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Escalator: Ken Vandermark (sax, cl) Mark Tokar (b) and Klaus Kugel (dr)

W71, Weikersheim, Germany 10/27/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Kaja Draksler/Eve Risser (p)

BASF Gesellschaftshaus, Ludwigshafen, 10/11/2018. Photo by Martin Schray.

Tom Rainey Obbligato

Tom Rainey (dr), Ingrid Laubrock (ts), Ralph Alessi (tp), Drew Gress (b), Jacob Sacks (p); Karlsruhe, ZKM, 10/12/2018. Photo by Martin Schray.

Luc Houtkamp (cl) and Martin Blume (dr)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 10/5/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

The Attic: Gonçalo Almeida (b), Rodrigo Amado (ts), Onno Govaert (dr)

Bonn, Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena. August 2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Monday, November 12, 2018

Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan Records, 2018) ****

By Alexander Dubovoy

Dirigo Rataplan II, which features Ellery Eskelin on saxophone, Michael Formanek on bass, and Dave Ballou on trumpet, is drummer/composer Devin Gray’s follow-up to the 2012 release Dirigo Rataplan. Each of these musicians is a consummate improviser, and this band could have easily produced a compelling freely improvised album. Where Dirigo Rataplan II, however, shines is in the interplay between improvisation and Gray’s keen compositional sensibilities.

Though some of the pieces on the album more-or-less follow a jazz formula of melody-improvisation-melody, they navigate this structure in new and distinct ways. “The Feeling of Healing” (one of the many cheekily-named tracks on the album) begins with a section of meticulously-orchestrated counterpoint. Formanek bows a beautiful countermelody to the horns’. After the melody ends, however, Formanek begins to play overtones, and the band moves into a more textural register. Gray’s writing yields to a series of small-group interactions and to a sense of increased spaciousness. Somehow, after an extended improvisation, the band coalesces again on composed counterpoint to close the piece.

Indeed, “solos” are essentially nonexistent on this album. Instead, the improvisations rely on thoughtful navigation of the group’s instrumentation. On “Quantum Cryptology,” for example, Gray and Ballou embark upon a fascinating duo interaction before Formanek joins at just the right moment. “Texticate” further explores texture and open forms. It begins quietly with sensitive duo playing between Eskelin and Gray and grows over nearly six minutes until reaching a climactic through-composed melody.

Gray’s melodic writing reaches its zenith, in my opining, on “Congruently,” “Trends of Trending,” and “The Wire.” Quartets without chordal instruments have a long history in jazz, but their history remains somewhat marginal, perhaps in part because of how difficult it is to compose music that will retain cohesion in this format. In Eskelin, Formanek, and Ballou, Gray has found players who can make his compositions shine, despite or, perhaps, because of the format. The result is music that is simultaneously catchy and intricate, meticulously composed and still thoroughly open.

Dirigo Rataplan II is the first album to be released on Gray’s new label Rataplan Records. With this caliber of creative output, I look forward to hearing what Rataplan releases next.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Günter Baby Sommer and Till Brönner – Baby’s Party (Intakt, 2018) **

Today we present two views on Günter Baby Sommer and Till Brönner's 'Baby’s Party.'  Be sure to read Nick Ostrum's positive take on the the recording here.

By Martin Schray

Although Till Brönner is regarded as one of the best jazz trumpeters (at least if it comes to sheer musicianship), his reputation among improv fans is not the best (to put it mildly). Many people resent him his participation as a juror in “X-Factor“, a German casting show similar to “American Idol“. His cheesy The Movie Album, the snoring boringThe Christmas Album or the simply horrible muzak on At The End Of The Day (on which he ill-treats pop classics like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“ and Lennon/McCartney’s “And I love her“ not only with his trumpet, but also with his vocals) did the rest.

As if to prove to all his haters that he can also do differently, Brönner has been cultivating his friendship with East German free jazz drummer legend Günter Baby Sommer for years, both being appointed professors at the Dresden conservatoire. Now the two have decided to release an album on the excellent Swiss Intakt label. Nevertheless, scepticism was the order of the day. But when you listen to the album for the first time, you might be positively surprised. “Apero Con Brio“, the opening track, sometimes sounds as if a mellowed-with-age Bill Dixon meets a swinging Hamid Drake on wooden slit drum.

However, you realise very soon that it’s completely predictable what the two of them are doing. Brönner is obviously able to imitate any style and Sommer offers him eleven simple templates to prove it. Yet, you notice quite soon that something is missing. There’s no authenticity or musical vision, the music doesn’t feel genuine, it seems that especially Brönner is just showing off. It’s as if he was saying: “Hey, look, if I only want I can play free jazz as well.“ That he actually can’t can be heard on the two cover versions on the album. Just listen to the first two minutes of Fred E. Weatherly’s “Danny Boy“, where Brönner is no better than the poor candidates in the casting shows, who try and express emotional peaks, of which there are many, with an over-extended, whining melisma, before the track wanders off to some pointless improvised territories. The other example is Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood“, actually a piece where you can hardly do wrong. But even here Brönner fails to find the soul of the piece, he’s abandoned the implicit brokenness and sadness in favour of polished vanity. Even Günter Sommer can't save anything here anymore.

There are lots of excellent trumpet/drums duos (Nate Wooley & Paul Lytton or Darren Johnston & Tim Daisy, to name just two). Sommer & Brönner does not belong to them.

Günter Baby Sommer and Till Brönner – Baby’s Party (Intakt, 2018) ****

Today we present two contrasting views of the Günter Baby Sommer and Till Brönner's 'Baby’s Party.'  Be sure to read Martin Schray's less flattering view here.

Günter Baby Sommer was the percussive force of the East German free jazz scene and is today an avant-garde institution in his own right.  Trumpeter Till Brönner is of a younger generation and one the luminaries Germany’s post-bop scene.  At first, I found this collaboration somewhat curious.  However, as Thomas Brückner’s illuminative liner notes point out, the collaboration is already 8 years deep and has been greeted with skepticism since its earliest days.  Indeed, Brückner is right that the jazz world has had enough bracketing for a little while.  It is time “to overcome what divides, to build bridges, to develop a conjoint language that respects the Otherness of one’s coun­terpart and moulds into a new whole what both sides have to offer.”  In this case, both sides indeed have much to offer. 

From the very beginning, Baby’s Party captivated me.  The first track, “Apero con Brio” begins with the clump of a bass drum and cymbal, followed by a crisp, brief trumpet phrase.  The two continue in disjointed dialog until Sommer settles into a slit drum groove over which Brönner waxes his brass poetry.  This act sets the tone for the rest of the album.  The result is playful, yet intimate.  Its sensibilities range from pop (or, at least, standards) to Sommer’s ever-inquisitive, ever-resourceful explorations of timbre, resonance, and rhythm.  “First Shot” follows with an arrhythmic rattle of glassware generated in part through the scrape and ding of actual utensils over which Brönner layers a lonesome, echoing trumpet.  Next comes a mournful, then briefly exuberant “Special Guest No. 1: Danny Boy” wherein the musicians seize the space and initiative to deconstruct and reinterpret sections of the Irish elegy.  “Flinke Besen” is a race paced by Sommer’s rapid brush roles that seem to delight more in the sound produced by distinct combinations of strokes than the percussive onslaught that drumkits often tempt.  “Second Shot” features Sommer on the mouth harp over which Brönner tenderly improvises.  (I think I hear the trumpet reverberating off a dormant snare in the background, which lends an ethereal feel to the track.)  “A Soft Drink in Between” begins with an ominous layering of gong, bells, and split drum.  Brönner enters with a muted, wistful horn augmented by an echo effect.  This poses a stark contrast to “Inside-Outside-Trip,” which opens with Sommer’s enigmatic vocal incantations and develops into a funky bop number.  The influence of Miles Davis on Brönner is unmistakable.  Sommer and Brönner share melodic duties on the infectious “Third Shot.”  “A Little Nap in Between” begins with a whispered brass and percussive drone that develops into a slow and dreamy duet and fades again into a fading murmur.  “Special Guest No. 2: Der Alte Spanier” incorporates Spanish-tinged brass, welling drum-lines, and a return to Sommer’s ludic vocalizations.  As a celebration of old age and life (presumably), it serves as a fitting complement to the solemnity of youthful loss inherent in Danny Boy.   The final track, “Party Over – In a Sentimental Mood,” begins with a crackling that evokes the pitter-patter of rain.  When Brönner enters with the first notes of the melody, it is already clear that what follows will be a sparse, tempered, and contemplative affair.  Or, rather, an end to the affair.

This album is excellent.  The two musicians play well with the space and individualization that that such a format allows.  They approach each piece (all except “Danny Boy” and “In a Sentimental Mood” written by Sommer) not just as a distinct composition, but also as a movement within a greater opus, or a scene in a story.  Each track has its merits and makes a unique contribution.  Nevertheless, the power of this release resides in the narrative coherence that underlies the stylistic diversity.  It also resides in the openness, responsiveness, and eagerness with which these two distinct and distinguished musical minds - thoroughly accomplished in their own corners of the jazz world – came to this exercise in bridge-building.  Such projects rarely work out this well. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Peter Jacquemyn - Fundament (El Negocito, 2018) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Belgian bass-player Peter Jacquemyn is probably best known for his collaborations with Evan Parker, Peter Kowald, André Goudbeek and free jazz musicians, usually in small ensembles. Now, he's taken on a more ambitious project, called "Fundament" (Dutch for 'foundation'), a composition/improvisation for instruments that play in the lower register.

The band are Peter Jacquemyn, Yannick Peeters, Kristof Roseeuw, Lode Leire, Pieter Lenaerts on double bass, Erick Sleichim on tubax, Jan Pillaert and Carl-Ludwich Hübsch on tuba, Matthias Muche on trombone, Gregoire Tirtiaux and Mathieu Lilin on baritone saxophone, and Peter Verdonck on bass saxophone. Several of the musicians add their vocal capacities, especially the leader who is versed in Mongolian tuva chanting. The band is unusual, to say the least. 

Jacquemyn's endeavour is to bring something foundational, not only literally by creating a deep and overwhelming bass ensemble, but also at a deeper, spiritual level, namely to feel the vibration of life, feel the resonance in a real physical sense. I had to the pleasure to assist one of the performances in the Saint Jacob Church in Ghent, where the band occupied the larger part of the church floor and moved forward and backward, walking behind the massive pillars, come close the audience, and creating distance again, sometimes all together, sometimes with musicians moving in different directions according to a beautifully orchestrated choreography. This amazing physical aspect of the performance can of course not be experienced on this album, and that's a shame, really. 

Below, I share two excerpts of the concert to give an idea of the performance. Recorded with iPhone, so apologies for the lack of quality and stability. 

Back to the album: first, it has been quite a feat to capture the essence of the performance on record, even if you do not experience the full resonance of the space, you get dragged into this wonderful and special sonic universe, one that offers both the calming effect of single tone mantra-like bass voices with the more terrifying sounds of interjected screams or instruments. ... or the magnificent moment of complete distress on the short "Blow".

"Fundament B" is less linear than "Fundament A", and starts with a multitude of bowed basses conversing, in dark, ominous tones, as it evolves into a stop and go game between the basses and the trombone, or the collective versus the individual, until a much deeper groundswell by the horns takes over, in a strange contradiction of massive minimalism, something that is both solid and simple, but with enough variation to keep the tension going.

The album ends with "Earth", a monotonous chant with the whistling tuva sounds shimmering over deep bass voices, sounds that come from the core of the earth and connect us with the things on it, disrupted by savage growling sounds of Jacquemyn.

The album is not as strong as the actual concert - and how could it be? -  yet it captures the essence well. It is offers an amazing listening experience, a work of art full of creativity, audacity, intelligence and something deeply foundational.

Don't miss it!

Listen and download from Bandcamp. Equally available in vinyl.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Cory Smythe - Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic, 2018) *****

By Stuart Broomer

Pianist Cory Smythe is emerging as a significant pianist in free improvisation and new music circles. He has appeared on recordings such as Planktonic Finales with Stephan Crump and Ingrid Laubrock, as a member of Tyshawn Sorey’s trio and with Peter Evans. He’s also appeared on recordings of works by Iannis Xenakis and Anthony Braxton. Circulate Susanna is his debut as a bandleader, playing autoharp and electronics as well as piano in a trio with Swedish singer Sofia Jernberg and Daniel Lippel who’s playing detuned acoustic guitar and electronics.

It’s one of the strangest and most ambitious debuts in recent memory, beginning with Smythe’s liner note, which begins in large print on the CD’s front cover: “In the summertime, in the rural part of Illinois where I grew up, my sisters and I used to spend afternoons square dancing in the pale front yard. Our father was an amateur square dance caller, and we’d dutifully follow the instructions he incanted over the twangy warble of Stephen Foster and George Washington Dixon…” The piece continues, becoming increasingly strange and poetic with his father’s tales: “The Foster and Dixon tunes that undergirded Father’s stories, arriving to us as they did via wilted vinyl, windspun and re-tuned by the filtering fibers of the cotton ceiling and the coarse earth, made it easy to imagine the kind of harmonies that might bend, burble, and howl in the distant world of his invention.” With this unusual narrative, a 40-year-old American post-modern fixes his roots with a surreal passage to the songs of minstrelsy, setting himself within the bizarre moral compass of American music and its roots.

As much poet as pianist and songwriter, Smythe’s works here are insistent probes into an imaginative ground. Lippel’s detuned guitar insists on a chance relation of quarter tones and dissonances with Smythe’s piano, and in American music, from Blind Willie Johnson to Harry Partch, quarter tones are invitation to national dreams as well as the moral and cognitive dissonances associated with American song, from minstrelsy to the white blues of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Jernberg’s voice is an exploratory instrument, consisting as much of shamanistic cries and yips as words and notes. From the first episode, “Susanna soil flutter,” we are set loose in a dream.

The fascination of the jazz avant-garde with American folk materials and their complex significance goes back at least to the work of John Benson Brooks and his recordings of folk songs, first with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and then as part of his marvellous Alabama Concerto, crafting a four-part work from his work as a researcher for folklorist Harold Courlander (recorded with Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Barry Galbraith and Milt Hinton, it’s an obscure marvel of 1958 jazz). More germane are George Russell’s marvellously dissonant and expressionist recording of “You Are My Sunshine” with Sheila Jordan (in 1962) and Patty Waters’ wonderful “Black (Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair),” from 1965. Songs plus context, inferences and contradictions, these suggest a necessary exploration that continues here, a search for roots and resonance as well as freedom, a becoming that moves backwards as well as forwards, part shock, part treatment.

Circulate Susanna , advancing the project, is both summoning of memory and a critique of its very possibility and authenticity, an investigation that probes the nostalgia at the heart of American experience (whether mere sentimentality or a profound longing for home—a mark of many first-rank American writers from Twain and Stein to Frederick Exley as well as American music, including the mawkish absurdity of Jolson’s “Mammy”: “ My heartstrings are tangled around Alabammy.”) Smythe’s memories of his rural Illinois childhood and the ancient songs of Stephen Foster (once wonderfully summoned and placed by the poet Paul Haines in his “note” to Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity as “foster melodies of my foster mother,” displacement and substitution upon displacement and substitution) may trigger these visions; once one begins to listen to this music, however, any sense of fond memory disappears—it’s an invocation unseated and unsettling, as meanings emerge in the random intervals between guitar and piano, in the quavering electronics and vocal eruptions. It is the past without order, song singing out in an intense, shapeless present.

The more developed pieces are psychodrama. “Susanna Soil Flutter” is weighty dissonant chords, electronic orchestral percussion, and the first inklings of the fluid instrument that is Jernberg’s voice, one that will stretch through microtonal flights and pyrotechnic ululations. “Circulate Susanna” sounds like scat singing on helium, and “Heads gather the stars” sounds like a detuned piano in extended dialogue with guitar. The electronics are such that pitch will bend like silly putty, perhaps even like “electric fluid magnified.”

In his note, Smythe references “the 500 souls envisaged and executed in the haunting second verse of Foster’s ‘Oh! Susanna’” and there’s a track called “(Bullgine/lectric fluid magnified).” But Smythe obscures the full horror apparent there, the grimmest word in American English that shouts from that second verse, the “n” word that identifies those “souls” in this absurdist comedy:

“I jumped aboard de telegraph,
And trabbled down de riber,
De lectric fluid magnified,
And killed five hundred n-----.
De bullgine bust, de horse run off,
I really thought I'd die;
I shut my eyes to hold my breath,
Susanna, don't you cry.” (Wikisource)

To appreciate the full madness of that passage, from the song that made Foster America’s first full-time songwriter, a “bullgine” is generally defined as a steam engine, another mode of travel to add to the horse and the electric telegraph that transports and kills.

The final performance of Circulate Susanna may be the most disconcerting here: it’s a free deconstruction of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” the song that in Billie Holiday’s original version was the utter repudiation of all the clichés of minstrelsy that had endured so long in American song. Called here “To gather the wind” and its text a series of fragments—"And at the root…In the southern breeze…The gallant south”—it surrenders all the form, focus, and coherent effect of the Meeropol/ Holiday work for a scattered series of disconnected sonic bruises, breaks and contusions, a brutal conclusion to the very possibility of song.

It’s a bravely unattractive finale for what a fascinating verbal/musical probe, carrying the project to a conclusion at once as logical as it is dark, a music becoming inaccessible in the moment of its authentic recognition, a performance that will color, even contaminate, yet authenticate, any future hearing of the original. Circulate Susanna (what goes around comes around?) is a startling proposal. Smythe’s music is as arresting as it is challenging.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Jooklo Duo & Mette Rasmussen - Graz Live! (Insula Jazz, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Graz Live! presents a 2016 live performance of the Jooklo Duo paired up with Mette Rasmussen. I’ve been eager to see a release from this combo for some time now, so when I saw this tape become available I contacted the Jooklos to obtain a copy they were nice enough to oblige. On that note I’ll come right out with it: this is a limited-edition-cassette-tape-only release with no download code. There is currently no way to get this bad boy onto your mobile device without some good old fashioned analogue-to-digital elbow grease. The last I looked there were copies for sale on Discogs, or you may want to contact Insula Jazz directly to obtain your own copy. The packaging is a simple j-card in a clear case (no compostable cassette tapes in hand-carved oak boxes with pressed lotus flowers here) and to be honest, the recording quality is pretty rough. But such is the life we’ve been dealt as enthusiasts of strange and rare music . . . Anyway, this release finds the Jooklo Duo providing a raucously psychedelic backdrop for Rasmussen’s pyrotechnics; think something in the lineage of The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing, but mutated and jacked up on steroids and HGH.

As the A side starts up Rasmussen alternates plaintive cries and whirlwind runs over Vazdan’s toms and cymbal wash beneath which Genta’s atonal synthesizer accompaniment invokes sci-fi atmospherics. Rasmussen pushes the intensity as the piece progresses, shrieking in staccato phrases over the groove that develops from the Jooklos which then dissolves into a sax/synth duo that juxtaposes percussive reed pops with wild synth probing. The group winds down the A side with an interlude of shaken bells, mbira, chimes, etc as Rasmussen drives her airy sax lines through the meditative veil stirred up by the Jooklos. The B side starts off with hand drums and Genta’s trance provoking circular breathing technique on sopranino saxophone. After building up a din for a several minutes Vazdan and Rasmussen join in and the piece explodes into a psychedelic kaleidoscope of rolling drums and saxophone skronk that carries a decidedly eastern feel. The second piece on the B side starts with more inquisitive sax and synth probing before taking off over Vazdan’s roiling percussion. Similar to the A side we get the synth/drums core of the Jooklos over which Rasmussen bursts, franticly screeching and honking in response to their wall of sound. Over last couple of minutes this winds down as Genta takes the foreground with her vivid synth wanderings to close the track.

This is a pretty satisfying (albeit short) listen and something that may not have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for Insula Jazz taking the initiative to get it out there, and for that we thank them. Hopefully we’ll get a full length release from this combo in the near future, but until then this diamond-in-the-rough is a much appreciated (and decidedly tasty) appetizer.

Jooklo Duo with Mette Rasmussen, Magazzino sul Po, Torino, February 28, 2018:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Cold Voodoo - AB+ (Wide Ear, 2018) ***½

By Stef Gijssels

Last year, we reviewed "Orion" by Im Wald, a dark and somber album by a quintet of young musicians. We find Tobias Meier, the band's altoist, back in this wonderfully intimate duet with Silvan Jeger on bass.

The Swiss duo creates a warm, intimate dialogue on the "A+" side, that becomes intense and agitated as it progresses, but without ever raising the voice of the instruments, which remain within a narrow tonal mid-range, like a conversation among friends that intensifies and slows down again yet never stops, without breaks or pauses: both instruments play constantly.

The "B+" side is much harsher, with Jeger using his bow, and Meier screeching in a higher register, but again with the same intensity, but now with more power and energy, relentlessly. The sound is more one of indignation than anger, more one of surprise than determination, leaving the interplay evolve in a clear and focused way, gradually toning down to a sense of calm resignation, recreating the warm atmosphere of the first track, with whispering sax and plucked bass.

The band's name is reflected in the musical approach on the two sides of the audio cassette. The musicians themselves describe it as a tension between "the physical presence of exhaustion on the one hand and of an external perspective and serenity on the other". And it works. Voodoo or not, the effect is enchanting.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wolf Eyes Extravaganza (September 21-22, 2018, Café Oto, London)

Wolf Eyes (now and for many years consisting of Aaron Dilloway, Nate Young and John Olson) have sprung out of the dystopian American Midwest. Having absorbed all their metal, hardcore punk and free jazz influences, they channel them into something new, raw, and angry that we had to define it, only as a reduction, as noise. Letting the world know about their vision of a new music by millions of limiter run cassettes and cdr’s plus some vinyl, they managed to escape labels. By collaborating in the mid-00s with Anthony Braxton on the beautiful monster of an album called Black Vomit, they made it clear that genres were obsolete to them. By 2009’s Always Wrong their music could easily be described as modern blues, with cathartic lyrics about the gutter of our feelings taking a stand. Since then, they have been forging bonds with what we could call (my definition) the outer limits of free rock like in 2013’s No Answer-Lower Floors. As always playing live is a totally different beast, one that can easily devour a musician and sometimes the audience as well. This is pretty much the reason I was so eager to catch them live for the first time.

It’s been two years since I last visited the heavily gentrified area of Dalston and from now on I’m crossing my fingers that Oto will be able to hang in there. The prices around the area seem to be skyrocketing. Good old capitalism, I guess. The three day residency at Café Oto seemed like an extravaganza of like minded artists. I managed to catch the first two days. The second day, Saturday, was sold out but I guess that even on the day before the place was packed. And it was nice to see some weirdos (no, I do not mean myself) instead of the usually hip crowd of Oto.

The opening set of Vicky Langan and Aaron Dilloway did not deliver. Even though they both tried hard by switching knots and pushing contact microphones to their limits, like static, it lacked energy. The guys from the Wolf Eyes were up next for a small set, but they decided not to play safe (by just giving us a “casual” Eyes show), a decision that went for Saturday as well. So it was an expanded version of Wolf Eyes, the Universal Eyes (an offshoot of Wolf Eyes with members of the band Universal Indians), along with Gretchen Davidson. I strongly believe that this is the core of a live version: presenting a new image, an altered one, something different. Their sound was huge. Nate Young was a dominant figure with vocals coming out the belly of the beast while Olson's sax shrieked between notes and an amorphous maze of noise. Yes, yes, I know, free jazz. Aaron, always the quiet presence, along with Davidson, provided an elastic electro-acoustic mayhem. It was cathartic at times.

The Universal Eyes stayed on. They must have liked it as much as the audience. Now it was with the duo of Elvin Brandhi and Gwilly Edmondez, the Yeah You. Having never heard them before, I’m not sure I got the right idea (if there’s such a thing) of what they exactly do. But, certainly they blended and reacted with the quartet of Universal Eyes amazingly. This six piece performance was the highlight of the two days. Many times, it seems that collaborations tend to suck out each other’s energy. Quite the opposite that night. The visions of six people, two different groups of musicians came together to form a new kind of ecstasy, some kind of transcendence. A psychedelic jungle maybe. Their forty minute set seemed to last forever, constantly climaxing until the very last second. A wonderful chaos.

The second day started with a DJ-set by Vicky Langan, and I must admit that she performed much better through this than the day before. I really enjoyed the weirdness of her set and how it was constructed to prepare us for what was about to come. For some reason, though, her set lasted very long. When the guys from Triple Negative finally took the small stage on Oto, I realized that probably they were just late. There seemed to exist some tension between them and those situations, very often, produce fruitful results. Well, not this time. Their performance was a mix of rock poses on guitar, a wind instrument that was literally inaudible and some piano with lyrics that were taking off on their own. Believe me, I have nothing against cacophony (quite the contrary) but this was not working and, disappointingly, there was little unity and collectiveness between them and the audience. Pretty disappointing.

The Universal Eyes returned for the last performance of the day. Saturday was the day of more rhythm and less noise. Young started off with some poetry, as he pointed out. I had the image that it was part two, like side b of the same record. Having heard side a just yesterday. It was less fun, more serious, more like an angry choice of words and sound. I would say that the term modern blues is more suitable for that performance. The pulsating, rhythmic monster of their sound was gradually hovering, going up and down in terms of volume, becoming a solid entity at the end. There was no catharsis on the second day but more movement of the bodies.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Markus Stockhausen – Eternal Voyage/Live (Okey Records, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I came to this album not knowing what to expect. Given the name Markus Stockhausen (which, I admit with some embarrassment, I know only because of his earlier work with his father), I figured the recording would somehow fall under the rubric of progressive new music. Beyond that, however, I had few preconceptions. My first listen was a surprise.

As the title indicates, this is a live extension of an earlier project that released the first Eternal Voyage nearly a decade ago. The musicianship – particularly Stockhausen’s perfectly crisp flugelhorn - is impeccable. The contemporary classical elements are there, but they are interspersed among heavy threads of world music and jazz. At first listen, I had trouble listening beyond the eastern and new age fusion that initially came through quite strongly. On subsequent listens, however, I was better able to hear just how precise, warm, and moving this performance was. Personnel include Alireza Mortazavi on santur, Hindol Deb on sitar, Tara Bouman on clarinet, Rabih Lahoud on vocals, Bodek Janke on tabla and percussion, Jara Singla on keys, and, of course, Stockhausen himself.

“September Song” (not the Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson song) opens the album with a slow, churning swell that gives way to Stockhausen’s horn around the four-minute mark. This transforms the piece into an ethereal meditation riding atop a catchy, undulating theme. Many of the tracks - “Morning Breeze,” “Avanti,” “Alireza,” – involve similar build-ups, unison harmonics, and driving percussive rhythms that propel the pieces through a dreamlike tapestry of strings and piano augmented by fleeting clarinet and horn runs. There is rarely silence, but the dominant melodies frequently ebb into a dynamic softness that allows each instrument its own space to tenderly shine. “Undercover,” the second track, is one of the barest, most concise, and most effective pieces on the album. It consists of Bouman’s simple, utterly beautiful bass clarinet played over interlacing sitar and santur of Deb and Mortazavi.

The two most powerful tracks, however, come near the end. The aptly titled fifth track, Lösung (German for solution or resolution), begins with a pensive, almost listless dialogue between Bouman, Stockhausen, and Deb. As Sindla, Janke, and Mortazavi join, they provide the rhythm on which the dialogue transforms into a mellifluous leitmotif. Lahoud has an unmistakable presence throughout the album. Nevertheless, he shines particularly strongly on this track, especially in the stunning outburst of emotion that propels the track to its peak right before the eight-minute mark. The final piece, “Alameyn,” (presumably named after the town in northern Egypt) is equally emotive. The theme, again, is simple, but precise and billowing. Lahoud begins the track softly and mournfully. He is soon joined by a ghostly bass clarinet, sparse percussion, and tender piano. As the tabla enters, the track slowly gathers momentum as Lahoud and Stockhausen trade the spotlight, interweave, and drive the piece to a particularly impassioned climax.

In line with its title Eternal Journey, this album is a meandering and open but nevertheless coherent. Admittedly, it does not have the jaggedness I am used to. Even with all of the album’s experimentation (the album consists of primarily of improvisations on short composed themes), there are few instances of dissonance, few places wherein musicians wander too far from the trajectory. Still, with each play, I appreciate these features as feats rather than deficiencies a little more. This type of fusion does not always work. Here, however, it does. For me, it just took a couple of extra, deeper listens.

This album can be purchased directly from Markus Stockhausen’s website .

Monday, November 5, 2018

Kuzu - Hiljaisuus (Astral Spirits, 2018) *****

By Martin Schray

In yesterday’s interview, Tom Burris highlighted drummer Tyler Damon and rightfully praised him as one of the most promising musicians at the moment. His collaborations with guitarist Tashi Dorji are especially examples of outstanding resourcefulness. As a duo they’ve been playing together since 2015, both coming from a punk subculture background (hardcore for Dorji, skateboarding and punk rock for Damon). That’s why it’s no wonder that loudness, a certain DIY attitude, furiousness and intensity are key elements of their music. Their previous works, Leave No Trace: Live in St. Louis and Both Will Escape, which both received 5-star-reviews on this site, are perfect examples of this. With Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, the two have already expanded the duo format before and the results were an equally excellent self-titled album as well as the wonderful To the Animal Kingdom.

When Damon moved to Chicago, teaming up with local saxophone wizard Dave Rempis seemed to be a logical move, and it turned out to be the proverbial match made in heaven. On Kuzu’s debut LP, which was recorded in 2017 at Elastic Arts in Chicago, Rempis fits perfectly in Dorji’s and Damon’s vortex-like dynamic.

The music on Hiljaisuus is a game of recurring structures. Harmonic islands consisting of staccato and repetitive patterns are used as springboards and fixed points for further improvisation. “Fontanelles 1“, for example, starts with bowed cymbals and arpeggiated guitar chords before Rempis creeps into this structure with mournful lines reminding me of a wounded to death Peter Brötzmann playing John Coltrane’s “Alabama“. Dorji breaks up this structure and after seven minutes the trio reaches a first peak of intensity, with Damon playing dark, almost cymbal-free rolls. Soon Dorji and Rempis agree on one of these aforementioned repetitive unison patterns, they cling to it and open it up as soon as it seems useful. Dorji’s cold, metallic, and percussive tone is often foiled by Rempis’ and Damon’s extreme emotionality - contrast and imitation being further creative tools the trio makes use of. This way, Rempis, Dorji, and Damon invent an enormously tight pallet of sounds, energy being another compositional constituent. In “Gash“, the last of three tracks, the trio generates a constant ebb and flow, starting from coarse chopping that builds a massive, compact wave of sound creating an atmosphere that is tense to the breaking point. Finally, the piece returns to the beginning of “Fontanelle 1“, where everything started.

Hiljaisuus is the Finnish word for silence, but the music on this album is the most eloquent silence you’ve ever heard. In yesterday’s interview Tyler Damon said that Kuzu was planned as a one-off. Let’s hope that the album sells well so that there might be further tours and recordings. It’s one of my favourite albums this year and not only for fans of Last Exit and The Thing feat. Thurston Moore I’d say it’s a definite must have.

Hiljaisuus is available on vinyl and as a download. You can listen to the album and buy it here:

Watch Kuzu live here: