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Ballister: Dave Rempis (s), Paal Nilssen-Love (d), Fred Lonberg-Holm (c)

W71 in Weikersheim, Germany. March 2024.

Chris Corsano (d), Kelsey Mines (b & voice), Casey Adams (d)

Casa del Xolo, 1/16/2024, Seattle, WA. (pic: Gregg Miller)

Absolutely Sweet Marie: Alexander Beierbach (s), Anke Lucks (tb), Steffen Faul (tp), Gerhard Gschlößl (Tu), Lucia Martinez (d)

Panda Theater, 12/2023, Berlin

Dead Leaf Butterfly: Els Vandeweyer (v), Maike Hilbig (b), Lucía Martínez (d), Lina Allemano (t)

Jazzwerkstatt, 12/2023, Berlin

Han-earl Park (g), Camila Nebbia (s), Yorgos Dimitriadis (d)

Morphine Raum, 12/2023, Berlin

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Rudi Mahall - Sunday Interview

 

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix

  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    To play the clarinet

  2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

    Swing.

  3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

    Charlie Parker.

  4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

    Eric Dolphy.

  5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

    To play like Benny Goodman.

  6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?

    I don't like pop-music at all.

  7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    Nothing.

  8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

    All the "Die Enttäuschung" albums.

  9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

    I don't listen to them.

  10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

    n/a

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    Benny Goodman.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    None.
Reviews on the Free Jazz Blog with Rudi Mahall:

  • Jazzwerkstatt Peitz 50th Anniversary (April 27th - 30th, 2023)
  • FUSK - Absurd Enthusiasm (Why Play Jazz, 2022)
  • Rudi Mahall / Jan Roder / Olaf Rupp - Skyhook (Audiosemantics, 2022)
  • Out on Intakt (Day 1 of 2)
  • Paul Lovens/Florian Stoffner - Tetratne (ezz-thetics, 2020) ****½
  • Aki Takase - Aki Takase Plays Fats Waller at Babylon Berlin 2009 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2020) ***(*)
  • Aki Takase and Rudi Mahall – Fifty Fifty (Trouble in the East, 2019) ***½
  • Rudi Mahall Olaf Rupp Kasper Tom - s/t (Barefoot Records, 2019) ****
  • Ivo Perelman and Rudi Mahall - Kindred Spirits (Leo, 2018) *****
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach and Rudi Mahall - So Far (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****
  • Flo Stoffner/Paul Lovens/Rudi Mahall - Mein Freund der Baum (Wide Ear Records, 2017) ****
  • Uwe Oberg, Rudi Mahall and Michael Griener – Lacy Pool 2 (Leo, 2017) ****
  • Meet The Danes #4 (part 1 of 2)
  • JR3 - Happy Jazz (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****
  • Meet the Danes #3
  • Rotozaza - Zero (Leo Records, 2016) ****
  • Berlin ... and Beyond
  • Meet The Danes
  • The Deciders - We Travel The Airwaves (Jazzland, 2013) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung - Vier Halbe (Intakt, 2012) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung - 5 (Intakt, 2009) ****
  • Die Enttäuschung (Intakt, 2007) ****
  • Saturday, April 20, 2024

    (Ne)poslušno / Sound (Dis)Obedience 2024, Ljubljana

    By David Cristol

    From March 28 to 30, the 2024 edition of (Ne)poslušno / Sound (Dis)Obedience took place in Ljubljana, in the Španski borci cultural center housing different rooms for rehearsals and performances, a bar, terrace and records stand, in the center of Slovenia’s capital. Programmed by musician Tomaž Grom – who also operated as a good-humored and entertaining MC throughout – the festival is produced by the Zavod Sploh organization, dedicated to sound performance and associated research, education and publishing (through a record label) of acts that fit under the “free improvised” or “creative music” monikers, with co-producers including the Zavod En-Knap dance company and support from the country’s Ministry of Culture and the City of Ljubljana.

    It was a long trip to Ljubljana, and an even longer and adventurous return journey, through soulless and nondescript “landscapes” of concrete from France to Slovenia through Italy, before reaching the destination in the nick of time for the opening show. Forget all the hassle: from the first notes emitted, the fest appeared as an islet of sanity in a crackpot world. Small-sized it may be, but heavy and consistent in content. A relaxed atmosphere prevailed in the full house, and the ever-mindful audience was a welcome bonus (the idea of producing a mobile phone to film or photograph didn’t occur to anyone; while official photographers were doing their thing). I hadn't attended a mostly improvised music fest in quite some time and it felt like a welcome change of pace, even a return to my beginnings in music reviewing. Whether one likes a particular project or not, integrity was a thread running through every act, with logistics to match and an easygoing aspect to the proceedings. Nine concerts were presented to audiences over three evenings.

    All photos by Marcandrea 
    Opener DARA Strings is an all-women string quartet consisting of two cellos (ElisabethCoudoux, Isidora Edwards) and two violins (Biliana Voutchkova, Joanna Mattrey), the players coming from modern classical, composed works, improvisation, electronics, each of them boasting an impressive list of collaborations, releases, commissions and performances: musical partners include Susana Santos Silva, gabby fluke-mogul, Camila Nebbia, Andrea Parkins, Frances-Marie Uitti, Pascal Niggenkemper… The show appeared as a combination of composition and improv, probably more of the former than the latter. No scores in sight but rhythmic or motivic cues delivered by one cello and small speakers on the floor sending pre-recorded landmarks directing the process. Other devices included rubbed paper on the strings and wood on the part of Coudoux, and bowing, plucking and strumming from the homogeneous ensemble. Voutchkova appeared as a leader of sorts and at times whispered in a timbre close to the strings’ own. What we heard was a kind of considered ritualistic seance rather than a bristling improvisation set, although extended techniques were put to use at most times, resulting in sounds of creaking metal to birds chirping and other twisted effects. Often it was hard to discern who was doing what, and that didn’t matter as the point seemed to immerse oneself into a teeming underworld, of flying and crawling creatures and other lifeforms of various sizes, textures and dwelling places.

    Next was a trio of Luka Zabric, Margaux Oswald, Aurelijus Užameckis, for some “traditional” improv if there is such a thing, from piano, bass and alto sax. A bustling intro swiftly led to silence, then fluttering on the alto began a cautious process of layering clatter, Oswald adopting an opposite approach to the wild surges she displayed at Lisbon’s Causa Efeito fest last year. Cardboard objects were inserted in the sax bell, and that instrument as well as the bass probed at their furthest reaches, producing vibrating harmonics and dissonances outside of the ways taught in schools. The unbroken performance opened up to unbridled pianism, rapid, swarming climbs following the oblique explorations. The power was felt throughout, but restrained. Every strike, breath, stroke was charged with inner intensity and optimal focus. The trio embodied a complete commitment to listening and reacting in real time, that produces the best results in that genre. Constantly on the edge, a music of the threshold, perched between sound and silence.

    Sabine Vogel and Emilio Gordoa’s "LandStages/Sonic relocations" premiered the year before in Berlin.The multimedia 50-minutes piece included video projection and was presented as a love letter to natural environment, stemming from a desire for the great outdoors after the infamous lockdown(s) of not so long ago. Gordoa made use of the drums, vibraphone, electronics and mixing desk, while also appearing onscreen, in the middle of a field for example, presenting us with a double image of the artist. Vogel played clarinets, flutes and small percussions. On the screen, we see a large valley swept by the wind, dead leaves, earth, blades of grass, a big tree and other static shots while electronically treated flute and percussion are heard. Likewise, wooden flutes are suspended from the metal flute as played in the room, while onscreen the same flute is hanging from a branch, swinging in the air. Maybe the video had a distracting effect, because musically I didn’t find the piece to be particularly compelling, nor did it leave much of a trace in memory. A reason to rejoice, anyway, is that some people are trying to bring back a sense of contemplation and wonder to a world in sorrow, musicians among them.


    On Friday, the trio of Taiko Saito (vib), Jan Roder (b) and Michael Griener (dm) ushers in the evening. Usher is not quite right as listeners are hurled without delay into a whirlwind of high-octane improv. Which comes almost as a shock as our host primarily proceeded to a plastic nose flutes distribution to all audience members, with successful and not-so-successful attempts by everyone at playing it, a moment of hilarity from all. Back to our trio. I had enjoyed Griener with Christian Weber and Ellery Eskelin on an old jazz repertoire onstage and on a corresponding album on Intakt. Here we have fast improvised music, with a sense of flow, the trio running at full steam for most of the time, with huge conviction. If every effort is made to avoid making "music" in the sense of predetermined forms or predictable patterns, the trio’s instrumental mastery is obvious, even in a style where virtuosity is rarely the point. The fortissimo approach means that mallets and cymbals fly dangerously before spilling on the floor. Textures are also a major part of the proceedings, with tiny bells from Saito, bowing on the vibraphone blades, and odd tools used by Griener, while Roder relentlessly fuels the engine. Jaw-dropping unaccompanied solo features from each member bring even more twists to the busy affair.

    We’re directed downstairs for Chris Pitsiokos’solo piece in quadraphonic sound, and invited to sit around him and his apparatus. The one-man-band of computer + sax + pedals + flickering lights had much in common by Julien Desprez's projects, which Pitsiokos admits to having taken some inspiration from. The artist appeals to photographers to remain calm. No need to fret, as most of the piece consists of massive noise à la Merzbow, with high-pitched sax shrieks to boot. Hard to tell what's improvisational and what comes from preparation, as Pitsiokos seems to follow the diagrams on his computer screen quite closely. Phrases are looped so as to form a rhythm, and squawks trigger the lightbulbs with varying speed and vehemence. A full-on assault on the senses, a test of endurance maybe, that not everyone in the audience is ready to confront, even with ears protected. Ten minutes in and the door of the windowless room opens for some people to exit. In the first part, no more than three or four notes were drily ejected from the instrument. In the next part, on the contrary, long notes were superimposed on each other. Can't say I enjoyed it, but am sure enjoyment wasn't the purpose here, and rarely is it art's.

    In her duet with Joke Lanz (originating in a trio with Michael Vatcher), Sophie Agnel offers a different aspect of her work than that heard last year in the contemporary-tinged six-piano band Pianoise and the long-running free jazz trio with John Edwards and Steve Noble. The fun factor is more immediate with turntablist Lanz (of noise-industrial project Sudden Infant), although it may be a side effect of the combination of piano and turntables, and of both the visual and choppy characteristics of the latter equipment. Agnel plays on the whole instrument as she is prone to do: motivic patterns and clusters on the keys and striking the wooden frame (with a yet-unseen repeated lightning-fast closing-opening of the keyboard lid!), more often than not standing bent over the strings, with self-made tools applied over them, whether caressingly or vigorously. We’re hearing a cut-up aesthetics with scratched blasts reminding of cartoons’ rapid-fire honks or even advertisement’s sloganeering strategies. It’s not all stop-and-go though, and we are treated to some moments of aggregation, due to Agnel’s ability to catch anything thrown at her and make it sound good. A contrasts-based performance, just the right side of theatricality, a mostly jolting set rather than an idea of continuity here. Having reached a climax, Agnel slows things down a notch. Not for long, as the last minutes see Lanz play with ultra-rhythmic LPs (likely drum’n’bass beats) with enthusiastic prowess, Agnel hitting the lowest keys with floor-crunching vigor, before they jointly decide to end their run with a burst of laughter.

    The last night opens with a concert by the participants to the New York-born, Berlin-based Chris Pitsiokos workshop, not playing here but introducing the set and being a watchful coach. About fifteen musicians took part in a 3-hour a day workshop, with fruitful results judging from the evening’s music. Nine short pieces are played by small ensembles (mostly trios and quartets), swiftly assembling and dismantling, with some recurring players along the way. A little bit like Derek Bailey’s Company split in short sections rather than long form, the balance between players not threatened and the sounds leading the way in satisfactory fashion, whether it’s a tenor/sax/synth trio, a more aggressive soprano/elg/dm trio or a relatively gentle quartet of two basses and two vocalists. Musicians both seasoned or barely in their twenties achieve convincing song-length sets. The nose flute even makes an appearance.

    This was followed by the most attention-commanding set courtesy of Lê Quan Ninh’s solo performance. A single bass drum stands in front of the musician, surrounded by a number of tools and devices, wooden, metallic, mineral and earthy, on the floor or attached to the frame. The utmost effects are reached by the simplest means and awe-inspiring focus on the part of the artist. Stones are hit, one blow at a time, while he moves about space. It's all about the sound projection. Intensity never flags, and the artist resembles a painter, the assured grip of the hands on the objects he pushes on the drum skin an integral part of either the thunderous rattle or soft rumor thus obtained. In the darkened room, the white circle of the drum skin can also evoke an ice-skating ring over which the fingers are dancing. Huffing on shaken cymbals also delivers a mighty murmur, as does the bow played against the frame of the drum. Mesmerized, musicians and audiences were curious to ask Ninh about his approach to playing. He certainly garnered new admirers that evening.

    Don’t search for their album, it hasn’t been recorded yet. matter 100 is a project of Slovenia’s Kaja Draksler and the same band (three women and three men: Draksler, Lena Hessels, Marta Warelis, Andy Moor, Samo Kutin, Macio Moretti ) and instrumentation that played at the latest edition of Berlin’s Jazzfest. They haven't reconvened as a sextet since, only benefiting from partial rehearsals, due to geographical dispersion. Their next gig will be at the Unerhöert festival in Zurich in a few months. The same repertoire, with slightly modified arrangements and a different song order, is presented. Spectators on the floor lie down in various positions, on cushions spread with that purpose. A richly layered music, that makes heterogeneous elements (rock rhythms, Vocoder vocals, electric guitar punk toiling, droney hurdy-gurdy, spoken word, live sampling), cohere and serve the common work. Hessel's voice is both fragile and confident, maybe reminiscent of Karen Mantler, on a repertoire of wildly original and unformatted songs. Moretti knocks his drumsticks together, getting up and moving away from the stage and exiting into the corridor and out of sight, where he continues to maintain a rhythm for a while. On the lengthy "True or false", Andy Moor's answers to Hessel’s questions are hampered by a mixing that doesn't always allow to grasp the lyrics. While the tune's humorous dimension made its mark on the audience in Berlin, the feeling this time is different, the absurdity of the words taking a darker aspect, tragic even. This change in perception was perhaps due to the physical distancing of the group, placed at the back of the auditorium rather than close to the audience. Towards the end, Warelis is left alone for a synth solo, listened to silently by band members and audience alike.

    Thank you: Brigita Gračner

    https://sploh.bandcamp.com/music

    Friday, April 19, 2024

    Satya - Songs of the Fathers: A Celebration of the Music of Abdullah Ibrahim (Resonant Artists, 2024)

    By Sammy Stein

    Songs Of The Fathers is a recording by Phil Raskin and Frank Doblekar, the duo at the core of the Satya collaboration, here enhanced by Synthesist Neil Alexander and Paul Antonell who created the orchestral feel the duo wanted. It should be mentioned there is a caveat here. I was asked to write the liner notes for this album and readily agreed.

    The recording is a mindful tribute to Abdullah Ibrahim, one of music’s great masters. Each track is a first-take recording apart from one, which felt right for Raskin, who was keen to impart a sense of an ‘of the moment’ atmosphere to the improvised elements of the recording.

    ‘Mannenberg’ opens the album. The number was written during the 1970s and is very much of its time, with Ibrahim funneling the chaotic, busy, feral sounds of urban life in Cape Town during the time of oppressive apartheid. It opens with a trinkling piano and the voices of the crowd before the deep-voiced drums enter, with the continuous background rhythm that pervades the track. Like the spirit of the African people during this time, the rhythm is never drowned, and its strength continues no matter what is laid across the top of it. It creates the underlying tension in the piece, as it is overlaid with kinetic rhythms and melodic lines that work against each other, yet briefly conjoin to create harmonies. The melody tops out across all the noise, gentle, yet distinct. It is a dynamic, vibrant track that includes marketplace, and the occasional vehicle sounds which add to the sense of being immersed in a village square. The number has hints of blues, jazz, and marabi – an African music that evolved during the urbanization of Africa during the 1920s. For Raskin, the rhythm patterns were influenced by his time spent in African villages. There is this wonderful swing between delicacy, a frothy effervescence of activity, and the harsh at times, gentle at others, continual melodic input across the top from Doblekar’s sax.

    ‘Song For Sathima’ was written in dedication to Ibrahim’s wife and was on his ‘Water From An Ancient Well’ album. It is strong, melodic, and powerful, giving the listener a hint of the character of this woman. With a gentle sway here, a touch of sweetness, a hint of sadness, and a love-filled tribute played here with more force than on the original album but just as powerful to listen to as Doblekar’s sax calls the melody line out over solid backing.

    ‘The Wild Rose’ is the perfect vehicle for the ensemble’s improvisation and on this track, the orchestral feel the band wanted to create for the recording comes to the fore. Raskin adds instruments he has collected, including an African djembe, to his drum kit, and, together with the synthesizer and sax, the ensemble creates a multi-textured arrangement. Doblekar and Raskin excel in eerie, improvised saxophone phrases backed by guttural phrasing from the percussion and piano. At times, a whale-song keening is heard, while at others, the sax wheedles its way around a central note, finding connecting microtones, proving no single note is an island, introducing an Eastern essence to the music. It is quite different from Ibrahim performing on the piano with his distinctive off-set harmonics, but this track has wonders all of its own, introduced by the ensemble’s imagination.

    ‘Hamba Khale’ means ‘go well’ in the Zulu language and this track is the only one on the album that is a second take. The intricate, energy-filled patterns of the percussion contrast with the winsome melody. The different rhythmic patterns, changes, and melody feel at once conflicting with counterpoints, yet they are linked by keys, times when they merge.

    ‘Tone Poem 2’ is the only track that is not an Ibrahim composition. By Doblekar, it is inspired by Ibrahim’s compositions and forms a melodic cycle, representative of how melody can shift under a relatively static harmonic background. This shifting movement, pitched against soaring melody lines works well.

    Ibrahim’s ‘Blue Bolero’ closes the album, and this beautiful ballad leaves the listener in awe of Ibrahim’s compositional skills and artistry. Satya does justice to Ibrahim’s music and remains respectful while applying their skill sets to the work. Ibrahim’s presence is felt in the music. Raskin comments, “We felt we needed to be respectful of this great artist Abdullah Ibrahim and we hope you will enjoy this music. For those familiar with Ibrahim's music, we hope you feel we gave it justice, and for others, we hope the music will reach out to you and that you will become familiar with his music and be able to share in its joy as well.”

    Worth noting too is the incredible cover art by Peter Koppenall.

    Resonant Artists is a label with a mission to reach out and demonstrate the power of music to others. Created by Raskin and a platform for the release of improvisational music by both established and emergent artists, this recording will be followed by more. Raskin’s’ connections in the music world go long and deep and his contact bring a depth and breadth with them that is difficult to surpass. More is here on this platform Resonant Artists – A New Force in Improvised Music ~ The Free Jazz Collective (freejazzblog.org)

    So, expect more but meantime, enjoy this beautiful recording.

    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Emad Armoush’s Duos – Electritradition (Drip Audio, 2023)

    By Nick Ostrum

    Damascene Vancouverite Emad Armoush has been at it for almost 25 years, now, bringing Arabic and Iberian oud, ney, guitar and vocal traditions to ears across the globe. When I say “tradition,” however, I do not mean conventional or faithful to some decontextualized, staid practice. Rather, Armoush first came to my ears in Gordan Grdina’s Haram ensemble (reviewed here and here ). The tradition is there, but in new contexts and new forms and necessarily with new meanings. Hence, the title Electritradition, a portmanteau that joins the new and old, the faithful and the divergent.

    Electritraditionconsists of a series of duos with François Houle (clarinet and electronics), Jesse Zubot (violin and electronics), JP Carter (trumpet and electronics), Kenton Loewen (drums and percussion) and Marina Hasselberg (cello). As the liner notes point out, the duo is extremely intimate, and that intimacy comes through effortlessly in these pieces. Each is fully fleshed out, and the artists seem sympatico. In fact, that sympathy, that collective feeling, sets the mood for Electritradition , as well. This music is deeply moving, often somber, sometimes discordant, sometimes hopeful, but always appealing to that range of yielding and interpersonally connective emotions.

    One could spend a great deal of time focusing on the other side of the duos: Houle’s impeccable tone and precision, Zubot and Carter’s blending of their acoustic techniques and electronic distortions into Armoush’s vision, Loewen’s responsively rhythmic but also wandering drums, or Hasselberg’s weeping waves of sound. However, Armoush stands out throughout all of this, not only in his oud and guitar, which are both so rooted but also, at points, defy conventions, but also in his deeply soulful singing. One hears this in pieces such as Labshi, when his singing entangles with both oud and Carter’s trumpet, or the sweetly and mournfully bucolic duet with Hasselberg, Hala Lala Layya, or the vamped middle of the final and possibly most mesmerizing track, Eye to Eye, the second duo with Houle.

    This album is a real achievement. It brings to mind legendary figures such as Anouar Brahem and incredible contemporary units such as, well, Haram. And, in the sense of the latter, it embraces, defies and furthers tradition, making what one must hope is a new lasting tradition of this Syrio-Iberico-Canadian-et al. music that really defies close categorization, but somehow – or maybe just because of that - fits perfectly on the pages of FJB.

    Electritraditionis available as a CD or download on Bandcamp.

          .

    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    Amalie Dahl/Henrik Sandstad Dalen/Jomar Jeppsson Søvik- Live in Europe (Nice Thing Records, 2024)

    By Martin Schray

    Free jazz trios consisting of saxophone, bass and drums have a hard time these days, because - let’s be honest - the paths on which they travel are largely explored: whether it’s classic free jazz like that of Alberts Ayler’s legendary Spiritual Unity Trio, which revolutionized the genre for this line-up, the finely chiseled playing of the Evan Parker Trio, David S. Ware’s trio with William Parker and Warren Smith, which combines tradition with modernity, Peter Brötzmann’s various projects, most of which used an iconoclastic philosophy and influenced newer trios such as The Thing and Ballister - detecting something new with this line-up is almost impossible. But Amalie Dahl (alto saxophone), Henrik Sandstad Dalen (double bass) and Jomar Jeppsson Søvik (drums) actually succeed in finding something at least slightly different. Their approach is diametrically opposed to power trios such as those of Brötzmann, Rempis and Gustafsson (which are mentioned above), because they don’t rely on energy and don’t accelerate non-stop. Instead, they remain consistently on the brakes. Like a minimalist painter, they sometimes add a splash of color here, sometimes a brushstroke there. However, they always leave some space. Dahl plays ballad-like lines, but the results aren’t truly ballads, because the bass and drums pursue completely different interests. The same applies to the moments when she tries to break out. Sandstad Dalen and Jeppsson Søvik never lose their nerve and maintain their line, which is particularly true of the bassist. The trio continuously creates tension potentials, but the energy of the process is constantly kept in check, no fires explode, the flame is always low, yet dangerously concentrated. The improvisation appears as a momentum of radical limitation, its purpose is self-imposed reduction, which his why the fusion reactor seems to be on the verge of bursting. Rarely has chamber music sensibility been so concentrated and energetic.

    This mainly goes for the first part of this album, which is simply entitled “Prague, March 8, 2023“. The second part, “Brussels, March 10, 2023“, then lets the reins slip a little and the tempo increases. Again, bass and drums are primarily responsible for this. They even provide hints of a groove and allow Dahl to gallop off in some places. In these moments the saxophonist shows her full potential of expressive possibilities, from clicking noises to fragmented wails and overblown howls. But here, too, the charm lies in the detail, in the nuances that make the music spin like it was in a high-speed particle accelerator.

    Live in Europe is like a large-scale camouflage, many things are not as they seem. Turns are made, the listeners are lured onto false trails. In any case, we are dealing with musicians here who you have to keep an eye on. Absolutely exciting.

    The album is available as a download. You can buy and listen to Live in Europe here:

    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Chad Fowler – Birdsong (Mahakala, 2024)

    By Don Phipps

    Complexity is at times its own virtue. And the music on Chad Fowler’s Birdsong certainly is complex. Take its instrumentation – Fowler on sax and bass flute, Shanyse Strickland on French horn, flute and vocals, Sana Nagano on violin, Melanie Dyer on viola – and a standard rhythm section (Ken Filiano on bass and Aders Griffen on drums). French horn is most certainly rare in jazz and combined with the violin and viola lines, the result is a modern but uneasy interweaving of soulful bluesy jazz with abstract modern music.

    Experimentation is a hallmark of modern free jazz. A willingness to take chances is certainly to be admired. But risk is always present that the experiment may not work out. And so it is with this album, where Fowler achieves uneven results from his unusual selection of voicings, bandmates, and compositions.

    Fowler pens only two of the numbers on Birdsong. Three more are composed by Griffen (there are two takes of Griffen’s composition “Good and Tomorrow”). The remaining three are group improvisations. Each of the numbers allow Fowler to generate heat – abstract, bluesy, soulful heat – and this atop a string section, whose lines seem to reflect a mix of idioms – think Charles Ives meets Duke Ellington.

    Strickland’s French horn solo on the opening number “Traditional Funeral Dance” bellows and blats precise articulation, but the piece doesn’t find its footing until Fowler’s powerful sax exhortations take over.

    Griffen’s Ellingtonian “Out of Town,” meanders along like a slow barge on the Mississippi. And the two versions of his tune “Good and Tomorrow” explore a gentle sprawling phrase, with strings and a swooping bowed bass line. In Take Two” of this piece, Fowler enters with a bluesy soulful line which accelerates before returning to the gentle sprawl. Strickland offers up long legato French horn phrases while Filiano plucks and twists bass notes beneath. And it’s a joy to hear Fowler harmonize with Nagano’s violin near the end. Likewise, “Take One” uses the same gentle sprawling theme, but in this version, there’s a kind of remote grandness– as if gazing at an urban landscape from a vantage point across a river – the orange sun bathing the buildings in dark and light. Fowler’s solo is lighter here, while Filiano bows beneath.

    Fowler certainly exhibits command of the saxophone. On the group improvisation “Theme for Someone I Probably Wouldn't Like,” Fowler cuts loose with strong blows atop the string section. And his and Strickland’s duet on “Crossing the River” has a Zen quality. Perhaps the most interesting song is Griffen’s “N-Beam,” which highlights his animated and fluid drumming and Filiano’s energetic bass. Fowler adds an elated running solo as the piece skips happily along.

    The group certainly challenges itself on the improvisation “Turnoutbreak,” but the odd Strickland vocals actually seem to work against the flow of the piece, with its exciting and tumbling lines. Fowler’s talent is obvious – for example, the solo he delivers on “Turnoutbreak” sparkles. But overall, the mix of tunes, the odd instrumentation, and a juxtaposition of jarring and gentle phrases within a few of the numbers seem problematic. The music might have been more compelling if the arrangements weren’t so dense, allowing individual contributions to stand out more. As the liner notes state: “This diverse ensemble is made up of musicians with unique origins and backgrounds and a few of them were meeting for the first time.” Notwithstanding the group’s talent, Birdsong proves that making significant music while learning what makes each musician tick is a challenging task.

    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Christoph Gallio – Sunday Interview

    © Beat Streuli, Zürich 2013

    1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

      The greatest joy is that you can move freely musically - without taboos and restrictions that could come from outside. The freedom also becomes greater and greater - it grows with experience.

    2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

      That's her ability, her musicality - her flexibility but also her humanity...we have to understand each other - I don't mean that we think the same or something - but a basic trust has to be there for me...I have to be an accomplice in certain moments...

    3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

      That's a difficult question...it's less about admiration - more about recognition of an artistic achievement or position...there are many musicians and composers who I think are very good and who definitely have the potential to inspire me...;-)...

    4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

      Urs Voerkel

    5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

      More freedom!

    6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like

      Yes, I've always been interested in pop music! I like a lot of it! I have CDs and LPs lying around from the following artists: Patty Davis, Jimi Hendrix, The Meters, Wetleg, Geese, Black Midi, Brian Eno, Nadine Shah, Joan as a police woman, St. Vincent, Yoko Ono, Joni Mitchell, The Slits, Unknown Mix, Fela Kuti, Talking Heads....

    7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

      My impatience

    8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

      Well, there's no album that I couldn't stand more...I think everything is pretty good, quite immodestly. I recently listened to one of my first releases. I wanted to check the validity, see if this position and aesthetic was still right for me. I was pleasantly surprised! It's Christoph Gallio // certainty sympathy (1988)...

    9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

      No, very rarely. I'm not one of those people who first introduce a guest to their latest record...;-)...I often have trouble listening to myself. In retrospect. Sure, when I'm editing I'm forced to listen to myself and everyone else .... until I can't hear it anymore.

    10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

      It sounds cheesy, but I think it's Coltrane Love Supreme - a masterpiece in itself!

    11. What are you listening to at the moment?

      The above pop productions and new music from the late 60s: Cardew, Berio, Kagel, Ferrari, Alois Zimmermann, Lutoslawski, Schnebel, Holliger, Brown, Cage, Stockhausen...also a lot of jazz too…

    12. What artist outside music inspires you?

      Art! The whole Fluxus scene, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Vallotton, Silvia Bächli, Dieter Roth, Fischli/Weiss, Thomas Schütte, Alex Katz, Friedrich Kuhn, Muz Zeier, woodcuts (Japanese from the Edo period, but also from turn-of-the-century Europe)...and many more!

      But also poetry: Gertrude Stein, Friederike Mayröcker, Paul Celan, Robert Filliou etc.

    Recordings by Christoph Gallio reviewed on the Free Jazz Blog:

    Saturday, April 13, 2024

    Bill McBirnie - Reflections (for Paul Horn) (EF, 2024)

    By Don Phipps

    A Japanese Zen rock garden is majestic in its own right. The stones, manicured and ordered yet free and flowing, seem to reflect a cosmic calendar where infinite time can be experienced within the confines of bounded space.

    In the 60s, New York born Paul Horn, a jazz flutist noted for his contribution to the “cool jazz” movement (a movement ushered in by Miles Davis and his album “Birth of the Cool” and which reached its musical apex with the classic and much-beloved Davis album “Kind of Blue”), began to explore transcendental meditation. He was joined in these explorations by the Beatles, among other rock notables of the period. Horn decided to take his flute to India with the goal to recreate meditation within music. Thus was created the unique and recommended 1968 album “Inside,” where Horn used the actual Taj Mahal as a studio! Interestingly, he later recorded inside the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Kazamieras cathedral in Lithuania, and in the magnificent Monument Valley (with the excellent Native American flautist R Carlos Nakai).

    Horn’s gentle yet profound music has been reborn in Bill McBirnie’s album Reflections (for Paul Horn). McBirnie uses Horn’s free form and unstructured improvisational technique to create music of innate beauty – with an intrinsic quality that seems to exist outside of time. Think of light appearing and disappearing through branches swaying in the wind on a sunny afternoon. McBirnie’s flute captures this fluid languid motion while simultaneously retaining the serenity of a Zen garden.

    McBirnie uses cascades of notes, running up and down the flute registers, and combines this with short staccato phrases and silent spaces. One can certainly embrace the peaceful breathing on the title cut “Reflections.” It’s like waking up in a verdant and fragrant forest. Or the dreamy “Masada Sunrise,” which brings to mind Monet’s 250 water lily paintings, and the stunning variations they reveal of a pond at different times of day and different seasons. Or take “Kitten & Moth,” and its impressionistic playfulness. And with “Monk’s Strut,” McBirnie even honors Horn’s cool period. One can envision a smiling Thelonious listening to the skipping happy pace.

    Recorded at his own studio, McBurnie writes in his liner notes, that “Paul Horn is unquestionably the earliest, the strongest and the most enduring of all my influences on this instrument, regardless of idiom.” Those who believe jazz can explore an inner voice will do well to experience McBirnie’s reflections.

    Friday, April 12, 2024

    Science Friction - No Tamales on Wednesday (Screwgun, 2024)

    By Gary Chapin

    I feel shallow sometimes about how strongly I react to the timbre of things. Like, forget the ideas or the improvisation or the composition, sometimes just the sound gets me. The first notes on No Tamales on Wednesday are from Craig Taborn’s electric piano and those sounds brought a smile to my face and wave of associations. “Oh, yeah,” I thought, “We’re going to get some of that!”

    No Tamales on Wednesday is an archival concert recording coming from one of my absolute favorite periods of Berne’s work. Science Friction features Berne, Tom Rainey on drums, Marc Ducret on guitar, and Craig Taborn on keys. It was recorded somewhere by someone in 2008, and is a very counterpointy set of pieces. It’s not technically counterpoint, of course, but you can definitely see sunlight between all the pieces. There is space.

    Rainey plays as melodically as I’ve ever heard. Berne is an unending font of song. And Ducret does Ducret. He’s always been an utterly unique specimen, playing not in washes or broad strokes, but in particulate, jangle-i-fied abandon. Again, the melodies he comes up with! And then Craig Taborn. Kind of a magician. He opens the record and then infuses the whole proceedings with levitation throughout.

    The tunes are expansive Berne works, many heard in other settings. At a listening party on Bandcamp, Berne pointed out that most of this material showed up later played by his Snakeoil team, and the tune “Adobe Probe,” has been heard before on the album of the same name. It’s all knotty composition that doesn’t end where it starts, and sometimes you don’t even know how you got there from here. A wonderful mystery solved by improvisation.

    Available on Bandcamp: https://screwgunrecords.bandcamp.com/album/no-tamales-on-wednesday

     

     

    Thursday, April 11, 2024

    New Old Luten Trio - Something New, Something Renewed

    New Old Luten Trio - Trident Juncture (Euphorium, 2023)



    Leipzig based pianist Oliver Schwerdt, along with Berlin based drummer Christian Lillinger, have been over several years developing a series of recordings based on encounters with legends of the avant-garde. Most recently, the two worked with Japanese saxophonist Akira Sakata in what was named the Great Sakata Project. Prior to this was an intense pairing with the late Peter Brötzmann that resulted in some impressive recordings. The precursor, however, was their wonderful and uncanny connection with German woodwindist Ernst Ludwig Petrowsky - the Luten of the New Old Luten Trio.

    The music on Trident Juncture, Schwerdt's recent release of the New Old Luten Trio's music, was pulled from their last concert at Leipzig's naTo club in 2016. This date also happens to be the bittersweet occasion of Petrowsky's last appearance before he became too ill to perform.

    The album's main track, 'Trident Juncture,' ebbs and flows generously for an hour. Starting with the precise clatter of Lillinger's drums, Schwerdt and Petrowsky join seconds later with abrupt musical statements. A cluster of notes from the piano, a smeared note from the saxophone and they are off and running. The rules of interactions have been long agreed upon by the trio, so there is no need for exploratory playing and testing of the perimeters, rather as the drums begin to splinter the pulse, the energy erupts in colorful chord tones and shredding melodic statements.

    The music is hardly one dimensional. Contrasting with the fierce, free interactions are moments of reflective playing. For example, around 10-minutes in, the piano has been swapped out for some 'small instruments' out and Petrowsky engages in an abstract passage with Lillinger, who, while keeping the structure of time, seems to be defying it at the same time. The saxophonist's tone is yearning, it is melodic, but also at times confrontational. This fascinating section lasts nearly fifteen minutes until Schwerdt returns to the piano with a passage that shifts the energy in a whole new direction.

    The celebrated saxophonist passed away in 2023 (See: Ernst-Ludwig (“Luten“) Petrowsky (1933 – 2023)), so, any chance to hear a new recording is welcome, and this final set is an exemplary addition to a storied catalog.


    New Old Luten Trio - Wild Flower Juice (Euphorium Records, 2008/2023)


    On the occasion of Trident Juncture's release, Schwerdt has re-released the trio's very first meeting from 2008, also recorded at Club naTo in Leipzig. At the time of the release, it was given a rather unfortunate name that has been rethought and now appears as Wild Flower Juice on Schwerdt's Euphorium Records Bandcamp site. (Just FYI, Schwerdt has a tendency to use pseudonyms and on this recording is listed as Elan Pauer). 

    Made when Petrowsky was 75 and both Lillinger and Schwerdt were still larvea (ok, they weren't all that young, I'm obviously exaggerating for effect), the recording offers clear evidence that age is an unreliable indicator of artistic vigor. Petrowsky is a fountain of youthful energy, provoking and reacting, sparring with the other two at an infectiously creative level. From the opening statement of 'Vitalisierende Gesichtscreme' (Vitalizing Face Cream) to the closing moments of 'Wild Flower Juice' there is a freshness and vitality to Petrowsky's playing and a palpable rapport between him and the younger players.

    Simply put, Trident Juncture and Wild Flower Juice are two wonderful recordings that bookend the excellent New Old Luten Project series, which featured Schwerdt, Lillinger and Petrowsky in trio, quintet and septet formations.