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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

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Daniel Lercher, Sabine Vogel - Bogong Dam (self-released, 2021) ***½

By Keith Prosk

Electronics musician Daniel Lercher and flautist Sabine Vogel embody the room in the performance through echolocation on the seventeen-minute track, Bogong Dam.

Recorded in 2015 within the titular, chambered dam of Bogong Village, Australia, the track captures changes in the performance space as Vogel moves through it while playing. Lercher’s electronics whistle and whine, click, buzz, and crackle, pierce the air with high-frequency sine wave crests or baffle and distort it with white noise. Vogel’s air notes, key clicks, and tongue slaps mingle with austere bittersweet shinobuesque melody, sometimes seemingly throwing sound around the room with a hard blow and a twist of the torso. The duo maintains a generous space without silence and a relatively quiet range of dynamics, communicating most noticeably through pulse, discrete electronics met with discrete flute techniques, sustained with sustained. Occasionally sines appear to extend flute tones, blending with their reverb and carrying on in some similar way. The reverb is palpable, every sound bouncing among the dense, hard dam walls. The close-listening ear can hear changes in the size of the various chambers, maybe proximity to a microphone, wall, or corner, but the finer points of the space are lost without a dimensional plan of the dam, a path of movement, or a more homogenous echolocation technique. Sometimes, when Lercher and Vogel stop sounding, the ghosts of electronics and flute still dance together in the room.

Bogong Dam is a digital-only release.

isolated . connected update

Sabine Vogel also brought her isolated . connected project to a close on March 25, 2021, after exactly one year of asking musicians to record a solo in communication with the previous solo before they ask another to do the same with theirs. Since reviewing the initial release, only solos and overdubbed duos are presented, without overlaying all the tracks for an ensemble effect. It grew to include 19 musicians, with over three hours of new recordings and a total of roughly seven hours presented for listening, ending with a Vogel/Vogel duo of the first and last solos. It’s amazing how vivified, threaded, and intentional each solo appears when overdubbed with the next, even the Vogel/Vogel duo, which were the only solos not in direct communication. It provides a vital glimpse into the underrepresented Mexican improv scene. And it networked new collaborations, like Audrey Chen & Kaffe Matthews’ Breathing Air as Dark Swallows on Takuroku, another important pandemic effort. While there have been innumerable inventive ways to maintain and build community around this music during the pandemic, isolated . connected is surely among the most impactful started by an individual.

The musicians that contributed to isolated . connected include, in order: Sabine Vogel (bass flute, preparations, amplified piccolo flute); Michael Theike (clarinet); Kaffe Matthews (digital oscillators with the glu-box, processing through resampling); Audrey Chen (voice); Id m theft able (voice); Andrea Pensado (voice, electronics); Tracy Lisk (drums); Hermoine Johnson (prepared piano); Reuben Derrick (saxophone); Sumudi Suraweera (drums); Brian Allen (trombone); Natalia Pérez Turner (cello); Amanda Irarrázabal (contrabass); Dario Bernal Villegas (snare drum, a big copper plate, some small percussion, manipulated field recordings); Sarmen Almond (voice); Fernando Vigueras (acoustic guitar played with two bows); Rodrigo Ambriz (voice, 4-track cassette recorder); Anton Mobin (prepared chamber); and Dirk Serries (acoustic archtop guitar).

isolated . connected is a digital-only release.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Paul Lovens/Florian Stoffner - Tetratne (ezz-thetics, 2020) ****½

By Martin Schray

After 23 seconds, it’s there for the first time: a huge, deep boooom. Paul Lovens, the veteran drummer of German free jazz, uses his bass drum like a massive, ultra-low kettledrum. On the one hand he achieves this effect by tuning the bass drum very low and on the other hand by using a very soft lambskin mallet on the foot pedal. Moreover, the bass drum is not only tuned very deep - also both heads are completely unmuffled, no hole is allowed to be cut into the front-head and if blankets and cushions are found inside the drum they are rigorously removed*. The contrast with his shrill cymbal work, his extended materials and rim shots of the toms and snare is striking (and something I haven't noticed in his music so prominent before). Moreover, these deep, drone-like thumps structure the improvisation, propelling it, slowing it down, dragging it forward again and pumping it up - especially in the first and second parts of the recording.

Tetratne documents a performance by Lovens and and Swiss guitarist Florian Stoffner at the 2019 Sound Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, it’s their second collaboration apart from their trio album Mein Freund der Baum with Rudi Mahall. The album’s name refers to quadruple structures and thus a physical polyphony - both musicians use all four limbs. For drummers that’s obvious, but Stoffner also uses his legs/feet to operate his effects devices. He also integrates different guitar tunings as an alternative approach to improvisation, making him an ideal complement to Lovens, who also likes to tune his drumheads in an extravagant manner.

In general, the set is a cornucopia of wonderful and exciting ideas. In some passages Lovens really chops and cuts up the music (at the beginning of “Tetratne III“, for example). Sometimes he seems to climb down scales on his kit until he reaches the very bottom (at the aforementioned bass drum). In addition, the two musicians almost echo each other here and there (“Tetratne 1“), as if they were searching for orientation in a huge cave (even coughing noises are used). However, the greatest quality of this album is the fact that Lovens and Stoffner form a real unit, able to play the balls back and forth almost blindly. Stoffner knows to complement Lovens’s finely chiseled play with his sounds. His notes shoot through the room like bullets, bounce off the walls, stretch the space, seem to tumble down stairs. At the right moment, the guitar forms a contrast to the hectic drum sounds or lets itself be carried away by them. What is more, the two have a feel for the architecture of the improvisation: The beginning of “Tetratne IV“ is a breather, when the duo incorporates a folk-like theme, before they pick up the pace again towards the end. In the exquisite liner notes Evan Parker puts it like this: "Given the presupposition that telepathy is involved, however deeply in the subconscious, and that these brain states are also electrical, then wavelengths are indeed involved but perhaps they are entrained in some way, like the multiplex signals that allow signals to pass in both directions down the same cable." Very true indeed. Paul Lovens told me that he was glad that he met Florian Stoffner. Me too. Apart from Olaf Rupp’s and Rudi Fischerlehner’s Xenofox this is my favourite guitar/drum duo at the moment.

*Paul Lovens told me that he was lucky that the recording engineer followed his suggestion to place only one omnidirectional above his right knee instead of the usual overhead microphones plus front microphone in front of the bass drum. From there, all drum parts are heard equally clearly, the bass drum sounds the way he hears it. That’s one reason why he likes the recording a lot.

Tetratne is available as a CD.

Watch them at a show at Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro im Coimbra/Portugal:


Monday, May 10, 2021

Audrey Lauro/Giotis Damianidis ‎– Dark Ballads (Silent Water/Mr. Nakayasi, 2021) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Many words have been written about how our close environment (the water that we drink, surrounding trees, the sea, the weather conditions of course) reflect on us. Dark Ballads, the duo recording of Audrey Lauro on alto sax and Giotis Damianidis on electric guitar, seems to takes inspiration (“a mineral evocation of the intimate” as we can read about the LP) from all this, the feelings that minerals, the soil of Earth evokes in all of us.

Dark Ballads consists of six fragile tracks, three of them named after minerals. On the notes about this LP we can also read about the inner landscapes of the two. Adding to this thought, I might say that those six tracks (clocking on around thirty five minutes) are the audio results of their inner landscape. Dark Ballads is based on feelings and atmosphere and, of course, on the interaction of the two. Each track seems like a small linear journey that is continued on the next one. Electric guitar and saxophone have been a combination of choice for many duos but here there’s a difference. The focus is not on the energy of electricity and how it also translates, or moves in a parallel manner, through the gnarls and howls of the saxophone.

This is about the ambience, the atmosphere, emotions that are carved out by the two musicians. Thirty five minutes might seem a little short in duration, but Dark Ballads feels so full of the weight of the feelings, that the listener gets the impression of being overwhelmed –always in a positive way. This release is a slow beast. It conjures of ways to grasp you, take a hold of your thoughts until you are focused only to its six tracks. It succeeds for sure.

Music can be entertaining, a joy, maybe even make you laugh and of course urge you to dance your ass off. But it can also drag you deeper, reflecting on thoughts, memories, ideas, feelings. Dark Ballads is as dark it can get and (that’s a big personal compliment) it makes it really difficult to categorize it. Like those overwhelming feelings of joy and sadness together. Strong feelings coming from no apparent source other than your soul.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Jonas Cambien Trio - Nature Hath Painted The Body (Clean Feed, 2021) ****

Belgian-born, Oslo-based pianist Jonas Cambien chose a quote from the 1653 book The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton for the title of the third studio album of his trio. This illustrated book celebrated the art and the spirit of fishing in prose and verse. You can equate the aesthetics of Jonas Cambien Trio to the experience of fishing. This trio is not interested in capturing heavy, well-crafted textures but is focused on the experience itself of music-making, stressing that nothing is out, nothing is prohibited, and that the music goes everywhere, unpolished, challenging and surprising. Like fishing, music-making is a means for exploration of your art and yourself as a creative artist (and, obviously, as an attentive listener).

Cambien also chose perfect partners for his musical journeys. André Roligheten, who plays the soprano and tenor saxes and the bass clarinet, plays in drummer Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity and Supersonic Orchestra, Friends & Neighbors quintet, the duo Albatrosh and sax player Eirik Hegdal’s Team Hegdal. Drummer Andreas Wildhagen plays in fellow drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit, Lana Trio and in various Nakama’s musicians cooperative-label projects. Both played on the previous albums of the Trio, all released by Clean Feed. Cambien plays also the soprano sax on one piece and the organ on another two pieces.

Cambien composed all the pieces but his compositions are simple and suggestive baits for collective trio improvisations. The trio, in its turn, never repeats itself and searches for new modes of conversational, open and playful dynamics, improvisation strategies and moods. The trio plays - literally - as it deconstructs and reconstructs Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics motives on “1 000 000 Happy Locusts” and experiments with a repetitive, rhythmic theme on “Herrieschoppers”. Cambien and Roligheten soprano sax duet on “Hypnos” offers an abstraction of imaginary whirling dervishes dance and serves as an introduction for “Mantis”, where the Trio dives deeper into an irresistible, mysterious trance-like dance “The Origins of Tool Use” is an open improvisation with Cambien playing prepared piano and organ, and the following “Bushfire” employs a repetitive theme in search of an introspective interplay. “Freeze” alternates between the chamber, sparse segments that rely on extended techniques of all three musicians, and sudden and powerful outbursts. Roligheten adds Mediterranean veins into the stubborn ostinato of “Yoyo Helmut”. The last piece is a twisted but emotional ballad, articulated beautifully by Cambien on the piano and organ, and subverted cleverly by Roligheten’s exploration of extended breathing techniques and Wildhagen’s sparse, mechanical drumming.

Nature hath painted the body of the fish with whitish, blackish, brownish spots, according to Walton. Jonas Cambien Trio’s fishing-like journey is colored with fresh, brilliant intuitive and almost telepathic dynamics.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Tania Caroline Chen & Wadada Leo Smith - Every Leaf (Self, 2021) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Of all Wadada Leo Smith's incredible output, only a few are duets with pianists, such as "Interludes Of Breath And Substance" with Matthew Goodheart, "Twine Forest" with Angelica Sanchez, "A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke" with Vijay Iyer, and the albums reviewed by us both received a five-star rating. We could appear very generous, but I can only ask the reader/listener to check for themselves. 

In 2017 he released a quartet with Tania Chen, Henry Kaiser and William Winant: "Oceans Of Storms", in which Chen and Smith perform a duet, which was then described as "one of the highlights of the album for the purity of sound" of the piece. 

Now we find Tania Caroline Chen and Wadada Leo Smith for a wonderful duo album of piano and trumpet. 

Whereas the duo with Iyer was a more subdued, polished, solemn, streamlined and a little sentimental (ECM!), and the duo with Angelica Sanchez was more jazzy and dynamic, intense, unpredictable, angular, playful at moments, rebellious, Tania Caroline Chen's playing is more abstract, with a wonderful approach of gentle austerity, precise and not jazzy in her chords or phrases. Chen is a classical pianist, and her catalogue mainly consists of works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Arnold Schoenberg, Erik Satie and other modern composers, even if she also worked the free improvising pianists in the UK: John Tilbury and Steve Beresford. In her work, she moves easily between tonality and atonality, composed and improvised, inside and outside, acoustic and electronic, but here she performs purely acoustic.

The album was recorded in 2017 in a studio in California. All nine pieces, the titles of which refer to trees, were recorded in one take. Possibly that accounts for the natural flow of the performance, and its authenticity. Like growing trees evolving into branches and leaves, the improvisations move without pressure. This is not music that's crafted, but rather created organically, by two master musicians. 

Over the years, we've come to recognise and admire Smith's small ensemble improvisations: his trumpet resonates deeply, whether muted or not, with a deep emotional and spiritual component. He manages to lift every sound to a higher level, more meaningful, grand, majestic and memorable. 

Readers who have liked the duo albums with Matthew Goodheart, Angelica Sanchez and Vijay Iyer, will without a doubt also like this album. It's in the same vein, but not the same. Smith remains himself, with his unique voice, but Chen, like the other pianists, also has her own voice with a smart use of minimalism, silence, shifting harmonies and changes of intensity, giving a totally different colour and sentiment to Smith's playing. The result is different. 

The quality of the production is also excellent thanks to the capable ears and skills of our former colleague Ed Pettersen. 

Highly recommended. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Friday, May 7, 2021

Two Tim Berne Duets

Matt Mitchell / Tim Berne - 1 (Screwgun, 2020) ****

By Stephen Griffith

In the May 2018 issue, Downbeat conducted a blindfold test for Tim Berne. When discussing a Zorn composition he stated, paraphrasing from memory, that John goes into the studio with specific ideas on how he wants each participant to sound in a composition unlike Berne’s approach in wanting the musicians to develop the role with their identities. I thought of that often regarding his relationship with Matt Mitchell, whether in Snakeoil and previously released duets, but particularly in this collection of solo piano interpretations of Berne’s compositions, a spellbinding reworking that still contains the stamp of the composer but gently nudges the listener to examine the lyricism in a different way.

The genesis of this recording began when Berne first encountered Mitchell in the summer of 2008 when both taught at the Brooklyn School of Improvised Music’s workshop and performed in the faculty concert. Discovering they were musically sympatico led to increasing concert interactions: a seven piece Adobe Probe concert at the Stone in January 2009, an early version of Snakeoil called Los Totopos in September 2009, and in December 2009 at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia Matt played an opening solo piano set of Tim’s songs before joining Adobe Probe for the second set, the latter of which was released by Screwgun in June 2020, the same release date for 1 which was recorded at Ibeam on June 30, 2010. This wasn't the first time they recorded as a duo but it's the earliest performance to be released. Snakeoil was Berne’s first new band after a prolonged period of one off performances and it gave him an opportunity to revisit older unrecorded compositions and expose them to younger musicians anxious to apply their imprints. One of Berne’s strengths as a composer is in balancing freedom and form and in Mitchell he found a counterpoint to his insistently probing alto lines with ambidextrous melodicism capable of generating complimentary rhythmic propulsion. In the informative liners Matt gives background info for each composition as well as unlisted pieces that they segued into. For example the second piece, “Scanners” which was eventually recorded on the first Snakeoil album in January 2011, they start so strongly and familiarly that you don't miss the clarinet of Oscar Noriega nor Ches Smith’s drums in the swirling alto and piano lines. When things wind down they transition into an earlier composition of Matt’s before ending on a Berne song which never made it to record. I find these early versions of Snakeoil compositions fascinating because they're too fully formed to call them works in progress while still subject to the pushes and pulls of further performances, not to mention differing instrumentation, to morph into something different through time. And as Berne pointed out in an interview shortly after the release of Snakeoil, different studio takes of the same songs sounded wildly different.

Two other pieces here, “Duck” and “All Socket”, ended up on this followup Snakeoil recording as “Cornered (Duck)” and “Socket” recorded in January 2013 and greatly altered with the passage of time but still recognizable in the melody. At the conclusion of “All Socket” Mitchell plays a wigged out stride-ish figure that was a strikingly unique way to close it. One other piece, “Traction” from Berne’s book of work was previously appended to “Jalapeño Democracy” on a live Science Friction recording.

Although Snakeoil was the relatively concurrent destination of these pieces perhaps it's just as useful to consider this performance as an early version of the Berne and Mitchell duo entity realized in three subsequent recordings and ongoing still. Whichever context you place it in, it's a very coherent and adventurous performance providing rewarding listening through repeated exposure.

Tim Berne / Mark Helias - Blood From a Stone (Helias Self Release, 2020) ***(*)

After the frenzied assertiveness of two musicians still in the learning curve of becoming familiar, this recording represents the opposite musical dynamic: two bandmates from the early 80s making music as an incidental part of a small social gathering over a weekend last September. They carved out two blocks of time in the studio to record these five joint compositions. Initially it sounds like Helias, a wonderfully melodic bassist, sets a rhythmic motif which Berne follows and embellishes in a somewhat uncharacteristically placidly reactive manner, although as the first track, “Throw Me A Bone” progresses the roles reverse and further trade offs occur for the duration. If the track order reflects when they were recorded, the third cut, “Physical Responsibility”, is where Tim’s playing becomes more assertive with subdued fireworks and continues accordingly through the rest of the session. It's a very relaxing musical reunion of two longtime friends.

In the Bandcamp notes, Mark credits Tim for having urged him at the beginning of his career to overcome his reticence in putting his music in front of the public by recording it prior to the usual commitment from a label and then, years later, encouraging him to make a solo bass recording; all successfully executed and received. Maybe the nature of their long musical relationship is borne out by these songs.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Marco Colonna & Alexander Hawkins - Dolphy Underlined (Fundacja Sluchaj, 2020) **** ½

By Matthew Banash

Tribute albums, for lack of a more precise term, double down on the task. Cosmetic comparisons yield simple dichotomies, plain one-dimensional statements and conclusions that neither reward nor encourage deep listening. Does one listen only to the recording at hand or in the context of its concept?

While Dolphy’s versions are polyphonous they are never cacophonous and employ a split-second deliberateness in conception and execution that illustrates intellect over flash but never at the expense of Soul. In my opinion they are the perfect gateway to the sense and sensibility of the “free jazz” that followed. Colonna and Hawkins approach them as Compositions and not just mere tunes to travel “Out There” and succeed in exploiting the parameters of the duo to parse out the range of Dolphy’s compositions and aesthetic almost as if note by note in an aural funhouse hall of mirrors.

“Something Sweet, Something Tender” is typical of the album in such a good way - Colonna and Hawkins play slowly parsing out the tune note by note, taking that moment’s consideration before each turn of note and phrase and in doing so draw the listener into Dolphy’s world, the world of free, unfettered uninhibited expression.

Hawkins’ solo reading of “Serene” has spare ECM quality to it. He opens by allowing the notes their lifespan before playing another and suspends time by doing so; the song makes its own way touching on a variety of moods and runs, hinting here and there, skirting the issue at times, its strength is the low-key energy Hawkins musters to sustain the song's mood. One can visualize him leaning into the keyboard then sitting back with everyone aural epiphany.

Colonna plays sopranino on “Gazzelloni” with a light evanescent tone grounded by Hawkins’ sure touch. And here is where a lot of duo recordings fall into rote cliches of leading following battling resolving or just play ignoring one another and putting a lot of effort into it. But here the two manage to do all in the spirit of the music without dismissing the listener. Because the music in all its variety and influences is inclusive. And Colonna and Hawkins always leave space for the listener.

“Straight Up and Down” uses that riff and tongue slap as Hawkins skips about the keyboard before they settle into their grooves. Here it isn’t deconstruction as much pacing and appreciation. This is not a dry mechanical scholarly approach to Dolphy. And then you get to 2’20'' and get the classic line, the woozy, gauzy one, and you realize, Holy S… Dolphy could write hooks!

“God Bless the Child” is Colonna’s solo take on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is an outlier as it focuses on Dolphy’s approach to interpretation rather than composing. It is a lovely, timeless piece. Colonna uses a good bit of range as the solo echoes and reverbs like a reverent voice resounding in an old church.

On “245” the duo digs into the choicest riffs and manage to create the noir feeling of the original by playing it, not updating it or deconstructing it. It has a lugubrious slow ending that one can’t help but think of the tragically short life of its composer.

Recordings like Dolphy Underlined illustrate how Eric Dolphy opened the music wide for successive generations to play as they wish and Colonna and Hawkins do just by paying homage to the music and the artist by being thoughtful, passionate musicians, by being themselves.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Daniel Carter, Brad Farberman, Billy Martin - Just Don't Die (Ropeadope Records, 2019) ***½

By Gregg Miller

This album has grown on me. I am maybe 30 listens in, and the groove has started to take.

I’ve been a huge fan of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter since at least 1998. He would play at Tonic (NYC) and when things got hot, he would take off his long-sleeved flannel shirt to reveal underneath, yes, a second long-sleeved flannel shirt. His work on Matthew Shipp’s Strata (hatOLOGY, 1998) first tuned me into his playing. His duo Astonishment (577 Records, 2001) with Frederic Ughi was on permanent rotation for many years, along with Principle Hope featuring the late Peter Kowald (Sublingual, 2002), Chinatown (Not Two, 2005) and the very relaxed Emergence (Not Two, 2009) with Eri Yamamoto and Whit Dickey.

On this record, Daniel Carter’s tenor sound is typically husky yet sinuous, his flute seductive, his trumpet with mutes is just so intimate. He is in direct communication always. Brad Farberman on electric guitar with some distortion and a drop of wah generally keeps it simple. He finds five note clusters and calmly works the variations until it’s time for a change. Billy Martin (of Medeski, Martin and Wood) generally keeps his attacks funky—usually in sync with Farberman’s guitar. Though his groove-setting prowess is formidable, the music here works best when Martin’s drumming loses the time-keeping and becomes another vector of improvisation with pulse, tones and energy. Martin’s brushes (track 4) on snare feel alive.

The record opens up with an Eastern flute vibe, a crushed, tremelo-wah guitar, and random crashing bells. The toms come in and a groove sets in which turns the Eastern into ornament. The drums and guitar synch up, and Carter’s flute is left to spin in the wind. The drumming speeds up, and the guitarist’s 2-note toggling becomes insistent. Martin falls a bit too readily into back-beat shuffles, which at times makes Carter’s looping daydreamy lines feel out-of-sequence wrong or superfluous; Carter sensing this tries a bit to get down with the groove, but that’s not quite his thing.

In the record’s best moments (tracks 1 and 3), we get a floating world of music, but more often we get two against one. The guitar/drums pair seem super in sync, which makes Daniel Carter, a true master, left too often out on his own, sometimes as leading melody, but more often just a tad lost. One of the free electric guitar/drum duo records I keep going back to is Giant DwarfRabbitwood (Engine Studios, 2012). It has the virtue of being decluttered and direct. It’s sort of the record I want the Carter/Farberman/Martin record to be (just add a horn player), which naturally is unfair, since this these three have their own chemistry. For a truly excellent exchange and integration of Daniel Carter with electric guitar/effects and drumming, check out the track “Harmoniums at Midnight” on the transcendent Mysterium (Eavesdrop, 2004) with Morgan Craft and Eric Eigner. (See here).

In his interview with Simon Sargsyan, here is Brad Farberman’s reflection on the outing:

“Recording Just Don’t Die with Daniel Carter and Billy Martin was a really special day for me. I had sort of grown up on the music of Medeski Martin & Wood and I was a little nervous. I had always wanted to play with Billy. And though I had been playing with Daniel for a long time, I wanted to make music he would be happy with. And at the end of the day, I felt okay about what had happened, but I wasn’t totally convinced it was a success. But when I listened back, I felt really good about it. We had all been listening so well. And as is so often the case, our first jam was the best. In fact, that’s the record—the very first hour we ever played. First-time energy can be really electric.” 


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Two from alto saxophonist Audrey Lauro

lauroshilau - live at Padova (el Negocito, 2021) ***½

By Keith Prosk

Audrey Lauro (alto saxophone, preparations), Pak Yan Lau (toy pianos, synthesizers, electronics), and Yuko Oshima (drums) freely play tense, textural, whirling soundscapes on the setlength live at Padova. It is the overdue followup to the self-titled debut from 2014.

The trio language is tight, sticking close to each other in speed, volume, and timbre. So close sometimes that the ear might confuse fluted cymbals for shrill sax, saxophone bubblings and pops for cavernous synthesizer clicks, synth distortion for shimmering cymbals, so on. Movement is unhurried but constant, progressive but almost circular in the kind of tug and pull similar textures from dissimilar instruments. Volume is quiet - enough to hear a cough - but never silent and, while there are dynamic fluctuations perhaps familiar to the forty-minute free improv set, they are closer to hibernation and the onset of doom than ecstatic groove and climax. Textures come from a blend of traditional play and extended technique, languourous sax lines with air notes and chirpings, sparse tom hits and orchestral bass drum rumblings with parallel play, conventional synth sounds with alien ones and muted percussive piano. But the focus is always on the sound and its interaction with those from others, rather than melody. The tension never really releases, which only contributes to the kind of darker moods that Lauro seems to conjure up with much of her music.

live at Padova is available digitally and on CD.

Audrey Lauro/Giotis Damianidis - Dark Ballads (Mr. Nakayasi, 2021) ***

Lauro and electric guitarist Giotis Damianidis improvise moody, brooding atmospheres on Dark Ballads. Lauro and Damianidis have recorded together on The Ear Cannot Be Filled With Hearing from Giovanni Di Domenico, a fruitful relationship with whom they both frequently work with on other recordings (indeed mixing and mastering this one). Just last year, Damianidis released the propulsive fusion of The Miracle and Lauro contributed powerful, textural, tense pieces to 点字呼吸の領域 [The Region of Braille Respiration. Dark Ballads blends those two approaches for six tracks with a substrate of distorted riffage and saxophone that alternates between conventional and extended techniques to create a grim dialogue over 36 minutes.

The mineral tracks (1, 3, and 5), are textural playgrounds for Lauro. Like overblown, hoarse, high and tinny war horns on “Obsidienne” , or the percussive “Almandin” with pointillistic phrasings and the scratch and pop of saliva in the bore. The ballad tracks (2, 4, 6) are still colorful - containing reedy vibrato, key clicks, and smooches - but more characterized by sultry, noirish, dark jazz lounge musings; it might feel cheap to make this comparison but I couldn’t shake the image of Harry Caul soloing at the end of The Conversation, sitting alone in the apartment he’s ripped apart in a paranoid frenzy. Communication with the guitar is light and spacious, sometimes more obvious with call and response type reactions but more often through textural compliments; hairy distortion to match saliva in the bore, light feedback for overblows, staccato picking with cavernous reverb for key clicks. While spacious, there is never silence, but rather an amplifier hum or lingering pool of reverb. Damianidis sprinkles in effects and techniques like tremolo and palming but most often rips a heavy riff over which Lauro plays. Sometimes, as on “(part 2),” the undulations of the sax and guitar synchronize for a visceral throb. There’s heavier, doomier, harsher fusings of jazz and metal inspirations, and others revel in the kitschy dark lounge of a Lynchian nightmare to greater degrees, but Dark Ballads operates in strange and strangely alluring space between.

Dark Ballads is available digitally and on LP.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Vincent Chancey, Wilber Morris & Warren Smith - The Spell - The Vincent Chancey Trio Live, 1987 (No Business, 2020) ****

 By Stef Gijssels

A review of this album was long due. The trio consists of Vincent Chancey on French horn, Wilber Morris on bass and Warren Smith on marimba and drums, a live recording in New York from October 1987. 

The French horn is an unwieldy and rare instrument in jazz, and definitely as a lead instrument. We have covered several albums on which Chancey performs (with Kowald, with Taylor Ho Bynum and at the Vision Festival 2019). Other French horn mentions on our blog are about Mark Taylor, Elena Kakaliagou, Hild Sofie Tafjord (Zeitkratzer), Lis Rubbard, Tom Varner and Chris Weddle. That's not much in 14 years, and it makes this album all the more interesting and memorable. 

Of the four tracks (two on each side) two are penned by Morris, one by Chancey and one by Smith, and with the exception of the one by Smith, the pace is slow and bluesy, the perfect tempo for the lead instrument to reach its full power of emotional depth and more supple changes of pitch. Apart from Chancey's beautiful horn, the other memorable aspect is Smith's marimba playing. He starts on drums on the long first track, but switches to marimba halfway and the combination with the French horn works really well. The short third track is led by Smith's drumming and offers a more free form uptempo work-out. 

Morris is the ideal partner in the trio, moving easily between pizzi and arco, often creating the solid backbone of the pieces. The infectious theme of his composition "Afro Amerin" will keep playing in your head long after the album is finished. 

On the downside, the 'live' effect has been edited out with no applause at all, and second, the quality of the recording is not excellent, leading to a quite remote sound. But I guess that was a decision the label had to make, and we can only be extremely grateful that No Business did release this music. I'd rather listen to this great music with suboptimal sound quality than to have missed it altogether. 

A unique and compelling album.