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Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (p)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Helmut "Joe" Sachse (g)

Au Topsi Pohl. Berlin. October 2020

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

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Urs Leimgruber (ss), Jacques Demierre (spinet)

9/4/2020. Manufaktur, Schorndorf

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

9/2/2020. Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin

Monday, March 1, 2021

Tributes and Homages (III of III)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Dustin Laurenzi - Behold & Snaketime: The Music of Moondog (Astral Spirits, 2020/2019) ****

There have been several albums recently of modern artists tackling the music of Moondog, the blind avant-garde Viking of New York City. For anyone unfamiliar with Moondog’s music, Dustin Laurenzi’s Snaketime doesn’t present a strictly convervative take. Where some other artists try to replicate Moondog’s compositions as-is, Laurenzi uses them as a starting point for his octet’s lively and fun romps through the songbook. From the jump, there’s the instrumentation, four horns (Laurenzi on tenor, Nick Mazzarella on alto, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Chad McCullough on trumpet) with Dave Miller on guitar, Matt Ulery on bass, and Quin Kirchner and Ryan Packard on drums and percussion. This lineup provides an inverse perspective to Moondog’s homemade instruments; rather than try and emulate the occasionally shaky voicing of the originals, Laurenzi and company transform Moondog’s miniatures into funky, raw grooves. The two albums were recorded the same night, January 12, 2018, at Chicago’s Hungry Brain, so it’s worth getting both to capture the full performance. Snaketime feels entirely at home with the sing-song melodies, looping through them in a loose, AACM-inspired performance. Several players, most notably Mazzarella and Stein, have been covered here, and their playing shines, as always. Miller plays some thrilling solos throughout, and Laurenzi’s playing and arranging demonstrate a warmth for the material and musicians involved. He cleverly shifts focus between different members of the group, with Ulery, Kirchner, and Packard cleverly toying with the canon-inspired structures. Take, for example, “Fiesta Piano Solo,” notably piano-less. One of the highlights of the full set, it’s a great display of the group’s skill and energy in a performance that, in the best possible way, barely resembles the original. Lucky for us, Laurenzi has barely scratched the surface of Moondog’s song book, and hopefully we’ll hear more from Snaketime soon.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tributes and Homages (II of III)

 By Lee Rice Epstein

Tropos - Axioms // 75AB (Biophilia, 2020) ****½


In a similar vein, the quintet Tropos divides their debut album Axioms // 75 AB neatly in half, with “side A” featuring a set of originals, and “side B” given over to inspired takes on ’70s-era Anthony Braxton. Tropos augments a traditional sax quartet lineup—Raef Sengupta on alto sax, Phillip Golub on piano and percussion, Zachary Levine on bass, and Mario Layne Fabrizio on drums and percussion—with Laila Smith on vocals. The voicing is not dissimilar to some Braxton has toyed with, and truly, the Tropos Braxtons are splendid interpretations. Yet, Sengupta, Golub, and Fabrizio’s compositions stand compellingly alongside them, like Douglas’s set, the inspiration isn’t directly present in the construction of the pieces as much as it provides a schema for interpretation. A key ingredient in the album is Ted Reichman, who serves as producer. He burnishes the mix with a warmth that references classics like Fall 1974 and Dave Holland’s Conference of the Birds. Of course, the title Axioms // 75 AB references the maestro’s 75th birthday, an occasion that’s been sadly atrophied by the cancellation of performances due to COVID-19. And so, the primary artifacts of 2020 remain this and Thumbscrew’s The Anthony Braxton Project albums.

In the case of Axioms // 75 AB, the set highlights a set of compositions that are likely well known to readers, “23 C,” “23 E,” “40 (O),” “40 B,” “23 H,” and “6 I.” And, as Reichman points out in the notes, these compositions ought to be included in the Real Book, for all their avant-garde-ness, “[t]hey fit on one page. You can improvise on them in ways that aren’t totally foreign to mainstream jazz practice.” And, like the Real Book, these compositions are always ready for new takes. The freshness of these Tropos readings is to be celebrated and rewarded.

Edward "Kidd" Jordan, Joel Futterman, William Parker, Hamid Drake - A Tribute to Alvin Fielder, Live at Vision Festival XXIV (Mahalaka Music, 2020) ****


When drummer and percussionist Alvin Fielder died in 2019, there must have been a sense among many of us that his spiritual and artistic partners Kidd Jordan and Joel Futterman were going to do something special in his memory. In fact, this special, improvised performance was recorded at the Vision Festival just months after Fielder’s passing. The lineup is a reunion (of sorts) of a recording featuring Jordan, Futterman, Fielder, and William Parker live at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival. Of course, for this rousing tribute, Hamid Drake fills the role of drummer, subtly hinting at Fielder’s rhythmic idioms. Jordan and Futterman have crafted a dynamic musical language that enables them to synchronize improvisatory motifs, moving in parallel lines. There are moments reminiscent of their 1997 trio album with Fielder, Spirits, and Parker and Drake pull off a brilliantly inspired conjuring of the group’s New Orleanian/Southern-tinged sound. So much of improvisation depends on the specificity of the players, there’s no strict set of notes or inflections defining any so-called jazz. Jordan, Futterman, and Fielder were always fascinating because of the personal influences they drew on and molded into their particular sound, merging Louisiana, Illinois, and Mississippi, bringing into their improvisations deep roots and shades of blues, Dixieland, folk, and yes, of course, jazz. This tribute is a glorious celebration of everything they’ve done and keeps the spirit alive for the torch to be passed along.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Tributes and Homages (I of III)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Dave Douglas - Dizzy Atmosphere (Greenleaf Music, 2020) ****

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has long been a likely candidate for the mantle of our generation’s Dizzy Gillespie. With similar wit and verve, as well as a groundbreaking partnership with a fiery altoist, Douglas has so far produced a discography as thrilling and surprising as Gillespie’s, and it’s on his early 2020 release where the two champions finally merge. In addition to advocating universal healthcare and jazz education in public schools, Gillespie called for sending a Black astronaut to the moon, volunteering himself, if needed. Douglas takes this long shot and reimagines it for 2020, a time when Gillespie’s ideas are still considered radically leftist. With cover art imagining a trumpet-inspired space station, Douglas’s Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity brilliantly reinterprets and renews Gillespie’s music. The group is a new sextet, with a double-trumpet front line of Douglas and Dave Adewumi, and a dense rhythm section, featuring Matthew Stevens on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass, and longtime collaborator Joey Baron on drums.

Something that’s always been as true of Douglas as it was of Gillespie is the leader’s lineups continually evolve and rotate. Pairing himself with Adewumi—for whom the term “emerging” undercuts how much he’s accomplished this early in his career—gives Douglas the chance to obliquely reference Gillespie’s celebrated collaborations with Arturo Sandoval, among others. For example, on their cover of “Manteca,” Douglas and Adewumi toy with the famous melody, comfortably playing it inside and out, while Almazan, Stevens, Rothwell, and Baron lean back on a slightly relaxed groove. Perhaps the most notable aspect of their performance is this looseness. Where others have constricted “Manteca” to straight time, the sextet brings back the raggedness of Gillespie’s lively performances. Mixing things up, on “Pickin’ the Cabbage” (the second of two Gillespie originals), the group locks into a textbook swinging performance of the classic. On the rest of the album, Douglas presents seven new compositions written not in Gillespie’s style as much as in his mood, blending music styles and voicings in imaginative settings. Titles like “Con Almazan” and “Cadillac” nodding towards Gillespie without directly quoting his music. Stevens and Alamazan practically steal the album, playing some fantastic solos and supporting the band with a zip that suits the mood.

Martin Archer - Anthropology Band (Discus Music, 2019) *****


Miles Davis’s so-called electric period parallels Bob Dylan’s in many ways, crucially its embrace by younger generations in the decades that followed. One of those influenced by Davis, in particular, is British saxophonist Martin Archer. Actually, to call Archer a saxophonist only is to do him a disservice. Among his many instruments, he’s a supreme composer and collaborator, creating some of the most dynamic electroacoustic jazz of the moment. Anthropology Band takes Davis’s electric phase as inspiration for a massive, gorgeous double album of the same set of compositions in two settings: first with a septet, and second with a big band featuring sixteen players in all. The core septet has Archer on saxophones and electronics, Chris Sharkey on guitar and electronics, Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics, Corey Mwamba on vibraphone, Dave Sturt on bass, and Peter Fairclough on drums. For the seventh, and in some ways the most important seat for a Davis-inspired group, Archer features Charlotte Keeffe on trumpet and flugelhorn. Keeffe also serves as arranger, and the results of her collaboration with Archer are quite simply perfect. The septet sparkles throughout the album. Much like Douglas’s group, again it’s Sharkey and Thomas who anchor the compositions with dazzling interactions, with the added delight of Mwamba’s superb vibes. Sturt and Fairclough sit in the proverbial driver’s seat, and Keeffe and Archer blast out front with confident, catchy riffs. At sixteen players, the full ensemble set is an unleashed monster birthed from the realm of Davis’s Jack Johnson era. The addition of a nine-person winds ensemble spreads the music wide, giving a cinematic broadness to Archer and Keeffe’s chunky funk. The additional players are Kim Macari on trumpet, George Murray on trombone, Ben Higham on tuba, Mick Somerset on concert, alto and bass flutes and piccolo, Nathan Bettany on oboe and cor anglais, James Mainwaring on soprano sax, Hannah Brady on alto sax, Riley Stone-Lonergan on tenor, and Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone. In addition to the electronics layers heard in the septet, Archer and Keeffe stretch the full range afforded them by the instrumentation. So many artists have attempted to tackle Electric Miles™ but Archer and Keeffe go one better by inhabiting their music with the very spirit of ruthless experimentation that defined the era.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Corey Mwamba's vibes

 By Stef Gijssels

In November, colleague Nick Ostrum reviewed the trio of Cath Roberts, Corey Mwamba and Olie Brice "Trio Set At LUME".  The vibraphonist from Derby in the UK has been quite active last year, despite the clear message on his website: "I retired from all public performances in March 2019. All gig offers will be refused", and this for a variety of reasons, none of them related to Covid. Despite this, he stays active, and even very active. 

Corey Mwamba is the current presenter of Freeness, a weekly programme on BBC Radio 3, focused on on adventurous jazz and improvised music. I can only recommend that you check this one out. Readers of our blog will surely appreciate the programme. He is also the lead administrator of Out Front!, an organisation promoting and producing 'new music'. Mwamba was also the artistic director of Derby Jazz from 2016 to 2020. Mwamba was granted an AHRC studentship for a Master of Research degree in Music at Keele University, for which he was awarded a distinction in 2014. Through this research, Corey developed new dark art, which is a notational and theoretical music system that takes early European medieval music practice as a starting point to create modern music. He was awarded a doctorate in Jazz Research at Birmingham City University. I also recommend to have a look at the research page on his website for those of you interested in the more theoretical approach to his music. 

Rachel Musson & Corey Mwamba - What We Said When We Met (Takuroku, 2020)

We reviewed British saxophonist Rachel Musson before, and she figured on colleague Lee Rice Epstein's end of year list with her album "I Went This Way". On "What We Said When We Met", Musson and Mwamba perform a duo through zoom. Both musicians performed together from 2013 till 2019 when the vibraphonist decided to no longer to perform in public. And now with the pandemic, creative solutions were required. Despite the limited recording technology, the quality of the sound is excellent, very intimate and close. Musson's tone is direct, expressive and stripped of anything superfluous, and her sometimes raw yet sensitive tone matches well with the bright open sound of Mwamba's vibes. The latter is not a percussive player, but rather a weaver of sounds, managing a sonic fluidity that is unusual with the instrument. The collective efforts is gentle, versatile and they appear to be very close listeners. 

Nick Malcolm & Corey Mwamba - Chat (Green Eyes, 2020)

We find Mwamba back on this equally intimate duet with British trumpet player Nick Malcolm. Interestingly enough, as on the duet with Musson, this album's title also evocates a conversation. And it is.  Like Musson and Mwamba, Malcolm has many musical projects he's working on, including his own record label, for all of them possibly the result of creativity and possibly also necessity. I am not familiar with his other projects, but this one is a winner. The music 'shines', it has a wonderful lively dynamic, with a great positive undertone. Even a track like 'Down The Bell', that starts quite subdued, is rapidly brought to more energetic levels, not of speed but of intensity and musical joy. Both instruments find a common voice in the warm clarity of their tone, making their music sound like a cheerfully rippling river. It's not spectacular, it's not boundary-shifting, but it's of high quality and wonderfully human. 

Malcolm himself writes: "I feel it is a beautiful document of a musical and personal friendship, with elements of combat, playfulness and celebration, all emanating from a deep mutual listening, and from brotherly love and respect." This underlying understanding and friendship clearly determines the quality of the interaction and of the music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fire! - Defeat (Rune Grammofon, 2021) ****


By Eyal Hareuveni

The Swedish trio Fire! - reeds player Mats Gustafsson, bass player Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin - never sound the same. Fire!’s insurmountable free jazz matched with powerful, hypnotic grooves still defines Defeat, the trio's seventh album since 2009, but with some major differences. Somehow, the pessimistic title and the dark cover art by Kim Hiorthøy define faithfully our pressing times.

Gustafsson leaves aside the tenor saxophone and the bass saxophone, which played a major role in the sound of Fire!’s last album The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018), and focuses on the flute, his first instrument, as he did on the recent album from The Underflow trio (with trumpeter Rob Mazurek and guitarist David Grubbs, Instant Opaque Evening, Blue Chopsticks, 2021), the baritone saxophone and electronics. The addition of trumpeter Goran Kajfeš (who plays quarter-tone trumpet) and trombonist and sousaphone player Mats Äleklint, both played in Fire! Orchestra, color the tight, rhythmic interplay of Fire! with layered horn arrangements, done by Aleklint.

The atmosphere of Defeat, recorded in October 2019 and February 2020 at the Village Recording in Copenhagen, is clearly more reserved, even gentle and lyrical than of Fire!’s previous albums, close to the one of Instant Opaque Evening, which was recorded in the same period of time. Gustafsson’s expressive and ornamental approach on the flute opens up the new pieces and allows the rhythm section of Berthling and Werlin to patiently cook more nuanced hypnotic pulses. Kajfeš and Äleklint expand the rhythmic spectrum of Fire! With their clever playful interplay with Gustafsson, especially on the opening “A Random Belt. Rats You Out”.

“Each Millimeter Of The Toad” begins with Gustafsson’s raw electronics noises and his expressive talking-singing with the flute, but soon surrenders to the subdued yet sensual groove of Berthling and Werliin, a typical charismatic baritone saxophone solo of Gustafsson and call-and-response game with Kajfeš and Äleklint. Werliin and Berthling lay a tribal pulse for “Defeat (Only Further Apart)”, triggering Gustafsson, Kajfeš and Äleklint abstraction of this addictive groove. The last piece, “Alien (To My Feet)” is the most melancholic and unsettling piece here. Gustafsson’s contemplative, lyrical tone on the baritone saxophone and later on the flute fits perfectly the open, sparse rhythmic patterns of Berthling and Werliin.

Defeated again, this time not by Fire! Sheer power but by its surprising fresh, reserved and still highly seductive approach.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Michael and Peter Formanek - Dyads (Out of Your Head Records, 2021) ****½


By Gary Chapin

Being a father with a son, I will foreground the fact that I was easy prey for the sentimental angle on this fantastic set of music. I’m not going to say I was deceived, or that I was driven to over value the sounds because the circumstance is so charming, but the father-son-story of Michael and Peter Formanek was one of the reasons I chose to talk about this disc, as opposed to any of the hundreds (not kidding) of discs that cross my field of vision in this role. That said, I don’t really need an excuse to talk about Michael Formanek, easily my favorite bassist during “these times.”

Dyads is a duet set between Michael Formanek and his son, Peter, on tenor saxophone and clarinet. It’s a quiet-ish (-ist?) affair, with the space and the communication achieving a level of clarity that I so very much love. The level of sympatico between Michael and Peter is — I’m not going to call it extraordinary, but that’s what it is. Listening to them construct these pieces (with composing duties pretty much equally divided between the two) is like being privy to an intimate conversation. There is an equity to the roles that is emblematic of M Formanek’s past work. Yes, the bass supports, and it also weaves melody, and the saxophone also supports. There is a mutuality to the playing here that wins me over.

I have two platonic ideals for this sort of super small group setting. The first is the bass/reed duet on Anthony Braxtons Five Pieces 1975. Dave Holland and Braxton do a bursting out of the gates version of “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” That was the time I understood what Tom Waits’ meant when he said, “Someone oughta lock up that bass!” Holland swung so hard on that. He was so “original and inevitable.” And, again, there was that clarity of voice. Braxton and Holland in conversation. The second platonic ideal for “this kind of thing” is the trio work of Jimmy Giuffre. It might be that I am being swayed into seeing this connection by Peter Formanek’s giuffrian horns. Neither the tenor nor the clarinet is a second horn. Each is a voice of its own, weaving a thoughtful, knotty post-bop reality that almost defines my sweet spot.

Also, it seems important to mention that this duet was recorded in a studio in 2020 and the sound is goddanged exquisite. I’m no audiophile, but the depth of sound coming from Formanek’s bass reminds me of the time I sat three feet away from Reggie Workman doing his thing. It’s hypnotic. Ensorceling.

The Pre-Apocalyptic Michael Formanek Quartet (Out of Your Head Records, 2020) ****

Not that long ago it felt like there was a system of stellar bodies orbiting each other in the free jazz firmament and those bodies were Tim Berne, Michael Formanek, and Craig Taborn. The playlist that could be constructed of their combined work would be formidable and bring much joy. My favorite of the lot — this is me going out on a limb, now — was Formanek’s ECM disc, The Rub and Spare Change. This disc is a live set done in 2014 with those three eminences (and Gerald Cleaver on drums) doing the Rub repertoire. Again, I am not an audiophile, but the sound on the ECM record is (to quote myself) “goddanged exquisite,” and it is jarring to move from that to the rougher confines of a live club recording. But it’s more than made up for by getting to hear these pieces being done over by folks who are constitutionally incapable of doing the same thing twice. The creativity that unfolds … is exactly what you would expect from this crew and it is utterly engaging and fascinating. Like an amazing Carrollian rabbit hole that drags you into it.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Judy Stuart - The Apostolic Session (Inky Dot Media, 2020) ****

By Stuart Broomer

On June 5, 1969, an unrecorded singer named Judy Stuart went into Apostolic Studio in New York to record two demo tracks to present to Vanguard Records. Steve Tintweiss arranged, conducted and produced. At the time Vanguard was pioneering quadraphonic surround sound, so special care was taken to create a 12-channel tape in the hope it could be released in the new format. As it turned out, Vanguard wasn’t interested. By that time, Stuart (born Judith Pizzarelli) was 30 years old and had been singing publicly since childhood, following from amateur contests to singing standards, including work with the bandleaders Les and Larry Elgart. In his liner essay, distinguished historian and broadcaster Ben Young (he wrote Dixonia: a Bio-discography of Bill Dixon) remarks, mysteriously, “Stuart appeared on at least one published phonograph record.”

As popular music changed, so had she: she wrote songs and accompanied herself on guitar. In the late ‘60s she sang with rock bands, then later wrote music for plays produced by La Mama. A couple of years ago, Tintweiss decided to release the two 1969 tracks and made arrangements with Stuart. She died, around eighty, before ever hearing the test pressings. The two songs from the session have now appeared as the first release on Tintweiss’s label: it’s a 10” 45 rpm record, about as specialized a format as you could find to release 12 minutes and 14 seconds of music.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the music is startling, a direct window on the possibilities‒some real, some imaginary‒of what music might be or become 52 years ago: free, creative, previously unimagined and…popular.

You might recognize Tintweiss’s name if you’re an aficionado of the early ESP recordings and the ‘60s explosion of free jazz. He’s the bassist in the band with Burton Greene that accompanies Patty Waters on that extraordinary version of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” on her ESP debut. Tintweiss is also the bassist on Albert Ayler’s final tour recordings, Nuits de La Fondation Maeght. The backing band on Silver’s Apostolic Session is composed of musicians more familiar in advanced jazz than rock circles. Greene is the pianist. Calo Scott (who worked with Gerry Mulligan, Ahmed-Abdul Malik, Gato Barbieri and Archie Shepp, and appeared on Carla Bley and Paul Haines’ Escalator over the Hill [the most ambitious genre fusion/confusion of the era]) plays cello. Marc Levin, who made a record for Savoy in 1968 with Scott and Cecil McBee, plays cornet. & valve trombone. Dave Baker, who played trombone with George Russell and later became a cellist and famed jazz educator, was the recording engineer.

What does the music sound like? Crazy. Stuart’s songs come in broken, half-talked phrases, with sudden interval leaps, shifts in timbre, pitch bends, weird shrieks and yodels. The words to “Inspiration” and “Nickel Bag of Tears” are a struggle to understand (I came away from the former with “the wet collect the faded dead”; the latter has a great title) . . . almost Dylan sings Schoenberg. If I’d heard it fifty years ago, I probably could have made out the words (or just imagined them). The accompanying music is loopy, filled with high-speed collisions, compound dissonances and twisted solo episodes, held together by sometimes commonplace riffs. Paul Nash’s guitar is either fragmentary or high speed, haunted by strange, internal tensions. Scott and Greene are momentarily brilliant and strange, while Tintweiss, conducting, somehow manages to make all the disparate and far-flung bits, pieces and sudden impulses come together, in a way that may be more spontaneous if less magical than Captain Beefheart.

It summons up a time when music could be both brief and startling.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Patricia Brennan - Maquishti (Valley of Search, 2021) ***½


By Keith Prosk

Mallet percussionist Patricia Brennan crafts a tuneful environment on the hour-long debut solo and debut as leader, Maquishti. While Brennan has recorded with 7 Poets Trio, most of her recorded work is with large ensembles, including Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus, Matt Mitchell’s, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, and the Webber/Morris Big Band. It’s refreshing to hear her vibraphone and marimba unobscured, with space for the harmonic glow of the bars to breathe. Some tracks are highlighted as improvisations, but many of the other tracks were composed out of improvisations in the studio, so there’s a spirit of spontaneity that keeps things fresh.

Most of the tracks feature vibraphone, and most of those have a melodic theme. The pacing is relaxed and the time between strikes spacious. The vibraphone is sometimes lightly modulated with effects pedals, bowing, or pitch-bending techniques, the spaced-out tones of “Solar” being a great example. The tunes teeter on lullaby or jingle territory but playfully explored, making a music that is surficially simple but rewards a close listen for harmonics that hang in the air, clash with each other, and blend. Notable exceptions, which are also the most lively vibraphone tracks, include the angular contrapuntal rhythm of “Magic Square,” the new age drone and bowed wavy resonance of “Away from Us,” and the small sounds, scraped glissandos, and tinny mbira-esque pluckings achieved with objects on “Point of No Return.” The marimba tracks - “Improvisation VI,” “Improvisation VII,” and “Derrumbe de Turquesas” - are welcome timbral palate cleansers and, juxtaposed next to the ringing vibraphone, illuminate the lower resonance of the material; whereas the vibraphone easily fills space with a single note, the marimba often plays at an increased tempo and drastically varies tempo and volume to fill space and create movement. The marimba tracks are evenly sequenced but the more adventurous tracks are backended, which seems to provide a pacing strategy that eases in conventionally-minded listeners and hooks more adventurous listeners before too long.

I have a personal bias, in that I hoped for a solo mallet record - something I’m not sure has been done in this style since Bobby Naughton’s and Jay Hoggard’s records in 1979 - to really extend the sound and language of the instruments, but this is not far from the foundations of Milt Jackson or Bobby Hutcherson. That said, Brennan’s style is distinctive from Adasiewicz, Dell, Moran, Nicodemou, etc., not to mention the other percussionists that dabble in mallet instruments, and that’s made clearer than ever thanks to this intimate format. There is a measured, comfortable inside-outside sandbox play here. And while I think the focus is on the tunes, their dancing harmonics, now uninterrupted by other instruments, give the ear a lot of material to enjoy.

Maquishti is available on CD, LP, and digitally.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Two Duos of Vocal Artist Phil Minton

By Eyal Hareuveni

British pioneer vocal artist Phil Minton turned eighty this year. Minton’s close collaborators in the last decade are the Berlin-based, fellow-vocal artist Audrey Chen and Viennese turntables wizard dieb13.

Audrey Chen & Phil Minton - Frothing Morse (Tour de Bras, 2020) ****

Minton said recently in an interview to The Wire that “singing with Audrey is like working with all the possible noises of the universe and beyond, earthquakes, colliding galaxies and slugs sliding down a wet window, very quiet. It’s endured because we love working together and some people in the world ask us to perform for them and give us a meager wage”. Frothing Morse is the second album of this duo, following By the Stream (Sub Rosa, 2013).

The title-piece was recorded live at the Santa Chiara Nuova church in Lodi, Italy, during the ImprovvisaMente festival in November 2015. The intense and fearless, dadaist conversational duet aims to go deeper than the textual level as Minton and Chen explore the most inherent bodily instruments and search for enigmatic, unintelligible and incomprehensible means of communication that leave behind all common elements of language, syntax, or vocabulary. Chen and Minton sound like one, two-headed vocal organism, interacting in a total telepathic manner. They explore together an expressive and highly nuanced spectrum of feelings and moods, from the meditative and ritualist, through the sensual and passionate, and, obviously, to the eccentric and grotesque, but with an arresting sense of timing, storytelling and emotional drama.

Phil Minton & dieb3 - With, Without (Klanggalerie, 2020) ****

Minton and dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič, a generation younger from Minton) work were scarcely documented so far - the DVDr’s (Unlimited 23, PanRec, 2011, and im Pavillon, PanRec, 2013), both captured short performances at the Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria. With, Without is a collage of Minton and dieb13 performances from the Unlimited festival in 2009, through three performances in Vienna, one at the Instants Chavires Festival in Montreuil, France in 2016 and the last one from the Disobedience Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2017).

Minton refrains on these performances from referencing literary texts as he did in many previous free-improvised meetings before (he has sung lyrics by William Blake with Mike Westbrook's group, Ho Chi Minh with Veryan Weston and more recently Daniil Kharms and Joseph Brodsky with Simon Nabatov, and sang extracts from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake with his own ensemble). With dieb13 he employs his dramatic baritone only with extended vocal techniques, deconstructing every possible facet of the human voice into free-form train of abstract and eccentric retching, burping, screaming, gasping, childlike muttering, whining, crying, whistling and humming sounds, or as Minton himself calls it: "belching obscene incoherent rubbish", often with what seems like as a tortured body language that enhances the abstract narrative.

These series of free-associative and imaginative gibberish of human voices were framed and orchestrated brilliantly in real-time by dieb13, always attuned to every nuance of Minton’s vocalizations, and injecting loose but coherent threads to Minton’s wild vocal journeys. On With, Without, dieb13 mixed and edited again these performances into an hour plus piece. The subtle and clever orchestration of dieb13 often extends and twists Minton’s manic vocalizations into alien and sometimes perfectly fitting cartoonish sonic universes. But at other times dieb13 charges these eccentric yet very emotional vocalizations with ironic comments, adds surprising depth and colors the crazed vocal eruptions with dense and unsettling urban noises. There are even brief segments where dieb13 matches sax pieces that trick Minton into brief, playful jazz-y duets. Typically, it ends with Minton articulating his clear desire to go to sleep. Obviously, no words were needed.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed - the Ritual and the Dance (Astral Spirits, 2021) ****½

By Nick Metzger

The legendary reedsman and composer Roscoe Mitchell officially became an octogenarian this past summer and his work continues to grow in scale and scope. His ambition and creativity never waning, Mitchell in a recent interview with SFJAZZ (on the occasion of his induction into the 2020 NEA Jazz Master class) said " takes a long time to be what I'm trying to be!" Though the pandemic has certainly slowed things down for the Chicago native (currently living in Wisconsin), it sounds like he's enjoying the additional time afforded by the lockdown to explore new ideas. Fellow AACM member Mike Reed has also been keeping busy, both keeping his venues the Constellation and the Hungry Brain afloat during the intermittent lockdowns as well as providing virtual and live events (when permitted). Their first duo album In Pursuit of Magic was released in 2014, the same year as the Conversations albums that have become so significant to Mitchell's orchestral works. The album is rightly framed in a review on the (Free) Jazz Alchemist as "A meeting of an avant-guard legend and a few decades younger disciple, one of the most active animators of the modern jazz scene in Chicago- ain't that a definitive prove of art's continuity?" It's a fantastic album that showcases the physicality of their approach across a pair of tracks. On the Ritual and the Dance that physicality is redoubled across a single long piece with Mitchell on saxophones and Reed on percussion and electronics.

The album was recorded in October of 2015 as part of the Oorstof concert series in Antwerp. The piece starts with Reed weaving sparse bits of percussion around Mitchell's irregular, probing sopranino squawk. These minor sounds quickly accumulate in frequency and velocity as the musicians lock into their heady and physical interplay. Reed is a spectacular drummer, a true lion of the skins he colors his crisp, flowing percussion with subtle and sometimes unexpected sounds. Here he puts on a clinic; the speed, power, and sharpness of his technique serve to soften his pummeling attack, but it is a pummeling nevertheless. Mitchell meets him right in the midst of his tempest, a swirling mass of razorwire sound piercing the din. Reed puts down his sticks and adds some light electronics as Mitchell continues working through his concept, then returns subtly and takes over as Mitchell inhales his first deep breath in a quarter hour. The rhythm relaxes and Reed stretches out, working over his toms and punctuating the maelstrom with violent cymbal work. His pace slows and there is a brief period where the duo employ a slightly more delicate measure. Mitchell, now on alto, plays long, wailing figures against the abstract rhythms of Reed. Mitchell's playing quickens as Reed briefly recoils before going in for the finish. Now on soprano, Mitchell peels off knotty, twisted passages within the barrage. The intensity wanes for a final time and Mitchell softly plays bells against Reed's thumping backbeat and the appreciative whoops of the crowd.

This is a special duo and I'd been hoping for a sequel from them for a while now. From Mitchell's artwork adorning the sleeve to the ferociously meticulous contents within, it's my favorite release so far in a still young 2021. Hopefully very soon now I'll get to make the trip up to see a show at one of Mike's places (and soak in a city I've not seen for too long now), in the meantime albums like this serve as reminders of a better time that I still hope to get back to. An incredible set of live music by two of the AACMs finest. Released today and very highly recommended.