. Afterwards, he took the music and spent several months cutting up and manipulating the tracks, adding, over dubbing, and forming Assembly - an aptly titled and surprisingly coherent album, considering all of that heretofore mentioned studio tomfoolery.

Along with Garchik is Sam Newsome on soprano saxophone, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Dan Weiss playing drums. Like say Mostly Other People Do the Killing (who also have a recent new recording, Disasters Vol 1, out on HotCup records), the music on Assembly is both a homage to the beloved classic jazz vernacular and a reimaging of these very same overworked and well-digested forms.

It's even in many of the track names. The first one is 'Collage', followed by 'Pastiche', which is then followed by 'Bricolage,' which is followed by 'Homage'. 'Collage' is just that, two tracks in two different tempos overlaid simultaneously, but strangely enough, not vertigo inducing. The interlaced tracks accentuate each other at the right times, throwing the listener curve-balls, but not off their feet. 'Pastiche' begins with a Charlie Parker like head, a fierce and fast arpeggiated riff that seems to speed up, until releasing a melodic trombone solo over a straight ahead swing from Morgan and Weiss. 'Bricolage' is a duo of Morgan's bass and Sam Newsome - Garchik looped snippets of Morgan's playing to which the saxophonist contributed an evolving, blues-tinged, solo. 'Homage' begins with a serious slow groove, and according to the track notes, it is based somewhat on McCoy Tyner’s composition 'Contemplation'. What evolves here is a dense overlaying of instruments and melodies that, if to intently listened to, may indeed cause that vertigo after all. There are many other moments to mention in the remaining tracks, but at this point, let us let the exploration be self-guided.

The overall result is a studio-constructed album that will likely not be performed live (wouldn't that be the most MOPDTK outcome though?), and that is fine. This music needs repeated listening, ears and brains allowing the expectations of the straightforward playing and its confounding reconstructions to be fully appreciated. It doesn't take long either.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Ches Smith - Interpret it Well (Pyroclastic Records, 2022)

Drummers in jazz are like catchers in baseball. Have I said that before? If so, I just said it again. The catcher is the on-field manager because he is the only player who can see the entire field. In concert drummers tend to be positioned like catchers and because of the digital nature of the sound they are in a good position to watch the play of the other instruments. At any rate, I enjoy a lot of music directed by the percussionist. It’s even better when the guy with the mallets does vibes.

Ches Smith has a wider range of games to play than any baseball catcher. I reviewed his wonderful album Path of Seven Colors here. Interpret it well is something very different. Bill Frisell (guitar), Mat Manieri (viola) and Craig Taborn (piano) make for a powerful team.

The album is an interpretation of a drawing by Raymond Pettibon. It is the cover, naturally. Here is what the notes say:

“Interpret it well,” reads the script text in Raymond Pettibon’s mysteriously evocative drawing. A few thick black ink strokes describe an enigmatic landscape – the telephone poles, the railroad track and the building in the distance seem obvious enough as markers of desolation, but the swirl of lines on the horizon are more ambiguous. The steam from an approaching train? An oncoming tornado? Hope or dread, connection or destruction, all depend on interpretation”.

There’s some information for you. It helps. The first cut “Trapped,” begins with the piano sketching out and repeating a simple, five note theme. Just out of sight we get Smith’s vibraphone laying down more emotional depth. Strings put a right channel buzz to shape up the mood at the end. I need music like this.

The title cut is a masterpiece. I get the impression of slow-moving layers of vibrating, pulsing plates moving over one another. Little solos, especially the piano, carve out their space and then are surrounded by gentle splashes of color from the guitar and strings that grow into compelling grunts. Drums. And then a rock guitar crashes the party. All rides on pulsing theme that never relaxes. The music grows more intense and angry as the line split and recombine. The beat of the drum cuts the top of the music like a scalpel, but never the muscle.

Frisell’s guitar opens “Mixed metaphor” with a story-telling solo. Then we get a graphic lines of keyboard and viola plumbing the depths of the story. Listen to this, and try to figure out where the bottom is.

This album should be linked to any dictionary definition of the word “ring”. Or you could use it as the soundtrack for a travel video through some exotic landscape that reminds you of… something, you aren’t quite sure what.

This music is modestly minimalist, in the best possible way. I am going on a cruise soon. This is what I will listen to on a deck chair during one of our days at sea.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Gordoa / Malfon / Edwards / Narvesen - Substantial Myths (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2022)

By Keith Prosk

Emilio Gordoa, Don Malfon, John Edwards, and Dag Magnus Narvesen freely play a 48’ set for vibraphone, alto and baritone saxophones, contrabass, and drum kit from the 2019 Artacts Festival on Substantial Myths. 

Among other projects, Gordoa and Narvesen have previously recorded together as part of the M0VE quintet, with Achim Kaufmann, Adam Pultz Melbye, and Harri Sjöström, which most recently released in Moers, as well as part of the Tutti Orchestra and its modular performances on the recent SoundScapes # 3 FESTIVAL MUNICH - 2021 SchwereReiter, both released by Fundacja Słuchaj too. And Malfon and Narvesen have released another set together from the same festival as this recording, with John Dikeman and Matthias Bauer, in live at artacts ‘19. But this is the first recording shared by Gordoa and Malfon or by Edwards and any of the other players. 

They flow together through tempo, texture, and dynamics, stippling space together, trilling together, often one increasingly contrapuntal parameter ebbing the quartet towards the next movement, through the swells of louder faster frenzies and quiet textural intervals that these kinds of sets might tend towards. Though generally there is a driving momentum. Perhaps as anticipated from the instrumentation, when the quartet converges they can be a powerful rhythmic unit. Running basslines, sax duck honks, hundred-handed rolling thunder, and effervescent vibes; malleted celestial twinkle, spiderlike tightrope dances, and skittering shimmering cymbals and kick drum bombardments; wind chimes in tornado time and big bass bumps. But they implement the malleability of their instruments, and when the quartet converges they can conjure arresting harmonies. Stridulating saxophone squalls and overtone glints out of tremolos, plucked harmonics and sonorous big bass body bowed resonance, fluted metal and frictional skin, and oscillations ringing between long decay and bowed bars’ bells combine for revelatory euphony, sometimes sounding so pure as to have shed their timbral husks for a unified singing beating. Together they cultivate moments of shared clarity in what can seem otherwise an arcane chaos akin to an action painting. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

John Butcher - 5 LPs from Berlin (and Leipzig) on NI VU NI CONNU

John Butcher at Ausland, November 2019. (c) Cristina Marx

By Paul Acquaro

British saxophonist John Butcher is no stranger to Berlin. Linked to the Echtzeit scene that emerged during the heady days of post re-unification Germany in the abundant derelict spaces that served as breeding grounds for creativity, Butcher, on the occasion of this 65th birthday, held a short residency in November 2019 at one of the original and still existent Echtzeit venues, the experimental music hub Ausland, located in the now tamed and expensive Prenzlauer Berg. Presented as a set of 5 LPs, the music captures both new and old music acquaintances, the music and information within showcases Butcher's continuing ability to push listeners and musicians alike in new directions. On the albums, he collaborates in combinations with Sophie Agnel, Gino Robair, Thomas Lehn, Marta Zapparoli, Liz Allbee, Ignaz Schick, Magda Mayas, Tony Buck, Werner Dafeldecker and Burkhard Beins. The LPs in the the collection contain liner notes from Stuart Broomer, photos by Cristina Marx, and gatefold sleeves design by Yaqin Si.

Sophie Agnel & John Butcher - la pierre tachée

Stuart Broomer's generous and excellent liner notes are essential in placing the music on these albums into meaningful historical context, and the quote that he chooses to begin with is key to framing the whole event. According to Butcher:
"Ausland was unique in my own experience. I was working with four different groups in two nights and had chosen the musicians to form specific units with unique identities and possibilities. I didn’t want it to be a Company-type event (which, by the way, I also love) where the grouping is more ad-hoc and the accumulative results more evolutionary. I was interested in the potential distinctiveness of each set, given that I was the constant factor, but without major aesthetic leaps and without me having to pretend to be a chameleon.”
So the set of changing constellations begins with Butcher and French pianist Sophie Agnel.  It begins with Agnel approaching the piano in a percussive manner, a scraping and striking of the piano's strings, while Butcher plays legato tones, before he interrupts with a splutter of sounds. The track, 'chemin creux' then evolves into series of woodwind multiphonics over austere, prepared tones from the piano. The music builds at a measured pace: a quickening of textured tones from Agnel, a thickening of tonal textures from Butcher. The sounds connect, they resist as much as they exist co-exist in the shared musical space, introducing tension and drama as the music continues. It sounds like a dance, a fight, resolution, and finally agreement. A highlight of the set is in the opening minutes of 'shrieks in cups of gold,' in which both Agnel and Butcher reach a fevered pitch and then wander for a tense span of time exploring small sounds, before launching into a second intense passage. The ending track 'sillonner' wraps up the recording on a high note with a rich summary of the intensity and space throughout the album.

John Butcher / Thomas Lehn / Gino Robair - shaped & chased

The next recording seems to following Butcher's stated plans "to form specific units with unique identities". The sounds from saxophone undoubtable belongs to Butcher - the tones waver, flutter with the air, chirp with confidence, and at times explode into strong melodic statements. However, the setting has greatly changed with the work of Butcher's long time associates analog synthesizer player Thomas Lehn and percussionist Gino Robair.

The opening track, 'dorrying,' finds the trio quickly diving deep into a collective soundscape. Butcher sets the energy bar high in the opening minutes, which the other two respond to in kind, leading to an avalanche of sounds that quickly collapse into a long, tension filled exchange. The next track, 'tempren,' takes a different approach, with episodic build-ups of electronic tones, buzzing saxophone, and cascading percussion.  On the last track, Lehn's analog synthesizer (or is it Robair's Blippo box? - a fascinating custom machine that Broomer tantalizingly describes as being constructed based on chaos theory) shadows Butcher. When the plops of liquid sound appear, the synthesizer is much more likely the culprit. As the three come together, the atmosphere becomes spacey and rich with possibility. The track 'halouen' is almost straight-ahead jazz, sort of. Butcher plays rather melodic-free and aggressively spars with Lehn's otherworldly sounds. Finally, 'swough' fills with a fluid momentum, carried by mallet heavy percussion and unrelenting drips and splatters of electronic tonic.

Liz Allbee / John Butcher / Ignaz Schick / Marta Zapparoli - lamenti dall’infinito

Here is a true Echtzeit collaboration: trumpeter Liz Allbee, electronics/turntablist Ignaz Schick, and tapes and electronics artist Marta Zapparoli, all long time contributors to the Berlin scene. They are also the largest of the groups in this set, a quartet, or a double duo of acoustic horns and assorted electronic. The opening track 'Sea of Distortions' begins slowly, a drone of sorts, as the group begins filling the room with a stream of sound. At first, one may be wondering where Butcher is, between the whoosh and chatter of electronics and Allbee's unusual tones, but then you hear him, rapid blips leading to overblown legato notes. The momentum of the track builds, carried by Bucher at times, and the static nervousness of the electronics at other times. The opening track is a full album side, but by the half-way mark, you will likely be drawn into the unseeming sound world, losing track of time and place. Side B is split into a short 'Dialogues in a Shell', a piece just shy of four minutes, starting with a bricolage of samples that eventual yield to narrow drone. 'Molecular Memories,' at 17 minutes, begins with what may suggest a dentist's drill sounding out over a thumb piano. Electronics? Acoustic horns? They're in there, mixing together into unexpected combinations. Possibly the most in-accessible of the albums, but like most challenging things, it may be the one whose affects grow the most, the more you listen.

Vellum: Magda Mayas / John Butcher / Tony Buck - glints

Maybe this is the entry point for anyone still uninitiated in the sonic complexities of John Butcher's music. Not to suggest that the music on glints is in anyway easier to digest than on the other ones in this set, but there is something graspable in interactions of the three acoustic instruments in this long standing trio. Pianist Madga Mayas and percussionist Tony Buck, long time Berlin residents and  Butcher collaborators, surround the saxophonist with prepared piano and striking percussive textures, providing both a comfortable and stimulating environment.

Side A opens with a bang on the gong and high-end-of-perception squeaks from Butcher. There is a following clatter of percussion (maybe one of the those nets with shells attached?) and individually plucked notes from inside the piano. The flutters, the clacking, the plucking collectively lead the listener into a dense forest of sound, beautiful and strange, with possible danger lurking behind every turn. Going further, more formal sounds manifest like the truncated tinkle of prepared piano, brief smears of notes from the saxophone, and a roll from the drums. In Vellum's soundworld, it is hard not to be enrapt with the intricate and unexpected beauty in all the overlapping musical foliage. The group reaches an apex of intensity about 12 minutes into the slowly layering piece, which then mutates through a quiet percussion-led chrysalis to a cascade of notes from Mayas and Butchers, playing contours rather than scales, while Buck delivers some incisive drumming. Side B begins with the prepared piano attack that closes out Side A. The group then takes a spiritual detour, Butcher engaging in Evan Parker like circular breathing over an intense pulse from Buck. All this in 3 quick minutes, then it is over, as the group goes deeply introspective, slowly building back to a frenetic passage dominated by single note runs from the piano. The groups continues through this world, long winding passages through the forest leading to dramatic features and finally a serene clearing.

Burkhard Beins / John Butcher / Werner Dafeldecker - induction

This final set takes us out of Ausland. Side A was recorded at the experimental music room KM28 across the famous divide and into the former western neighborhood of Kreuzberg, and Side B was recorded a bit farther away at the KulTurnhalle in the city of Leipzig. The trio, percussionist Burkhard Beins, bassist Werner Dafeldecker and Butcher have worked together before for a while, most notably in the group Polwechsel. On 'induction' the music toggles between minimal to maximal, with all sorts of interactions between. Towards the end of the first track, 'circulation,' there is a tremendous amount of percussion and rumbling bass, while Bucher fires on all cylinders, playing notes far beyond the typical range of the saxophone. Prior to these final moments of the track, there is a long accumulation of intrumental ideas and approaches. Side 2 begins with 'Connection', starting with sounds drawn from the drums, then the sax, and finally the bass in succession. They then build to a ringing drone interrupted by eruptive sounds from Butcher and Dafeldecker. The music is tense, even somewhat aggressive. The following up 'conversion' is a short interlude that opens up the space a bit, leading to 'confluence', which is a denser piece that in a sense straddles the darkness of the first one with the chain interactions of the second. The piece is an impressionistic sound collage, with many colorful tones mixing into unexpected combinations.

Taken as a whole, these five albums represent a new artistic high-point for the ever productive and creative Butcher. All of the recordings offer something different, though to reference the earlier quote, Butcher's playing is consistent, and consistently excellent. While it is true that he is no 'chameleon', it is also noteworthy that he also is not a one-trick pony. The variety of the musical collaborations and the variability in each performance - each piece - is rich. The live experience, in the small subterranean Ausland, must have contributed significantly to the experience, but on its own, the music itself is evocative and demands close listening. Luckily, we can do just that.

All albums are available on the NI VU NI CONNU Bandcamp site, in both digital and LP format.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Torben Snekkestad / Søren Kjærgaard - Another Way of the Heart (Trost, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

A few rare albums fit perfectly into your emotional state of mind and capture the fragility of our impermanent lives so beautifully as Another Way of the Heart by Norwegian reeds and trumpet player Torben Snekkestad and Danish pianist Søren Kjærgaard. Both Snekkestad and Kjærgaard were associated with the Danish label-musicians cooperative Ilk Music but, unfortunately, their discographies, especially in recent years, don’t match their great creative potential.

Snekkestad and Kjærgaard collaborated before in the trio The Living Room with Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen and in an ad-hoc quintet of Danish drummer Peter Bruun (Unintended Consequences, Ilk, 2013). Snekkestad is also known for his collaborations with Evan Parker, Nate Wooley, Lotte Anker as well as his ongoing work with Barry Guy, in a duo, trio with pianist Agustí Fernández and in Guy’s Blue Shroud Ensemble. Kjærgaard led a much-acclaimed trio with double bass player Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille. He is also known for his experimental projects with Danish poet-musician Torben Ulrich (also a filmmaker, a former professional tennis player and the father of Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich). The titles of the pieces of Another Way of the Heart are taken from the third and last collaboration of Kjærgaard with Ulrich, Meridiana: Lines Toward A Non-local Alchemy (Escho, 2014), which was inspired by the different meanings and usages of meridians in Eastern (Daoist-alchemical) and Western (geo-navigational) traditions.

Another Way of the Heart was recorded in August 2021 at Ocean Sound Recording, Giske, Norway, a studio describing itself as located at “the end of the world, on the edge of the sea with a clearness provided by the open horizon”. This isolated studio with lodging services is a perfect place for reflection, meditation and subtle and intimate experiments with acoustic sounds. Snekkestad plays on tenor and soprano saxes, clarinet and trumpet and Kjærgaard on a grand piano.

The poetic and enigmatic titles of the 12 concise pieces, all credited to Snekkestad and Kjærgaard, capture faithfully the reserved, patient and calm dynamics of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard. They need no more than a few delicate and minimalist strokes to cement a profound and evocative emotional territory, always in an organic-intuitive flow but never subscribing to a familiar course. Snekkestad’s whispering tone on the saxes, close in spirit to the Japanese Shakuhachi flute (an instrument traditionally associated with Zen Buddhism), alongside the less-is-more approach of Kjærgaard, intensify the spiritual-contemplative of the album (check the three parts of “Wind and Floating Lines” or “The always acting Nothing” and “Into Particles of Light”) and suggest elusive, kōan-like poetic textures, in a way that corresponds with the texts and poetry of Torben Ulrich. The sparse multiphonics and bird calls of Snekkestad with the precise, resonant touches of the piano strings and keys of Kjærgaard on the mysterious “Radiant recomposed” and “Holding Mountain, Holding Movement” further highlight the unique voices of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard and the immersive, healing effect of this majestic album. This music is definitely a healing force on our planet.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Han-earl Park (박한얼) - Of Life, Recombinant (New Jazz And Improvised Music Recordings, 2021)

By Lee Rice Epstein

We’ve covered guitarist Han-earl Park (박한얼) extensively, and he remains one of the foremost innovators on the instrument. Recently, Park released Of Live, Recombinant, which is the first long-form solo recording in his discography. With a rich variety of recordings already available (including a really excellent duo album with Paul Dunmall on saxes and bagpipes and a couple of recent albums featuring the stellar Eris 136199 trio, with Catherine Sikora and Nick Didkovsky), it’s like discovering a new galaxy in Park’s universe.

Think of Park as an artist like George Lewis, whose work reflects decades of study and reflection on modes of expression and models of economic distribution. In this way, Of Life, Recombinant tells multiple stories at once, opening up a wide aperture and displaying stunningly drawn vistas. The four-song suite makes for a fantastic headphone album, as small details invite your attention ever more deeply throughout. In conversations about the album, David Lynch has recurred as a touchpoint, and Andrei Tarkovsky might be another one for listeners. The fugue-like state is but one-layer of Park’s suite. As they progress, “Game: Mutation,” “Naught Opportune,” “Are Variant,” and the 30-minute “Of Life, Recombinant” continually pitch one direction, pivot on multiple axes, and branch out in new directions. That’s true as much for the sonics—with pre-recorded material mixed and matched over itself—as it is for the emotional throughlines, in some cases leading listeners down long corridors of chilly anticipation, in others playing up the subtle intimacy of quiet tones. If any of that sounds vague or like descriptions are being kept at an arm’s length, that’s largely because the album very deliberately establishes a direct connection with each listener. Overdetermining any one person’s interaction with Of Life, Recombinant feels like a disservice to Park’s mission, which seems to point towards using the guitar, in all its guises, to establish a direct connection with the audience, allowing—much like Lynch and Tarkovsky—the listener’s subconscious to write its own associations and unearth what’s hidden within. And unmistakably, Park’s guitar is itself a treasure chest of delights—long, thrilling sections of beauty fold into chilly, dread-inducing dreamscapes, each of which will enchant and delight in equal measure.

Available on CD or digitally

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Collaborative Works of the Viennese Studio Dan Ensemble

The Viennese experimental ensemble Studio Dan was founded in 2005 by composer-trombonist Dan Daniel Riegler and since then has kept refining its inclusive aesthetics and has operated on the borders between diverse sub-genres of contemporary music: improvisation, new music, jazz, art-rock and more. Studio Dan has commissioned works by like-minded composers and improvisers like Anthony Braxton, Vinko Globokar, Elliott Sharp, and its mastermind Riegler keeps encouraging compositional approaches from composers that require both improvisation and mastery of the extended techniques of contemporary music, without confining themselves to a distinct genre.

Studio Dan & Anthony Coleman - …im Gebirg (2022)

American Downtown New York pianist-composer Anthony Coleman, like Studio Dan, loves to leap wildly between contrasting genres, and most likely he is the only one who can find similarities between the vocabulary of Viennese iconic composer Anton Webern (1883-1945, who along with his mentor Arnold Schönberg and his colleague Alban Berg, were the core of the Second Viennese School) and the fast and brief phrases of the American no wave DNA (with Arto Lindsay and Ikue Mori) or the grooves of Thelonious Monk. Coleman was commissioned in 2019 to write a cycle of compositions for Studio Dan, and this work was premiered at the Saalfelden Jazz Festival and later presented in Vienna at the Jeunesse Special 2019, where …im Gebirg was recorded live at the Progy & Bess club in October 2019. This cycle of six compositions borrows symbolic expressions and evokes specific aural landscapes, associated with the German-Viennese dialect, but it also reflects Coleman's unconventional history as a musician, improviser and composer. Coleman plays on piano and harmonium, and Studio Dan features violinist Sophia Goidinger-Koch, cellist Maiken Beer, double bass player Philipp Kienberger, flutist Doris Nicoletti, reeds player Clemens Salesny, trumpeter Dominik Fuss, trombonit Riegler, pianist and harmonium and sampler player Michael Tiefenbacher and drummer Mathias Koch.

The opening, minimalist piece, “Rotschädel”, references Glenn Branca's violent and repetitive eruptions (Coleman played on Branca’s debut album, Lesson No. 1, 99 records, 1980), but with a richer orchestral palette, following composer Louis Andriessen advice about such a repetitive strategy: “They set up a kind of field”. This composition and the following one “Echo vom Berg” were inspired by the compilation D‘lustigen Weanaleut - Viennese Folk Music from Early Sound Documents 1901-1931 (Document, 1993), but the latter composition suggests a restless and subversive perspective on Berg-ian expressive lyricism, articulated by trombonist Riegler. “Oslip” recalls the Burgenland village that is home to the alternative cultural center Cselley Mühle. It is another delicate and minimalist piece, almost transparent in its ambiance, but here Coleman is conversing with one of his seminal influences, composer Morton Feldman, and offers an arresting and wise perspective on Feldman’s austere aesthetics. “Freudian Heed” is a sort of deep forensic yet kaleidoscopic analysis of the First Viennese School, relying on a theme of Franz Schubert that Coleman re-composed from memory as “frozen moments of Schubert”, but disrupts the Schubert-ian compositional style with fragmented structure and sudden, dramatic cuts. “Orgelstück” is a free improvisation (and credited to Coleman, bassist Kienberger, keyboards player Tiefenbacher and drummer Koch), cinematic, nervous and unsettling in its spirit, and brings to mind the Sun Ra Quartet, with its vintage electronics keyboards. The last composition “Einundzwanzig” is rooted in jazz legacy, but true to Coleman’s idiosyncratic compositional ideas it offers an impossible but brilliant dance of Schönberg-ian 12-tone rows with the angular contours of Eric Dolphy’s solos.

Studio Dan - George Lewis / Oxana Omelchuk: Breaking News (ezz-thetics, 2020)


Breaking News collects two compositions that are concerned with aspects of the accumulation of information. 'As We May Feel (For Chamber Ensemble) (2017)' by composer-trombonist eductor-author George Lewis (with violinist Goidinger-Koch, cellist Beer, double bass player Manuel Mayr, flutist Thomas Frey, alto sax player Salesny, trumpeter Fuss, trombonist Riegler, pianist Tiefenbacher, and drummer Koch). This composition was recorded at the 50th Edition of ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst at the Helmut List Halle, Graz, Austria on October 2017. The title of this chamber piece refers to an essay with the same title by visionary polymath Vannevar Bush (who was credited with everything from the invention of hypertext to the internet, and even the computer mouse) that predicted a new age in which humanity would extend its intellectual grasp and physical capacity through what is now called artificial intelligence and preserve its thoughts in devices which could contain Alexandrian quantities of information in highly miniaturized and accessible forms. This philosophical composition translates Bush’s concepts about data linking and association into complex, information-packed musical structures and events, all keep morphing and always find more and more subtle and associations between them through the subtle and imaginative improvisations of Studio Dan.

The second composition, the double concerto 'Wow And Flutter (For 2 Trombones and Ensemble) (2017)' by Belarusian, Köln-based contemporary composer Oxana Omelchuk, featuring Matthias Muche and Daniel Riegler as soloists (with violinist Goidinger-Koch, cellist Beer, double bass and electric bass player Constantin Herzog, flutist Frey, alto sax and clarinet player Salesny, trumpeter Fuss and Tiefenbacher on piano, synthesizer and sampler), and was recorded at Stadtgarten Köln on February 2018. This work is also concerned with the preservation and access of information, of which art, and thus music, is an important subset, and its title may be clear to anyone old enough to remember the bacon-frying hiss of an early cylinder recording. This is a brilliant and ironic, engaging and urgent post-modern pastiche of references to past and vintage recording technologies, including old recordings of Russian opera singer Feodor Schaliapin and of blues singer Bessie Smith, and certain themes from Omelchuk’s musical memory, especially from the jazz legacy, including from Dixieland, ragtime, blues to Mingus-ian modern jazz, but also from country and rock, arranged as a juxtaposition of musical moments. Brian Morton observes in his insightful liner notes that this composition stands as a reminder that emergent recording techniques brought Russian music to European and émigré American audiences long before electronic communication or rapid travel were possible.

Rocket Science: Studio Dan plays the music of Fred Frith (2021)

This only 9-minute EP features three compositions by Fred Frith originally commissioned for the ensemble of the American guitarist Paul Dresher and were premiered at Z Space in San Francisco in 2012. Studio Dan’s version (with the same instrumentation, but clarinetist Viola Falb replaces Salesny and trumpeter Spiros Laskaridis replaces Fuss) was adapted by Frith for Studio Dan’s homage to Frank Zappa, and was recorded in January 2019 and January 2021. Studio Dan clearly enjoys exploring Frith’s elusive and complex melodies with its fast-shifting rhythmic games, now orchestrated with expansive, rich and colorful harmonics, that clearly demand the musical intelligence of rocket scientists.

HOHNOR: Music by Christian F. Schiller (2021)

Austrian contemporary composer and sound artist Christian F. Schiller (aka chfs) is known for his sound installations, performances and diverse collaborations. HOHNOR (a blend of the German word HOHN (scorn in English) with HONOR) is a chamber composition for two harmonicas - played by Nicoletti and Falb (with violinist Goidinger-Koch, cellist Beer, double bass player Kienberger, Laskaridis on slide trumpet, trombonist Riegler, drummer Koch Tiefenbacher as assistant drummer), based on experiments of Schiller with a harmonica that he inherited from his grandfather. The album cover artwork is from Schiller’s ongoing found objects collection 0NULL1EINS of the last few leaves of a roll of toilet paper since, as a winking but seriously felt metaphor for transience. Studio Dan commissioned this work from Schiller and premiered it in 2017 at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. This 19-minute piece is a bleak and disorienting, almost static and monochromatic drone that features the harmonicas, and Laskaridis’s slide trumpet, with its resonant sonorities as alien sound generators, as if all these buzzing instruments attempt to defuse the concept of empty honor and deconstruct this term with the scorn it deserves.

Fanfare III: Studio Dan & Michel Doneda (2021)

Fanfare III is Studio Dan’s production from 2012, written by Riegler for his friend, innovative French sax player Michel Doneda (the two worked before in an all-European sextet) and an expanded version of Studio Dan (violinists Martina Engel and Sophia Goidinger, violist Julia Purgina, cellist Beer, double bass player Bernd Satzinger, flutist Maria Jauk, oboist Theresia Melichar, reeds player Salesny, trumpeter Mario Rom, trombonist Philip Yaeger, percussionist Margit Schoberleitner and Wolfgang Kendl, electronics player Leo Riegler (brother of Daniel Riegler), Werner Angerer on sound and specialization, Riegler was the conductor and Doneda on soprano and sopranino saxes). The composition was premiered at the opening of the JazzWerkstatt Wien’s third Vienna Roomservice Festival in 2012.

Riegler studied thoroughly Doneda’s radical improvisatory language interweaved cleverly Doneda's language with his own in this seven-part suite. Doneda’s distinct extended breathing techniques and multiphonic sounds served as a starting point and the ensemble acted as an amplifier or echo chamber and modulator to the micro-dynamic acoustic processes of Doneda’s sax playing. The electronics added another layer of multi-track reverb to the ensemble sounds by real-time processing of the commotion. Fanfare III is another intriguing work of Studio Dan, bold in its sonic vision, unfolds carefully with many mysterious, suspenseful and detailed events. And it elaborates the sonic universe of Doneda in the most impressive way possible.

Hear more:

Studio Dan recordings are available at:

Monday, May 9, 2022

Eri Yamamoto, Chad Fowler, William Parker, Steve Hirsh - Sparks (Mahakala, 2022)

Eri Yamamoto is a delightful pianist. She has been recording as a leader since 2001, to judge from her page. In 2008 she recorded Duologue, a series of duos with Federico Ughi on drums, Hamid Drake on the same, Parker on bass, and Daniel Carter on alto and tenor sax. “Subway Song” is pure, romantic, public transportation pleasure. To shine against that many stars is impressive. Start there if you want to sample her work. You might also check out Cobalt Blue, one of her trio albums. If you are looking for romance and drama, here you go.

Sparks has Chad Fowler on stritch and saxello. I gather that these are experimental saxophones. The experiment was a success. William Parker plays bass and Steve Hirsh drums.

The most interesting thing to me was the fourth cut: “Three Bob’s Pink Cadillac”. I have been listening to William Parker’s two-disc album Bob’s Pink Cadillac since it came out in 2001. The tribute to that magnificent recording on Sparks is good work. It starts with Parker’s signature step by thump statement. Memory flexed its muscles. Fowler’s horn sautés the general them to golden brown and them we get a superb four way dialogue with bass and horn trading themes while drums and piano fill the space in and around them. It’s the wee hours toward the end when each voice becomes perfectly articulate. I would add that I seem to hear echoes of “A love supreme” in Parker’s lines.

“Four Taiko” begins with Fowler’s mournful pleading over Parker, with the horn fraying into an intense screech. Drums keep up a steady layer and Yamamoto’s piano pains into the gaps. We get a nice solo from Parker, and then a blend of the rhythm section’s savory flavors.

“One Sparks” is a marvelous example of how to get different arrangements of players, not these three, now that two, to keep the relay race going. The horn almost always dominates, but now the thump or slice of the bass bubbles up and now the drum skins and keys.

You won’t be sorry you grabbed this one from Bandcamp

One final note. We do recently recorded jazz here at FJB, but I think some tips to earlier music is order. Today I listened to The John Lindberg Ensemble, A Tree Frog Tonality. Wadada Leo Smith, Larry Ochs, and Andrew Cyrille assembling.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet - Institut Français Berlin, 5/4/2022

Concert review, Myra Melford's Fire and Water Quintet, organized by Jazzwerkstatt.

Myra Melford (p), Mary Halvorson (g), Ingrid Laubrock (s), Tomeka Reid (c), Susie Ibarra (d)

Pianist Myra Melford and the members of her Fire and Water Quintet took to the stage area of the Institut Français Berlin under adverse conditions: it was too dark to see their music. The reason: the house crew were out with Covid. However, undeterred, the organizer found a small spotlight, adjusted the curtains to allow the late evening light into the room. Then the music began.

The set began with Melford interspersing lively melodic snippets  with spiky rhythmic figures. She was then joined by cellist Tomeka Reid whose flitted purposely around the fingerboard. Next, percussionist Susie Ibarra joined, playing the snare and tom-toms by hand before picking up the nylon brushes and moving on to the cymbals. Then, Ingrid Laubrock entered with a flight of notes on soprano sax and quickly locked into a loose groove with the others. Finally, guitarist Mary Halvorson entered with her own set of quick runs delivered in a dry, effect-less tone. All in all, much like how their recent recording, For the Love of Fire and Water on Rouge Arts, begins.

A strong rhythmic figure took over as the group moved into the next tune. The riff was recognizable from the recording, which throughout contains these well placed, ear-worms that serve as milestones in the suite-like music. Towards the end of their several week European tour, the riff is a bit more elastic. There is a feeling that permeates the set as the players take more chances and stretch further out. 

Even though each member has feature moments, both solo, like a particularly sonorous passage from Reid, or in duos, like Ibarra and Melford or Halvorson and Laubrock, the musical cohesion is uncanny. This particular piece ends in a blast of free-improvisation revealing just how much the musicians are collectively shaping their sound, listening and reacting, and then when the time is right, letting go.

Melford announced, at the mid-point of the show, that the group was playing music from the recent release as well as new music that she has been composing (see our interview from a couple weeks go here), and while it was not clear exactly which piece was which, the second set seemed to have a different feel. The playing was just as strong as the first set, but the compositional elements seemed more accentuated and the pieces more connected. The first song of the second set began like the very first one, with Melford and Ibarra playing together, but this time followed by a slinky, syncopated line, over which Laubrock delivered a fitting solo. This led to a gentle and expressive duet between Reid and Melford. As the others joined, it in intensity to cast a mesmerizing spell, each voice rising at times from the collective sound, but never breaking the moment.

The audience response was enthusiastic, with several concert goers remarking on just how powerful the second set, in particular, was. It is indeed hard to remember all of the earlier moments when each following is as powerful as the last, but regardless, The Fire and Water Quintet is an exciting group, and judging just from this performance, it seems like there is even more to look forward to.