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Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (p)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Helmut "Joe" Sachse (g)

Au Topsi Pohl. Berlin. October 2020

Guilherme Rodrigues (c), Matthias Müller (t), Eric Wong (g)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Urs Leimgruber (ss), Jacques Demierre (spinet)

9/4/2020. Manufaktur, Schorndorf

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik: Christian Lillinger (d), Petter Eldh (b), Kaja Draksler (p)

9/2/2020. Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Samo Salamon and Hasse Poulsen’s String Dancers (Samo Records, 2021) ****

By Matthew Banash

Samo Salamon and Danish guitar master Hasse Poulsen deliver new sounds at the nexus of jazz and folk music from around the world with String Dancers, modern guitar compositions for two acoustic guitars.

Yet. somehow, I cannot take the opener at its word. "Ultra Serieux," the only title in French, seems tongue in cheek, as the duo gives the listener a little of this and a lttle of that underscored by deeper notes. Salamon and Poulsen stake their claim from the get-go; the music will be varied, lively and fun but will never slight its sources.

“Austrian Lake” a fine early example in the recording of the two finding the groove and a swing in their interactions. Taking a hint from the title the music here is pastoral but plumbs depths investigating what is above and what is below the surface.

“Coverless” illustrates the duo’s connection but again, never at the expense of the music or listener. Who plays what? Does it matter? Is there a tone to distinguish or a vibe? To my ears their aim on this track is to blend creatively, spontaneously. Mission accomplished.

“Two Sides of a Mountain” is “harsh” or heavier with a bass line wiry and taut but again another groove with one guitar in the lead while the other pushes, one charging the other supporting. Its slightly abrasive opening, with its rising and falling notes toying with lightness and darkness, this cut insinuates itself into your ears.

The two get a little more abstract on “Sometimes a Bird” changing the pace for good measure. Unique in the context of the album it shines light into dark corners and seems longer than 3’30’ in a most pleasing way.

“Free Noses” at first glance I read Noises for Noses, but I can read into things, though playfulness is present. The duo plays in unison and gives space for discordance as well but it's a song like “Free Noses,” where Salamon and Poulsen suspend the music between those two points that the two’s music finds its yin and yang.

“Soft Grass” is a recumbent but tense 5’48” that relies on some deft aural contrasts to create a mood but delivers a complete, whole song as well. 

Now we come to one of my two favorites on the album, “String Dancers.” Its aptly named as the medium tempo conjures up fluid emotive bodies dancing through space. The starts and stops are notable and at 4’28'' or so is the album’s satori for me as Salamon and Poulsen are everywhere and nowhere at once, lost in the music, two musicians playing their instruments, not just getting sounds out of guitars. The relatively abrupt ending feels like they have nudged you to a mountain top then disappeared leaving you with the echo of their art and an infinite vista ahead. 

The next track, “Mind Fuel,” indulges the artists’ interaction with their guitars as vehicles for expression rather than static objects; its length never belabors the point but does not dodge the topic at hand either. So, it's not a blowing session but it is a work where two musicians find a lot of possibilities in their art then explore those discoveries deftly as well.

“Cornering,” another personal favorite, has a walking bass back porch blues vibe that sings the global reach of the guitar. It is a favorite on an album of ones that grow on you. 

Salamon and Poulsen are playfully competitive on “The Scent of Rain” with its kitchen sink pastiche in rhythms and tones that are engaging and dynamic. 

The album concludes with “A Word We Heard,” a solemn percussive finish that appeals as a proper bookend to the opening. I’m a sucker for ambient sounds in a recording and the two deliver here with squeaks and scrapes as they animate their guitars and songs with an intense approach that again asserts and culminates, for now, their partnership. 

In approaching a duo or even a trio recording I admit to preconceptions or expectations but not necessarily requirements. Will the musicians play off against and with each other? Will there be a variety of tones and timbres? In this case I was worried there wouldn’t be instruments to keep my toes tapping because to me, groove, in all its permutations, is essential. Thankfully, the music is immersive, and its syncopations, rhythms and tempos animate toes, fingers, and minds as well. 

Salamon and Poulsen are an elastic duo with a strong rapport who know when and how to engage, unite, and diversify the “jazz diaspora” on these twelve tracks. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Recent Releases from Pianist Philip Zoubek

By Eyal Hareuveni

Cologne-based, Austrian pianist Philip Zoubek integrates many fascinating sonic universes. You can find in his composed and free-improvised music echoes of the chamber jazz of Jimmy Giuffre, the free jazz of John Coltrane but also ideas coming from innovative, contemporary composers like John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and Gérard Grisey. Here are a few recent releases of the prolific Zoubek where he plays on the piano, prepared piano and synthesizer.

Hübsch / Martel / Zoubek - Ize (Insub, 2020) ****½

The unique instrumentation of this free-improv trio - fellow, Cologne-based tubist Carl Ludwig Hübsch also plays on various objects, Canadian, Montreal-based Pierre-Yves Martel on the rarely-heard viola da gamba, harmonica and pitch pipes and Zoubek on piano and synthesizer - defines its mysterious, almost transparent sound. This trio is an anomalous reconfiguration of chamber classicism but also suggests a patient, minimalist and almost static aesthetic, expanding and transforming the Morton Feldman-esque and AMM legacies. This trio began working in 2012 and Ize is its fourth album, recorded at the Loft Club in Cologne in November 2018. Hübsch and Zoubek collaborated before in several projects and Hübsch and Martel collaborated in another band Fleur de chaos, with Candian vocalist Joane Hétu and synthesizer player Émilie Mouchous (HMMH, Ambiances Magnétiques, 2019).

The five pieces emphasize that Hübsch, Martel and Zoubek are not only resourceful and imaginative improvisers. Naturally, they excel in the fine art of deep and sensitive listening, but all are well-versed in the art of spontaneous and instant composition, while keeping a delicate balance and organic fluidity. Together they create a mostly acoustic entity with minimalist electronic layers, subtly incisive, with a poetic collective entity, where the three musicians sound as extending each other’s palette of sounds. The static oscillations of “Any'' introduce the minimalist, reverberating aesthetics of this trio. The hypnotic vibrations of the dark “Kolt” echo the innovative work of John Tilbury. Hübsch, Martel and Zoubek turn their instruments to noisy, sonic objects on “Letik” and suggest an enigmatic-cinematic drone on “Bard”. Only the last piece ‘Kult” attempts to offer vivid contrasts between the dissonant, sparse piano chord of Zoubel and the quiet deep tones of Hübsch and Martel. A fascinating masterpiece, that is guaranteed to send you looking for more albums of these master improvisers.

Gratkowski / Zoubek / Landfermann / Mahnig - Torbid Daylight (IMPAKT Köln, 2020) **** 

Zoubek plays the piano in a quartet with Berlin-based reed player Frank Gratkowski (who teaches in a conservatory in Cologne,  Zoubek and Gratkowski also collaborate in the quintet Shift), and fellow, Cologne-based, double bass player Robert Landfermann and drummer Dominik Mahnig (who also plays in Zoubek's Trio). The quartet has performed sporadically since 2016 and its debut album was recorded at the Loft club in Cologne in February 2020. This quartet borrows guitarist-producer T-Bone Burnett’s description of string theory to describe its art: “Beneath the subatomic particle level, there are fibers that vibrate at different intensities. Different frequencies. Like violin strings. The physicists say that the particles we are able to see are the notes of the strings vibrating beneath them. If string theory is correct, then music is not only the way our brains work, as the neuroscientists have shown, but also, it is what we are made of, what everything is made of. These are the stakes musicians are playing for”.

The interplay of this free-improv quartet is intense, even in its most sparse and contemplative pieces, and stresses the strong-minded personalities of Gratkowski, Zoubek, Landfermann and Mahnig. Gratkowski is the natural leader of the quartet, even though all the pieces are credited to the four musicians, and he often sets the uncompromising, energetic tone and uncompromising course of the pieces. But Zoubek, Landfermann and Mahnig are ready for this roller coaster challenge. Zoubek shines on “First Echo'', where he takes the quartet into a series of poetic and lyrical conversations. He balances Gratkowski’s furious and muscular energy with elegant and playful gestures, especially on the last piece, the explosive “Catalyst'' and the hidden, untitled piece, both demonstrate the strong, vibrating fibers that connect this quartet.

Zoubek / Cruz / Witkowski - Radium (Circum Disc, 2021) ***½ 

Zoubek plays here in another free-improv trio with French guitarist and electronics player Ivann Cruz, and Polish drummer and electronics player Marcin Witkowski, recorded at La Malterie in Lille, France, in December 2017. Radium is a meeting of prepared piano, primed guitar and extended drums, aimed at deconstructing the respective instruments in a search for challenging electro-acoustic ambient textures and unstable harmonies. Zoubek, Cruz and Witkowski are driven by the idea of building a meta instrument, an egoless creative process to open up new sound worlds and to explore uncharted musical territories.

Radium is the first opus of this trio, conceived after two years of working together. The sounds of the prepared piano, the effects-laden guitar and the prepared drums never cease to metamorphose or fade. Their inventive sonic palettes collide, bang, crackle, resonate and intertwine to seek a counterpoint of strings, skins and electronic sounds from which enigmatic harmonic landscapes and weird sounds and noises emerge. Each piece explores a distinct soundworld, moving from the rhythmic and suggestive to the atmospheric, from the urgent and energetic to the intriguing, symphonic drones, and from the sparse and the minimalist to the noisy and intense, mainly on the dark, sci-fi textures of “Tungsten” and “Lithium”. Then the piano, guitar and drum-set soar and lose their original syntax and vocabulary in favor of a new, brave one.

Christian Lorenzen / Philip Zoubek - Scales (Self Produced, 2020) ***½

Zoubek collaborates here with fellow Cologne-based pianist Christian Lorenzen in a concert at the Loft in Cologne in May 2020 as part of piano duo series curated by Zoubek. Zoubek plays the piano and analog synth. Lorenzen plays a prepared piano connected with a modular synth, an electro-acoustic setup with contact loudspeakers that channeled the electronic sounds into Lorenzen’s acoustic grand piano. The album is released on Zoubek’s Bandcamp page. The two extended pieces, “57 Feet” and “247 Ohm”, are mysterious, carefully layered soundscapes of elusive percussive sounds, gentle ripples of acoustic piano alien, eerie sounds and subtle, noisy feedback loops. Surprisingly, this kind of highly nuanced but weird sounds blends organically.

Philip Zoubek - Vortex (WhyPlayJazz, 2020) **** 

Zoubek plays on his solo album Vortex the prepared piano. He composed all pieces and recorded this album in December 2018 at the Loft club. This is the second solo album of Zoubek playing the prepared piano, following Air (WhyPlayJazz, 2014). The sonic palette of the prepared piano is manipulated with wooden objects, e-bows, rubber, and a variety of plastic and metal screws and transforms the acoustic piano into an exotic, futurist orchestra of fascinating, precisely layered sounds.

Zoubek’s prepared piano explores the full resonating characteristics of the keyboard, strings and wooden body and corresponds with far and traditional music legacies. Zoubek creates a vortex of cyclical-hypnotic soundscapes with a great sense of focus, coherence, and percussive force. Zoubek patiently exposes more percussive layers of the piano that becomes an abstract sound generator, and later finds more playful nuances throughout the percussive qualities of the prepared piano. There is also an enigmatic texture in Vortex, suggesting an ancient, meditative, ritual, and another texture that alternates between hymn-like segments and highly emotional elements. The last one travels to faraway, industrial galaxies.

Philip Zoubek Trio - Nonplaces (WhyPlayJazz, 2020) ****½ 

The sophomore album of Zoubek trio - Zoubek on piano and synthesizer, double bass player David Helm and drummer Dominik Mahnig, was recorded in December 2019. This trio experiments with new dynamics in the classic format of the piano trio. Often these dynamics may sound at first listening as diving into deep chaos, with its extreme, emotive twists and turns, but this trio executes its radical and complex vision with precision and clear joy, as well as constructive spontaneity.

Philip Zoubek envisioned Nonplaces as poetic, imaginary places that do not yet fit into the usual categories, or as a strange dream. The trio alternates between intense dynamics, and never settles on familiar narratives but maintains a coherent dramaturgy in which improvisation and composition exquisitely separate and combine. Zoubek, Helm and Mahnig sound as colliding with each other with fierce energy on the opening “Alarms” and the last piece, “Alarms Postlude”; searching for sparse yet mysterious sonic territories on “Mirrors”; deconstructing and re-construction the pulse on “Memento” and “Kran”; sketching balanced beauty on the ballads “Silver”, “Those” and “The Other Life”; enjoying a fast, comic interplay on “Gorilla” and “Mind at Play”, and always sounding fresh, restless and eager to expand its sonic envelope.


TAU5 - Kreise (Fun in the Church, 2020) ***½ 

TAU5 is the Berlin-based electro-acoustic quintet. Zoubek focuses here on the synthesizer and plays with sax player Philip Gropper (who leads the PHILM quartet), bassist Petter Eldh (of Koma Saxo and Punkt.Vrt.Plastik), drummer Moritz Baumgärtner and electronics player-producer Ludwig Wandinger, who edited and mixed the original improvisations of Zoubek, Gropper, Eldh and Baumgärtner, conducted in 2015 and 2017. The reliance on electronic, manipulated and processed sounds and shifting, rhythmic patterns sends this band far away from the legacy of modern or free jazz bands, even the ones that have integrated electric instruments into their aesthetics, into the territories of prog-space-rock, post-rock, noise and even hip-hop and IDM territories. The focus here is not on composing melodies or clear narratives but on the elastic and transformative qualities of all sounds and how these sounds can be deconstructed and reconstructed into an uncompromising amalgam of new, weird sounds and complex and irregular rhythms. Or as TAU5 articulates its mission: “We send our blindfold signals / to a listener in dim Andromeda / We send out our folded signals / to the listener in all Andromeda / hoping for dreading response /Alpha rhythms delta rhythms / dark transmissions old as a sandstorm / wild as pop / beetween the communiques / another sleep-form new invented / toparies upwards outwards”.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Two from William Parker: Painter's Winter & Mayan Space Station

William Parker/Daniel Carter/Hamid Drake - Painter’s Winter (AUM Fidelity, 2021) *****

Some years ago, I sat with a former student discussing jazz. I won’t mention his name since I have not asked permission, but James Graham paints the kind of thing that might appeal to someone who likes avant garde jazz. James suggested I listen to William Parker. I did. Parker was, more than anyone else, the catalyst for my interest in the far edge of jazz.

Two wonderful recordings stand out in memory. Matthew Shipp’s Pastoral Composure, and Parker’s trio album Painter’s Spring. Similar covers. Parker on both. They both occupy that sweet spot in avant garde jazz where narrative is never dispensed with but is no longer in command. Instead, it is the emotional weight and wavelength of distinct sections of music that is the substance of the composition.

Painter’s Spring (2000) features Hamid Drake on drums and Daniel Carter on alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute. Listening to it again, I immediately recalled the impact it had all these years ago. It reminds me of the Steve Lacy trio, except more visceral than abstract and with a much more energetic pace. It’s the sort of thing that will convince you that you like that sort of thing.

Painter’s Winter struck me as an almost ominous title, given its appearance two decades after the former. Not to fear. Parker says this on the liner notes: “Painters love the winter. They hunker down and begin masterpieces.” The trio reunites for five Parker compositions. Groove 77 is a twelve-minute meditation on themes that will sound familiar to anyone who loves O’Neal’s Porch. The title cut is most interesting for the dialogue between Parker on Trombonium and Carter on flute.

The last three numbers are a showcase for Parker’s awesome compositional genius. Happiness features a steady buildup of intense and beautiful passion. The acoustic space created by Drake is occupied but never crowded now by the horn, now by Parker exploiting pretty much everything a bass usually does. Painted Scarf is a wonderful duet between Carter and Parker on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo instrument. The two weave on top of a deft shading by Drake. The colors and lines explored in the first four compositions are all on brilliant display in the final cut, 'A Curley Russel.' You do not want to miss Parker’s solo or the way that all three instruments splash lavish colors around 8:35, and that only a little more than halfway through the song. I say put this one on your wall.

William Parker is as generous as he is prolific. You can find hours of live performances on YouTube. Check out this one, “ Painter’s Autumn ,” which includes Parker, Carter, and Drake plus pianist Cooper Moore.

William Parker/Ava Mendoza/Gerald Cleaver - Mayan Space Station (AUM Fidelity, 2021) ***½

A very different trio awaits you when you board the Mayan Space Station, an extra-terrestrial vehicle powered largely by Ava Mendoza’s fusion guitar work. The guitar dominates the audio space throughout the recording; at times, perhaps, overpowering it. I read somewhere that this is Parker’s first trio with an electric guitar. It is a sign of his confidence in his own compositional powers that he chooses against integrating the spirt of that instrument with his bass and Cleaver’s drums. The latter, amplified or not, are still vehicles for natural acoustic texturesthe slap of the bass strings against the wood, the rattle and click of the percussion. Mendoza’s guitar, meanwhile, manipulates raw lightning, giving us a sound that is fluorescent and powerful enough to leave a trace of ozone in the air. If the sound of bass and drums is vivid, the guitar has this oddly remote effect, as if she were playing in a studio next door. How much you will like the album depends on how this contrast mixes for you.

I confess that I was a little skeptical as first listen. In the initial track 'Tabasco' the guitar still seems to me to be a bit too dominant. Perhaps it was only me getting in tune with the trio’s intention, but I warmed to the music more with each listen. In the second track 'Rocas Rojas' the interplay between the acoustic and electric spirits becomes richer and more compelling.

The third track 'Domingo' is my favorite. Parker walks his bass along while Mendoza works in large, smeary sound behind him. The composer likes to talk about “painting with sound.” This song reminds me of one of those Fred Gutzeit paints, where a set of bold, colorful lines seem to be painting on a sheet of glass that was then laid down on the almost finished canvas.

Cleaver takes command in the title track, rapidly weaving percussive canvases for the other two to paint on. This, and the final two compositions, are about twice as long as the previous three. One these, Mendoza produces a set of new patterns, from bell-like reports to rapidly spinning ray-gun blasts. In this half of the album, space is more explicitly the place.

You can listen to the trio here

And you can see them here:



Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Ben Goldberg – Everything Happens to Be. (BAG Production Records, 2021)****

By Troy Dostert

Despite the odds, a surprising number of musicians have been able to remain relatively prolific during the COVID pandemic. Whether finding fortuitous opportunities to get into the studio or performing in online concerts, the spirit of adventurous jazz certainly survived amidst the formidable obstacles placed in its way. Clarinetist Ben Goldberg is one of those artists whose seemingly limitless creativity was not to be denied during this challenging time. Since 2020 he has released several projects, perhaps the most ambitious (and appropriate) of which is his Plague Diary (BAG Production Records), an astonishing sequence of recordings Goldberg produced almost daily beginning in March 2020 and extending all the way through March 2021: over 200 pieces of music in all, many utilizing keyboards instead of his horn, but each bearing Goldberg’s impeccable commitment to musical precision and integrity. A good number of the pieces are dedicated to other musicians: some are contemporary colleagues of Goldberg, like Nels Cline or Geof Bradfield or Myra Melford; others are past jazz heroes, like John Lewis, Steve Lacy or Charlie Parker; and in Goldberg’s inimitable fashion, others are a bit more out of left field, like Cicely Tyson, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sheldon Brown. What these diverse pieces have in common is that they are rooted Goldberg’s endless generosity: a willingness to acknowledge his debts and to look for ways to integrate others’ contributions, musical or otherwise, into his own output.

And this is of course what makes Goldberg such an important presence in today’s creative jazz. His ability to locate his own work within the ongoing evolution of jazz and improvised music, and to find colleagues past and present who are also part of that development, is crucial to the lasting power of his artistry. Nowhere is this more evident than Everything Happens to Be, his latest release, featuring a star-studded lineup of musicians who have worked with Goldberg in recent years. The power-trio of guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and bassist Michael Formanek are here, and they’re joined by saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, who makes up the fifth member of the quintet. While Goldberg has done work with each of the four in different contexts, this is his first opportunity to bring all of them together on the same project. And it’s Goldberg’s remarkable sensitivity in knowing the distinctive strengths and dispositions of each musician that allows him to create an ensemble that works so well together.

While there are plenty of moments of collective conversation here, at the heart of the album are Goldberg’s compositions. Typically folksy in character, they have a winsome charm that will win you over on the first hearing, but a deeper appreciation will take place on subsequent listens, as one comes to perceive the logic behind Goldberg’s songcraft. Strong melodies always prevail, but there is always enough freedom to allow each member of the quintet to make their distinctive contribution. It might be Eskelin’s earthy tone on “Chorale Type,” almost sounding at times like he’s playing a baritone sax rather than a tenor, so deep does he go into the lower register; or maybe it’s Halvorson’s otherworldly licks on “21,” adding just the right degree of oddity to offset the tune’s jaunty playfulness; or perhaps it’s Goldberg’s own lyrical flights on the Monk-like “To-ron-to,” a fitting reminder of his prodigious talent as a clarinetist. Formanek’s nimble fluidity also finds an outlet, as his brilliant support on the album’s title track demonstrates, and Fujiwara gets his own moment to stretch out on the appropriately titled, prog rock-flavored “Tomas Plays the Drums.” Goldberg knows each of these musicians so well that it seems almost effortless for him to find ways of synthesizing their individual voices into the collective product.

In the end, it’s Goldberg’s ability to draw together so many different strands of the jazz tradition that most stands out here. The distance between Louis Armstrong and Ornette Coleman is closed dramatically on a piece like “Cold Weather,” which moves somehow from New Orleans swing to untethered freedom, all in the span of a few minutes. Goldberg’s cross-stylistic facility lends a certain timelessness to this music; after a while one simply stops trying to analyze it in favor of simply savoring its beauty. In this light, the brief closing coda, “Abide With Me,” serves as a reverent reminder that at the heart of Goldberg’s music lies the unmistakable power of melody. That he has found four colleagues here who fundamentally share that conviction renders this release the perfect vehicle for his creative efforts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog—Hope (Northern Spy, 2021) *****

By Gary Chapin

For a guy who has a book coming out in August titled Unstrung: Stories and Rants of a Noise Guitarist, there’s not a lot of noise here. This isn’t a complaint. Ribot has that reputation (well earned) as an agent of chaos and force of nature, and, indeed, Ribot was instrumental in radicalizing me into the anarcho-improv world of Free Jazz. This recording, though, is a wonderfully troubling funk venture, so funky I’m not sure how I’m going to describe it. (Don’t worry. I’ll sort that out in the next few paragraphs.)

This is a punk-funk-pomo record featuring Ribot, Shahzad Ismaily (bass and keys), and Ches Smith (drums/percussion) that does a lot of evoking. Tom Waits, talking about Ribot, spoke about him as a “character,” rather than a sideman, and I see where he’s coming from. Metaphorically, there’s a lot of theater on Hope, settings, moods, themes, stories. The first piece, “B-Flat Ontology,” is a loping, dark setting for a talking-sung blues/poem that, honestly, stands up on its own as a piece of writing. It throws its anchor back to Stax/Funk and Gil Scott-Heron, while simultaneously coming thoroughly from mid-pandemic 2020. It’s a paradox, I know, and we’ve been wondering how to think about this kind of thing for decades.

Other observations: “The Activist” surfaces Ribot’s famous political vein in a way that is arch, obvious, and obscure. It’s one of the uber-funky tracks (along with the next, “Bertha the Cool”) where Ismaily’s bass lays down hard, providing everyone a rock to stand on. “The Activist” closes with a bit of the “pots and pans” guitar jangle, which serves as this amazing con-transition between two pieces that are cool in a raunchy way. “They Met in the Middle '' has a lovely bit of the skronkity-skronk from Darius Jones’ alto.

The final three pieces serve — to my ears — as an unintended suite. I’ve listened to the sequence a bunch of times. “The Long Goodbye” may or may not actually be a reference to Chandler (I think it is), but the associations brought on by the title have me hearing this in a very noir light. It has a ten minute arc of emergence, escalation, climax, and descent. “Maple Leaf Rage” is the masterpiece of the set, with Ches Smith’s brushes becoming something of a revelation over time — who knew they could be that expressive and awesome? The composition on this multi-part piece is next level. Also, “Maple Leaf Rage?” Did I mention how much I love puns?

The final piece of the suite is a rendition (or reflection upon) Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” Feels like it should be out of place, but it’s not. Donovan’s words coming from Ribot’s mouth fit as naturally as the next prime number in a sequence. It is the perfect cap to this album, and this “suite.” It’s the final piece of the theatrical sequence, denouement. A short injection of encore level faith, to settle you down after the journey you’ve just been through.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Alexey Kruglov, Caroly Hume, Paul May & Oleg Yudanov - The Last Train from Narvskaya (Leo, 2021) ****½

Two years ago, Leo Records celebrated its 30th anniversary, which is an incredible marker for a free jazz and experimental imprint. (Cheers, Leo!) The sheer number of releases by artists ranging from Sun Ra to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, from Joëlle Léandre to the celebrated series by Ivo Perleman and Matthew Shipp, from Eugene Chadbourne to Cecil Taylor to Evan Parker to Simon Nabatov. My first Anthony Braxton albums were almost exclusively released on Delmark and Leo. The Leo catalog is simply too deep already.

Amidst these American and western European releases, often overlook Leo Feigin’s (the man behind Leo Records) other service to the global scene: his documentation of a vibrant scene in the Russian orbit that otherwise would never reach my ears. This of course applies to the Lithuanian Ganelin Trio (Vyacheslav Ganelin, Vladamir Tarasov and Vladimir Chekasin), Sergey Kuryokhin, and the circles surrounding them. More recently, it comes in musicians such as the saxophonist Alexey Kruglov. Goddamn.

Recorded at the Leo Records Festival in November 2020, The Last Train from Narvskaya is an absolute gem. It starts understatedly and, really, remains so throughout its hour-long run-time despite some waves of heaving sound that periodically emerge out of the otherwise ruffling morass. As far as I can tell, this is free improvisation, or the scores, at least, are highly abstract. The music verges on soundscaping at points, though without the wide-eyed aimlessness that sometimes consumes those projects. In The Last Train, Alexey Kruglov’s muffled sax and Caroly Hume’s minimalist, neo-romantic piano statements ground the product in a more classically “musical” tradition. Paul May’s set work and Oleg Yudanov’s nondescript percussion wander from the unobtrusive grooves to avant-clitter-clatter to simpler, contemplative dialog. What is sometimes a gimmick and sometimes just a let-down on this album seems fitting. May and Yudanov play with a delicacy and telepathy approaching Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph.

Although this is, indeed, is a group effort, I cannot shake the idea that Kruglov is a driving force. He never really soars. When he plays, however, the pieces open, either toward a mellifluous pastoralism or postindustrial wistfulness. Jazz phrasings pop in and out, but one gets the sense Kruglov is less concerned with quoting familiar patterns or jazzing it up, than pursuing his own path toward serenity through extended technique explorations, the occasional John Zorn frenetic outburst (with some energetic, though restrained accompaniment by Hume), and a couple less ecstatic Coltrane-esque runs invariably limited to just a few bars. (Oh yes, and he begins the final track with an extended run of vocal techniques that mimic some of the less idiomatic techniques he deploys on his sax, albeit with more evident playfulness.) Always, however, Kruglov has a disciplined focus on producing sound balanced with space, or vice versa. This is music beyond melody, and for that all the more evocative of the sentiments those hinted melodies would have merely synthesized. Here, the power resides in the soft balance and discipline practiced by these musicians who likely could have overwhelmed us with noise and virtuosity, but instead present us with an inconspicuous set of free jazz beauty.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Garfo - Garfo (Clean Feed, 2021) ****

Last week, we celebrated Portuguese musicians for a whole week, including the 20th anniversary of Clean Feed, the label that gave so many artists global exposure. 

With Garfo, the label offers a quartet of young musicians their chance to become better known. 

The band consists of 21-year old Bernardo Tinoco on tenor saxophone, 24-year old João Almeida on trumpet, 26-year old João Fragoso on double bass, and 30-year old João Sousa on drums. 

All four have been properly trained in jazz, and this at the various prominent initiatives that exist in Lisbon. There is the Hot Clube de Portugal, a jazz club for which bassist Zé Eduardo created a jazz school, to allow young talent to get on stage and perform, and a jazz orchestra in which Almeida played. There is the Lisbon Jazz Summer School, founded in 2008, that teaches young musicians to perfect their art, and which resulted in the Big Band Junior, created in 2010, as a real band for youngsters between 12 and 17. Bernardo Tinoco was member of this band until a few years ago, and João Fragoso its secretary and assistant. 

On Garfo, they show their skills on ten composed/improvised pieces. The quartet manages well to show that they are master of the jazz tradition, with strong interplay and tight arrangements, in combination with some fiercer interaction once in a while. There are moments - such as on 'Ciclo' - when you hear the smokey jazz clubs of the 1950s, with Tinoco's warm tenor bringing us back in time, generous with his feelings and skills. Other pieces are more playful and upbeat, demonstrating the quartet's rhythmic power, as on "T". Other tracks, such as "Oito", are more solemn and subdued, with beatiful arco bass leading a great theme by the horns, and interestingly enough composed by João Sousa who's absent on the track. On "Alderpoint", Almeida and Sousa drive a more adventurous exploratory kind of music. 

The ten pieces are often themselves full of variation and shifting ideas and structures. The quality of the playing is excellent, as are the arrangements. The quartet show their instrumental skills and stylistic versatility. This album is a great start in taking the first step. Their voice today is still a great mixture of possibilities which requires a deeper choice. If they want to be great, which I'm sure they can, they will have to be less compromising, and go beyond the expectations. 

As it stands, it's more than worth listening to. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Watch them perform on Youtube: 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Two from Kettle Hole Records

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Last year (yes the year of the pandemic, which unfortunately is still around) the duo Gerrit Hatcher and Jakob Warmenbol was the biggest surprise, at least for my ears, making into my top ten list. This made me look into Gerrit Hatcher’s discography more and especially his small independent label, Kettle Hole records.

Gerrit Hatcher Group – The Good Instinct of the Morning (Kettle Hole Records, 2020) ****1⁄2

The Gerrit Hatcher Group feels like a super group in small scale improvisational music. Consisting of Hatcher on tenor sax, Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, Katie Ernst on bass, Keefe Jackson again on tenor sax and Julian Kirshner on drums. This quintet balances in a very productive way between melody, composition and improvisation. Following the trajectory of Ornette’s contribution to modern jazz, they are trying to distill his important teachings on what is music through a good time approach. Being true to the title they chose, they present us four tracks that clock nearly on thirty five minutes, of energetic, upbeat free jazz that comes directly from first period free jazz in the ‘60’s.

Their music in all tracks is pure joy. Joy of listening but also the joy of expressing both individually and collectively. The wind instruments are in the forefront of the mix. The two saxes provide melodic lines and sometimes burst of joyful noise –clearly all three of them were having a good time…In a total Ornetteian mood the rhythm section follows a path of its own, still, though, managing to produce and a solid backbone for the music. And how good is Kirshner (now another excursion into his discography should I start) on his polyrhythmic barrage of noises.

In all four tracks of the cd (it is also available as a cassette for you fetishists) there’s a constant explosion of feelings and individual voices that takes place from the first second you start to listen. This is soulful sentimental music that has neither time frame nor age. It exists to give pleasure and solace to the lucky listener.

Gerrit Hatcher – Knowledge About the Future  (Kettle Hole Records, 2020) ****1⁄2

Hatcher’s solo record proves to us that he can choose a totally different approach on the tenor sax than the one he picks while playing collectively. In any case his solo excursion posed more questions than answers to me. Be it that I’m not technically skilled or that every time a solo recording is something totally different, I find myself in a position of trying to unlock the mysteries of the musician’s intentions. That can be misleading sometimes because it distances you from the simple fact of listening to the music.

The music here, on Knowledge About the Future, might be short but it is dense and the effort of playing is quite audible in every second of this recording. The cd is divided into seven tracks –some of them small enough to be called snippets- but It seems to me like one long track that, quite simply, consisted of all that could take place during a live performance. The pauses, bigger stops, shortage of breath, better endurance, blowing hard, trying to manipulate the reed, make it sound differently. I found a very down to Earth human quality on all this. As improvisation has taught us in the long history of its existence, the finished product doesn’t have to be polished -a commodity to sell. I love it when I can tell about how hard making music can, what a challenge it is, the energy and strength (not in a macho way but mostly mentally) it requires.

The two recordings showed me two totally different sides of Hatcher’s music. Dig in.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Robert Dick with Nicola L. Hein and Adam Caine: Flute and Guitar

Robert Dick & Nicola L. Hein - Structures of Unreason (Shhpuma, 2021) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Nicola L. Hein often plays a well worn electric guitar with many pedals at his command. Looking the part of a serious philosopher, one may not expect the array of sound that emerges from his instrument. Or then again, why not? He lists sound artist first on his website, then guitarist and composer. His approach to the sculpting of sound finds good company with Robert Dick, whose own approach to his instrument is no less thoughtful and far reaching. Dick has a background in classical, world music, electronic and jazz and his playing is laced with extended techniques like vocalization and percussive use of the keys. He is also a writer, having published books on flute techniques and an inventor, having patented a unique mouthpiece for the instrument. So what happens when you get two engaged, intellectual and adventurous musicians together? You obviously get a pleasing set of standards. No, kidding (not that this wouldn't also be interesting). You get an engaging set of intellectually driven, adventurous music that spans from the enticing to the excruciating.

The first of the four tracks on the album begins with "Structures of Unreason, " a real tour of the possibilities of both instruments. The song begins with the rhythmic percussive clicks of Dick's flute's keypads and a sharp pulsations from Hein's guitar. Together the sound they create is exotic, unusual, and highly connected. Even when Dick begins playing full, legato notes, and Hein lets his tones linger longer, the rapport between the two musicians is strong. This is not a case of parallel play where unintentional consonances occur, rather this is highly interactive music, a true conversation but in highly personalized dialects. Listen to the kinetic and playful flute lines over the serrated metallic edges of the guitar at 4:40, which then leads into dark gurgling sounds that mimic the guitar. The opening of the track 'Benthic Elevator' contains an unusual moment where this is quite true: Hein releases slippery, wavering notes from his guitar while Dick bends notes as well (which goes back to his invented mouthpiece), the two are are in perfectly askew alignment. Hein in fact seems to approach his guitar more like an analog synthesizer, drawing out sounds that seem to have more in common with switching patches than striking strings. What is indeed happening at 2:55 on this track? There are the quick hammering tones, like a adderall-addicted woodpecker as well as strange warbles that are somehow coming out of six strings.

The sounds on Structures of Unreason are likely not ones that you will listen to repeatedly, they can sometimes be as harsh as they are fascinating, however, when you do take the time, plan to immerse yourself into a strangely seductive sound world.

Robert Dick and Adam Caine - The Damn Think (Chant Records, 2019) ****1⁄2

By Gary Chapin

Robert Dick has been highlighted for his extended technique on the flute since the late 1980s. I remember -- probably accurately -- reading a piece about that in Wind Player magazine back then. And these techniques are, to be honest, the shiny object that draws your attention. But as the forty (40!) intervening years have shown, there is so much more. This is my first encounter with Adam Caine, Brooklyn based and apparently fearless improvisor, and, again to be honest, the shiny objects of his technique drew my attention. On this duet recording, Caine starts in what I think of as Eugene Chadbourne territory (a place I love), but then stretches out to embody a beguiling variety of guitar timbres, including rock electrics, noise of all sorts, and even areas that feel like electronica. The tracks here may have influences from wherever uber-eclectic people come, but the reason I'm digging it is because of the stories the two men tell. There's a unity to this complimentary and contrasting set of soundworlds, and the melodies, clusters, and timbres live within that unity. Their voices are confident, solid, and rich. They never seem to be thinning out or reaching for ideas. After a few minutes you move beyond the "how" of the music, and into the music itself.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Polyorchard - An Excess of Primary Forms (Out and Gone Records, 2021) ****½

By Sammy Stein

An Excess of Primary Forms is the new album from Polyorchard featuring Laurent Estoppey on sax and David Menestres on bass. 

‘Grid 17 Autscopic Orography’ opens with scratchy, loud electronic noises, gradually receding to a hum before more loudness, a silence of almost a minute and a series of explorative interludes- overblowing and dissonance rule but there is also a pattern of bases around which the interactions whirl. Then a section of overlapping female voices under which a gentle, then not so gentle waves of electrifying sound rise. A little altissimo and back to eerie, phantom-like amplified sounds. The final phrase is buzzy and finishes with a series of pings.

‘Wilmington’ is a series of interactions, some with melodic phrases, some with slap-tongued waverings and emphatic delivery. A constant bass theme is set up over which the sax plays and cavorts. Again, there is that contrast of open sections with deeply textured interludes. At open point the bass leads with threatening, sonorous deep throated growls over which the sax, mindful and creative, enters, eventually taking the lead for itself. As the track progresses the interaction between sax and bass develops into more of a duel with bass offering continual lines of full bodies sounds, over which the sax flies and weaves altissimo, slap-tongued retorts. There is a mesmeric sax solo across the top around the 15-minute mark, with bass thuds in the background.

‘I. A Way Of Departing From All Points at Once’ begins with bubbling electronic sounds, under which a rhythm is set up briefly, which melds into various sounds, scrapes, scything starts and the ebb and flow of voices. At one point a male voice is heard speaking short phrases about items like red feather duster, flexible tube, silk stocking, postcard, chair table. Then a brief ‘phone call and a whole host of strange noises, some familiar, like dripping water, which falls in a rhythm, some unfathomable – a difficult and confusing listen, which, like the title suggests, pulls the listener in many directions.

‘Dolores’ is exploratory with explosive sounds and rhythm patterns emerging seemingly at will and without reason or form. There are some intricate, interesting sections where multi-stringed bowed bass works under eerie and overbearing electronic sounds and the works its way up and out of the chaos briefly before gentler electronics override – for a moment. Then slapped bass and a slightly manic sax section delights before the exploration begins in earnest and the bass body, strings and bow are used under a sax which powers up and blows itself towards oblivion - in a delicious way. The final phrases see the sax fly and soar, and the bass reacts. The outre is surreal.

‘Grid 38 Reality Orientation’ is a gentler affair with rivulets of sounds pouring forth and joining to create extended, textured phrases with almost melodic overtones. The varied rhythm patterns seem to converge and digress, as does the sound as if driven by some internal kinetic force.

‘Grid 38 11 Orisons’ is stuffed with sounds, rhythm patterns created by watery, popping noises and the whole track is a journey into a place of playful oddities. ‘Grid 38 111 Focus Puller’ is like listening to waves – the waves created not be a benevolent oceanic force but by a musical deviant who pushes and pulls back with energy and drive one moment, only to be tempered and withheld the next. The playful sax around the 4.20-minute mark is a welcome respite from the menace of the electronics – which rise up underneath and swell to overtake the sax in terms of sound. From short silences to breathy, body notes of the sax are used to produce yet another layer of sound and the track holds many surprises in the depths. From warped voices to slap tongued control it is revealing. Not necessarily an easy listen but more is heard each time.

‘This That’ is full of phrases which chop and change in tempo and volume. The bass holds fast through many phrases whilst the saxophone offers short, altissimo trickles of sound and fleeting melodic phrases which weave textures across the top. The track is busy, energy- infused and intriguing.

‘The Excess of Primary Forms’ is a lesson in how to include as many techniques and deviations from technical norms in a single track as possible There is taut, ear piercing electronics, infused delicately with voices, waves of fluctuating scrapes and warps, crashes, breaks and in some sections, a relentless, powerful rhythm which drives relentlessly.

‘Backyard’ is wonderful, pure and simple. The sax excels with short, quick phrasing, sometimes pushing forwards, sometimes falling back but right through offering a delicacy and prowess of slap-tongued stut notes which work really well with the bass – which walks, frets, bows and struts underneath – for four minutes. Then the bass creates the rhythm patterns with sax offering melodic overlays: gentle, like placing delicate layers of tissue paper. Just before the 8-minute mark the sax blows and honks changing the feel again while the bass scrapes and sighs underneath. A slightly irksome rustling accompanies the bass for a while as the strings are plucked to create a repeated, then varied motif before the sax trumps its entry, the bass responding with deep sighs and the sax buzzes overhead. As the sax plays more melodically, the bass saws and drives the rhythm forward, adding energy and drive.

Be prepared. Listening to the album is not for the barely bothered nor faint-hearted. The music comes from deep within the psyche of the musicians involved and several journeys are required to be made both in terms of imagination, and possessing an open mind to music which feels as much as it sounds. Listening to this, you could be somewhere in the middle of a storm, the different sounds whirling around with you at the centre, in a safe eye as you prepare to step into the swirling vortex for moments at a time before being overwhelmed and retreating to the calm again.

At times, the sounds are just audible, at others they are ear-splitting, but, forget convention, forget listening with preconceived ideas. Simply open your mind to this and you will find surprises, little secrets held within which are revealed only after several listens – and you might feel you do not want to make that journey, which is fine, but if you do, if you step into the swirling sounds, you will be washed anew with musical ideas and imaginative ways of interpreting sounds. There is energy here to be tapped, there is thoughtfulness and delirium too. Each listen will deliver a different aspect, especially when you hear ‘Dolores’ or ‘Backyard’ for the second or third time. It is perhaps trite to finish with ‘enjoy’. Rather listen and allow yourself to be enveloped in the sound. 

A digital version of the album will be available on July 30, 2021 from Out & Gone Records.

 A physical art edition will be available later this fall from Thodol Records. Amongst other things, the art edition will contain a custom interface allowing people to rework the material presented on Primary Forms.