Click here to [close]

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

Schorndorf, Manufaktur; 1/17/2020

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

KM28, Berlin; 1/13/2020

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

Tempel, Karlsruhe, 12/10/2019

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

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

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

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 11/15/2019

Friday, April 3, 2020

Virtual Gig List

 Keeping On, Carrying On During the Covid-19 Pandemic

The shutting down of public life as a response to containing the Covid-19 Pandemic, in order to spread out the infection to not overwhelm the health system, is important. However, the impact of the shut down can be devastating for musicians - gigs cancelled, festivals cancelled, tours cancelled, lessons cancelled - which can put people into precarious financial positions.

In order to offer some help, the Free Jazz Blog is inviting musicians and venues who are offering virtual gigs a place to list when and where the video stream can be found. We will update this list periodically.

In order to submit your gig, please fill in this form. If the event fits with the blog's theme, we will add to the list as soon as we can. 



Live cast from Argentina:

Info: Algo en un Espacio Vacío is a collaboration between Paula Shocron (piano, cello and voice) and Pablo Díaz (drums, percussion and sound objects). Exploring deeply in sound and performing arts on free improvisation concerts, the boundaries between music and other artistic disciplines seem to be blurred, opening the way for something new. This approach enables the artists involved to play their instruments in a number of different and creative ways and to interact with different kind of materials in order to get visual textures or performative situations.

Both based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they have been working together for at least five years, performing in that city, as well as in New York, Berlin or Amsterdam, among other locations in Argentina and around the world. In 2019 they toured around Europe and they were awarded a grant by Robert D. Bielecki Foundation to present their work in New York.

Concert at home w/ pianist Paula Shocron and drummer Pablo Díaz, and their project Algo en un Espacio Vacío.

4/1 - 4/7

Live from Our Living Rooms Festival

Bill Frisell, Chick Corea, Linda May Han Oh, Fabian Almazan, Antonio Sanchez, Thana Alexa, Dave Liebman, Julian Lage, and others. More info.


From Catalytic Sound:

Any additional income generated through Catalytic before the end of March 31st will be paid out to the co-op partners on April 1st. 100% of all donations made will be split evenly and go directly to the musicians. Funds from the membership platform have been reorganized so that 1/3 will go to Catalytic business overhead, $450 will go to the Catalytic Artist Album participants; the remaining membership income will now be split evenly among the cooperative. There is an ongoing 10% sale (15% for members) on all albums [LP, CD, digital] released before 2020. This sale will continue throughout the Covid 19 disaster, and musicians will receive full payment for their recordings- the discount will be applied to the business revenues only. Until this catastrophe abates, payments to the co-op partners will become monthly instead of quarterly. My gratitude to musicians everywhere and those who support them- stay well and keep safe.

Catalytic Sound is: Ab Baars, Sylvie Courvoisier, Tim Daisy, Terrie Ex, Mats Gustafsson, Ben Hall, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Elisabeth Harnik, Ig Henneman, Joe McPhee, Andy Moor, Ikue Mori, Joe Morris, Paal Nilssen-Love, Dave Rempis, Luke Stewart, Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley


Sidebar ( is broadcasting/livestreaming an exclusive solo performance by Mark Dresser at 7:00 PM Central Time (8:00 PM EST) on Friday, March 27. The show should be archived and streaming for about 24 hours after the initial broadcast, until the next day's performer, Helen Gillet, takes over with a solo cello show.


From David Rempis:

Tonight, March 25th, at 9 pm CST, I'll be partaking in The Quarantine Concerts, organized by Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, along with my fellow Elastic Arts curators Daniel Wyche and Ben Billington.  Visit:


Also, please check out these efforts:

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ivo Perelman and Matt Shipp - Amalgam (Mahakala Music, 2020) ****½

By Sammy Stein

Ivo Perelman and Matt Shipp have made several recordings together and seem to have found, in each other's playing, approach to improvisation and delivery a musical dizygotic twin. The difference fate dispensed is one is a pianist, the other a saxophone player. Each has strong individual traits yet also that innate ability to listen intently and know the right moment to soar or step back. I have reviewed their music before and in fact, Ivo, I have reviewed with a number of different collaborators. Of this album, he told me, " we feel this is the most accomplished effort of the duo so far".

With most music Ivo puts out of late, tracks have just a number but on this CD, tracks have two numbers and the numbers don't even equal the number of tracks (there are 12 tracks but the numbers go up to number 17) so we have track 1 is number 7 track2 is number 13, track 3 is number 8 track 4 is number 16, track 5 is number 1 and so on so, I am just going to go through in order. Is this important? No, just inexplicable.

So, track number 1 (7) is breathy tenor over gentle chords from the piano , the tenor creating melodic, sensual lines which carry a song in many places, whilst the piano follows, using the phrases to intersperse chords and progressions aiming always towards the expected destination of the sax - which is not always where Perelman ends up. In places, Matt ship crashes keys, as if to impose a change and inject a note of insistence of his path, which Perelman accepts momentarily, before returning to his gentle meanderings and improvisations. Track 2 (13) begins with piano dark and deep, contrasted by Ivo's tenor , light and cheeky, under which the piano rumbles and rolls before joining in the tomfoolery with some playful lines of its own. Perelman then changes the atmosphere and timing with some sharp, driving, incisive notes, under which the piano offers contrapuntal rhythms aplenty, whilst remaining firmly in the lower octaves. Perelman then soars into altissimo before returning to lower register and creating some responsive stut notes and interruptions of his invention. The last section with both players bashing out notes is impressive improvising - and catch that cheeky little bar and a half of swing inserted from Shipp.

Track number 3 (8) is a conversation between sax and piano, with Perelman in squeaky but controlled altissimo over Shipp's chordal ingressions. On this track you can hear the quality of Perelman's extended altissimo notes- something he is a bit of a specialist in lately. He slurs and sweeps from lower to upper registers, swapping melodic lines for short phrases and the piano follows relentlessly. Track 4 (16) is faster, energetic, both Shipp and Perelman devouring notes and spitting them out seemingly in the hope they come to lie in a way that makes musical sense - and , because of good old intuition, they do. One glorious section of piano rumbling around the low notes under the sax creates a deeper, threatening tone, which unleashes itself as Perelman discovers more notes than any sax deserves in the middle range of his tenor. Track 5 (1) is shorter, with a darker undercurrent running through it . There is a sense, from the melodic lines from Perelman coupled with some equally tuneful phrases from the piano, that this track may have started out as something melodic and melancholic. It does not end that way. In one section a bit of swing almost breaks through, just under the melody but this is swamped as improvisation takes over and Perelman is led where the musical muse leads him. This is a stand-out track.

Track 6 (2) is high energy, short, sharp phrases from both saxophone and piano, with Perelman bashing out the stut notes in militaristic rhythms before switching to a gentle, softer line. A little angry squealing in altissimo over some devilish piano before relaxing into a softer, melodic section.

Track 7 (14) is more piano-led with Perelman responding to the piano lines and key suggestions - again indicative of that listening which happens with great improvisers. The piano is heads up on this track, its dark chords suggesting the changes and directing the rhythms more. In Shipp's solos, you can hear his rapid-fire single note progressions which somehow manage to keep each note crystalline.

Track 8 (17) sees Perelman exploring a musical phrase for the entire first third before dispensing with that and diverging into a place which attracted his attention earlier. The piano is steady and worth a listen as, in the second third it seems to explores a single phrase in different ways itself, whilst sax improvises across. By the final section both players are in tune with each other once more and the ending with piano floating under slurred sax is gorgeous. Track 9 (9) sees Perelman fast and furious over gentle, intricate piano, working his way towards a 7-note phrased section and some rather lovely reedy altissimo. The track has a light, effervescent feel to it, yet is incredibly intricate in both piano and sax lines.

Track 10 (15) begins with solo sax which sets up a journey which both musicians then embark on, sax gently melodic over equally gentle and pure sounding piano. Just after the three minute mark the piano sets up a rocking rhythm over which the sax speaks and squeaks, the altissimo sounding alarmingly like Mr Punch in a couple of places. Track 11 (6) is another fast-delivered , inventive flurry of phrases, motifs and little nuances, all briefly explored and delivered at breakneck speed. It is short, too short. Track 12 (11) is more melodic in structure , with the sax taking on a reflective stance and there are some great sections where both sax and piano are tremuling in tandem. Perelman lets the notes roll and spikes the sound by tonguing at regular intervals, whilst the piano sets up a steady , thudding rhythms , which the sax then picks up and then, suddenly, it finishes. Press play again.

Ivo said earlier he felt this was his and Matt's best music yet and, whilst that is debatable, purely on the basis of the choice now available (and some gems are there), their music is in essence like bubbles. Different shapes and sizes of sound float and pop to release the sounds within. Some are gentle droplets of sounds, subtle in colour and almost butterfly-like in their caress whilst others release a deluge of thick, heavy sounds, the colours dark and rich , the weight heavy on the ears. It all depends which bubbles you pop. There is in this release more emotion, especially from Perelman, than I have heard recently, which is engaging.

Whilst every track sounds different, there are threads linking them together. The central section has a melodic phrase, the final section includes a dialogue between the instruments and the outre is generally one musician on their own. So there is subtle pattern and structure in this improvisation and from the piano, an adhesion to an almost classical train of structure. What that means and why it makes this paring quite rarefied is that you have free improvisation yes, but there is also enough structure and a touch of rigidity, which the brain sub-consciously deciphers, fixes on and finds comfort in. Good music, good improvisation, everything to like.

Order on Bandcamp

Read Sammy's insightful interview with Ivo Perelman.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Jooklo Trio - It Is What It Is / Virginia Genta - Amplified Sopranino Sax 7"

By Nick Metzger

It's pretty undisputed at this point that the Jooklos (Virginia Genta and David Vanzan) bare the torch for unabashed third eye opening, cosmic energy sourced, 21st century fire music. Their various incarnations and groupings explore free jazz, psychedelia, and punk with such ferocity, passion, and power that listening to the music can border on transcendence. The music is exciting and unpredictable and I've yet to hear anything they've been involved in that I didn't fall head-over-heels for. Below are a couple of releases I've been slow in getting to. One is a 7" lathe cut of Virginia Genta on solo amplified sopranino saxophone from Relative Pitch records and the other a limited edition CDR of their trio with Brandon Lopez on their own Troglosound imprint. I've been blown away by both of these releases and am certain after listening to these against their prior work that the Jooklos are still steeply ascending and nowhere near their high water mark.

Virginia Genta - Amplified Sopranino Sax (Relative Pitch, 2019) *****

This latest solo outing from the esteemed saxophonist Virginia Genta comes lathe cut into a jagged square of plexiglass from Relative Pitch records. Her third solo release after 2012's ultra limited edition "Tenor" and 2016's excellent " Rough Enough " finds her again making an all-to-brief 7" statement, this time on amplified sopranino saxophone. I never actually saw this pop up on Relative Pitch's website but as of this writing there are still affordable copies available on Discogs. Genta has really developed as a player since her beginnings. Initially noted for her immense power and expressiveness this single documents her growth as a technician, showing off her circular breathing prowess and hypersonic fingerwork. As if that weren't enough she goes amplified here, adding an overdriven cutting-edge to her tempest.

The record absolutely howls from the drop of the needle and never lets up. Genta weaves together lightning fast fundamentals, overtones, quarter notes, and feedback into an organic, albeit extraordinarily intense, sonic tapestry. The two roughly three minute tracks elicit a wild mix of touchstones, ranging from straight horn giants like Evan Parker and John Butcher to the speed metal soloing of Trey Azagthoth. This speed makes it somewhat overwhelming on first listen, like sticking your head out the window of a speeding vehicle and trying to catch your breath. But soon the logic takes form and the pieces inherit a strange beauty imbued by their intensity. The key is to let it wash over you, to concede to the currents and let them take you where they may. Fantastic.

Jooklo Trio - It Is What It Is (Troglosound, 2019) ****1/2

Recorded at GSI Studios in Manhattan at the end of August, 2018, this limited edition CDR captures what is sure to become a legendary coupling. Genta and her long-time-partner-in-crime David Vanzan plus one Brandon Lopez, all amasse under the moniker Jooklo Trio. As you can imagine the meeting plays out like a stellar collision, their sonic masses caught in an accelerating spiral and merged in a blast of power and intensity. Amplification, feedback, and distortion play a big part here, adding oxygen to the fire and making it roar with a white-hot blast furnace of free-jazz-punk energy. Lopez's sledgehammer bass playing is saturated in fuzz, and made all the more crushing by Vanzan's energetic avalanche of percussion. Genta's amplified tenor and sopranino saxophones light up their suffocating murk like rooster tails of sparks flying off the grinding wheel.

"Last Parasites" builds a foundation of snarling bass and hyperactive drums that Genta laces with shrieking feedback and reedy guitar-esque runs. On "Cripple Eye" Genta switches to tenor, squealing and barking amid Vanzan's explosive percussion and Lopez's slinky bass crunch. "Toxic Spit" continues the onslaught, with the trio sounding like Full Blast on steroids. Vanzan is such an under-rated drummer, and here he pushes the other players into the red with his raw energy. Lopez fits right in with the duo, and you can hear him and Genta throttling with the surges of percussion. "Smile of Insanity" might be the harshest piece on the album, with Genta peeling the paint off the walls in an almost unbroken narrative of respiratory aggression. On the fantastically titled "Trash Over Rice" the bass throbs within a web of death metal percussion. The din is punctuated with ecstatic banshee howling. The final track, "Shitty Kid" is manic with an incomprehensible energy given the intensity of the preceding tracks. Genta blows piercing serpentine lines in ceaseless variations, beckoning the cosmos with her purifying fire. Epic.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Jim Denley, Christian Marien, Pierre-Yves Martel, Matthias Müller - Dis-Drill (mamü music, 2020) ***½

By Keith Prosk

The duos Jim Denley/Christian Marien and Pierre-Yves Martel/Matthias Müller each freely play a host of extended techniques for a sidelong track on the split album Dis-Drill. Recorded in 2019 at Canberra’s SoundOut Festival, which emphasizes first meetings, Dis-Drill documents the first time Denley (woodwinds) and Marien (drums, percussion) or Martel (viola da gamba, pitch pipes) and Müller (trombone) played together. Of course, Müller/Marien record together as the duo Superimpose and Denley/Martel recorded Transition De Phase with Philippe Lauzier, Kim Myhr, and Eric Normand.

The Denley/Marien set, “Drill Bit,” drifts through a collection of extended techniques for the instruments involved. Like much of the music these musicians make, it’s less overt conversation or call-and-response and more communication through changes in tempo, space, and volume on a substrate of timbre (with glimpses of more traditional tone). A quick ticking rim and skittering skins from Marien is met with an undulating resonant hum from Denley that transitions to a draining suck as the ticking becomes more urgent; spit play accompanies brushes like branches against the window; bowed metal with blown drumheads; swaths of breath and waves of brushes. These timbres most often begin and end with each other, rather than transitioning into each other, and can be separated by hard resets of silence, creating the feeling of a collaged environment. Sometimes the tempo, space, and volume build together towards a crescendo in these episodes before breaking into the next timbre, but most often the dynamics are relatively constrained. It’s usually quiet, but there’s not much silence beyond the timbral breaks.

The Martel/Müller set, “Dirt Bill,” follows the same dynamics and structure. But Martel’s pulsing string rubbing and percussive body tapping is met with Müller’s wood wick candle fluttering and hydraulic release exhalations; Martel’s creaking with Müller’s wheezing; Martel’s scratching glass with Müller’s rubbing balloons; and Martel’s viola sounding like a harmonica with Müller’s trombone sounding like a didgeridoo, recalling a John Hillcoat western score with Warren Ellis (which I’m sure someone in the Australian audience also heard). Martel only utilizes pitch pipes a couple times but to amusing effect towards the end of the track, sounding off a simple, almost childlike non-melody while Müller creates a kind airplane ambiance before making the pitch pipes sound like a harmonica too.

The two tracks on Dis-Drill are well-played, especially considering they’re first meetings, but want the concept and resulting structure, complexity, and cleverness that makes other echtzeitmusik recordings landmarks in contemporary music. It’s still a worthwhile listen, a promising springboard for future collaborations between these two sets of musicians, and a solid selection for the third release from Müller’s mamü music, after solo trombone and The Monophonic Havel .
Dis-Drill is available digitally and on cassette.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Falling behind Ernesto Rodrigues

By Nick Ostrum

Catching up with Ernesto Rodrigues is a futile pursuit. I had been planning this post for a few weeks at the end of 2019. I aggregated a slew of albums, a non-methodically chosen most of his Creative Sources releases over the last few months of the year. And now, just a few weeks later, he has already outpaced me. Hence, despite my best efforts, I am still falling behind.

Nevertheless, here is a review of some (and just some) of Rodrigues’ final releases of 2019.

IKB – Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Compared to many of his recent releases (i.e. Lisbon String Trio) and some of the other releases in this review, Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus is a return to form for Rodrigues. Although it is not quite as quiet as the most minimal of his releases, it maintains the subtleties and delicate clicks, clanks, and breaths that Rodrigues started exploring decades ago. This is particularly notable as Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus was recording live at CreativeFest XII in 2018. Unlike other amelodic, nonidiomatic music like this, Paradoxurus is slight music magnified, rather than a wide-ranging sonic engulfment. It is about fine textures and miniscule ripples. It is about small sounds and diminutive tones. Even in such understatement, however, it is still about expansivity and big movement. This is all the more remarkable given the line-up of 20 musicians. (In that, it reminds me the Insub Meta Orchestra with more independently moving parts). This is music that begs to be played loud (if only to be audible) and commands close attention. And, it is one of the most consistently engrossing albums I have heard from Rodrigues lately.

Marie Takahashi, Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues & Hui-Chun Lin – double x double (Creative Sources, 2019) *** 1/2

Especially for an irrepressible musician, arranger, and label owner like Rodrigues, I imagine one must expend a lot of energy just keeping things interesting. Much of that energy seems dedicated to the single-minded quest to push the boundaries of the music, creating pieces that oscillate in that sweet spot just a hair too abrasive for Wandelweiser and much too Wandelweiser for a large swath of the rest of the listening public. Some must also go into imagining and staging new configurations of musicians seasoned in this type of lowercase music. It seems a small world, but, somehow, Rodrigues and his collaborators still find new contours to explore.

A string quartet of two violas and two cellos, double x double is just one of these working ensembles. From the first deep bows of the first track, “Dawn Burglary,” the listener knows he is in for a very different experience than the much larger ensemble on Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus produced. The music here is dark and clear, rather than almost inaudible restive. The tension is unmistakable. The melodies are sinister, blending a romantic sense of harmonic development and sway with a postmodern feel for interlaced droning tones and a postmodern fascination with all things non-conventional. (By now, of course, much that had been unconventional has been incorporated into and refined by the Rodrigues/Creative Sources repertoire.) Think: contrasting dynamics of prolonged shimmering and scratchy whispers and sharp, percussive strings, barely audible clicks, wooden creaks, and slide-whistle glissandos. A fine showcase of the potentialities of a modern, unorthodox string quartet.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Luis Senra, Gianna De Toni, Luis Couto, Biagio Verdolini – Prima Practica (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Slow-motion deconstruction of bassline supported by crackles, chimes, plucks, and hollow metallics. Light wafts of half-melodies. Delicate percuss and saxophone clucks. Softly but restively screeching strings. Speaks to both the common ideas and discipline of the group dedicated to discovering the minute, dissonant idiosyncrasies of the musical moment and extending them deep into time. A second can be an instant or a prolonged meditation on a single bent tone, scraped surface, or, more often, combinations of minor events.

What makes this unique in this bunch is the primary role played by Gianna De Toni’s bass. It frequently stands out in its depth and clarity and seems the linking element between prevalent atmosphere of strange sounds (Luis Senra’s contorted sax huffs, Luis Couto’s altered guitar, Biagio Verdolini’s bag of homemade devices, and, of course, Rodrigues’ viola) and more traditional and recognizable musical elements.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues, Paulo Curado, Joao Silva, Andre Hencleeday, Carlos Santos, Joao Valinho Spiegel (Creative Sources, 2019) ****

Recorded at the CreativeFest XII (as was Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus), Spiegel is one of several recent releases that caught a Rodrigues ensemble live. The sound quality, however, hardly suffers, and that is an extreme complement for music like this. One can still hear the slightest squeak, most breathy hiss, and faintest rumbling. These are set against forceful but restrained piano, sparse single-note cello pizzicato, and other mysterious loud tones. In the sense of contrast (rather than movement), this is potently dynamic. Although there is a rawness to this music, there is also a clear refinement. Noise is not made to simply to fill space, but to continue a musical thought or transition to a new one. The layers bend and blend into each other, creating a quiet wall of sound. Yet, somehow, this stops short of the ambient sound-sculpting that it so often tempts. Two long tracks of subtle, mysterious, and masterful music captured in its purest live form.

Biliana Voutchkova, Ernesto Rodrigues, Rodrigo Pinheiro – White Bricks and the Wooden Mutes (Creative Sources, 2019) ****1/2

Of the albums in the round-up, this is the one I had anticipated with the most eagerness. Two violas and a piano? Lisbon-scene stalwarts Rodrigues and Rodrigo Pinherio with Biliana Voutchkova of Blurred Music renown? What’s not to like?

Another live recording (though from a 2017 date), White Bricks and the Wooden Mutes promised to be bold (and understated) and forceful (but subtly so). This assumption may have encouraged me to listen harder or concede to it certain intentionality. That says, it is nevertheless a standout among this compelling set of releases. One viola turns to drones. The other, clicks plucks. Pinherio’s piano responds with metallic chords, flight runs, and rapid interior pizzicato. The music then glides into some of the most active and spirited exchanges I have heard Rodrigues engaged in. This approaches free jazz at its clunkiest and most energetic. But, it does this briefly. As with Rodrigues’ quieter releases, the group focuses on shaping sound out of a dialogical morass. It concentrates on dynamics, rather than melodicism or unfettered ebullience. Still, counter to my expectations, understatement and near-silent nuance are the exception, though they do appear at brief moments in the valleys. Much of the rest is composed of the layers of whistling notes, frayed crackles, nervous scrapes, and controlled dynamism that have come to characterize Rodrigues’ projects, albeit here at comparatively amplified volumes. It is an odd combination for Rodrigues, but a wholly satisfying one.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cecil Taylor, 1976

By Colin Green

These two albums fill some gaps and broaden our understanding of Cecil Taylor’s music-making during 1976, in each case with a “bonus” from the previous decade. Despite being rather disparate compilations, we can hear some of the connections that run through Taylor’s work and lend continuity to his musical vision.

Cecil Taylor ‎– Mysteries:Untitled (Black Sun Music, 2018) ****(*)

The chief attraction of this album is an almost 50 minute, previously unreleased solo performance by Taylor given at New York University in November 1976 as part of the Bösendorfer Festival, a benefit series for the Kitchen performance centre. His previous solo recital that year had been in August at Moosham Castle in the Lungau region of Salzburg during an open-air festival, subsequently released as Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) (Enja, 1977). Taylor had come across a Bösendorfer piano in the basement of the University of Wisconsin while he was artist-in-residence in 1971 but the Alpine concert was his first recorded performance playing the instrument, which may have provided connections with the New York festival three months later. Built in Vienna, a Bösendorfer remained his favoured piano with the Imperial Grand model extending the usual 88 keys to 97 to provide a full 8 octaves, the somewhat spooky sounding extra keys in the bass coloured entirely black and covered by a removable panel on earlier builds. Even when the lowest notes are not used – and it’s unclear how often Taylor employed them – more importantly those additional strings, combined with the huge frame and uniquely tailored body, add a sympathetic resonance and rich undertones producing what he described as a mellow lower register. The Bösendorfer was also preferred by the classical and jazz pianist Friedrich Gulda with whom Taylor played at the Austrian festival: ‘Begegnung auf Moosham’ on Nachricht vom Lande (Brain, 1976). It had been at Gulda’s request that MPS installed an Imperial Grand in its studio at Villingen on which Taylor later recorded the seminal Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! (MPS, 1981) in September 1980.

As noted in Ekkehard Jost’s illuminating essay, Instant Composing as Body Language, “for Taylor, the type and quality of his instrument is an essential component of his technique; it comprises, along with the technique itself, a cornerstone of his musical message” which is one of the reasons why, where possible, he asked for long rehearsal sessions with the piano before a concert. A Bösendorfer is known for having distinct tonal qualities in its different registers, unlike the more integrated sound of other pianos, something that would have appealed to Taylor’s stratified conception of the instrument and its potential for multiple voicings. In this performance he explores a vivid palette with relish as his hands dance furiously at opposite ends of the keyboard. Warm layers of veiled resonance open and close the recital, fulsome chords sound out in the bass and contrast with dizzying, toccata-like passages that gain a crystalline sparkle as they race into the upper register.

Beneath the sheer exuberance of his playing however, is a cool intelligence and a technical understanding that was hard won. Take rhythm for example – for Taylor this is not a matter of an underpinning regularity but something that becomes a generative power in its own right, a motion from within and inextricably linked to his motifs. Typically, the smallest unit dictates the pulse of the material, his rapid fingerwork multiplying small values rather than dividing larger ones so that rhythm turns into an energy source having a particular density and momentum. Basic patterns remain recognisable, but he augments or contracts disrupting their flow as they spread outward: splintered, juxtaposed, intertwined, caught in the pull of competing forces and giving his music its distinctive vitality.

I’ve written about these antiphonies previously – staccato judders against arpeggiated ripples, broken clusters interrupting runs that snake across the keyboard, pearly clarity then a haze of trills. Over time Taylor’s structural sense increased without losing any of his spontaneity, introducing long-range correspondences and an attention to recurrence and renewal. Ideas are introduced often in pairs as a call and response using contrasting figures in different registers. They shape and modify one another in a series of ricochets and chain reactions, sometimes by a sort of seepage and osmosis as they veer and vacillate eventually to dissolve, reappearing later in new formations. As a result, the ear senses familiar elements but their interaction and trajectory are unpredictable. Instead of a monodirectional thrust we have a multidimensional process of rotation, reflection and reversal never to be grasped in totality – not so much a mosaic of sounds as a Rubik’s cube – which makes for demanding, though absorbing, listening. Throughout this recital we hear Taylor’s teeming imagination at its most creative and highly addictive best.

After a break between tracks that should have been longer the bonus items are the three works recorded in 1961 which appeared on the Gil Evans curated Into The Hot (Impulse!, 1962) performed by Taylor with Jimmy Lyons (alto), Archie Shepp (tenor) Henry Grimes (double bass) and Sunny Murray (drums), later also released on the album Mixed (Impulse!, 1998) and various compilations of Taylor’s early music. These pieces were the first recordings with Lyons, who became his closest collaborator, a musical partnership that continued until the saxophonist’s death in 1986.

Taylor was inspired by Ellington, not just in his piano playing but for the organisation and sonorities heard in the big band recordings from the 1940s. He wanted to get colours out of sounds the way Ellington did. These pieces contain in embryonic form the articulations and harmonic displacements that were to play such a fertile role in his ensemble music, Taylor’s piano injecting spurts of hairpin energy into a kaleidoscopic succession of jump-cuts and superimpositions which still sound fresh. On ‘Mixed’, the quintet is expanded to a septet with Ted Curson (trumpet) and Roswell Rudd (trombone) in voicings of muted and glowing brass around a propulsive central section. The pungent melody of the opening and close was to be reworked as ‘Enter Evening (Soft Line Structure)’ onUnit Structures and ‘Caseworks’ on Taylor and the Art Ensemble’s Thelonious Sphere Monk: Dreaming of The Masters Vol.2 (DIW, 1991).

Cecil Taylor ‎– On Air 1976 (Lo-Light Records, 2019) ***(*)

Taylor’s best known albums Unit Structures and Conquistador!, both on Blue Note from May and October 1966, might also be his most significant in terms of larger groups. Some of the compositions had long histories – three of the pieces on Unit Structures had been played in an advanced form by his quintet at the Newport festival in July the previous year, and according to double-bassist Alan Silva there were four months of rehearsals before the Unit Structures session. Certain material also provided a continuing resource, a repertoire of charts for assorted navigations usually under different names. The harmonic and rhythmic cells of ‘Steps’ from Unit Structures are recast and elaborated for the title track on Conquistador! – or perhaps more accurately, they both spring from the same core components – and are also the foundation for later pieces such as ‘Taht' on Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) (Soul Note, 1985). ‘With (Exit)’ from Conquistador! was also drawn on subsequently and plays a prominent role in the framework for the two epic improvisations of the European Orchestra on Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) (FMP, 1989) from Berlin ’88. Ben Young’s forthcoming biography of Taylor may shed further light on such matters.

The present album, which so far as I can tell is only available via Internet streaming on Spotify and Apple Music , is taken from three radio broadcasts, two from 1976. Working through them chronologically, the final item is a recording of Taylor’s quartet with Lyons, Andrew Cyrille (drums) and Sam Rivers (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute) which played in the U.S. and Europe from February 1969 to February 1970. Off-air recordings of the European tour in October and November have circulated on the Internet for some time, from Stockholm, Berlin, Stuttgart and the current performance at De Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam, previously released on vinyl as In Europe (Jazz Connoisseur).

Based on the available recordings each performance by this quartet was set in motion the same way, using the segments of ‘Steps’ in rousing fanfares and cascades which are restated from time to time, spawning lengthy improvisations usually titled (as here) ‘Fragments of a Dedication to Duke Ellington’. Notwithstanding the stirring start, this quartet is a problematic combination due to an uneasy fit between Rivers and a trio which by this point had become something of a self-contained unit. Whereas Lyons engages in tight interplay with Taylor, displaying a firm melodic logic – a rapport they’d established over several years – during Rivers’ solos he seems largely lost relying on vague textural meanderings rather than motivic invention, unable to accommodate for more than relatively brief spells the superheated pace that characterised Taylor’s music during this period. As the driving force Taylor makes no adjustments for him even though three long solos, one on each of Rivers’ instruments, must have been taxing. It doesn’t help that the recording is poor with a skewed balance so that only Taylor’s piano emerges from the fog with any real definition. There’s better sound, though still a musical mismatch, on the one official recording of the quartet taken from performances in July 1969 at Fondation Maeght, St. Paul de Vence near Nice: Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vols. 1 – 3 (Shandar, 1971). Footage of rehearsals the day before the two nights can be seen in the French TV programme Lìnvité du Dimanche .

From 1970, outside his teaching activities, Taylor’s group work was once more primarily as a trio with Lyons and Cyrille, occasionally with bass, again using ‘Steps’ to provide the initial ingredients for the development of each set: Akisakila - Cecil Taylor Unit in Japan (Trio, 1973) and Spring of Two Blue-J's (Unit Core, 1974). In early 1976 new blood and broader perspectives were introduced in a quintet with Lyons, a young David S. Ware (tenor), Raphé Malik (trumpet) and Marc Edwards (drums). The recordings in this collection are the second set from Michigan State University at Ann Arbor, broadcast by WCBN-FM (previously available as Michigan State University, April 15th 1976 (Hi Hat, 2015) and just over an hour transmitted by Radio Stadt from the two hour show at Bremen in July, which was new to me. (The quintet’s concert from the Yugoslavian Jazz Festival, Ljubljana in June was released as Dark to Themselves (Enja, 1976)).

The Michigan set suggests that greater mobility and more generous spaces were available in this ensemble. ‘Wavelets’ is divided into three parts. After a short drum solo Part 2 is an impassioned, ballad-like duet with Taylor pounding out thick chords as accompaniment to Ware’s rasping tenor, merging into Part 3 with piano, alto and drums. The ballad returns on trumpet and Taylor’s delicate arpeggios, crumbles but is finally restored. ‘Petals’, announced by Taylor, is for the whole quintet and uses a riff taken from ‘Steps’ in fruity horn unisons over the piano’s stabbing cross-play. Both become more elaborate as solo and group textures overlap, the motif remaining a telling presence.

There are two lengthy pieces from Bremen, in superior sound and with a better piano. Once again, on ‘Winds Alight Stepping Silver, Part 1’ there’s a focus on sub-groupings and graduated sound Like players in an unknown drama they combine in duos and trios with commentaries and embellishments instead of solos and frequent changes of pace, ending in a searing crescendo. Part 2 introduces music of near stasis: prismatic chords and a faltering melody are opened out slowly, punctuated by moments of silence, drum rolls and strange taps. The quintet then launches into a version of ‘Steps’, the piano/ensemble dialogue leading into ever more complex excursions by Taylor, urged on by Edwards’ drums, peaking at molten glow and bringing in the rest of the band for a full-on rendition of the theme. As heard here, in its sectional diversity and variety of colours this group looks back to Taylor’s work of 1966, something he explored with even greater success in his 1978 sextet, which for the curious might be a good place to move onto next. I recommend Phil Freeman’s essay The Unit: Cecil Taylor in 1978 as an introduction.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Irreversible Entanglements - Who Sent You? (International Anthem, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

In yesterday’s review of the album by Scatter The Atoms That Remain I wondered whether free jazz had detached itself from social problems and whether it can still provide some kind of relevant function, or whether it was true that jazz has slowly come to a standstill. Projects like Irreversible Entanglements answer these questions in a clear way. Yes, free jazz has a relevant function these days and if the problems of African-Americans in today’s society are similar to the ones in the 1960s then it’s legitimate to use the music of that period. On the one hand the band brings back the Ornette Coleman Quartet - especially the music of Ornette! “No Más“ begins with a simple phrase of trumpet and alto, in which Keir Neuringer and Aquiles Navarro sometimes shift and sometimes play in unison, which calls up the spirits of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. On the other hand the band refers to the Sun Ra Arkestra’s When The Sun Comes Out and The Magic City on “Who Sent You - Ritual“. In doing this Irreversible Entanglements prove that they're operating within a context which extends a tradition.

“Stay on it“, don't give up: these are the first words of Camae Ayewa a.k.a. Moor Mother on the opening track. Tcheser Holmes’s drum style rides the cymbals hard, swings and lets the tom-toms roll only short but loud like blazing flames. Then a bluesy head is delivered by Neuringer (saxophones) and Navarro (trumpet). Their melody glows deep red in a minor key, bending and stretching time. The contrabass (Luke Stewart) stoically pulls through a groove, but breathes freely as well. Until again this clearly articulated voice declaims: “You can't save the night/ Here in America“. “The Code Noir - Anima“ is the name of the song, after the notorious legal text published under the reign of Louis XIV, which from 1685 to 1848 regulated the inhuman treatment of the slaves. Against the background of this text Moor Mother develops the following questions: How long will it take until the African-Americans have enough? How long will they stand being treated the way they have been treated for so long? When will they revolt? (“At what point do we stand up / at the breaking point / at the point of no return … At what point do we give a shit / do we stand up and say something“).

The whole album is a dream of salvation after racism, of afrofuturism, but it’s also about revealing the alienation in the US society (“at what point do we call each other “other“). It’s the most obvious reference to Sun Ra at this point, but this is only the experimental side of this tradition, the other one is Max Roach’s and Abbey Lincoln’s “Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace“ and Charles Mingus “Free Cell Block F, ’Tis Nazi USA“. Irreversible Entanglements might reach a younger audience and open their ears to free jazz (not only thanks to the fact that they’re an incredibly tight band) with their music because the determination of Ayewa's voice is also reminiscent of the Last Poets, especially at the end of “Who Sent You - Ritual“ and “Bread Out Of Stone“. Here the music is carried mainly by drums, bass and vocals and builds a bridge to hip-hop.

The band is an example of how the highest musicality and rage are not mutually exclusive, but rather fueling - at least on this level. The sovereignty of Ayewa/Moor Mother shows itself not only in the fact that she uses her poetry and her anger selectively. The repetitions and the psychedelic elements remind of gospel music (also in “Who Sent You - Ritual“). In her live performances Ayewa often uses a strong reverb on her vocals, which can be disturbing. Here everything is crystal clear, which supports the message even better. Free jazz hasn't sounded more accessible for a long time. I’m pretty sure that this album will end in my top ten list at the end of the year.

Who Sent You? is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to and buy it on Bandcamp:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Scatter The Atoms That Remain - Exultation (Dot Time Records, 2019) ****

By Martin Schray

It was pure coincidence that I came across Scatter The Atoms That Remain’s album on the very same day McCoy Tyner passed away. Maybe since I was in a sentimental mood because of the great pianist’s death I was even more moved by this music. John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and the musical spirit of many other great musicians of the 1960s hovered through the air. You think that the old legendary John Coltrane Quartet has come to life again. It’s all spirit and magic, soul and heart (according to band leader, drummer and composer Franklin Kiermyer). However, in spite of all the reminiscences the band believes that music is not supposed to sound like something or someone, it’s supposed to do something. Then again, such music also raises critical questions.

Doesn't a band like Scatter The Atoms That Remain turn the music of that era (1960s spiritual jazz) into a museum-like affair in a way the Marsalis brothers and their adepts have succeeded in with their definition of jazz? Hasn’t such an approach detached itself from social problems (and hasn't hip hop long since replaced jazz as the relevant music genre not only for the African-American community)? Even if you concede that there is still its otherness, can (free) jazz still provide some kind of relevant function commenting on what’s going on in society? Or is it true that jazz has slowly come to a standstill somehow? Doesn't an album like Exultation evoke an earlier, idealized universe in which it was still possible to tell about a new future, or - in other words - when (free) jazz still had a utopian desire and looked forward instead of back? To cut a long story short: Exultation does not do that. The music is not just a mere re-invocation or a revival, it is not designed to simply encounter the familiar, it rather focuses on the rapture of finding so much avant-garde in this music. Considering that innovation has always been built on the old familiar (the good old Standing-On-The Shoulders-Of-Giants principle) and that it’s difficult to reinvent the wheel again and again nowadays, it might even make sense to look for the new in the old. Then suddenly side doors open up, hidden entrances are discovered, unexpected new connections are made.

In the specific case this means not a mere quotation of classic Coltrane tracks like “A Love Supreme Part II - Resolution“, “Chasin’ the Trane“, “India“ and Pharoah Sanders “You’ve Got To Have Freedom“, since Scatter The Atoms That Remain put a stronger focus on rhythm. This has mainly to do with the fact that the band leader is a drummer but also that Kiermyer’s style is more Art Blakey than Elvin Jones. He chases his bandmates like a sheepdog the flock. Saxophonist Jovan Alexandre convinces with the deep spiritual honesty of his sound and his crassly overblown lines, especially in “Transformation“, the album’s opener. Bassist Otto Gardner has the ability to make music swing with his unique and daring approach, yet at the same time his sound is powerful and warm as in the solo of “Between Two Suns“. Finally pianist David Whitfield’s sound is modest, rich and percussive, his lyrical improvisations are centered by powerful chords and create the tonal center of the music - just like McCoy Tyner’s style. His beautiful intermezzo on “Processional“ is a highlight of the album.
All in all, Scatter The Atoms That Remain is not about seclusion, they are more concerned with broken, frayed, not quite formulated strands of 1960s spiritual jazz. Exultation is not just another retro album, it deserves to be explored in its very details. I suppose not only John Coltrane aficionados will love it.

Exultation is available as a CD and a digital download. You can buy it here.

You can listen to the complete album on bandcamp:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Solo Guitar

By Paul Acquaro

I've been toting around a sizable library of music for a while now. My plan is always the same, commit some words to paper the screen about all of them. Ahh, plans. Now, I'm staring at a near insurmountable list of to-reviews. It is time to make some progress. So to begin somewhere, I'm going to start by focusing on one my favorite instruments, the guitar. But even doing this is daunting, and it's obvious that I'll need to sub-divide ... I will begin with solo guitar recordings, and we'll see how the future shapes up...

Dom Minasi - Remembering Cecil (Unseen Rain, 2019) ****

I think I've been carrying New York based guitarist Dom Minasi's album, dedicated to Cecil Taylor, in my pocket on a device of some sort for nearly a year. In this time I've actually gone through three devices - one took too long of a swim in a not-as-waterproof-as-advertised dry bag as I was kayaking, the other was a temp device with a pre-cracked screen that simply got worse and worse, until I got my latest gadget. But, I digress. The point here is that Minasi's album is one that I've become attached to. It was recorded not long after Taylor passed away, and on it, the guitarist allows the great improviser's influence shine through in naked, revealing light. 

A concert or an album by Cecil Taylor was an outpouring of emotive melody and rhythm. The one and only time I was able to see him perform was the final concert at the Whitney Museum, and as frail as he was at the time, his music was still commanding and percussive. A famous quote from Taylor in fact compared a piano keyboard to 88 tuned drums, and compared Minasi, over the course of four improvised tracks, captures the relentless and effusive spirit of Taylor, but on just his six strings. Minasi's playing captures the tonal clusters, the intense bursts, and the moments of gentle melody, in general he reflects the velocity of sound that would emit from Taylor. The melody that evolves on 'Improv 3' is a real highlight, clear lines that seem to almost grasp the outlines of forming thoughts, but slowly grow more solid at the track progresses. As a contrast, there is the opening of moments of 'Improv 1' which is pretty much pure energy. The notes themselves take backseat to the flow of energy. 

Harvey Valdes - Solitude Intones its Echo (Destiny, 2019) ****½

That's a hell of a title for the album. It totally makes sense, but please don't expect me to be able to explain it. Isn't that the power of a good title? What comes wrapped inside is even better. A collection of 18 short tracks that ooze with sophisticated melodies and thought through skeletal harmonic scaffolding. 

Valdez plays an unusual Teuffel Tesla guitar, a seven string electric with a set of electronics that capture and re-create ambient sounds that were once 'natural' to the electric guitar, like the buzz or crackle of the pickups. However, these are adornments to the sound, which at its core is a rich array of contrapuntal chord melodies that immediately pull at emotional strings. Valdes' technique is an impeccable approach that mixes styles. For example, the classical track 'You See' contrasts with the a-rhythmic bounce of 'Crooked' and that with the nervous pluck of 'The Second Points the Way'. Each song has a personality of its own, but all fit into the family. Many of the tracks begin deliberately, asking the listener to hangout on for a moment, before unfolding its beauty ... kind of like a time lapse video of a flower blooming. 

The moments and emotions that Valdes is able to capture in these short vignettes is rather remarkable. It's an album that should be savored, best listen to slowly.

Han-earl Park - Two+ Bagatelles (2019) ***½

How best to begin? Han-earl Park's guitar playing has been fascinating to me since I first saw him play at show years ago at now defunct studio on Douglas Street in Brooklyn. If I recall correctly, he had a square bodied guitar that seemed to be somewhat modified, but moreover, his playing was unusually expressive. I cannot recall much else from the show at this point, except for the guitar playing. On Two+ Bagatelles, this same musical spirit that has stuck with me for so long, has been captured. 

The tracks, 'Zero', 'One', and 'Two' are improvised explorations. 'Zero' is basically an opening salvo, a chord, silence, buzzy shards of sound. 'One' begins with a nervous pulse that sets the template for the track. It's a propulsive theme, a bit single minded, but at the same time very effective. The pulsations give way to slashing, which reveal numerous overtones, harmonics, and buzzes. The patterns evolve too, as the track progresses, overtones and abrupt rhythmic figures become set, only to then spawn new ideas. 'Two' is much different. Park is modulating and shaping the notes themselves. Each one is cut short, melodies becoming almost like the sounds of an 8-bit shower. Like the previous track, the form evolves but the approach remains set. 

The short recording (approx. 16 minutes) is available through the Bandcamp store of the venerable London venue the Vortex. Purchase of the recording benefits the club. Park has another group project on the horizon as well.

Olaf  Rupp - Fuzzy Logic (Audiosemantics, 2020) ****

I have an acquaintance in Berlin who, at every show in which guitarist Olaf Rupp plays, says something to effect of "if there is one great injustice it is that Olaf Rupp is not world famous. But on the other hand, we get to hear him play two feet away from us in this little club." So, I guess I'll be selfishly thankful, and then do what I can to help.

Fuzzy Logic is an album of solo electric guitar improvizations that, like the title implies, falls outside being neatly defined. On his Bandcamp site Rupp writes: "I knew even then that this music will be ripped apart by many: the jazzers will say "that's just distorted noise", the Echtzeitmusik-people will once again nag at all those minor chords and the indie rock fans will shake their heads in vain looking for the beat. But unrootedness is also a power, a gift, a way." It's a good description really, the music has discernible structures - there are indeed chords and certain rooted elements, but then there is all of this fuzz that threatens to pull it all apart at any given time. 

The opening track 'Insolent Coagulation' is a perfect example, beginning with fuzzed out drones, it leads to a slashing of harmonics and a minimalist accretion of notes. A mixture of percussive striking at the strings is followed by finger-picked swell of chord tones. The swell becomes a wave, breaking before they hit the shore. The title track shares some similar sonic elements, but here the sound heaves forward, before splintering into tubular sounding fragments. But no matter how out the sounds go, the guitar's sounds and shape is very present and integral in the music.

Alex Ward - Frames (Relative Pitch, 2020) ****

British clarinetist Alex Ward's had been cultivating an alter-ego as a rock guitarist, until encouraged by Steve Noble, he brought the guitar into the free improvization setting in the N.E.W trio. His concept and approach to the guitar has been advancing ever since. 

Frames is his first solo recording on the instrument (proceeded by his first solo clarinet album Proprioception in 2017). Releasing a solo album suggests that you have confidence in your voice on your instrument, and listening to Frames, this is obviously the case. Ward's approach touches extremes, from spacious, angular melodies to fierce stomping chords, sometimes even working in concert as they do on the composition 'Staunch / At The End'. His electric guitar sound is often clean, with an edgy tone, it teeters on the edge of overdrive and often falls into it.

The recording starts off the with stop-start melodic fire balls. Ward links tonal clusters through short runs of single notes. It is not random, however. There is a method behind the music, and whether its composed or not does not matter, there has been much preparation before steeping into the studio. The next track, 'Frames', on the other hand seems much more composed. There is a deliberateness to both the tempo and the contrast between chords - unusual dissonances then relatively harmonious passages - that belie the thinking that went into the track. 'Allegreo Apprensivo' seems like yet another approach. It feels like the track is unfolding, almost discovering itself through rapidly juxtaposed passages. 

Give it a listen, Frames is a really strong statement from Ward.

Eric Mingus - Fog of Forgiveness (Evil Fruit, 2019) ***½

The Bandcamp site for multi-instrumentalist Eric Mingus states "The album consists of guitar improvisations, solo voice recordings that variously recall field hollers and sound poetry, and multi-tracked, harmonic-rich vocal drone pieces.", so I'll approach it from the solo guitar angle, at least at first. The album begins with 'Mist Rolls In', which features a thin, lightly amplified electric guitar. The track is contains a rough melody, perhaps sketched out before hand. This is followed by two vocal tracks, the first rather fascinating as Mingus uses grunts and the like, and the next more vocal-oriented, evocative with blues and folk overtones. 'Where the Water Meets the Air' is back to the solo guitar, where Mingus relies on rhythmic feel to carry the track. The approach to the guitar is not about precision or correctness, rather it seems to be about a feeling, like a poem where the words are meant to work on emotion, so do these short tracks, be it through the electric guitar, or vocals, or a little of both like the holy drone of 'Vox Un Humana.' 

Sandy Ewen - You Win (Gilgongo , 2020) ***½

Sandy Ewen's guitar playing leans in the direction of soundscaping, or maybe even sculpting, as she likes to incorporate non-guitar related items into her music. The opening moments of her solo album's title track verges on the aurally painful - there is a high pitch drone that pans from left to right while static crackles from within. It's a sound with a physical shape - you can hear the structural support, as small balls of sound roll around like a roulette wheel. Electronic beeps, from a medical equipment nightmare, lurk around the edges, until they begin dissolving into the static as well. Later in the track, the beeps have become ghosts, and the vibration of a strings, its tone bending, filling this aural but visual plane. The next track 'Virginia Creeper', as you may have guessed, creeps. Small, visceral crinkles and a vibrating undertone keep the tension going, eventually drawing to a conclusion. 

Each track of You Win is a sculpture. In fact, Ewen calls one of the tracks 'Serra', which most likely refers to the sculptor Richard Serra whose often out-sized works consist of thick industrial sheet metal bent into arcs and spiral forms. Like these forms, Ewen's sound sculptures take on a single idea at a time and bend everything around them. An unusual work that sounds nothing like a guitar, yet is made by guitar, somewhere deep within.

Releases April 24th

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Frågan - Are You Happy? (Moserobie, 2020) ****

Swedish double bass player founded his group Den Stora Frågan (in Swedish: the great question) in 2014 as he was returning to playing music after a four years stay at a Zen Buddhist monastery. Since establishing this sextet, now becoming an octet, it seems that Zetterberg's interests are much wider than existential-philosophical ones, but also about with big questions that concern such issues as composing vs. improvisation, orchestrating a small band as a big one, elements of memory and space and the importance of irony and humor in his music. Zetterberg is now a very busy musician, he co-leads the trio Orakel and the Svenske Kaputt quartet, plays in different outfits with with his partner, Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, in Danish sax hero Mette Rasmussen's quintet ,and in American cellist Daniel Levin's quartet.

Zetterberg’s melodic abstractions of the big philosophical questions are played by great heavyweights - Silva, trombonist Mats Äleklint, label owner and reeds player Jonas Kullhammar, second reed player Alberto Pinton, keyboards player Alexander Zethson and drummers Jon Fält and Lars Skoglund the answers are not necessarily mystical. Are You Happy? Is the third album from Den Stora Frågan, following the self-titled debut (Moserobie, 2014) and Live (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2019). Its title is borrowed from graffiti that Zetterberg saw on a bench in the forest near his Stockholm house, and is indeed a great question. And the album was in the legendary studio Atlantis in Stockholm (where ABBA recorded some of their major hits), by the equally legendary sound engineer Janne Hansson.

The question: Are You Happy? defines the spirit of this excellent album. Zetterberg’s compositions play, literally, fascinating and highly inventive games with the listener. You think that you know where Zetterberg and Den Stora Frågan are, on only to find out that they are already faraway, exploring completely different territory. “Meningen Med Vad” sounds like it is heading in few opposing destinations, some reversing to retro-fusion sparks while others to Mingus-ian joyful celebration or New Orleans-ian marching band, but all delivered with great passion and energy. “Plingplongpiano” stresses more qualities of Zetterberg as composer, bandleader and bass player who leads the octet into chamber, melancholic tone poem. “Oraklet I Finnåker” (recorded before by Orakel) and “Nytt Hopp Över Atlanten” go full Mingus, including the powerful, sometimes sudden rhythmic moves, with great solos of Silva and with Zetterberg himself anchoring the reeds and brass choir commotion with subtle authority. “Drömmusik” navigates towards far and exotic territories and offers enchanting, purifying ritual, while “Påminnelser För Den Kortsinnade” suggests a mysterious, film-noir atmosphere, but most likely in Mingus’ imagined Tijuana. “Skygglappar På I Lusthuset” begins as a seductive, sensual dance that methodically becomes more intense and energetic.

Are You Happy? ends with the title-piece that offers a touch of reserved and fragile lyricism, but as this album was released on Valentine’s Day we can assume that Zetterberg has found his own happiness, even if he insists that this question is all he has to say about this album. But rest assured, even you can guarantee your happiness or at least some of it, if you would dedicate yourselves fully to the 43 minutes of Are You Happy?