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Aki Takase and Alexander von Schlippenbach (p)

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Helmut "Joe" Sachse (g)

Au Topsi Pohl. Berlin. October 2020

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

Wabe Theater (by Ausland). Berlin. October 2020

Urs Leimgruber (ss), Jacques Demierre (spinet)

9/4/2020. Manufaktur, Schorndorf

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

9/2/2020. Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Anthony Braxton – 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12, 2021) - Part 2


By Gary Chapin

Compositions 408, 409, 410

No one sends me into conceptual space the way Anthony Braxton has over the past 20 years. Sure, the the Arista recordings (e.g., Five Pieces 1975 and New York Fall 1974) were interesting, what with the first pulse track structures and all, but they also sounded pretty kick ass. The work of the past twenty years has been not so kick ass, but it has been far more interesting and far more surprising. And, although I don’t think Braxton actually cares about this, at times much more beautiful.

I haven’t dived into a long series of Braxton compositions since 9 Compositions (Iridium) disappointed a bit in 2006. So, I was ready. When they asked, “Which of the twenty ZIM compositions do you want to do?” I really had no reason to choose one over another. I chose these three because 1) I wanted a set done all by the same group of musicians, 2) I wanted to hear Adam Matlock’s accordion (I play accordion) with Tomeka Reid’s cello, and the two harps of Jaqui Kerrod and Shelly Burgon. Add Dan Peck’s tuba and you’ve got a mf’er of a Braxton “rhythm section” playing at the Firehouse (Connecticut) in April of 2017.

In the documentation, a series of dozens of Braxtonian aphorisms and epigrams from which his ideas emerge with uncertainty, Braxton writes:

ZIM music = a glider airplane that circles in a downward and/or upward spiral

This is shockingly concise. Earlier on it’s clear that the central idea of ZIM is gradient logics, i.e., things moving from one state to another in relationship. “It gets faster or slower. It gets louder or softer … A change of seasons. A change of temperature,” et many cetera.

The sun slowly rises = gradient logics

You may be wondering why I haven’t yet talked about how it sounds. Partly this is because I don’t think Braxton cares how it sounds, in the way we use the phrase. His compositions aren’t a function of control – if we do these things it will sound like THIS! And his music, has stopped being primarily about the one way relationship of performing for an audience. Rather, I think ZIM is about creating sound experience spaces. Braxton isn’t manipulating sound, but creating conditions in which musicians in relationship can – through provoked improvisation – can manipulate sound that has a probability of being fulfilling to musicians and listeners. Maybe a “good” composition is one with a high probability of being fulfilling. I’m not convinced Braxton is even that goal oriented. He may be someone for whom the journey (the gradient?) really is the destination. Keith Prosk’s phrase “unfixed states” seems especially apt.

So how do these compositions sound? I’ve been falling into them for the past two weeks and have been mesmerized. They share a quality with his orchestral compositions in that they become meditative or reflective over time, but unlike his larger works, the individual musicians stand out as individual voices. There does seem to be a structure of foreground instruments and “rhythm” instruments throughout (though who is in each role changes over time), and I can’t help myself from hearing conversations going on – sometimes arguments, sometimes comedy bits – throughout. But the conversations happen with the Greek chorus of whoever is serving as the rhythm at that moment. Braxton and Taylor Bo Hynum (Has he become Braxton’s most consistent partner of the 21st century?) are genuinely astonishing, which should surprise no one. When For Alto came out in 1971 it was clear that Braxton was – among everything else – a wellspring of creative melody. That’s still true. And the rest of the group has a playful, theatrical, reckless quality that allows them to shift from dread to structure to waterfalls with facility.

Composition No. 409 Filmed live at Firehouse 12 on April 29, 2017:

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Anthony Braxton – 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12, 2021) - part 1

By Lee Rice Epstein

Part 1 of 3: Compositions 402, 412 - 416

One thing about reviewing these annual Anthony Braxton box sets, which seems to be the volume he comfortably works in lately, is separating out some of the work, then getting to see how a few of us respond to the works. We don’t always cover every Braxton release, a function of fixed time constraints, but I think we cover most (all?) of the major ones. And so, the first formal recording of ZIM music: presented over 12 performances from 2017 and 2018, both live and in studio, with 5 different configurations: two sextets, two septets, and a nonet. Each performance is one particular composition’s recorded debut: Compositions 402, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 418, 419, and 420. I have a fondness for listening to Braxton’s music in numerical order, it’s partly the completist in me but mostly it’s because traversing numerically through his catalog provides a narrative through line, linking ideas expressed in one environment with those from another. For example, there is a live recording of Composition 404, recorded in trio format at Big Ears Festival in 2016 . But most interestingly, to me, is that this book of compositions is preceded by a solo performance, Solo (Victoriaville) 2017 , a performance that occurred around the middle point of this set, chronologically. Combining and overlapping these actually gives some sense of the sound and style of ZIM, which fits comfortably in the category of Braxton’s post-GTM musics, including Pine Top Aerial, Falling River, and Echo Echo Mirror House and which also sounds like nothing else, at times not even like Braxton, save those indelible saxophone runs.

The very opening of Composition 402, a portion of the score visible as well in the liner notes, gorgeously pulls back the curtain on the entire set. This sextet, with Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Dan Peck, Jacqui Kerrod and Shelley Burgon on harp, and Tomeka Reid on cello gives some sense of the soundscape of ZIM. There’s more chordal-harmonic density, and there’s more textural tension, such as when Reid’s bowing slides across Kerrod and Burgon’s contrapuntal harp runs. The sub-sections are combinatorially succinct, with a unique organic structure that emphasizes the gradient logic at the core of ZIM. For those inclined, the booklet includes pages of Braxton’s aphoristic descriptions of gradient logics and details like, “There is a ‘feeling out process’ that involves getting used to the fresh moment of introduction to the ‘family’ of the music. I see this phenomenon as related to the first take of the ZIM MUSIC recording session that will not be included in the box record set.” Ah, and so it may have been for the instrumentalists as it may be for listeners.

This is certainly the case with the four later nonet recordings, Compositions 413, 414, 415, and 416, featuring Braxton, Bynum, Peck, Stephanie Richards, and Ingrid Laubrock, Kerrod and Brandee Younger on harp, Adam Matlock on accordion and aerophones, and Reid on cello. Recorded by the extremely talented Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, this set of performances, alongside the three nights at Café OTO, could easily stand alone as their own mini-box sets. There’s no real difference in sound quality from live to studio, it’s the compaction of ideas that brings the nonet performances into relief. Two-thirds of the group appears throughout the set, having worked through (and continuing to work through) gradient logics in other formats with Braxton. The introduction of Richards, Laubrock, and Younger highlights two key elements about ZIM that make this set a real triumph: the first is the accessibility of its interchangeability, by which I mean that, on its face, ZIM may seem imposing, but its core structure allows for this kind of expansion. And the second is that like, say, Henry Threadgill’s 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg group, what sounds dense on paper is often just plain fun to listen to. There are dozens of moments in each recording noted a time code to revisit, or zoomed in on one dialogue (especially when the two harps are playing, enough cannot be said about Kerrod and Younger and their incredible performances), or just smiled at what I heard.

Excerpt - Anthony Braxton ZIM Sextet - Live at Cafe OTO, London (28/05/2018):

Monday, June 14, 2021

Thomas Heberer, Joe Fonda & Joe Hertenstein - Remedy (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2021) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

I'm not sure when German trumpeter Thomas Heberer and drummer Joe Hertenstein initially met, but it might have been through the performances with the James Choice Orchestra, an ensemble founded by the most forward thinking German musicians, active in the first decade of this century. They continued collaborating when both moved to New York in the last decade. Their joint recording output starts in 2010 with "HNH", also a trumpet trio with Pascal Niggenkemper on bass. Their quartet release "Polylemma" was also of excellent quality, and won the Happy New Ears Award for 2011. In 2015, "HNH" received a follow-up, with the same title, called the "white album". 

When Roy Campbell Jr. passed away in 2014, Heberer was asked to replace him for concerts and albums with the Nu Band, in the company of Mark Whitecage, Lou Grassi and Joe Fonda. The German trumpeter has been a mainstay in many bands, but the ICP Orchestra especially, the Instant Composers Pool, the Dutch ensemble with crazy ideas and virtuoso delivery. 

Joe Hertenstein is equally versatile and active in different ensembles, including the Core Trio, and recordings with Matthew Shipp, Ivo Perelman, Jon Irabagon, Daniel Carter and the recent Sana Nagano. Joe Fonda does not need any introduction I assume. 

And now the trio. A band of equals. All three musicians composed three to four moments of the album, merged into eight composed improvised pieces. Like in the introductory piece, "The Closer You Are, The Further It Gets", the somewhat dragging insistent theme is a an excuse to play around with tempo and solos. This is jazz, no doubt about it, stripped to its essence of stellar interplay, brilliant soloing and fun in each other's but also one's own mastery of the instrument. Heberer enjoys his soaring flights on the trumpet, Fonda relishes in his powerful plucking and sensitive bowing, and Hertenstein takes pleasure in subtle rhythms and unexpected ear candy. Yet they enjoy listening to each other even more. Together they move as one, following implicit patterns, falling back on pre-agreed structural and thematic anchor points. This is jazz, with all its nervousness, its agitation, its emotional depth, its instrumental prowess, its freedom and joy. 

The music was recorded in August 2020, the day before Hertenstein decided to return to Berlin due to the pandemic, and after the three of them had taken advantage in the corona lull in summer to meet and rehearse. Hence the album's title: their collaboration served as a remedy to stay sane physically and mentally. 

There are no weak points to discern. The composing is good, as is the interplay. Joe Fonda penned two tributes to Wadada Leo Smith, and the wonderful bass line for "Fast #2", an uptempo high energy piece. "Zebra", penned and introduced by Hertenstein gives a wink to traditional jazz, but the center piece of the album is the collective composition/suite "You Are There-Roadmap 616-James J.". 

The album ends with "Waltz For Daisy", dedicated to Joe Hertenstein's wife, who would be leaving for Berlin too the next day. 

Don't miss this one. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Instant Composers Pool - Incipient ICP (1966-71) (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2021) ****


By Stephen Griffith

Part of the crazy quilt reissue aspect of the Corbett vs Dempsey label involves making available some of the out of print earlier output of the New Dutch Swing musicians on the ICP label. In at least one case, the first release on the ICP label, an additional disc of a later recorded concert in Essen by The New Acoustic Duo, was added. But the first two cuts of the current release predates the ICP label in these fascinating tracks of musicians striving to form an identity by bouncing youthful ideas in progress off each other. The first song, “Session No.1”, was only two years removed from drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg appearing on Eric Dolphy’s Last Date; the influence of which is evident in Piet Noordijk’s alto playing and post bop motifs. A key addition to the group was reedist Willem Breuker who, at the time was much more interested in Machine Gun like squalling torrents of noise and found in Bennink a kindred soul as illustrated in much of the New Acoustic Duo release. But these three prongs of the ICP fork were striving to form an identity in 1966. Mengelberg was obviously influenced by Monk, which never ceased to be the case; you can hear snippets of something like “Thelonious” interspersed throughout the cut “Session No. 1” as Bennink pounds away and Breuker strives to force feed some bass clarinet into the cut. In addition there are cinematic motifs with jarring dramatic dissonant chords which became a staple of future endeavors particularly by Breuker. There was already some growth of the group entity present in “Viet Cong”, formerly titled “Paper Tiger” and performed at the end of the year at an award ceremony for Mengelberg. Everyone is more individually assertive in establishing musical personae. Mengelberg uses Monkish sing songy melodies rather than drawing directly from the source as Bennink and particularly Breuker become even more individually assertive.

But the next step happened in 1967 as the group performed under the moniker of Instant Composers Pool. Adding a strong voice in Manfred Schoof was important as was the bassist Maarten van Regteren Altena. But these performances seem more in line with the ICP ethos of madcap dada but with an overriding purpose and an assertive tightness when navigating through multiple motifs; accordingly the last six cuts of disc 1 were released as ICP 000 in the massive 53 disc box set Instant Composers Pool. There's more of a united building a group entity feel to these over and beyond “let's try this and see what happens”. The songs, whether composed by Mengelberg or Breuker, have a coherence and polish lacking in the 1966 ones while still retaining a palpable sense of adventure. Unique voices such as Henry Ronde on steel drums, Orjen Gorter on accordion and the violas of Lodewijk de Boer and Hasso van der Westen are seamlessly added to the group sound. What became the New Dutch Swing sound is rooted here.

Disc 2 is from two sessions. The first is a 1969 session of three short Mengelberg compositions, the second of which, “Stch Shuffle”, features a piano melody which would fit in well with the other songs on Who's Bridge, a 1994 release on John Zorn’s Avant label with Brad Jones and Joey Baron. This was previously released on a promotional 7 lp box by Radio Nederland The Dutch Jazz Scene. The final 6 cuts are previously unreleased from a 1971 session of Breuker compositions, except for Albert Ayler’s Angels, recorded under the Instant Composers Pool moniker but not including Mengelberg nor Han Bennink. These feature much more aggressive Breuker saxophone work than the previous cuts.

Even at the time when the three were the faces of the ICP label, Breuker chafed at Mengelberg’s more contemplative nature when he wished to break down more walls and, even though his music developed in more subtle ways over the course of the five years covered in the two discs, the schism would result in him going his own way and forming his Kollektief elsewhere. I believe this provides a valuable document of when three strong musical voices were taking the steps and building musical identities which ultimately defined them.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Guitar - Duos (Part 1): Leading tones, sympathetic harmonies, and unobservable mysteries

By Paul Acquaro

In my last installment of guitar focused reviews, I covered solo recordings (see part 1, part 2), here I expand the focus to duos. If I were being stringent, I'd also stick to straight guitar duos, but I did not feel like limiting it so much, therefore to get into this batch the requirements was at least one guitar and one something else. Part 2 of duos will come soon, it is in the works.

the why - ...this earth (s/r, 2020) ****

Guitar and Drums. A nice combo with many possibilities for rhythm, melody and harmony - or even none at all. On ...this earth, the why, the duo of guitarist Anders Nilsson and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt, employ all three with gusto. The opening track 'Sunset' is 10 minutes of sturm und drang. Carlstedt generates a big, supportive sound that is deceptively primitive (I mean this in a very positive way) and highly effective. Anders, after a building tempest of twisting single note lines, lets out a distorted knot of chord fragments. The two then continue at maximum power until nearly the end of the track. In contrast, the track 'Rustling Trees' holds back the tension for a long, long time. The nearly 7-and-a-half minute track sees Nilsson delivering a repetitive harmonic figure over roiling drums. Then, just a little over the half-way mark, thick distorted chord and snippets of melody, like reverb-laden leaves whoosh past. 'Dawn', the last track, catches the ear with some swagger as blues-ridden riffs ripple from Nilsson's guitar propelled with abandon by Carlstedt. The two have collaborate before, notable on the drummer's quartet recording Sound Escapes with saxophonist Brian Settles and bassist Danton Boller, also from last year.

Samuel Blaser and Marc Ducret - Audio Rebel (Blaser Music, 2020) ****

Guitar and Trombone. Here is another instance where I've let you all down. I've been selfishly enjoying guitarist Marc Ducret and trombonist Samuel Blaser's duo recording Audio Rebel for the past year and not sharing it with anyone. Recorded at an event at the venue Audio Rebel in Rio de Janeiro in September 2013, this archival recording is still as fresh as can be. Blaser is always an exciting trombonist and Ducret's work is similarly beyond compare, and they both brought effervescent energy and enthusiasm to the stage that night. Opening track 'Audio Rebel' begins with Ducret striking a chord and then teasing out some lingering vibrations from the lower strings, while Blaser slides deliberately into long tones and short figures. Over the course of 10 minutes, the two of them develop a wild dialog that really catches fire towards the middle. The follow up, 'Rio,' showcases Ducret at first playing knotty single note runs and stretching our some chordal tones. Blaser then joins in with low pedal tones and a series of multiphonics. The two seem caught in discussion, but operating on their own wavelengths, resulting in a bifurcated dialog that feels simultaneously reactive and independent. An excellent album and just one of several recordings that Blaser has made available on his Bandcamp site during the past year.

Wendy Eisenberg-Stephen Gauci - Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic, 2021) ****

Guitar and Saxophone. Saxophonist Stephen Gauci is a top-notch musician and a tireless concert organizer in New York City. When the pandemic hit, his ongoing musical series in Brooklyn was put on hold and he turned to releasing digital releases of new recordings called the "Pandemic Duets." There is a whole series of these available on this Bandcamp site. Two of the 19 recordings feature guitarists, and together they really highlight how different one can approach the instrument! 

Guitarist Wendy Eisenberg starts off the collaboration sounding like an angry R2 unit from a galaxy far, far away. Gauci reciprocates, maybe a little more forcefully, but certainly more playfully, than an exasperated C3P0. They come to terms quickly, and on the next track (the sequence is simple numbered 1 - 14) the guitarist and saxophonist engage in an a mutual call and response with quick statements. It can get rather wild at times and as the numbers progress it seems that two settle into a shared musical language. '#7' is interesting as Eisenberg adds some tasty, crunchy distortion and engages in a thrilling chase with Gauci, who employs all sorts of extended techniques as he runs along.

Jonathan Goldberger-Stephen Gauci - Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic, 2021) ***½

Guitar and Saxophone. With Jonathan Goldberger, things start out quite differently. Whereas Eisenberg uses pretty much a clean, dry tone, Goldberger kicks off with a thick, drippy distorted one. Looping a thick, drippy 'base'-line, he then adorns it a smattering of chords. Gauci responds with a somewhat chaotic mix of straight ahead playing and urgent squawks. The sounds spill over into track #2, where Goldberger's loop is now an underlying pulsation, over which the saxophonist wrangles out some eviscerating sounds. Only towards the end of the track does the guitarist come in with mirroring of the aforementioned sax lines. On #4, the two relax a bit and the guitar delivers some spacious melodic lines, the result is one of the more accessible tracks on a challenging recording.

Francois Houle & Samo Salamon - Unobservable Mysteries (s/r, 2021) ****

Guitar and Clarinet. Another true pandemic collaboration, Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon and Canadian clarinetist Francois Houle hooked up over the internet at the guitarists initiation. In the liner notes Salamon explains "We have never played together, although we played with many musicians in common ... I contacted Francois if he wanted to do it and he was really enthusiastic about it… the process was so smooth and seemed like we were actually playing live and with each other since there was such a connection immediately." Exchanging 6 recordings each, they improvised over each others half creations with the end result of this excellent album full of interesting and engaging song co-creations. The opening 'Secret Pools' begins with a gentle melody from Houle, then as the tempo picks up through his wonderfully elliptical statements, Salamon joins with clean - I believe electric but played acoustically - six string guitar. I mention the six strings because there is also 12-string employed elsewhere, like on 'The Wandering of Waters,' which is built upon open ended, repetitive figures from the guitarist. There is a great deal of variety over the run of the album, for example 'Longing, Leaving, Staying' does all three, while 'Jug of Breath' is a more frenetic and seemingly free interaction, making it all the more impressive.

Skúli Sverrisson & Bill Frisell - Strata (Newvelle, 2021) ****½

Guitar and Bass. Guitarist Bill Frisell has been as busy as ever, recently releasing the brilliant Valentine with a trio and several sumptuous duo recordings with bassist Thomas Morgan and appearing in many other configurations, like the excellent new one from Charles Lloyd, Tone Poem. This album, Strata, was released previously on LP by the members-only label Newvelle Records. Like the quote attributed to Stewart Brand, 'information wants to be free,' it seems like the label has freed the information from gem from the exclusive vinyl grooves to the bits and bytes of the internet. Good for us! This first time meeting between the hyper-sympathetic American guitarist and the seemingly like-minded Icelandic bassist and the results are fantastically melodic and unassailably empathetic. Kicking off with "Sweet Earth', we are in sublime Frisell country. Gentle open ended melodic statements seem to effortlessly emanate from the flowing tune. Neither musician tried to outshine, it sounds rather like tacit mutual agreement. 'Instants,' the next track, could fit easily on an early Frisell album like In Line (ECM, 1983). Sverrisson provides solid but reserved support for the guitarists arpeggiated statements and slightly tension filled chord stops. 'Cave of Swimmers' is built on a haunting chord progression sketched out using widely placed intervals and the closing 'Her Room' is hymn like, with Sverrisson using an ethereal effect that hints at a choir. Soothing, yes; hypnotic, sure; excellent, absolutely.

Joel Harrison - Guitar Talk (AGS Recordings, 2021) ****

Guitar and Guitar / Bass Guitar. Joel Harrison has been a vital force in the New York contemporary jazz scene for a number of years. I recall several different events that involved a who is who of musical heroes - like tributes to Carla Bley and Pat Metheny as well as festivals featuring unique combinations of musicians (writing from my flawed memory is absolutely dangerous and unreliable, but I think I have the spirit of it, at least, right). So, an album of duos that places Harrison in combination with a who-is-who of top rate modern/contemporary jazz guitar players is in perfect fuzzy alignment. 

For Guitar Talk, Harrison composed many simple, highly melodic songs that left adequate space for mutual invention. Of course the album of duos begin with a trio and ends with a solo performance, but those are mere details, what we hear are relaxed, sophisticated collaborations that draw on the sensibilities of the involved musicians, like Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, Pete McCann, and David Gilmore. The sublime counterpoint with McCann on "Sunday Night with Vic" - a tribute to the late Vic Juris - is just one of many highlights. In fact, the two collaborations with Steve Swallow are more than worth the price of the album - hearing the nimble and ever inquisitive Swallow's bass guitar work is a pure joy. The final two tracks are solo pieces, and as far as I could tell, they do use overdubs, rather just incredible rich chord melodies. The last track is a post-modern take on "America the Beautiful" that is as abstracted, refracted, and fragile as the actual place.

Eric Hofbauer & Dylan Jack - Remains of Echoes (Creative Nations Music, 2019) ****

Guitar and Drums. With so many albums from 2020/2, why go back to 2019? Well, Remains of Echoes is one that has been on my mind for a while and it seems to just fit in well here. Boston area guitarist Eric Hofbauer has many varies projects, may on his Creative Nations Music label, and all are worth a look. This duo with Hofbauer and drummer Dylan Jack focuses on songs from musicians that have been mutual influential such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Mingus, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry as well as choice members of the rock tribe. The album begins with fun arrangement of the Police's 'Walking on the Moon,' which starts out high on the verisimilitude scale, but then starts fracturing in captivating, satisfying ways. Monk's 'Let's Call This' is as halting and beautifully pointillistic as it should be. A highly enjoyable album.

Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Parish - Interactivity (Cuneiform, 2021) ****

Guitar and Drums. Same combo as above but what a different outcome - or approach - well, both. Guitarist Shane Parish and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani are have been performing together for a decade (Parish lives in Ashville, North Carolina and Nakatani in New Mexico) and Interactivity is their aptly titled second album. Parish is heard here on acoustic guitar, digging deep into folk and finger style playing, and often is the centering force as Nakatani shifts from providing an organic pulse to textural disturbances. 'Threadbare' begins with a quiet storm of drums and a simple repeating finger picked figure on the guitar. The melodic figure widens, more notes fill in, leading tones and sympathetic harmonies at once arise, while the palette of percussion grows more intense with crashes, scrapes and well chosen chimes. The guitar work borders on classical at times, with strict rhythmic patterns and consonant passages, and with the expressive percussion it flows naturally. The next track 'Sight Lines' is a great example of the breadth of their collaboration - the guitar work is excitingly jagged and the percussion follows and fills perfectly. A wonderful collaboration that engages the listener with a push and pull of the familiar as well as alluring danger.

E. Jason Gibbs & Nat Baldwin - Microstates (577Orbit, 2021) ****

Guitar and Bass. Here is an excerpt from 577 Orbit's website about Microstates: "the album is full of fragmented and immersive musical interludes, testing the boundaries of their instrument’s intended usages and the structure of composition." This is as good as any description that I may come up with.
I wrote about E. Jason Gibbs' recent solo recording Wolves of Heaven in my last roundup of solo guitar works, in which I mentioned how he "plucks, bends, wiggles, and likely whacks the instrument, letting the natural sounds and overtones fill the air around him." This is still partially true on Microstates, but here Gibbs is joined by bassist Nat Baldwin for a series of splintered duets that, as the quotes suggest, do not allow what the instrument is supposed to do limit their approach. The interactions focus on the microscopic, but the larger picture is not ignored, as each track follows an innate narrative structure building on a musical language the two musicians have been developing for some time together. Bowed bass tones, harmonic mayhem, and acoustically unboundedness abounds on these 7 improvised tracks.

Jack Cooper & Jeff Tobias - Tributaries (Astral Spirits, 2021) ***½

Guitar and Saxophone. So this is one that I had a bit of a heads up on as it does not release until next month. Tributaries from guitarist Jack Cooper and saxophonist Jeff Tobias are two 'side long' compositions based on the tone row compositional method that were then used to improvise over. The result is a meandering rivulets of music that come together in accessible melodies featuring wide intervals. The combination of instruments and note choices sometimes even end up sounding like an accordion at times. A meditative experience.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Ches Smith We All Break - Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic Record, 2021) ****

By Kenneth Blanchard

All I know about voodoo I learned from Ben Fountain’s wonderful short story The Good Ones Are Already Taken. I recommend this collection of stories‑several of which are set in Haiti‑as companion material for Path of Seven Colors, coming out June 11 from Pyroclastic Records. Drummer and composer Chess Smith is the force behind We All Break, featuring features Matt Mitchell (piano), Miguel Zenón (saxophone), Nick Dunston (bass), Sirene Dantor Rene (lead vocals), with Daniel Brevil, Markus Schwartz and Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene all on drums (Haitian tanbou) and vocals.

The recording is a persuasive blend of hard bop lines with Creole chanting and traditional vodou rhythms. The latter constitute a cultural portfolio of historical and spiritual horizons. Combining them with romantic jazz narratives allows the vodou rhythms to penetrate the heart of someone who has no direct connection with the Haitian story time. I am not claiming that such a person has any authority to speak about or interpret this tradition. I am only speaking about its effect on such a person.

Fortunately, very elaborate notes are available, including translations from the creole. The first piece, woule pou mwen, ties into very recent Haitian politics. It begins with a piano and cymbal setting, with only a subtle rattle to warn you of what is coming, at about twenty seconds in. It helps if you have the lyrics before you precisely because it allows you to see that no written script can do justice to the voices, to the magnificent way that liquid consonants pop into four-dimensional kinesis in this singing.

The second piece, here’s the light, is my favorite. Here the drums seem only the natural grass over which Miguel Zenón’s horn establishes a steady pace. I cannot do better than this from the notes:

The rhythm is Yanvalou, one of the most well-known in Haiti, played in any Vodou Asogwe ceremony honoring the spirits of Rada (from Allada—the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, modern day Benin). Each section of the composition works around a classic Port-au-Prince-style bass line, with a melodic/harmonic conception that borrows from Ornette Coleman.

Now the horn, now the chorus. Now the piano, now the chorus. All the while, persistent bundles of percussion.

If you don’t like African drums and vocals, this is not for you. If you want to walk as many landscapes as you can give it a listen. If you want to see how well jazz can accommodate and mine other, related traditions or, if you just want some inventive and wonderful music, give this one a listen.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Kjetil Mulelid - Piano (Rune Grammofon, 2021) ***½

By Martin Schray

Not only for fans of Keith Jarrett it was sad news that the probably most popular and most famous jazz pianist of the last 50 years had to announce that he wouldn’t be able to perform live any longer and wouldn’t release new studio recordings either. The New York Times had reported in a detailed article on 10/21/2020 that Jarrett had suffered two strokes within a few months in 2018, from which he hadn’t recovered by that time. For Jarrett aficionados it may be a consolation that almost all of the maestro’s concerts have been recorded by his record company ECM in recent years and that there will be further releases from this archive, such as the Budapest Concert, which was published last year.

However, the question remains: Who might be able to fill Jarrett’s shoes? Of course, there already are big names lined up: Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau and John Medeski might come to mind, maybe James Francies or Kris Davies. And there’s a new name to consider - Kjetil Mulelid. Though he was only 29 years old when composing and recording Piano, his first solo album, Mulelid is one of the brightest talents in Norwegian jazz. First he was skeptical when Rune Grammofon, his record company, suggested a solo piano record back in early 2018, but thought it over during the pandemic since other projects had to be postponed. Most of the compositions on the album were written in a lockdown period and recorded within one day in the legendary Athletic Sound studio on their characteristic vintage Bösendorfer grand piano.

Piano is a promising start for a solo premiere, even if it’s very reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Like his obvious role model, Mulelid shifts gravitationally between major and minor chords. These major and minor voices are polyphonically interwoven and excessively spread. The result is a mixture of meditative and ecstatic sound worlds. Pieces like “Beginning“ present motifs of hymnal intimacy as well as outbursts and thrills of dramatic wildness. Impressionistic floating sound paintings are displayed even if Mulelid’s pieces lack Jarrett’s exorbitance. The music is often based on simple patterns and pure triads, but this is by no means kitschy, since Mulelid’s compositions breathe a great sense of purpose. Themes are quickly developed, continued and transferred into the following one. There are, of course, the floods of melody-drunk sounds like in “Point of View“ and some material could have been a bit smokier and more adventurous. However, sometimes one also yearns for simple, harmonic beauty, which is served without restraint on this album.

It’ll be really interesting to follow Kjetil Mulelid’s career, he might become one of the big names in future jazz. Next stop: ECM.

Piano is available on vinyl and as a CD. You can buy it from the label:

Listen to “Beginning“ here: 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite Records, 2021) *****

By Anthony Simon

For weeks, this music has possessed me. The sixth recording from Natural Information Society, this album marks a series of firsts for the ensemble: the first to be recorded live before an audience, the first to comprise a single composition performed continuously for some 75 minutes, and the first to feature saxophonist Evan Parker. From the opening moments of the performance, Joshua Abrams plucking a spirited melody on the guimbri (a three-stringed north African lute), this music is unmistakably *felt* — it lands inside your body, and there’s the impulse to move, even dance. Before long, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums and Jason Stein on bass clarinet join to craft a gently visceral pulse. Soon, Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium fades in, shimmering, giving the musical movement a pleasantly vertiginous effect. Finally, Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone is heard in clear, long tones, issuing an exalted call that portends the coming ascent these musicians will make. Recorded live in July 2019 at Cafe OTO in London, this uninterrupted performance is divided into four tracks on the album.

While descension shares many traits of previous works of Natural Information Society, it’s noteworthy for being much more rapid and raucous. There are many moments during this performance that reach ecstatic heights—driven by an unrelenting pulse that Avery at times pushes with tempos invoking electronic house music, and fueled by Parker’s masterful salvo of whirling, looping lines. When the rapture is graciously quelled by Parker’s sustained and tranquil tones, there’s a clear call on the spirit of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Stein has equally inspired moments on bass clarinet, at times collaborating in polyrhythmic scaffolding with Alvardo, and other times intertwined with Parker in exhilaration, or himself embarking upon a passionate solo.

Natural Information Society is a band that accomplishes what Abrams terms “collectively building sonic environments” through focus, continuity, and repetition (2017 interview with Will Schube on Bandcamp). As the listener embarks upon the full duration of descension, there's the dawning realization that the driving beat never wavers, that melodic lines are given mantra-like repetition, and one becomes astounded at the endurance and focus demanded of these artists, which in turn makes not a small demand of the listener. There’s a compositional frame here whose simplicity invites freedom to be discovered through emergence and exquisite awareness, rather than through declaration or imposition.

Writing about a prior NIS album for Bomb Magazine in 2019, Ben Vida observes that “Practitioners and listeners of durational music alike know what it means to sit for an extended period with a sound or rhythm—how time works to recalibrate one’s ears and sense of progression. Once the expectation of event is broken, a new set of listening considerations emerge. Form evaporates and one is left to scan the sound, to play with perception and explore the granular. It is through duration that performance can morph into ceremony.”

While listening to this album—I've danced around the room, been dumbstruck by virtuosic soloing, become spiritually uplifted, fallen into a reverie, and felt relief when the band briefly landed on a simpler and more grounded sequence, stabilized by the steady guimbri of Abrams...and then, inevitably, even ceremoniously, the euphoric cycle began again. It’s been a deeply rewarding journey.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Lina Allemano Four - Vegetables Album (Lumo, 2021) ****

By Stef Gijssels

The Lina Allemano Four have been performing together at least since 2005 in the current line-up of Lina Allemano on trumpet, Brodie West on alto, Andrew Downing on double bass and Nick Fraser on drums. This by itself is already a sign of a tight collaboration, a shared approach and almost a guarantee for strong interplay. 

As mentioned before, the band offers the perfect balance between composed and improvised parts, often sounding like a modern version of the Ornette Coleman Quartet, with thematic anchor points serving as beacons to work around. The compositions are smart, complex and playful. Last year, Canadian trumpeter Stephanie Richards used scents as an inspiration for her music. Here, Lina Allemano uses vegetables to guide her creativity. 

"Onions" is funny, cinematic, at times even the imagery of a cartoon chase comes to mind (but maybe that's my mind, more than the music), with sudden tempo changes, angular in nature, with stop and go moments, gentle and ferocious at the same time. 

"Beans" a brings a slightly contorted composition, with a smart bifurcation between sax and trumpet, escaping from the initial unison line in different directions and organically converging again, like streams weaving their phrases around each other. 

"Champignons" starts with a kind of Americana theme, melancholy and a tad sentimental (it could have been penned by Bill Frisell), then the piece slows down into a long and slow arco bass solo, joined again by Allemano halfway the track, who takes it to solemn place, then moving the piece from a subdued to an almost ecstatic atmosphere. 

"Brussels Sprouts, Maybe Cabbage" offers a more complex composition, dynamic in nature, angular and energetic with sax and trumpet in counterpoint, and with a dramatic theme unraveling in different parallel phrases, moving seamlessly back and forth between organisation and disorganisation. It really demonstrates Allemano's compositional strengths, as well as the tight interplay. The video below illustrates this. 

"Oh Avocado" is interesting, again generating visual imagery (at least to me), characterised by a cinematic development and narrative with a shifting structure, alternating between quiet polyphony and exuberant unison lines. 

"Leafy Greens" brings another complex composition, with unexpected twists and turns, abandoning ideas as fast as they are created, even deliberately taking the pulse out of the piece, working with counter rhythms and an exploratory mid-section. 

Fun, funny even at times, the Lina Allemano Four is a band that interacts with great discipline and freedom after so many years of performing and recording together, finding the right balance between composition and improvisation, tight arrangements and freedom, between comfort zones and out-of-the-box explorations, and all this in a very unassuming manner, without any pretence. And to Allemano's credit, her compositions bring you - as the listener - also out-of-the-box because of their unexpected, surprising, eclectic and playful nature.  

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch an alternate take of "Brussels Sprouts, Maybe Cabbage"

Monday, June 7, 2021

Sons Of Kemet - Black To The Future (Impulse!, 2021) ****

By Sammy Stein

Sons Of Kemet are Edward Wakil-Hick and Tom Skinner on percussion, Theon Cross on tuba and Shabaka Hutchings on woodwinds. Black To The Future is the Mercury nominated band's fourth LP and their second on Impulse! Records.

The album features vocalists including Angel Bat Dawid, poets Moor Mother and Joshua Idehen, and grime artist D Double E.

The last time Shabaka Hutchings released a record was in March 2020 – on the eve of the pandemic – with Shabaka & The Ancestors' We Are Sent Here By History. That album (on NPR) centered around themes of confronting the destruction of humanity as we know it.

Hutchings, it is said, unearths forgotten mythologies, unlocks sounds of the past, and presents a thesis for the future. 'Black To The Future' presents itself as a politically poignant and musically rich album. However, what is all the political and social conscience in the world but it is nothing if the music is not good enough for people to listen? Hutchings and SOK deliver both the message and the music in clear and exceptional quality.

Hutchings says of the release, 'Black to the future is a sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing. It envisions our progression towards a future in which indigenous knowledge and wisdom is centered in the realisation of a harmonious balance between the human, natural and spiritual world... Power is seen as the life-force energy needed to build upon the conceptual frameworks of our ancestors so their wisdom might guide our intentions and focus. Music can be likened to a time travelling vessel whereby cultural value systems of the past are encoded within sound and projected/protected throughout ages. The track titles all combine to reflect a single poetic statement to which a depth of symbolic meaning can be intuited in combination with the music/sonic information. This meaning is not universal and the cultural context of the listener will shape their understanding, yet in the end, the overarching message remains the same - For humanity to progress we must consider what it means for Black to the Future.

'Field Negus' begins with pensive sax over a poem about being a worker in fields, the pain and suffering and false hope of fairness. It is about the denying of beliefs, the audacity of one race believing they are above another and eventual realisation of too little too late. The poem concludes with the crushed rising up, wanting not equality but revenge - and it is the oppressor's fault. Shouted, 'Hash tag burn y'all, spurn y'all' , finishes the number with a modern twist on an old, still relevant message. 'Pick Up Your Burning Cross' is rhythmic, heavy and mesmeric in its repeated melodic theme. Energy infused and driven by a rhythmic propulsions which is picked up in the poem which comes in across the top, adding to the rhythmic textures. The instrumentation is redolent of Kirk or Rollins, which makes this a modern track with roots in the past.

'Think Of Hope' is not as uplifting as the title would lead you to think, as its rhythms have a funereal element, especially at the start, before they are taken up, worked and enriched with beautiful woodwind and tuba lines. There is warmth in the clarinet solo and presence throughout the track which makes it which makes a comforting listen.

'Hustle' is an eloquent combination of vocals, brass and an arrangement which swings from modern hip hop to disco to jazz-infused depths with each turn or change in lead. It is a track which contains a little bit for everyone and a message for many. The poet Idehen's lyrical poetry lies across this track and his words, clear as a bell, are deep and meaningful .

'For The Culture' is a crazily beautiful poem set to rhythmic and succinct percussive phrases, which the tuba echoes and adds voice to. The heavy brass serves as a counter to the straightforward single vocal line spoken with staccato precision. The sax, when it enters, picks up this and interacts with the poet in a true conversation and the tuba leads us neatly and definitively to the final phrases.

'To Never Forget The Source' carries a strong sax line over gentle woodwind harmonics and indicates the certainly of an original well-spring behind everything spoke and played. Heavily laced with blues rhythms yet with a regular held back final half beat on every fourth line, which imbues a modern hop-hop feel. Once again, SOK meld modern and old rhythmic patterns with aplomb. Hutchings describes The Source as, 'The Source refers to the principles which govern traditional African cosmologies/ontological outlooks and symbolises the inner journey. It is the unifying factor that gives meaning both to looking backwards (in nuancing and continually adding depth of contextualisation and meaning to the past) and visioning forward (in speculating and striving to realise a better future for humanity). Black to the future depicts a movement to redefine and reaffirm what it means to strive for black power'.

The piece is the centerpiece of the album with everything revolving to and then away from this track.

'In Remembrance Of Those Fallen' is wonderfully different with flute and pipe harmonics at the start, under which the tuba blasts its slow, yearning melody whilst the sax, when it enters, adds a melodic, tune which contrasts with both. As the track builds, the sax takes on a vocal quality, taking chromatic liberties and adding links which segue into the other parts. A hugely well arranged and beautiful track.

'Let The Circle Be Unbroken' is a moving and well constructed piece, the sax sighing its message until it rises and sails across the top - until everything breaks apart, the spluttering anger no longer contained and it all erupts into chaos as the sax simply shouts and slap tongues with vocals shouting too, for a while before hope is finally restored in the single final bar. Musically, this delivers a powerful message in a way no words could and we are reminded that this album was written partly in response to the murder of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter campaign. Under everything is the steady voice of the tuba - as if to say that whatever happens above, nothing changes in the foundations. We still need to be listening and if this music does not reach your heart, it is of stone.

'Envision Yourself Levitating' is atmospheric, rhythmic and gentle, with a touch of the disconnected which engages yet at the same time jars, making an ideal situation - that of levitating above the troubles of life, not as beautiful as we might hope. The sax on this is sublime.

'Throughout The Madness' is a track which builds with parts being added like scaffolding, including parts added in the mix. Layer upon layer, in time or slightly akilter, deeper, deeper, softer, no sharper, this is one heck of a track with no end of permutations which can be heard at each listen.

'Black' Has the poet's words again. 'Black is tired, Black would like to make a statement , Black's eyes are vacant, Black's arms are laden...Black would like to state that Black is not a beast of myth...Black has demands...'

This number is a poem, under which the music, angry as the words, offers support as the poem delivers it message. A just end to the album and the message is clear ' Leave Us Alone' rings out as the final salvo from the poet.

Throughout the album, there is a strange sense - a sense of an outfit delivering a message, needing to express anger, hurt, righteousness, yet never being able to completely express the turmoil because of their roots in music. In one track this happens and it is incredibly effective. Their off-kilter rhythms at times throw you just enough to make you listen intently but they never fall very far from the overlying theme of a track.

Throughout the album there is strength, anger, despair at times but always overlaid with a musical eloquence and finesse which is so Kemet. At times, it verges on chaotic inklings but then Hutching's steadying hand is laid across the entire content.