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Kasper Tom (d), Olaf Rupp (g), Rudi Mahall (bc)

July 2020, Jazz am Kaisersteg, Berlin

Michel Doneda (ss), Michael Griener (dr), Niklas Vite (g), Alexander Frangenheim (b), Thomas Lehn (synth)

July 2020, Klausenhof, Herrischried

Sophie Agnel (p), Joke Lanz (turntables)

July 2020, Klausenhof, Herrischried

Friday, August 14, 2020

Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe / Four Men Only - Complete Recordings (NoBusiness Records, 2020) *****

By Martin Schray

The European and especially the German jazz scene at the end of the 1960s was extremely creative. Everybody who’s interested in this music knows Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Albert Mangelsdorff. However, there were exquisite bands whose names are known only to absolute experts and who have otherwise been almost completely forgotten. One of these bands is the Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe.

The MJQK was founded in 1965 and consisted of Herbert Joos (flugelhorn, trumpet, mellotron), Wilfried Eichhorn (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute and bass clarinet), Helmut Zimmer (piano), Klaus Bühler (bass), and Rudolf Theilmann (drums) and released two LPs: Trees (1968) and Position 2000 (1970). Somewhat later Bühler left the band. The famous German concert impresario Fritz Rau, who - like Theilmann - came from the small town of Pforzheim, said to the drummer: “Your bass player quit? Then you are four men only“. That was the name for the new band and the quartet released two more albums: Volume One (1972) and Eight Science Fiction Stories (1973). On the last album they were joined by trombonist Wolfgang Czelusta, a versatile frontiersman, who was also at home in new music.

When the MJQK was ultimately formed in 1965, they first played hardbop, which was popular at the time. Their specialty was that they used excessive and free introductions for their compositions. Almost naturally, this led to an increasing turn towards free jazz. However, the pieces were never completely improvised, instead they grew around composed material. The majority of the pieces of the MJQK consist of ramified themes, some of them notated, others free, both interpenetrating. At the same time their music revealed formal development processes. Here one could always see how clearly the music was influenced by the Afro-American role models of the time (Coleman, Coltrane, Taylor), even if the band always enriched its compositions with very own ideas.

Solos and collectives are often separated from each other by interludes, varying both rhythms and individual structural units. This is especially true for the band’s first album Trees, on which the references to US-American free jazz are most obvious.

The title track features exactly these extremely extended introductions, the beginning is highly compressed and reminds us of Cecil Taylor's Unit or the first Globe Unity recording. Especially Helmut Zimmer shines with wild runs and powerful clusters. The solos are interrupted by the heads of the brass, which structure the material. At the end of the piece, the band returns to the energy cluster of the beginning. Another example is “Lonely Time“, where an energetic tenor saxophone solo accompanied by a free pulse rhythm crystallizes into a straight five-meter beat, which then leads seamlessly into a rhythmically bound piano improvisation over regularly changing modal levels. Another structuring technique are the contrasts they use both as to sounds and structure. In “Change of Beauty“, for example, a dense power-play of piano, bass and drums is abruptly broken off, only for a restrained, melodically and lyrically played tenor saxophone to emerge, which then leads organically into the final theme, which is played in unison.

On the second album, Position 2000, the group emancipates itself more strongly from its role models and puts the work with timbre in the foreground. In the title track of the album, the MJQK makes use of overdubbing and multi-play techniques (something that was met with criticism in the purist jazz scene of the time), which enabled the overlapping of different creative means to establish a multi-coloured and complex structure of dense percussion, wind accents and free improvisation. A perfect example of this is “The Sun Is Coming Over“. The programmatic idea behind the piece aims at a playing process comparable to the course of the sun from an earthly point of view, or - as the increased number of subtitles in the score suggest - the sequence of “Birth - Life - Death“; “Beginning - End“ or “Twilight“, as Ekkehard Jost once noted. The musical realisation of this actually quite trivial program takes place in an exciting, throughout pulse-free process of increase and reduction of great atmospheric density. The continuous build-up and reduction of dynamics and energy is contrasted with a gradual change of instruments, in the course of which very unusual tonal constellations are created. At the beginning of the piece the permissive colours of gongs, bass marimba, sharp flute sounds and the piano’s interior, which is worked on with mallets, determine the atmosphere. It’s like an Asian ceremony to welcome the day. In the culmination phase, combinations of soprano saxophone with flugelhorn, soprano saxophone with bamboo flute and finally two flutes with vocalisms by bassist Klaus Bühler determine the action. The end of the composition is then initiated by the coupling of mellophone and bass clarinet.

When Bühler left the quintet in 1971, Four Men Only continued to work in a similar musical way. Suite-like playing processes (also recognizable by the choice of the titles, which often refer to nature) with a formally and in its expressive content strictly differentiated material are main characteristics of Volume One. In general, a certain closeness to the Art Ensemble of Chicago is quite evident, both bands share a distinct sense for fine tonal shades and contrasts. Overdubbing and multi-play are employed even more often, which has the effect that you seem to listen to a large ensemble. The pre-production of wind and percussion backgrounds are especially effective in the first part of “Countdown/Excess“, when the solos of bass clarinet and flugelhorn are supported by a recorder choir. Tight, multi-coloured sound structures serve as a foil for improvisational unfolding, at the same time they even create a certain funkiness, although the bass is missing. Here, they sound as if they try to bring the density of the FMP sound and the open textures of ECM together. Eight Science Fiction Stories is then even more clearly designed as a suite than Volume One and the band seems to switch between different styles, which makes them sound like a forerunner of today's multi-stylistic bands. Also, they make more use of repetitions and they borrow compositional techniques from new classical music - possibly due to Wolfgang Czelusta’s influence. The head theme of the suite (“Departure“), performed in a polyphonic wind section, appears again and again in slight variations in the further course. The piece also has a certain cinematic quality (mainly in the parts without percussion) and is interrupted by harsh piano chords, flute trills, and percussive rustling. “Dead Season“ lives from long, sweeping notes, trombone bubbles, short, whip-like notes and Jost’s trumpet, which is often reminiscent of Miles Davis in the Sketches of Spain phase. “The Beauty Without A Face“ juxtaposes this trumpet with monotonous piano sounds reminding me of a Morse code. The influence of jazz tends to fade into the background in these recordings, although “Lucifer Is Marching In“ sounds like an extremely dark version of Miles Davis’s "Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud“. All in all, the MJQK and Four Men Only were unique for European standards at their time.

There might be some speculations why especially the MJQK was not given the recognition it deserved and why they are not named in a row with the bands of Gunter Hampel, Manfred Schoof or Joachim Kühn. One reason for this might be the relatively unoriginal band name. However, the amateur status attributed to them was a far greater obstacle to greater recognition. It has always been a dubious aspect that any jazz musician who does not exclusively live from his music is almost automatically equated with poorly qualified dilettantes, who dismiss their job and are therefore not really to be taken seriously. From today’s point of view, in which hardly anybody in the free jazz scene can live just from their musician’s existence, this is all the more absurd.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to understand why no label was interested in recordings, so that the band had to release their albums themselves (as a result you’ve had to pay a fortune for the original albums). Listening to their music today there was hardly any other group that was able to make such good and intelligent use of the freedom of the then still new jazz. On the other hand, the band received sensational reviews in German and European magazines, which makes it even more incomprehensible that success and popularity remained so limited.

Like with so many of their re-issues, NoBusiness has succeeded in highlighting an almost forgotten chapter of European free jazz, something they also managed with their release of the two albums by Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden. The icing on the cake on Complete Recordings is the presentation of two formerly unreleased pieces by the MJQK, both are from a concert in Hannover. They prove what a sensational live band they must have been.

Definitely the re-issue of the year (yes, in spite of the wonderful Rashied Ali/Frank Lowe duo).

Annotation 1: A lot of information for this review is taken from Ekkehard Jost’s Europas Jazz, who has noticed the importance of this band already in the 1980s (unfortunately the great book is only available in German).

Annotation 2: Special kudos goes to Ernst Nebhuth, who initiated the whole project and who stayed on the ball for many years. He never stopped working both NoBusiness’s Danas Mikailionis and the musicians to make this project possible. He’s also the co-producer and compiled the very good liner notes including great pictures from live performances of the band. So, thank you, Ernst and Danas!

Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe / Four Men Only - Complete Recordings is available as a triple CD and as a download. You can listen to it and buy it here:

In the US you can buy it at

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days (Astral Spirit, 2020) ****

By Daniel Böker

At the end of the nineties of the last century I discovered a lot of new music. New to me at least. I am not quite sure how exactly but somewhere along the road I came across Tortoise, I came across thrill jockey as a label and I came across someone called Rob Mazurek -and well they all are combined. In the end I had bought some albums I still enjoy this music that I couldn’t pin down at the time. (e.g. Isotop 217, Brokeback, and on a different page The Sea and Cake) A lot of it was connected to something called Chicago Underground. The Underground Duo, Trio, Quartet, Orchestra. I was blown away at the time.

So now almost 20 years later, I know a little more about music and about jazz and/or improvised music. I followed Rob Mazurek’s journey through the years sometimes eagerly, sometimes loosely.  (Two recommendations from the last time: Watch his quarantine concert on youtube and listen to the Desert Encrypts Vol.1. – which leads directly to the album I wanted to write about in this review. Maybe I wouldn’t have realized it that easy but the liner notes by Peter Margasak point out that the track “Unique Spiral” is based on the same composition as “Encrypts 37” from Desert Encrypts Vol 1. (So much for the connection.)

The new Chicago Underground Quartet is the old Quartet except for Noel Kupersmith, who quit playing music as far as I know. But the trio is still a quartet because Josh Johnson joined them on synth bass, organ and piano.

Listening to the new album, Good Days, brings forth the question if this reunion is something like the reunion of any group in music business. Well, first of all it can’t be for the money. This we all know. But is it just a simple nostalgia that is being nurtured here? Does the sound of the Chicago Underground Quartet fit into 2020 or did the quartet change enough to fit into this new time?

Listening for the first time I had quite a nostalgic felling. The sound of the record fits perfectly with the sound of the earlier records.

It is the continuation of the warm and open sound that the Chicago Underground has been creating for a long time. However, the new record fits in perfectly without just feeding the nostalgic instincts. It takes the sound into our current time, and the gentle openness, without building a wall of sound, is something that calms one's mind in these troubled times. As well, Rob Mazurek's trumpet sounds as light and clear as it ever did with the Chicago Underground.

The first track (the only cover) “Orgasm” starts with drum and bass (this phrase is not an accident). Then the trumpet enters in and we have a groovy, funky movement. A minute in, the drum and bass loosen the grip on the straight beat and the whole piece opens up in different directions with all four (the organ and the guitar are in there as well) turning the volume and speed up without loosing ear-contact (if I might say so). After approximately four minutes, the beat slowly returns and dances underneath the trumpet, guitar and synth sounds. A beautiful piece of music and a good introduction to  the rest of the album.

Good Days continues in a similar manner with 'Strange Wings' (a composition by Rob Mazurek). In the beginning there is a nice gentle moving beat with the trumpet playing a soulful melody. The guitar follows and plays a clear melody with a lot of space to breath and sink in. Sink in the sound of the synth, the beat. The listener gets the time to sink in because the Underground Quartet takes its time to open this track. It is a low movement and an all-in-all hypnotic track. I like it a lot.

I could go on track by track. But I think these examples show the way the music is heading.

An exception is the seventh track 'Lomé', which is a drum or percussion solo. That’s something I cannot recall from the early records.

Overall, there seems to be only subtle changes in the sound of the quartet, but it is not the nostalgia that keeps me listening to this album. It is rather that the sound is still fresh and I really enjoy the way the Chicago Underground Quartet moves from melody to free improvisation from almost hypnotic beats to more open sounds without losing it completely.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Kite - People You Must Look At Me (Unheard Records, 2020) ****

By Cam Scott

Although released in May of this year, this powerfully concise EP by Oglála Lakȟóta artist and composer Suzanne Kite was recorded in 2015, as part of a performance and installation at the Infinity Room gallery in Los Angeles. In this movement-based, multi-media work, Kite used a custom-designed body interface to interact with a range of three-dimensional projections in the gallery space, extending the body’s remit into a realm of spiritualized data. But while People You Must Look At Me originates as part of a solo show, it gathers a number of accomplished musicians into a post hoc group improvisation—even anticipating the remote conditions of performance thrust upon us in the year and season of its digital release.

As Kite explains in an accompanying note, players were given a recording of a looped chord to improvise around in separate situations. The recorded results—from saxophonist Matana Roberts, fiddle player Alicia Svigals, harpist Marilu Donovan, and a reverberant chorus of loons—were subsequently arranged by the artist, as an electronic composition that preserves the voice, freedom, and phrasing of each source recording relative to the time of the original loop. “I processed and arranged their improvisations afterward,” Kite explains in an accompanying note, “trying to move things on the timeline as little as possible.”

The EP begins with a contemplative invocation by Roberts, before a glistening shower of notes from Donovan’s harp. The modal basis for this theme produces a similar atmosphere to spiritual jazz, in form and instrumentation, in spite of the inaudible bourdon that harmonically supports the interweaving melodies. Svigals’ fiddle slides and soars on entry, as these several voices climb above an oceanic surge of synthesis. No sooner has the opener reached a barge-like crescendo, however, than the audible scenery changes. The second brief track builds around a remarkably clear recording of loon song, which distinctive tremolo is manipulated by the composer, producing a series of subtle stutters and bends. But it would feel unsuitably anthropocentric to call this an experiment in simple field recording, where the loons are afforded an instrumental integrity equal to that of their human collaborator.

People You Must Look At Me is a structured as a six-part suite and sonic palindrome. The tracks are named by nesting parentheses, save for the centerpiece—'(((,’ ‘((,’ ‘eternal death,’ ‘),’ ‘)),’ ‘)))’—and these themes are reprised in their specific instrumentation as closing statements, too. At the core of the EP is a short recording of a ceremony whereof I cannot speak, a tribute that powerfully extends the community of this recording and the sociality that it encompasses. Kite’s ongoing research and performance engages deeply with the funerary means by which people make sense of death as part of life; and with such rites in mind, the circular development of this EP’s thematic material feels philosophically consoling. One might propose a powerful, albeit negative, representational significance to the looped chord over which Kite’s improvisers weave their melodies—a present absence underwriting independent voices. Themes of this magnitude elude simplification, just as great music defies paraphrase; but suffice it to say that on People You Must Look At Me, Kite does more in twelve minutes than many works of greater duration.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Latest Releases of Aural Terrains Label #3

By Eyal Hareuveni

Aural Terrains label was founded by composer Thanos Chrysakis as a creative space for exploratory contemporary music in its different manifestations, including ones that are informed by free-improvisation and free jazz legacies and strategies, and vice versa. The latest release does blur the artificial distinctions between composition, its interpretation, and free improvisation.

Milo Fine / Joseph Damman - Acceptance of Sorrow (2020) ****

Acceptance of Sorrow brings together two Minnesota-based free-improvisers - multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine, known for his duets with Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, and Tim Hodgkinson, who plays here on drum-set, Bösendorfer imperial piano, B flat clarinet and marimba, and a generation younger guitarist, Joseph Damman, who is influenced by West-African music, who plays amplified acoustic guitar. Fine and Damman have been collaborating as a duo since 2011 and Fine hosted Damman on his APOPHENIA album (Atrocious Gnosis, 2018). Their first album as a duo was recorded in a concert at Studio Toile d'Angles in Minneapolis, Minnesota in September 2018. Fine mentions that his late parents, the percussion instructor Elliot and painter Agnes “purchased ‘sorrow’ while on vacation”, and now this sorrow adorns his home-based Studio Toile d'Angles.

The poetic titles (the first ones are taken from the autobiography of British noir writer Derek Raymond) set the atmosphere for this set of eight improvisations. The close, strong affinity of Fine and Damman, and their organic, free-associative interplay is stressed already in the first, extended piece, “Nothing Is Worse Than To Be Coerced By Dialectic”, where fine alternates between the clarinet, played in an urgent manner, and the marimba, played in more playful-dreamy manner, and the piano, touched here briefly. The tone is lyrical, introspective, and highly nuanced, and both Fine and Damman employ silence as an important element in their spectrum of suggestive sounds.

When Fine moves to the piano on the following “The Bitter Wave” the improvisation sounds as informed by free jazz and the seminal influence of Cecil Taylor. Damman injects well-articulated, song-like lines that contrast the dramatic, free-form playing of Fine. This tension between the restless, energetic playing of Fine and the modest, reserved, and subtle playing of Damman becomes the essence of this meeting. While Fine instantly soars to distant, chaotic skies, Damman playing radiates that he stands on solid ground, which enables him to offer structured narratives and introduces his impressive, singular voice. Check his leading role on “The Stench Of The Word; The Towering Babel”.

Jason Alder / Chris Cundy / Tim Hodgkinson / Heather Roche / Yoni Silver / Shadanga Duo - Music for Bass Clarinets (2019) ****½

Music for Bass Clarinets offers six modern compositions, mostly for bass clarinets but also for clarinets and flute, all recorded live at café OTO in London in December 2017. The musicians are experimental composer Tim Hodgkinson, of Henry Cow fame; Jason Adler, currently conducting PhD research on the sonic possibilities of the contrabass clarinet, and half of the Shadanga Duo with flutist Katalin Szanyi; Chris Cundy, composer, and arranger specializing in bass clarinet, saxophones and other woodwinds; Canadian Heather Roche, recently referred to as “The Queen of Multiphonics”; and Yoni Silver, who works within a wide array of different and mostly experimental frameworks: different forms of improvisation, Noise, (Hyper)Spectral music, Performance, and composition.

The first composition is “Isn’t This A Time” by Christian Wolff, written in 1982 “for Saxophone solo (or other Reed Instrument, or more Saxophones, or more Reed Instruments)”, now arranged for a quintet of bass clarinetists. This beautiful composition highlights the deep sonorities of the bass clarinet and the almost transparent, resonating harmonies of the quintet as the sounds of the five bass clarinets are mirrored within the quintet. Iancu Dumitrescu's "Nuclear Aura" (2009) for Hodgkinson on clarinet researches the lower ends of the clarinet and the multitudes of sounds that can be produced in these deep, dark registers. "Γνώμων/Gnomon" (2016) by Chrysakis for a quartet of bass clarinets continues the former composition’s vein, but this serene, contemplative composition does it in a more harmonious, playful manner that explores more nuances in the dark, deep timbral range of the bass clarinets.

Hannes Kerschbaumer’s short "gryet.debris" (2014), played by Shadanga Duo - Adler on clarinet with flutist Katalin Szanyi, has an urgent, restless tone and plays with silence as a major element. Georges Aperghis' "Simulacre IV" (1995) is played with Silver on bass clarinet as a kind of a wild story with colorful, eccentric gestures, sounds, and noises, but with an ironic perspective. Chrysakis’ “Entwined Equinox” (2016), for the Shadanga Duo Adler on the alto flute and Szanyi on the alto flute, experiments with complex, dense and tense texture, contrasting the earthy, wooden tone of the clarinet with the ethereal, celestial tone of the flute.

Wise program of compositions. Excellent performance.

Jason Alder / Thanos Chrysakis / Caroline Kraabel / Yoni Silver - Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics (2019) ***½

Music for Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinets & Electronics features a quartet Alder who plays the bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, clarinet in B♭ and clarinet in E♭; Chrysakis on laptop computer and synthesizers; Caroline Kraabel on baritone saxophone and voice, known from the London Improvisers Orchestra and described as focusing on about acoustics and the interactions of electricity and music: reproduction, synthesis, and their implications; and Silver on bass clarinet. The album was recorded at OneCat Studio in London in December 2017.

This five-parts electroacoustic piece contrasts the noisy-atmospheric electronics, augmented with radio transmission, with the clattering of the reeds instruments, tortured bird calls, and other brief, subdued breathy gestures. All is focused on immediate, transient micro-events, delivered with impressive discipline and within a totally democratic framework where no musician takes a leading part. This kind of intense yet quite ethereal interplay reaches a peaceful, coherent coexistence on the third, dreamy part, and keeps this kind of almost silent, fragile balance until the end of it.

Thanos Chrysakis / Chris Cundy / Peer Schlechta / Ove Volquartz - Music for Two Organs & Two Bass Clarinets (2018) ***½

Music for Two Organs & Two Bass Clarinets explores again the deep, dark sonorities of the bass clarinets in a resonant space of centuries-old church together with the church pipe organ and organ. The musicians are Aural Terrains founder Thanos Chrysakis on chamber organ, Chris Cundy on bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet, and German Peer Schlechta on organ and Ove Volquartz on bass clarinet and contra-alto clarinet. The music was recorded at Neustädter Kirche, Hofgeismar, Germany in April 2017.

This five-piece piece begins as a slow, vibrant, breathy and quiet lyrical drone but soon fills the whole space with its dense, guttural, resonant vibrations. These vibrations become more urgent and fierce in the second part, but occasionally let some brief lyrical and playful veins to surface beyond the dense wall of deep tones. The third part shifts into a more fragile, chamber interplay and intensifies the lyrical, melodic veins with remarkable poetic playing by Cundy and Volquartz, both continue with their lyrical, contemplative throughout the fourth part, contrasting the restless, sudden interventions of the organists Chrysakis and Schlechta. It ends with a short, melodic piece that, again, enjoys the resonant qualities of the Neustädter Kirche


Thanos Chrysakis / Sue Lynch / James O' Sullivan / Joe Wright - Iridescent Strand (2018) ***½

Iridescent Strand brings together Chrysakis who plays laptop computer and synthesizers; Sue Lynch, who runs The Horse Improvised Music Club in London, on tenor saxophone, flute, and clarinet; James O’Sullivan on electric guitar, who use a combination of feedback, conventional guitar techniques, and instrumental preparations in order to exploit the full sonic potential of electric guitar and amplifier; and Joe Wright on tenor saxophone and dynamic feedback system, who has an interest in curiosity-driven musical interaction and neurodiversity. The album was recorded at OneCat Studio in London in November 2017.

The five-parts electroacoustic Iridescent Strand focuses on sonic research: methodical, patient, and quiet, where the electronic noises and feedback blend and often veil the extended breathing techniques and other preparations of the guitar of O’Sullivan. This kind of layered, highly nuanced improvisation strategy brings to mind seminal outfits like AMM and Musica Elettronica Viva or the sonic ambiguity of outfits like Polwechsel. The chaotic, abstract interplay of the first two parts shifts slowly into a more collective sonic organism and into a mysterious, loosely structured texture.

More on Aural Terrains

Monday, August 10, 2020

Twenty Years of Collaboration: Jamie Drouin and Lance Austin Olsen

The French Drop (Infrequency Editions, 2020) ****½
This and the Other Space (Infrequency Editions, 2020) ****½
Snowfield (Infrequency Editions, 2003/remastered 2020) ***


By Nick Ostrum

It has been nearly 20 years since Jamie Drouin and Lance Austin Olsen got together for their first recorded collaboration, the 2001 Tablet. Since then, they have collaborated on over 20 releases, primarily for theirInfrequency Editions label, which will celebrate its 20 th anniversary next year. At the beginning of this year (2020), FJB published my three-album review of some of their latest releases, though none of these albums was an Drouin-Olsen effort. Since then, however, the two have produced several albums collaboratively that, in composition, construction, and effect, seem eminently fitting for our current state of partial quarantines, fragmented and distorted memories of pre-Covid socialization, and the odd, hazy blur of one day into the next to which many of us have now grown accustomed. And with that, let’s revisit the near-beginning.

Conceived and recorded as a sound installation in 2003 and remastered for this 2020 digital release, Snowfield is one of Drouin and Olsen’s earliest releases and it is spare. This is in itself is not surprising. Over the years, the two artists have plumbed the tensions between musical sparsity, faint recontextualized sounds, and more ambient tones. Recent releases such as The French Drop (inspired by the Hieronymous Bosch painting “The Conjurer” and named after the “French drop” illusion) and This, and The Other Space (an examination of “fracturing of memory and the creation of multiple realities”) engage with soundscaping as a way not just to shape a composition, but to explore the understated space around it. Sounds – found and musical – are layered and woven together only to dissolve into single tones and reform into a delicate mass that oscillates between activity and quiet. The French Drop and This, and The Other Space, however, have a density, even when just implied, that separates them from early studies in Snowfield.

It would be easy to read too much into these isolated examples. But, it is hard for me to shake the idea that Snowfield, with connotations of white noise, are somewhat tentative explorations of new terrain. In that sense, the release could be read as an early expedition into a quiet extreme that laid the minimalist basis to but could only hint at the glistening if somewhat menacing vibrancy of The French Drop and This, and the Other Space. Indeed, the latter are characterized by a depth and richness of sound and a mysterious, fractured narrative of dislocated field recordings and synthetic noises. What is so intriguing about these are not just the media, but the distortions of uniformity achieved without repetition. Even when Drouin and Olsen stumble upon particularly satisfying combinations of oscillating drones, nervous ruffling, and hollow crackling, they rarely dwell in these places for long. When they do, they do so as if they were speedily but meticulously measuring every dimension of some newly discovered composite object. And then, they move on.

In their focus on the minutiae of discrete sounds, these three recordings are rather lambent. Yet, as with any flame which appears a smeared solid from a distance, their real beauty and intricacy only become apparent when listened to closely. The manner in which the duo magnify, manipulate, and converge sounds, moreover, imbues a strange vastness particularly into the more recent releases. If Snowfield is a set of meditations on the form and composition of various objects (admittedly a possible effect of its original role as an art installation), The French Drop and This, and the Other Space weave those sonic artefacts into a series of discontinuous but flowing narratives, that seamlessly shift between memory, dream, and repurposed experience. Even though these narratives lack linearity and spurns the normative musical devices that work to such ends, these releases always work to and remarkably achieve a finality. When they end, they feel like they make sense. They feel coherent, even in their inscrutability. And that effective achievement of ambiguous resolution is what makes The French Drop, This and the Other Space and so much of Olsen and Drouin’s work since the early days of Snowfield so thoroughly satisfying.

All three releases are available as downloads.


Barry Chabala and Lance Austin Olsen – Patterns for a future human (Roeba, 2020) ****

Just recently, Lance Austin Olsen released one more album, this time with sound-artist/guitarist Barry Chabala. Since this one does not involve Drouin, I had originally intended to leave it out. After first listen, however, I realized just how strong a release it actually is.

Olsen is as contemplative as always as he stirs his wreathing sonic porridge of fragmented field recordings. Chabala, however, is the real distinguishing feature in this marriage of sound art and blues-inspired free guitar runs. Admittedly, there is some noodling, but most of these two tracks are inspired. This applies especially to the times when Chabala is at his most spacious and amelodic, allowing his guitar to bleed into Olsen’s montage-work rather than just hovering atop it. Listening to this as the quarantine unsteadily lifts, moreover, I am especially struck by the use of voices in the second track. Coupled with Chabala’s folk tendencies, this creates the impression of a vague memory of earlier times, when these distorted voices were clear and immediate, when isolation could mean willing solitude and was always curbed, welcomed or not, by interpersonal contact. Life is different now, and even familiar sounds – field recordings, speech and found sounds from before the pandemic, a simple guitar - have taken on new, ominous meaning.

Patterns is available on CD and as a download.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – To Catch A Bird In A Net Of Wind (Trost, 2020) *****

By Tom Burris

Let's cut to the chase. Dorji & Damon are rooted in rock music, not jazz. Like most of us, the jazz influence came later for them - after spending years of their lives immersed in the noisier end of the rock pool. Maybe I'm presuming too much, but I believe we all got here through similar – if not identical – channels. With that said, I am happy to proclaim that To Catch a Bird in a Net of Wind is Dorji & Damon's rock masterwork. Running through early Velvets to Sunroof!, everything you ever loved about rocknroll noise is elevated here to the highest plateau of tinnitus glory. These are improvised compositions constructed before your very eyes - and they remain standing as compositions for repeated listening pleasure. Summary: This is an excellent investment in recorded improvised music for your quarantine life.

This album was recorded live at Elastic in 2018 by Dave Zuchowski (and mixed by John Dawson) so you can trust that the sound is righteous. It's split between two long pieces, one on each side of the LP. The intro to the title piece begins with a Mahayana Buddhist invocation based on rattled bells and a White Light/White Heat guitar drone, setting the perfect tone for the events that will soon transpire. Dorji begins to add melodic figures on the top strings, which sound a bit like a Japanese shamisen. Damon's toms rumble before he gradually accelerates and spreads the beating onto the entire kit. As the melody stretches into looser chunks and higher intensity, Damon pushes back hard. Surprisingly, the inevitable collapse happens quickly.

The second movement of the title track begins with what we now recognize as the “proper” Dorji/Damon model: Damon's brushes flutter on the snare and hi-hat while Dorji plays behind the bridge in his now practically trademarked clang. Out of this emerges a looped E-string rhythm as some Derek-Bailey-meets-Sonic-Youth metallic skronk sprays over the top. As always, Damon is perfect, tumbling on toms, bashing cymbals for emphasis in all the right spots via telepathic brother magic. This music reminds me of what it was like to encounter Confusion-era Sonic Youth up through Sister for the first time. It was the only music that made visceral sense during the mid-80s. I'm getting that same buzz here in the BLM/COVID era with this record.

Flip the record over and you have “Upon the Rim of the Well” tearing your face off immediately, as Arto Lindsay & Lydia Lunch's hellchild scrapes and claws its horned head outta the womb while Andrew Cyrille tried to beat it back into the.. uh.. “well”. The birth eventually happens, but the child simply wants to beat on a pan while Ikue Mori pays the happy couple a visit and winds up accompanying the little tyke on her huge old floor toms. One big happy No Wave family.

Second movement. A Spanish dude obsesses over getting the “wrong note” part of Neil Young's “Southern Man” solo down perfectly as Damon taps on cans of spray paint. MGM's cartoon icon Crambone adds a little sparkle to the flat matte as WB's Speedy Gonzalez traipses through the sand mandala the monks started constructing during the invocation on Side A. Arto makes a final appearance: “You guys know I'm Brazilian and not Spanish, right?”

How can these two continue to improve upon this brilliantly intuitive construction? It's beyond me – and yet they always outdo themselves. I have to stop asking this question – and figure out a new way to heap praise onto these guys. Album of the summer, if not the year. Damn!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Harald Kisiedu - European Echoes: Jazz Experimentalism in Germany 1950 - 1975 (Wolke Verlag, 2020) ***½

By Martin Schray

Until the mid 1960s, European jazz was American jazz, because almost all of the European musicians who dedicated themselves to jazz wanted to copy the great role models. The most prestigious European musicians were the ones who could imitate best. There were hardly any original contributions, and they were simply not wanted as they were regarded as inferior. It was only with the impact of free jazz in the USA that this hegemonic position of American jazz began to falter. In the liberation from the traditional principles of jazz, the harmonic and metric guidelines, the rhythmic order of the beat - the swing - younger European musicians began to free themselves from the influence of these guiding principles. In free music, which interestingly enough already dispensed with the term jazz, they could develop in a completely new and free way. The musicians could get rid of traditional forms and rules, which not only threw the old system of limitations overboard, including improvisation in the old manner, but at the same time questioned the identity as jazz music and - as some musicians and critics claimed - also denied jazz tradition in general.

In his book European Echoes: Jazz Experimentalism in Germany 1950 - 1975, Harald Kisiedu sets out to refute this radical break with tradition. In a continuation of Ekkehard Jost’s Europas Jazz 1960 - 80, Wolfgang Burde’s A Discussion of European Free Jazz and Mike Heffley’s Northern Sun, Southern Moon - Europe’s Reinvention of Jazz, Kisiedu wants to prove that German experimental jazz in particular has always referred back to US-American concepts and practices and has not separated itself from its spiritual founding fathers. In doing so, he wants to show that especially Germany has created a scene that understood itself in the tradition of black cultural production. Kisiedu focuses on the life and work of four outstanding German free jazz musicians - Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky. In addition, the political environment of the time and the conditions of production are examined.

Starting off with Peter Brötzmann, possibly the most iconic figure in Europe’s free jazz, makes sense since his recordings For Adolphe Sax and Machine Gun, whose first editions were released on this own BRÖ label, are often regarded as the most uncompromising dissociations from the classic jazz role models. Kisiedu elucidates that Brötzmann was mainly influenced by Fluxus artist Nam June Paik, who he adored for his iconoclastic ideas, and that he was also interested in John Cage’s music at that time. In combination with Brötzmann’s desire to break musical rules and his poor identification with West Germany’s post war society, free jazz provided an alternative to the “social, political, and cultural practices of the status quo“. In this context Kisiedu distinguishes between dissociation and emancipation by pointing out that Brötzmann has always referred to his jazz roots and the influence free jazz musicians have had on his music (e.g. Don Cherry and Albert Ayler). At the beginning of his career Brötzmann only wanted to get away from pure imitation.

In the second chapter the book displays the musical worlds of Manfred Schoof and Alexander von Schlippenbach and the scene around the Cologne Conservatory, where they studied with classical composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Especially highlighting Schoof’s contribution to European free jazz seemed promising, because he’s underrepresented in jazz literature considering the fact that he’s responsible for European Echoes and Early Quintet (both on FMP), two cornerstones of German free jazz. Here the book also depicts the importance of 1950s jazz big bands like the one of Kurt Edelhagen and illuminates how Schlippenbach and Schoof were influenced by Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor. In combination with their deep knowledge of new classical music they were able create a new style which had its roots in American jazz and in European music.

In the last chapter Kisiedu examines the career of Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky as a classical example of a jazz musician in the former GDR. He lists the difficulties one had in playing the music of the class enemy, which on the other hand was the music of the oppressed African-Americans. Here he also explains the connection between the East and West German scenes using the example of Jost Geber's FMP and he goes into detail about the legendary festivals in Peitz.

Apart from the great diligence that Kisiedu undoubtedly delivers, there are also weaknesses in his approach. Often the text digresses and does not concentrate on the work of the key musicians of the chapters, which would have been extensive enough for an investigation. In the part on Luten Petrowsky, for example, the Kühn brothers are also dealt with, as are Ulrich Gumpert, Conny Bauer, Günter “Baby“ Sommer, the FMP label and the Jazz Workshops in Peitz. Except for some nice anecdotes, a lot of encyclopedic knowledge is processed here, which makes the reading a bit tedious. The same goes for the Schoof/Schlippenbach chapter, in which the book also tries to include a section about feminism in the free jazz scene (Iréne Schweizer) as well as Gerd Dudek’s and Gunter Hampel’s contribution to Schoof’s and Schlippenbach’s music. Here, less would have been more.

These deficiencies might be neglectable, but European Echoes: Jazz Experimentalism in Germany 1950 - 1975 is not totally persuading in general. Kisiedu can prove his initial thesis, but that’s not the problem. Actually, he sells old wine in new bottles. The thesis that the Europeans had reinvented their “jazz“ without resorting to US-American models has never really been upheld, especially in Germany. Brötzmann, Petrowsky and Schlippenbach in particular have repeatedly pointed out how much they have been influenced by American jazz, even if it was just by constantly listening to Willis Conover’s program on Voice of America. When Brötzmann was asked in the 1980s what music he listened to (in expectation that he would rather mention music that had nothing to do with jazz), he always said that he actually - if he listened to music at all - prefers his old heroes like Sidney Bechet or Ben Webster. Listening to Schlippenbach you could have always heard the major influence of Thelonious Monk, not for nothing he’s one of the great Monk interpreters of our time. Especially in the last chapter we get to know too little about how free jazz has influenced Petrowsky’s music (for example Ornette Coleman). Instead, in the passages about Günter “Baby“ Sommer we learn how he used “Art Blakey’s big beat, the blue notes on the flatted fifths, on the minor sevenths“ etc. Sommer points out that there was a musical connection to protest and resistance, that conventional music was lacking a revolutionary spirit for him and that jazz represented anti-establishment. That’s why he felt an immediate sympathy for the “blowing to pieces“ faction of the Wuppertal scene with Brötzmann and Peter Kowald. That’s an exquisite and insightful passage. It’s all the more deplorable that there’s no detailed analysis on Petrowsky’s excellent albums Selbdritt and Just for Fun, on which African-American influences shine through. Also, in his interviews with Schlippenbach, Kisiedu brings to light exciting aspects. The pianist explains how the harmonic and innovations of bebop and cool jazz had prefigured free jazz neglecting melody, rhythm and timbre, which is why it would have been interesting how Schlippenbach used this in his own music by giving examples. In the Brötzmann chapter Kisiedu shows that the saxophonist quotes “several measures from (…) Charles Ives’ 1906 composition Central Park in the Dark, in which he (…) superimposes several layers of music, each in an independent meter or rhythm“ as well the ragtime song “Hello, My Baby“ in the chorus of “Machine Gun“. Again, more of such analytic parts would have been great. In what pieces can one clearly or latently feel the influence of classical jazz? Or to what extent does the British scene in particular have a greater distance to the classics?

Harald Kisiedu claims in his introduction that he would continue Ekkehard Jost’s Europas Jazz among others, but he can hardly add something essential to this standard work. It might be nice for readers who don’t read German to get some information on that musical period since Jost’s book hasn’t been translated. Also, for readers who are not that familiar with German post-war history (politically and musically), the book offers a good summary, and - it’s worth mentioning - it contains a very nice collection of hardly published photographs.

All in all, however, we are still waiting for a new benchmark on European free improvised music. So one still has to fall back on Ekkehard Jost’s books Europas Jazz and Free Jazz.

You can order the book here:

Friday, August 7, 2020

Interview with William Hooker

William Hooker (c) Peter Gannushkin

By Cam Scott

William Hooker is a consummate jazz musician, an honorific that fully encompasses his roving, multivalent output as a composer and improviser over the last forty-five years. His poetic approach to the drumkit, and his musical approach to the raw material of language, propels an immense discography, including last year’s Symphonie of Flowers—a multi-part tour de force that attests to the ongoing event of his creativity.

On July 9th 2020, during the fifth month of mandated social distancing, we sat down in different cities for a conversation about collaboration, composition, and the vertiginous times that we’re all living through.

CAM SCOTT : These are strange times to be talking about live music, but knowing that it persists in all kinds of ways in our daily lives, I thought I’d ask to start, how are you finding space for music in the time of corona?

WILLIAM HOOKER : Luckily enough I’m in a suburban place. I go back and forth between the city and the suburbs, and I have a drum set here. Which is really good, because when the spirit hits me, if it hits me, I can go and play. And I’m thinking of different ideas, things I want to do around this time, and what these times mean. Not only what they mean in terms of COVID, but also what they mean in terms of Black Lives Matter. Because I’m seeing that this is it, and trying to figure out ways to put that into a creative event. I don’t have communication with many musicians right now, which is fine because I know that everyone is under the gun with this thing. And that’s about it. To tell you the truth, it occupies a good space in my head. I don’t feel frustrated or like I’m going crazy if I don’t play with other individuals right now. So that’s where I’m at.

CS : As you say, there have been huge demonstrations, here in Winnipeg too, but in the United States especially. We’re in the midst of one of the largest uprisings in the ongoing history of the civil rights movement.

WH : And in the history of the United States, that’s what I just read.

CS : Where there’s a huge repository of politically emancipatory jazz music, including your own. I’ve been listening to Symphonie of Flowers , and the first section immediately summons the history of resistance to enslavement and oppression; ‘Chain Gangs’ is named for the travesty of forced labor, and ‘Freedom Riders’ for activists who protested segregation; and I feel like the music is buoyed by their struggle. And I think about your piece The Great Migration , which is a large scale work containing history. So I wanted to talk about two related matters, about the relationship of jazz and political movement, but also about jazz as a narrative art.

WH : I would say for myself that I’m always aware of the inspiration for certain compositions. So there’s always a connection between myself and something else, it doesn’t necessarily have to be freedom. It could be something cosmological. Some of the films I’ve dealt with, the silent films, it hits you over the head, like when you see Body and Soul by Oscar Micheaux. I know there’s a message and the message will come across. In most cases my audience is pretty intelligent, they really are, because they seek inspiration in art and music and film, in spoken word and poetry. So that automatically happens.

But jazz can talk about history because jazz itself is history. It’s the history of our people. It’s the history of this country. It’s the history of you and I together. It’s the history of everything that our being here is about. And if one just looks at it, and you don’t have to look at it that deeply, one can see this by the players, by what the players call their songs, what the players are doing, how they’re doing it, what kind of forms they’re using, because in many cases they’re using blues forms, or call and response forms. The form of jazz bears witness to history, to the players, to those who preceded us, and it bears witness to the times that we’re in; either the events that are happening right now, or events that we foresee happening. Jazz players are not only thinking about the present. Many, as you know, are thinking about the future … We can go deeper, but I don’t want to go deeper. I don’t want to confuse matters, I want people to realize that it’s easily accessible, all you have to do is be open. It’s likeable, it’s not something that’s scary. It’s not scary at all, I think it’s pretty inviting.

CS : You’re a poet as well as a musician, though perhaps the two are closer than I make them out to be. I feel like your drumming is remarkably close to the cadence of the voice, and highly phrasal even when you’re not accompanying speech, so I thought I’d ask how you see the relationship between poetry and music in your own practice.

WH : In many cases, I try to use sounds and letters and words in the same way that I use tones in music. Because of that I can weave them in and out of each other if I choose to, or I can use them separately, or in a run-on sentence. Because if you were improvising, you would do a run-on improvisation, it just goes on and on and on, for hours or minutes or whatever. So that essentially is the way I look at it, on a good day … Because I know that sound, abstract as it is, welcomes words. It welcomes the sound of the voice, and in many cases, it welcomes logic. Logic being the sentence, starting with a capital, ending with a period. Or if I don’t feel like doing that, it welcomes the Joycean creation of a new language. That’s the way I see the relationship of those two. I feel as though they’re very interactive, they’re very kind to each other. And for me it’s a very joyful experience, to be able to interject sound in music. Grunts, yells, and in the end there’s a period.

CS : This is a good moment to ask about your compositional approach, which seems to be based in a deep intuition and trust of your collaborators.

WH : True. And you saw that as well. I trust them, that’s why they were there. A lot of people aren’t witness to that, so they ask, where did he get this person? But you saw the relationship so that’s good. But go on.

CS : Symphonie of Flowers feels absolutely cohesive and there are clear movements. But within that structure you conduct breakaway duos and trios, it’s an archipelagic approach to composition. I wonder how you came to this way of thinking about form, and if you find players with the piece in mind, or if the piece is for the player, and the order of operations there.

WH : That’s a good question. But this question, Cam, is rooted in history. Because many of the songs that we play were written some time ago, they’re not new. I may have a library of songs. So I’ll put seven pieces of paper, which are the songs, into this folder, and after doing that I’ll figure out who should be playing what in each one of these. So automatically, just because this particular event is going to have different people playing on it, I’ve already got new timbres, new sounds, because I don’t use the same people and the same instrumentation. Which means that you could have the same piece in both sets, but if this part was done by a bass clarinet and this was done by a piano, it would sound completely different. Which leaves me with a lot of freedom, because obviously if I was playing with a person with a bass clarinet in this situation, or with a piano in this situation, I’d have to improvise in a different way. Then I can write new things, new passages, new interludes, new introductions and endings, new ways for one instrument to interact with another, and those aren’t in the composition itself. But they do make the event.

So it’s a balancing act, of trying to deal with the composition and the sound, and also deal with the open-endedness that’s created by the fact that I have different musicians doing different things. In an event like the one that you saw, we know the music, number one; the musicians know the relationship of one to the other, number two; and then I can guide it from the drums as opposed to standing in from with a baton, bringing people together. That can throw a person off sometimes, if they’re a little bit frightened by me taking them to another level, where I want to throw them out into space. So it’s not just a matter of writing a composition per se, and playing that composition. It’s a matter of really seeing and being visible and intuitive enough to understand that these musical instruments and these sounds have relationships that are opening the musicians and myself up to a trip, so that the entire thing, be it a piece or a multi-disciplinary event, all of those things can work together to make a cohesiveness.

CS : Let’s talk about the music as a social constellation. This interview is daunting for a few reasons, not least of all because you are a great interviewer yourself. Your podcast, The Lost Generation: Outside the Mainstream , is a wonderful resource, collecting conversations with so many great, and sometimes unheralded, musicians. So I thought I could ask you a question about asking questions. People often speak of jazz as a dialogue, but how do you think your own playing informs those conversations?

WH : First of all, I know the people I’m talking to. I like the people I’m talking to, that helps. And I think that all of us have a feeling about the story that we’re telling, and we also have a deep desire to tell the story, because we know it’s important. We know that this is part of the history that not many people have wanted to deal with. So that’s an easy one, because for me, it’s providing an outlet, just like you’re providing me with an outlet now. We’re just telling our stories, and all I have to do is keep it a little on point, let people go where they want to go, but also be cognizant of the fact that I want to find out about people’s music in this case, not about their personalities, what they’re like as people, if you like them or don’t like them, that’s a narrowing space for me. I’m just speaking for myself, somebody else might find that interesting. That’s just what I want to do. And everybody’s on board already, so it’s just a matter of getting everyone in one space, and the energy takes it to a good place, usually.

But basically, once the camera starts rolling, the train has left the station, and as long as I can keep it on track, it’s an exciting thing that happens. To tell you the truth, it’s one of the only times I feel that I really get the opportunity to talk to other musicians about their music and how they look at other people’s music. Because usually we see each other, we embrace, and we don’t see each for three months. So this gives us an opportunity to talk about how, wow, that person plays such and such, I really wonder what was going on, and then another person gets the opportunity to ask the same question. So the platform is there. I have certain questions, just like you do, that I ask. I have certain people I want to bring up that I think are important. That’s the format, and I’m sticking to that. And it’s worked so far. It’s just a matter of getting the idea out there as much as possible, so people know that it’s happening. And that these musicians existed, that they were even on the planet, that’s what the story’s about. So it fulfills itself.

CS : When you’re presenting works live, you give such magnanimous remarks about the individual players, I appreciate that. And you play with a huge range of musicians, from rock, electronic music, new music, and jazz. You’ve spoken about the history and form that inheres in the music, but there’s another question about the interrelationships of these genres. Do you hear it as idiomatically undifferentiated Music writ large or are you looking for discrete genres to stitch together?

WH : Both. Both. Because if I look for both, in that case it makes it easier for me to find the platform for the people that I’m working with, because I know that some people have chops in one direction, and some people have chops in another direction, and they may not even know each other. So that’s another thing. You have to recognize the fact that in many cases, they have to respect each other as well, in addition to my respecting them. I’m trying to figure out something that works together, so there’s not a clash of habits. Different people come with different chops, and sometimes they’re aware of it and can really transcend it, but in some cases I’m dealing with habitual behaviour, really. I’m listening to people that have played a certain way and they’re going to bring that regardless. They’re going to bring the volume, the feel, whatever it is about that genre that they’re really good in. And that’s why I call them, because they’re really good at what they do, and I want to add that to the sauce, right?

CS : This is another interesting layer to the question, because I was asking about the relationship of genres, but it sounds like from a certain standpoint, people and players are genres in themselves.

WH : In a sense. And it’s almost how the mind works, because sometimes you associate someone with something. I don’t know if that’s correct. Like if I said to you, Blue Cheer, you know what that sounds like.

CS : I do!

WH : So if I said that to you, automatically you would know what that is, and I know that you know what that is, so I don’t have to go through this whole thing with you. So I can choose that, it’s almost like making a salad. Some people are into what they’re into, and that’s cool. So it’s both for me, genre and transcending the genre, to make a hybrid music. I think that’s what comes out of it if I’m successful, a quality hybrid of all of these genres and personalities and different ways of looking at musical sound and form. That’s why I say it’s both. And that’s the reason why, back to this Lost Generation thing, I like talking to different people, because I find perspective on how to create this hybridity. Because they might not even know what they’re contributing when that happens, but through talking to them a little bit more, I find out what they’re about. So before we even make music together I have a sense of where I’m going with this.

CS : I think that accounts for the higher-level synthesis that comes across in the music.

WH : I try for that, I really do.

CS : You get there!

WH : Well, you saw it. Because I was dealing with electronic instruments, I was dealing with acoustic instruments. And in many cases I’m asking myself, how does this work? What kind of a synth is this? And thinking how to put it together with an acoustic instrument, and saying respectfully how this should work together, in my own way, without being dictatorial about it. Just out of respect.

CS : Your trajectory includes this almost Promethean moment when you move from traditional jazz to free music. As someone who for a long time has been committed to this music as a total ethic, both a way of life and listening, I was wondering if you could speak a little about that discovery, and what renews your commitment to the music.

WH : I’ll take this onto a little bit more of a cosmic level. What renews this, Cam, for me is number one that I think it’s very important that this happens. I’m very honoured to be a part of a tradition of drumming as well as music and artistry that makes me feel that this a significant contribution to humanity at large. And I will say that in many cases I really do believe that music has the power to change things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these people who says that if I play a certain tone all of a sudden there’s going to be food for those who are starving, I’m not one of those. But I think that in many cases, on a very subtle and unseen level, there’s change. Even if we think about the way the molecules change. So I feel that it’s a worthwhile thing to do. And if I felt as if there wasn’t going to be change, I wouldn’t do it. I’d become an accountant. Maybe that would work better.

But that’s the way I look at it, trying to find activities that are wholesome for me and wholesome for other people, trying to find opportunities for those are out there, and for those that are new to it as well. Because I know that everybody didn’t just wake up one day knowing the whole history of jazz. But it’s like Black Lives Matter. Everybody there, they don’t necessarily know who W.E.B. Dubois is. They don’t necessarily know who Frantz Fanon is. But they do know that there’s a time for change, and they do know that they want to contribute to that change. That’s kind of how I look at it. I’m trying to be present as much as possible. I hope that answers your question. I don’t want to look back. In a time of pandemic, how far can I look? So I won’t take you into any particular era, because they all change, and I’m very happy that they have changed. And I’m happy that I can talk to you about Blue Cheer and about Morricone in the same breath. That’s where I’m coming from.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Scene Spotlight: Sidebar (New Orleans, LA)

Andy Durta, booking manager for the
New Orleans club 
Sidebar with Ken Vandermark

By Nick Ostrum

I first dropped the idea of an interview to Andy Durta, booking manager for the New Orleans club Sidebar, at the end of 2019. I had envisioned a quick discussion about the New Orleans improv scene and Sidebar’s unique place within it. Coming around the 3 rd anniversary of the Scatterjazz music series at venue and just before the venue, bar included, celebrates its 5th anniversary this August, I had originally thought the discussion would be somewhat more triumphant than what transpired when Andy and I finally got to sit down on Zoom on May 30. By then, we (New Orleans) had been under quarantine for two months. Andy and Sidebar mastermind Keith Magruder had meanwhile converted all of Sidebar’s programming first to audience-less performances in the venue itself, then to DIY live streams from people’s living rooms and attics. In true New Orleans fashion, these shows broadcast for free with an encouraged donation to the artists and venue.

Many of you may have visited New Orleans in the past. If you were really committed, you might have spent some time searching the free papers or online for non-traditional venues and acts with the hopes of eschewing the throngs of Frenchman Street. And, if the stars aligned, you might have come across shows with the likes of Jeff Albert, Tristan Gianola and Jason Mingledorf (three local jazzers) or Gordon Grdina (Vancouver) with Simon Berz (Switzerland) and Cyrus Nabipoor (New Orleans) or Tim Berne (New York), James Singleton and Aurora Nealand (both of New Orleans). Add another Gordon Grdina night and a trio with local lap-guitar wizard Dave Easley, and these are the first shows I attended at Sidebar. And this spread of musicians was hardly a fluke. Instead, it is emblematic of what the venue has so effectively offered. A local club, most of its shows consist of New Orleans-based musicians, many of whom have made their name in other musical circles but have meanwhile maintained a deep interest in experimental music. Think: Nealand and Albert, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Nicholas Payton, and, of course, the incomparable Kidd Jordan. Often enough, Andy is also able to get national and international musicians – ranging from Berne and Grdina to Frank Gratkowski, Ingrid Laubrock, and the Humanization 4tet – to join these locals and create some pretty magical evenings.

Alright. This is too quickly turning into a love letter to a club and a time temporarily past, so I will get to the point. I am not exaggerating when I say that in just five years, Sidebar has become the epicenter of free jazz in New Orleans and Andy Durta has been central to that process. The interview above is somewhat sprawling. It starts with a recent show by Swedish concert-hall trombonist Elias Faingersh and wends into stories about years of concert organizing, gratifying passages of name-dropping, and an interesting claim about how many of the most exciting shows that Andy has organized have simply “fallen into (his) lap.” More seriously, the interview also digs into some of the real challenges and frustrations of organizing shows both before and during Covid, and the merits of the struggle to keep improvised music live and accessible. And, if you bear with us for the entire hour, you will hear some colorful stories about Andy and Louis Moholo as they raced to the Yells at Eels show that Ayler Records would later release as Cape of Storms, as well as some beautiful final thoughts.

NB: This interview was recorded at the end of May. The references to upcoming events are therefore outdated. However, I just got word that the Sidebar is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a Webathon of performances from some local jazz and blues musicians (including the local legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington) and sprinkling of more progressive players such as Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger, both of whom are featured in the interview. Shows will run August 7-9. Afterwards, the venue will go quiet for a few weeks as Keith and Andy take a well-deserved break. Here’s hoping the hiatus does not last too long.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Miracle –s/t (Mr. Nakayasi Records, 2020) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

If I had to put a subtitle to this recording in one word, it would be flexibility or mobility. The three musicians that make The Miracle move easily between genres (call it jazz, rock, funk) and seem ready and able to exchange ideas on the spot. Giotis Damianidis’ fluid bass works tremendously well with Joao Lobo’s free drumming. They leave enough room for the soulful sounds of Giovanni Di Domenico’s Hohner Pianet. The Pianet, a risky choice by itself, is a type of electro-mechanical piano, an instrument that produces a mix (to my unskilled ears at least) of jazzy and funk melodies at the same time.

The two side-long tracks that comprise this vinyl, Eulogia which means blessing in greek and Aforismos which means expulsion from the church literally, follow a basic trajectory. Both, in their more than 20 minutes durations, evolve slowly incorporating on the spot interaction from the three musicians. At first you can’t avoid the remark that the pianet seems to dominate in both tracks.

But as you devote more time to The Miracle, you realize how disciplined is Di Domenico’s playing when it comes to do exactly the opposite: to allow time and space for the rhythm section to evolve and get involved in lengthy dialogues. Those dialogues are so joyous and energetic that you never want them to end. All this energetic joy, these good vibrations so evident throughout the 43 minutes of The Miracle, comes in a crossover package that defies categorization. Is it a jazz record? Certainly it is. How funky it is? Too funky I’d say and that’s a big advantage in my agenda.

All three of them can really make you move, while you listen to The Miracle. They swing in the good old-fashioned way. I have commented before for this blog, that sometimes improvisational recordings have the tendency to be really dry and unplayful. While free jazz, even at its peak in the 60’s and 70’s, incorporated the element of playfulness and joy. All this mobility that I initially wrote will make you move your ass in an improvisational way.