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Shoji Hano (dr), Hans Peter Hiby (ts)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, May 2022

Elisabeth Harnik (p), István Grencsó (s), Paul Lytton (d), Ken Vandermark (s)

KM28, Berlin. May 2022

Frank Gratkowski (bcl), Wilbert De Joode (b), Achim Kaufmann (p)

W71, Weikersheim. May 2022

اسم[ism]: Pat Thomas (p); Joel Grip(b), Antonin Gerbal (d)

Autopsi Pohl, Berlin. May 2022

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Martin Küchen - Utopia (Thanatosis Produktion, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

The solo work of Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen is almost the opposite of his work with his ensemble "Angles". 

"Utopia" sounds more like a 'dystopia', with no discernable moments of joy and a dark mood throughout. Küchen plays in different layers, combining the sustained sounds of his tenor and alto with electronics, tambora, snare, speaker and radio (providing ambient sounds, including singing). The album fits in a series of other comparable work like "Hellstorm" (2012), "Lieber Heiland, Lass Uns Sterben" (2017), and "Det Försvunnas Namn" (2020).

On "Utopia", there is a constant scraping background noise that is hard to describe in words, with resonating sympathetic strings, through which the sax tries to pierce with deeply sad sounds, intimately and oppressed, with a voice that is often hoarse, or whispering, fragile, vulnerable. His slow improvisations are lyrical and memorable. They stick to you, as is the intensely somber atmosphere of the album. 

Küchen is a person very concerned with the injustice in the world, with inequalities, the barbarism of war and other human atrocities. While some of his other music is intended to lift us up and break through this darkness by communal joy and dance, here his sound is one of compassion and deep sorrow. 

The title track gives us a minute and nine seconds of silence. Utopia has no voice anymore, or it stopped existing.

There is letter that Franz Kafka once wrote about literature. He writes "Wir brauchen aber die Bücher, die auf uns wirken wie ein Unglück, das uns sehr schmerzt, wie der Tod eines, den wir lieber hatten als uns, wie wenn wir in Wälder verstoßen würden, von allen Menschen weg, wie ein Selbstmord, ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. Das glaube ich.” (But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.)

There is no question that Küchen knows how to wield that axe and break through the frozen sea in us. His music may be uncompromising at times, but that's exactly what makes it great. 

Like the other albums, I can only recommend this one very highly. 

Listen to the beautiful "Martha"





Abdul Wadud - RIP

Abdul Wadud, from the LP Julius Hemphill + Abdul K. Wadud – Live In New York
Album Photography By G. Gallina, M. Mangiarotti


On August 10, cellist Abdul Wadud passed away at the age of 75. Wadud is one of those musicians whose impact on listeners and musicians has been significant, even if his output as a leader has been relatively limited. 

I think every jazz lover's heart will jump up at the first drums and cello notes of "Dogon AD", the brilliant composition by Julius Hemphill on the album with the same name. Its phenomenal rhythm, its haunting bowed cello, the crisp drums by Philip Wilson, the astonishing performances by both Hemphill and Caroll on horns, make this music even today still a revelation. I can encourage you to listen to the entire album and enjoy it in full. Wadud shines on all pieces, navigating the most complex rhythms and adding a lot to the overall sound.

Wadud was born on April 30, 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio as Ronald Earsal DeVaughn. He started playing sax and cello at the age of 8, played in school bands, and later studied at Youngstown State University 1966-1967 and at Oberlin College Conservatory 1968-1970. At Oberlin, Wadud made his debut recording with the Black Unity Trio with their recently re-released Al-Fatihah Here is a long and interesting interview with Wadud in Point of Departure, with Joel Wanek and Tomeka Reid as interviewers. 

As a (co-)leader he only released seven albums, but he was very much in demand to perform with other iconic jazz musicians, with Hemphill of course, but also with Frank Lowe, Arthur Blythe, Charles Bobo Shaw, Oliver Lake, David Murray, George Lewis and even with Miles Davis. 

Wadud stopped performing in mid-career, burnt-out by the efforts and the little reward. In a way he seems to have regretted this: "It’s been fruitful. I miss it. I’m sometimes wondering what would have happened if I continued a little longer." On the other hand, not many musicians have been able to have had the impact that Wadud had, not to mention the joy to hear him play. I think not only cellists, but all jazz fans will share that feeling. A heartfelt thanks from all of us for the limited gems of music he offered us.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends. 

- Stef Gijssels


Friday, August 12, 2022

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity - Elastic Wave (ECM, 2022)

By Martin Schray

According to Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Eicher’s ECM label "cuts the balls off powerful groups," with the result that they all sound the same, which he finds awful*. Now, if you only consider Gard Nilssen’s first two albums with his Acoustic Unity** (which is Nilssen on drums, André Roligheten on saxophones and clarinet and Petter Eldh on bass), - especially the outstanding triple album Live in Europe released on Clean Feed in 2017 - you’d be inclined to agree with the German fire-breather. But of course, it’s not that simple. Already To Whom Who Buys a Record (Odin Records, 2019), the band’s third album, didn't sound as wild and free as Live in Europe, instead one could sense a strong hardbop influence. In addition, there were also ballads like "Broken Beauty," which pointed to where the journey with the Acoustic Unity could go. Moreover, Nilssen has recorded for ECM before, for example on Mathias Eick’s Skala (2011) and on two albums by the Maciej Obara Quartet (Unloved, 2017 and Three Crowns, 2019). So, the step to present their new album Elastic Wave on the Munich label was somehow logical.

Even though the Acoustic Unity doesn’t sound as brute as it did in their beginning, dynamic interactions, a sense of swinging pulse, and bold, sharply delineated themes are still among the trio’s defining characteristics. Another one is their stylistic flexibility, which has its roots in shared experiences; the three have known each other since 2005.

Many influences come together in the trio’s music. In Roligheten’s saxophone playing you can hear Ornette Coleman, and when he plays the clarinet, Jimmy Giuffre’s style shines through. In general, the Giuffre Trio has clearly influenced the sound and harmonies of this album (e.g. in “Dreignau“). On “The Other Village“, he plays tenor and soprano saxophone simultaneously, which sounds as if Roland Rahsaan Kirk was playing Mediterranean bagpipes. On the whole, the trio offers a comprehensive overview of modern jazz history. This can be heard in the opener “Altaret“, a piece by Petter Eldh that comes across as freely contrapuntal, indicating to the trio’s concept of openness and freedom in improvisation and composition.

Gard Nilssen has named Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette as influences that have shaped his drumming style. But Jon Christensen’s well-known "Waves of Sound" approach has obviously also been an inspiration. To pay tribute to ECM’s drumming tradition, he brought one of Christensen's cymbals to the "Elastic Wave" session and integrated it as a second ride cymbal into the overall sound of his drum set. The title of the track "Lokket til Jon, og skjerfet til Paul" (Norwegian for: The lure for Jon, and the scarf for Paul) alludes to Christensen on the one and and on the other hand to a scarf that Paul Motian had once left behind in a studio, and which is used here to soften the bass drum’s resonating harmonics.

Finally, even those who appreciate the old Acoustic Unity will also find what they are looking for here: with its hard, lively drive "Acoustic Dance Music" is a piece reminiscent of the Ornette Coleman Trio’s recordings at the Circle in Stockholm.

All in all, Elastic Wave is simply a very diverse and coherent album in itself, which rather focuses on airiness and sound range. To say that the music would have no balls seems definitely too harsh.

Elastic Wave is available as a CD and as a download. You can find it on the usual streaming devices and you can listen to a short snippet here:

 

* Christoph J. Bauer: Brötzmann Gespräche (Posth Verlag, p. 75)

** The two album’s on Clean Feed are named Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, while the last two album are filed under Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Jazz em Agosto 2022 (Part 4)

By Paul Acquaro

Saturday, August 6th and Sunday August 7th

Heading south east on Av. Alvares Cabral, a mere kilometer over a hill from the Reservatório da Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras (see part 3), is another neighborhood park, the Guerra Junqueiro Garden. It's similar to the other park with plenty of wonderful old trees, like the giant Ficus macrophylla behind the bandstand and that has an old bench sinking into its enormous root system. There is also a small pond, waterfall, cactus garden, and multiple cafes. It also turned out that the first Sunday, which it just happened to be, there is a crafts fair. In fact, crafts-folks were setting up alongside one of the many walking paths and a quick glance at the first couple of stands left a good impression. A seller who builds small boxes featuring vintage comic book characters, explained that the market only accepts vendors who make their own products - everything handmade - ever drawings, photograph, article of clothing, bar of soap, jewelry and the like. It was a nice discovery for an early Sunday morning.

In previous years, I have described the Gulbenkian Foundation's impressive mid-century modern gardens (see here, for example) but not their first class art museums. There are in fact two, one for modern art (which is currently undergoing a multi-year renovation), and the main Gulbenkian building which holds the classics, a collection that spans an impressive range of work from ancient Egypt, the Islamic world, Asia and Europe. A visit to the collection takes time as there is simply so much to take in, beginning with Egyptian pieces, to the impressive Islamic carpets and tiles, to the Rembrandt paintings, up through the Art Nouveau jewelry of René Lalique. Additionally, an excellent temporary exhibition is currently displaying a selection of the work of the haunted Armenian born abstract artist Arshile Gorky alongside the contemporary work of Lisbon painter Jorge Queiroz. The artist curated exhibition (by Queiroz) explores connections and similarities between the works, and it serves as a good introduction to both artists.

These were two very different art experiences, one crafts that you can touch, hold, and buy, and the other, priceless works that you can marvel at, both enjoyable. 

Saturday, August 6th

Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano, 6:30 p.m.

Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

In the small auditorium, behind the drum kit, sat New York based drummer Chris Corsano, whose career spans the rock and free improvisation and includes work with saxophonist Paul Flathery, the band Harry Pussy (with his partner tonight, Blll Orcutt) as well as Bjork. To his right sat guitarist Bill Orcutt, of Harry Pussy fame and collaborator to folks such as Peter Brotzmann and Loren Mazzacane Connors.

Orcutt's set up was a Telecaster directly connected to a Fender amp, no pedals, no electronics, and the sound from the guitar was like a fresh breeze. Orcutt began with some jangling notes followed by an array of Americana-flavored riffs, rife with dissonance. Corsano played expertly along with the intense folk-like lines coming from his partner, together building a rich tapestry of pulse and texture. For the second tune, Orcutt dropped the capo and strummed an open and somewhat warbly chord, at first basking in the reverb and then rapidly strumming, from time to time allowing single notes to pop out from the wash of chords. Corsano, a supportive and guiding collaborator, helped bring the churning riffs to a boiling point. By the third song, they went immediately for the jugular with a tough piece made from overdriven shards of sound. Then, they dialed back the energy and Orcutt played some open, twangy chords, sounding a bit like an overheating John Fahey. 

Orcutt's use of the naked guitar and amp brought to mind the idea of a secret guitar festival inside the main festival. We had heard the feedback driven work of Tashi Dorji (See #2), the electric psychedelia of Jorge Nuno (Voltaic Trio), the rich stylistic pallet of Ava Mendoza, the acoustic drive of Marcelo dos Reis (with the Turquoise Trio), the contrasting styles of André Fernandes and Pedro Branco (in Joao Lencastre's Communion), Susan Alcorn's pedal steel and the explosive Julien Desprez (with Seven Storey Mountain), and still to come, the dizzying fretwork of Julian Lage. What a cross section of styles, and for a guitar fan, a real treat. If one were to ask Jazz em Agosto's artistic director Rui Neves if this was on purpose, his reply likely would come wrapped with a sly smile, neither completely confirming nor denying. So, even if not purposeful, it was a delightful accident.

(Corsano and Orcutt released Made Out Of Sound on Palilalia Records last year)


Borderlands Trio, 9:30 p.m.

Borderlands Trio. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

"It's really good to be here," said the trio's bassist Stephan Crump before the trio began their bequiling set, "one reason is that it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and another is that I can be here playing with Eric McPherson on drums and Kris Davis on piano."

The generous ensuing set from the Borderlands Trio in the outdoor amphitheater, was, judging by the enthusiastic response of the audience, a fest-goer favorite. To pinpoint a standout from the standout, Crump, with his exquisite bass work and who, aside from taking on the role of the MC, also seemed to be more than one-third of the band on stage this evening.

The music began with a soft, slightly askew introduction from Davis. Crump and McPherson hit on the off-beats, or maybe there were no real beats at all, just a gentle breath. A slow accumulation of sound followed, Davis locking into a questioning pattern of chords, McPherson upping the pulsations and Crump's bowing, building the base of sound. Davis' simple chord progression held the center while Crump stretched the tempos elastically. McPherson's touch was light but driving, as he held the tempo steady with even-handed mix of straight ahead grooves and coloring outside the lines.

Crump's first solo did not go for virtuosity (at first), but rather texture. He played a slowly devolving line until picking up the bow and diving deep into an emotional solo. Davis began by adding light accompaniment. Picking up on something, Crump found the right notes between the piano's, and played light glissandos over the fretboard. McPherson, who had stepped away from the drums, came back and began to ratchet up the energy. 

The set cascaded through sections of prepared piano (which Davis prepared as the other two played) and which caused the acoustic piano to sound almost like a synthesizer, to a long passage that sounded like a classic piano trio, and finally, to a drum solo in which McPherson methodically explored each of the instruments in his kit. The final moments of the performance found the trio escalating the intensity to a more than satisfactory end. Their short encore was like the whole set in miniature, with the trio building from scratch to another tasteful groove.

(Borderlands Trio last released Wandersphere on Intakt)

Sunday, August 7th

Matt Mitchell and Sara Schoenbeck, 6:30 p.m.
  
Matt Mitchell and Sara Schoenbeck. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

Pianist Matt Mitchell and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck musical careers and interests straddle many worlds. Mitchell's collaboration with Tim Berne's music is bordering on legendary and Schoenbeck has taken her classical instrument into new and unusual territory with Anthony Braxton’s 12+1(tet) and the Tri-Centric Orchestra, the Gravitas Quartet with Wayne Horvitz, and beyond.

Their duo set in the small auditorium was contemporary classical nature, with many delicate moments, fragile and beautiful in their austerity and quirkiness. A highlight of the set was multi-part suite, written by Mitchell, which featured some very compelling piano work. The last song they played was the most accessible, cinematic in sound and scope, with Schoenbeck playing a distinct melody that flowed through Mitchell's undulating chords. Overall, the music seemed to be constructed from tenuous connections and parallel play that came together only to drift apart again.

(A duo collaboration appears on Sara Schoenbeck's self-titled album on Pyroclastic Records)


John Zorn's New Masada Quartet, 9:30 p.m.

John Zorn's New Masada Quartet. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo


Back on the outdoor stage, John Zorn's New Masada Quartet played the closing show of the festival. John Zorn on sax, Julian Lage on guitar, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and tonight, Trevor Dunn on bass, sounded looser and more charged than ever. Perhaps it had something to do with the last minute substitution of bass players (Dunn for Jorge Roeder), or perhaps it something to do with Zorn's relationship with Jazz em Agosto (he had special edition of the festival dedicated to his music in 2018) but whatever it was, even the ever cool guitarist seemed stirred up.

They hit with full force, Wollesen kicked things off with a fast tempo and Zorn erupted quickly into a full throated squall. Then, after a sudden and brief pause, the group launched into a tune with a distinct Ornette Coleman like melodic hook. Throughout the set, Zorn directed the band through hand gestures given between his own playing, imbuing the set with something both visually as well as musically exciting. Lage was particularly fierce. Coming in after a quick drum break, his solo was angular and punchy, his typical mind-bending fluid lines becoming darting fists.

Lage kicked off the second tune with a sweeping arpeggio and over the rustle of drum and the thrust of the bass, Zorn played a forlorn, yearning melody. Dunn and Lage then introduced a vamp over a straight forward beat over which Zorn played arching scales and dynamic figures. The band picked up the pulse and moved to on top of the beat and reached a peak of energy that carried them to the next tune. Here, Dunn pulled off a magnificent solo, wrenching brilliance from his fingerboard. Wollesen too gave an urgent performance as Lage and Zorn seem to be colluding to the side of the stage.

The New Masada Quartet offers a new take on the beloved book of Masada and in this closing concert, the quartet took these new interpretations to a higher level. The tune's heads are familiar to fans of the various Masada bands, and even if one wasn't known, the tunes are so infectious that they instantly feel familiar. It would have been pretty difficult to find a disappointed listener in the audience.

(John Zorn released the New Masada Quartet recently on Tzadic)

---
See: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Jazz em Agosto 2022 (Part 3)

By Paul Acquaro

Thursday, August 3rd and Friday August 4th

Let us start back at the park, the Amoreiras Garden / Marcelino Mesquita Garden, like many of the small neighborhood parks in Lisbon, the park has several playgrounds for kids, gravel paths to saunter on and a small cafe. Typically reasonably priced and stocked with an assortment of drinks and pastries, like the ubiquitous and delicious pastel de nata (cream cup), these cafes make for a perfect stop during long city walks. 

This park though has the Reservatório da Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras, the last built piece of the ambitious and fantastic Águas Livres Aqueduct (see part 2), put in place in 1746. When it was finally finished, church bells ran in celebration of the stately indoor reservoir, which was built not only for its utility but to also be a beautiful, serene space, like a church, with marble columns rising from the deep blue waters and an intake pipe from the aqueduct featuring a dolphin's head. Overhead, there is a viewing platform with nice views of the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. This is part of the Museu de Agua, which pops up at important parts of the antique waterworks and for a few euros lets you in to this fantastic monument, when it's open... the building is so unique that there are themed light shows that take place in the afternoons.

Around the corner, on an other side of the park is another treat, ready for you after your third or fourth pastel de nata of the day, the Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation which houses a small, exquisitely curated museum dedicated to the 20th century abstract artists, Lisbon born Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and Hungarian born Arpad Szenes. In fact, if you took the subway to the Rato stop, you would have already seen a work by Vieira da Silva on one end and Szenes on the other. 

Their story and art is interwoven in the history of the 20th century. The pair had met in France while studying art and after a while married, both losing their respective citizenships in the process. They lived in Brazil during second world war and upon return, applied for and denied Portuguese citizenship and therefore settled in France, where they were accepted. In the final years of Vieira da Silva's life, a foundation for her and her husband's work was created in Lisbon and a museum was built in a former silk factory on the edge of the park. Vieira da Silva had the chance to select which pictures to show, but never saw the completion of the museum. A new digital component has also been recently added, which animates aspects of her paintings, inviting the viewers to engage with the art in new ways. Set to a unique soundtrack, many such digital projects are often rather dull or miss the point of the art entirely. In this case, quite the opposite is true.

There seems to be ever more to discover in Lisbon, however, for now, we go back to the Gulbenkian gardens where more music awaits us.

Thursday, August 4, 9:30 pm

Ava Mendoza

Ava Mendoza. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

It was noticeably cooler out, a breeze rustled the leaves around the stage as Ava Mendoza walked out on the stage. Alone with her six string, she looked like a post punk gunslinger, ready to show us what she's got. Greeting the audience, she said it was her third time at Jazz em Agosto, strummed a chord and let loose a run of notes with a particularly spaghetti western twang. 

Strikingly, her introduction was the most 'traditional' use of the guitar so far at the festival. Not 'traditional' in terms of jazz or any specific style of playing, but rather how she was playing the instrument: a strum, picked notes, a melodic impulse, a grunge rock riff, a mix of chords and melody. Her tone was overdriven but clear, she played a few big, open chords, manipulated some pedals to create a drone and used ample reverb to thicken the sound.

Mendoza is a storyteller at heart. After veering a bit from her original impulse, she went back down the path of Morricone-like melodies, tripping dissonance-bombs along the path. Reaching a peak, she dropped the distortion and played a clear set of chords, a breath of fresh air after a long slog through the chapparal. Then, she began a progressive rock inspired chapter, namely the middle point of the classic story arc in which the hero has accepted their mission and sets off to fight the good fight. With a set of real-time loops, she launched into a soaring solo, building a rock-ribbed musical fortress of air around the amphitheater.  For a final piece, the resolution part, Mendoza showed her singer/songwriter side. Signing over an open tuned blues based riff, her voice slightly husky with a slight No wave affect.

(Ava Mendoza's solo album New Spells is available from Relative Pitch)  

João Lencastre's Communion

João Lencastre Unlimited Dreams. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

As the festival continued, one could start sensing multiple connections between the groups. Some of these connections are overt, like the festival's theme "Chicago, New York, Lisbon," and some much less so. These connections may not be precise, or even definable, but they do not feel accidental. Case in point, Lisbon based drummer João Lencastre's Communion - a project whose intertwining musical connections to Mendoza's set were as ephemeral as they were crystal clear.

The eight piece group came quickly to the stage, two saxophonists, two guitarists, two bassists (one on electronics as well), one pianist, and last but not least, the drummer, composer and leader, Lencastre. Electronic blips, textural drumming, and the tinkling of the piano introduced the group, then a thick riff from the electric bass thrusted it forward. The power of the octet could be felt like a seismic rumble under the accessible, legato melodies. One could think of it in context of the Miles Davis classic In a Silent Way but with much more underlying pressure.

During the set, agitated, ear-worm worthy melodies crashed into block chords from the piano and prominent stick work. High energy solos from saxophonist Ricardo Toscano and Albert Cirera often played off tensions with the rhythm section. Likewie, Pedro Branco on his new Flying-V guitar, was a mass of uncontained energy, shooting off distorted lightening bolts, while André Fernandes, with a more reserved semi-hollow body, began with a jazz inflected solos only to end up in Crazy Horse territory. One couldn't be blamed for hearing as much Radiohead and Muse in the music as they did jazz, Lencastre's compositions are as wide-ranging as his listening habits. The final piece, 'Unlimited Dreams,' is striking in its subconscious allusions to Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman' in the opening melody, setting up a very effective contrast to the jazz-rock explosion in the middle of the piece. At one point, the drummer could be even be heard ecstatically letting out a shout over the mounting energy of the group.

The combination of modern rock and modern jazz and the solo guitar set that proceeded it were certainly quite different; however, they both played off stylistic forms, uncompromisingly used the language of rock without eschewing other musical sensibilities, and delved into electronic and effected textures without sublimating the sounds of the instruments.

(João Lencastre's Communion - Unlimited Dreams is available on Clean Feed)|

Friday, August 5th, 9:30 pm

Rodrigo Pinheiro and Pedro Carneiro

Rodrigo Pinheiro and Pedro Carneiro. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

In the darkened Gulbenkian auditorium, the opening show was a mind-boggling feat of musical telepathy. Sensitive and reactive, the Lisbon based duo of Pedro Carneiro on marimba and Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano was uncannily precise and note perfect; however, there was no music to follow, no notation to read, everything was unspoken and unplanned.

It was not jazz, but unlike the other days where the overarching musical approach leaned in the direction of rock or even noise, the duo turned towards classical as their starting point. Pinheiro (whose work with the RED Trio is well documented on the Free Jazz Blog) along with Carneiro develop intimate motives with flowing energy and ripe melodic invention. Pinheiro's ideas seemed to pour forth in concise statements that were complimented and refactored by the marimbist. The pianist sometimes lingered in a certain register, often on the lower side, adding the occasional higher pitched accents, or was very dynamic and covered the whole keyboard, but no matter how he proceeded, each improvisation unfolded like a complete song.

The development of each whimsical miniature was not driven by only one of the musicians, rather the songs formed through the continual interplay, interlocking parallel ideas. The second piece began with a gentle melody, the marimba sounding delicate, almost brittle, and then answered with percussive energy the open ended statements in the pianist's melody. A later piece began with Carneiro using an unusual mallet, with four evenly spaced heads on each, to create a focused and evocative pattern that Pinheiro absorbed and built on. The music, dynamically and unbelievably precise, was a real high note to the start of the evening.

(The duo has an album on Phonogram Unit entitled Kinetic Études)

Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain VI with the Gulbenkian Choir

Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain VI. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

New York trumpeter Nate Wooley's Seven Storey Mountain is a multi-faceted work based on the 1948 autobiography from the American monk and author Thomas Merton. The current version, number six, is a large scale work that combines an 11 piece band comprised of three guitarists (including Susan Alcorn's pedal steel), two keyboards, two violins, and Wooley's trumpet along with, this evening, members of the Gulbenkian choir (with direction from Wooley's collaborator Megan Schubert). The setting in the grand indoor auditorium lent an even more impressive air to the concert, starting with the group rising from below the stage and taking to their respective instruments on the risers. Then, without warning, an unseen choir began singing a wordless hymn from the balcony and the curtains behind the musicians began to slowly open, revealing the beautifully lit lush gardens behind the floor to ceiling panoramic windows. The feeling was quite 'holy'.

Gulbenkian Choir. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

The musicians on stage entered via the unique vibrations of the pedal steel guitar, a perfect segue between the haunting hidden choir and the group on stage. Next, the three percussionists added a light textural layer and the outlines of the hymn-like chord structures were outlined by Alcorn. The gentle harmonic melody began to flow from the keyboards.

Unconnected to the music - perhaps? - a woman could be seen walking past the windows in the closed gardens. As she disappeared from view to the right, a set of official looking flashlights appeared through the leaves on the left. They seemed to following the walker's path. Though it was impossible to know what was happening, it did provide an unexpected visual component. Now, back to the music.

It was French guitarist Julien Desprez who first broke through the slow moving heft of the music. His eruptive passage seemed surprisingly loud and disruptive. Like the unexpected scene outside behind the stage, one wondered if he was meant to be this way, so voluminous and cacophonous. Soon the squelching began to not only raise the tension, but also fit in. A sound of desperation, even terror, began mounting in the group. Then a wall of sound followed as the three percussionists began pounding at their sets, Ava Mendoza on the other guitar began screaming along with Desprez. The violins added additional color the group's epic wail, while the two keyboards kept an even center of gravity. The group reached an unbelievable intense climax and then they stopped, only the piano's continuing on. The choir re-entered, this time with words, singing parts of “Reclaim the Night” by Peggy Seeger, a song about sexual violence and rape. Following the intense music, the words were affecting and powerful.

The audience filtered out of the sold out auditorium quietly, visceral impacted by the performance.

(Seven Storey Mountain VI is available from Pyroclastic Records)

--

See: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler and Steve Hirsh

Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler/Steve Hirsh - Ebb & Flow (Mahakala, 2022)
Joel Futterman/Chad Fowler - Timeless Moments (Mahakala, 2022)



By Gary Chapin

It wasn’t intended this way, but I’ve been listening to these two albums as a playlist along with two Mahakala discs from last year: Futterman and Hirsh’s Warp & Weft, and Fowler and Hirsh’s Two Five None. The four recordings, which feature every possible duet from this group along with the trio, has become a cornerstone to my summer 2022 listening. Beach music playlist!

Joel Futterman is the musical exemplar of the evolutionary idea of “Humans as Persistence Hunters.” This concept says that humans excel not because of spectacular structures of fierceness (e.g., giant saber teeth, or vicious claws on our hind legs), but because we persist. We keep going. We learn things. And then we keep going, having learned things.

You can see this in his own story of dogged practice over hours and hours, hunting the moment, but I also see this in my experience of Ebb & Flow, made up of two parts, each of which stand entirely on their own as an experience. For me, on these records, the unit of relevance is the track, not the album. I play “Part 1,” at 37-ish minutes, and I need to sit with it for a while. It’s a complete free jazz statement, and it becomes more sublime the longer you are in it. In this way it is like Warp & Weft a glorious monster of a duet between Hirsh and Futterman (clocking in at an hour fifty) and which pays dividends the deeper you stay under its water.

This is in the territory cleared by Taylor, Lyons, and Murray, but Futterman, Fowler, and Hirsh have their own voices and own conversations. The three are fantastically responsive to each other, in all their non-idiomatic, non-narrative glory. The invented melodies never stop surprising and satisfying. Hirsh, in particular, along with laying down a field of exploding stars, contributes and responds to the melodies in an intriguing klangspielen way. “Part 2” starts in a dark ballad space, and then runs through the tumult until, 25-ish minutes in, you’re in a sparse, bluesy space, suggestive of isolation and noir. There’s always a story, just not always the kind you’d expect. Before long the saxophone is riding the avalanche being played by the piano.

Timeless Moments , which puts Futterman and Fowler in duet, is made up of shorter statements. While still spending much time in the free jazz space, there are explicit (to me) echoes of Dolphy, Monk, McCoy Tyner and gut bucket blues. These genresque side quests set this set apart from the others. It’s a genuine blast having the duo move from outer space to earth music and back again. The two modes illuminate each other well.

I notice Mahakala has released a quartet record, The Deep, which adds William Parker to this amazing trio. While writing this I’ve gone and bought it on Bandcamp, a delightful bit of procrastination. Now my playlist will have five discs in.

Monday, August 8, 2022

N. O. Moore - Llanfechain (Scatter, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Since first emerging a few years ago on Darkened, Yet Shone, in a trio with John Edwards and Eddie Prévost, N.O. Moore has appeared as a distinctly electric, even electronic guitarist (“guitarism” is his term for it). It’s evident, too, in another trio with Prévost (Nous with saxophonist Jason Yarde [Matchless]) and when pairing with the similarly electronic guitarist Henry Kaiser in the quintet of The Secret Handshake with Danger (577). Playing with the quartet Improvisers Inside Electronics on The Birds of Four Mirrors (dx/dy), Moore has forgone the guitar entirely in favour of electronics, playing “stereo field and dark energy”. His previous solo guitar recording, Dreamt Across Tangled Electron , on the Bandcamp label Breaking Up in the Atmosphere, is adamantly electronic.

Llanfechain , named for the Welsh village in which it was recorded, changes that dramatically. Playing a steel-string flattop acoustic guitar, both indoors and out, Moore reveals a musical personality as developed in the acoustic realm as in the electric. The first six pieces, from 1:16 to 6:42 in length, are entitled “inside a” to “inside f”. The first is a miniature, a brief reverie, while “inside b” immediately establishes Moore’s authority. He has a facility with complex materials that suggests a drum kit, both in its percussiveness and in the ability to both combine and move rapidly amongst multiple sounds. “inside c”, a more extended reverie than “a”, is filled with subtle resonances among harmonics, while “d” is shape-shifting, moving through a passage of micro-glissandi to single-note phrases animated anew by legacy jazz phrasing. “inside e” explores dissonances within tight-knit, microscopically varied, percussive phrases; “inside f” is almost dance-like, ranging from odd, compound arpeggios to memories of skittering jazz and even spectral syncopation.

As fine as this material is, it may feel prefatory to the ultimate “Outsides”, a 27-minute piece recorded in the Welsh countryside. From the outset, the harmonics are allowed to hang longer in the air, phrases seem to stretch further, with more space between them. A segment can mix short, scintillating, upper-register glissandi with sudden propulsive bass figures (as if some mysterious boogie is going on somewhere, somewhen, seeping through the earth and time). A muffled, reflective aside might arise, or there may be a sense of sustained wandering in a new territory, anticipation and hesitation mingling with each subtle shift in direction. Relations between adjacent tones or a single interval might be interrogated. Moments of reverie can turn pensive, and vice versa, the music reflecting and inspiring a concentration on instants, moments evolving into other dimensions with unexpected yet organic shifts in technique and mood, until by the closing moments, Moore achieves levels of complexity and intensity that suggest the oddly blues-reminiscent virtuosity of certain Indian string players.

The cumulative impact of Moore’s flattop, metal-string, indoor/outdoor acoustic improvisations is a kind of compound creative intimacy, combining something of the familiarity of the “American Primitive” school (John Fahey, Robbie Basho) with the lightning mutations and concentrated invention of free improvisation (Derek Bailey, John Russell).

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Instant Composers Pool Update

Instant Composers Pool galore 


By Stef Gijssels

In the slipstream of the article on Thomas Heberer, I will add this quick overview of recent ICP Orchestra Releases, on which the German trumpeter has been a member for many decades. 

The Instant Composers' Pool (ICP) was founded in 1967 by Willem Breuker on saxes, Misha Mengelberg on piano and Han Bennink on drums. The trio shared a good musical education with a common aversion to conformity and reproducing what others had composed. They found each other in a new way of making music, full of spontaneity, improvisation and daring explorations. They did not reject tradition completely. Musicians like Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk were often the subject of projects that the band set up. 

When Breuker left the band in 1974, Mengelberg and Bennink continued with the ensemble, making it a loose gathering of like-minded musicians, which means that over the years, the line-up and the music was very much open to change. 

After the death of Mengelberg in 2017, the current core line-up consists of 

  • Guus Janssen on piano
  • Han Bennink on drums 
  • Thomas Heberer on trumpet 
  • Wolter Wierbos on trombone 
  • Michael Moore on alto saxophone, clarinet 
  • Ab Baars on clarinet, tenor saxophone 
  • Tobias Delias on clarinet, tenor saxophone
  • Tristan Honsinger on cello 
  • Ernst Glerum on bass 
  • Mary Oliver on violin
... even if that may change, depending on other visiting artists or bands. 

Especially in the early years, other icons of improvised music such as Peter Brötzman, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd performed with them, to name just a few. 

Despite their origin in "instant composition", most of the music sounds very organised and structured today, moving from classical jazz to avant-garde classical (the strings) to improvised music. The eclecticism of the ensemble is only possible thanks to the skills and versatility of the musicians who appear to feel at home in any musical context. It determines the wealth and richness of the sound. And then there's of course Han Bennink to keep things fun and unexpected. 

The ICP Orchestra produced and released so many albums in the past few years, that it's hard to keep up with. Most albums are available on Bandcamp. 

Here is the list in anti-chronological order : 
  • ICP 30 Year Jubileum, 1997 Day 1 (ICP Orchestra, 2022)
  • ICP 30 Year Jubileum, 1997 Day 2 (ICP Orchestra, 2022)
  • ICP 30 Year Jubileum, 1997 Day 3 (ICP Orchestra, 2022)
  • Instant Composers Pool – Incipient ICP (1966-71) (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2021) (without Heberer)
  • ICP Orchestra - Pletterij Nl. 10 September 2021 (ICP, 2021)
  • ICP Septet + Joris Roelofs + Terrie Ex - Komen & Gaan (ICP, 2021) (without Heberer)
  • Instant Composers Pool & Nieuw Amsterdams Peil – De Hondemepper (2020)
  • ICP Orchestra – ICP Orchestra In Toronto: The Music Gallery, 2003 (2020)
  • ICP Orchestra – ICP Live In Ljubljana 02 July 2005 (2020)
  • ICP Orchestra ‎– Plays Herbie Nichols (In Nijmegen 7 May 1984) (ICP, 2020) (without Heberer)
  • ICP Orchestra – ICP Orchestra In Seattle: The Royal Room, Set 1 May 16th 2015 (2019)
  • ICP Orchestra – ICP Orchestra In Seattle: The Royal Room, Set 2 May 16th 2015 (2019)
  • ICP Orchestra – ICP Orchestra in Albuquerque: The Outpost Performance Space, March 17th, 2003 (2019)

Watch a performance from 2021 at the Bimhuis in the Netherlands

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Thomas Heberer - The Day That Is (Sunnyside Records, 2021)/The Nu Band - In Memory Of Marc Whitecage - Live At The Bop Shop (Not Two, 2021)

 By Stef Gijssels

German trumpeter and New York resident Thomas Heberer stands with one foot in jazz tradition and one foot in avant-garde music. On this album he is joined by another German expat in the US, Ingrid Laubrock, on tenor and soprano, with John Hébert on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. 

Two elements strike immediately when listening to the album. The first is its compositional inventiveness, multilayered, sometimes odd-metered, with interesting harmonic shifts, deeply rooted in jazz but with a creative tinge and unexpectedness that makes it more modern. The second is the warmth of the sound, including bass and drums, but especially of the trumpet and the saxophone, and it must be said that the sonic cohesiveness of Heberer and Laubrock is at times stunning. They never recorded together, but I hope it's not the last time. 

For once, I must refer to the liner notes of the album for more insights. They describe the structural elements of the pieces, so there is no need to repeat them here. Just one element to add: Heberer's compositional diversity to shift the tone of the pieces from sadness to joy without jeopardising the balance of the total picture. "Caro Pook" (dedicated to the violinist and composer Carolin Pook) is joyful, upbeat and fun, and is immediately followed by the dark and melancholy "Then There Were Three", which in itself also contains a little joke because it starts with only three instruments, until Sarin joins halfway with a drum solo - and then there was one - before the whole band comes together again for an abrupt ending. 

Last year's trio album "Remedy" was already easy to recommend, and so is this one. This is modern jazz at its best: creative, complex expressive, cohesive and welcoming.  

Heberer is also a member of the Dutch Instant Composers Pool Orchestra for almost thirty years now, and we will give an update on their recent work tomorrow. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp


The Nu Band - In Memory Of Marc Whitecage - Live At The Bop Shop (Not Two, 2021)


The Nu Band was the brain child of drummer Lou Grassi and the late trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. who created the quartet in 1999 with Joe Fonda on bass and Mark Whitecage on alto sax and clarinet. When Roy Campbell died in 2014, Thomas Heberer took his chair in order to complete the fully booked agenda of the band. 

In March 2021, Mark Whitecage passed away, and the band continues to perform with Kenny Wessel on guitar replacing the saxophonist. 

The band has always had a very democratic and open approach to leadership and compositional preference, resulting in a creative open mix of improvised music. Even if most pieces have some compositional and structural backbone, they are often an excuse for lengthy improvisations and generous interplay. The music oscillates between calm and spiritual moments to highly energetic and nervous boppish moments. The first two tracks illustrate this perfectly. The opener begins with Whitecage on diné flute, a quiet and subdued piece, followed by the Ornette Coleman-ish "Five O'Clock Follies".

This album - as you might have guessed - is a tribute to the legacy of Mark Whitecage, and the liner notes provides short texts by all musicians about what Whitecage meant for them. I will just repeat a few sentences from Joe Fonda's text, because I think they're not only to the point with regard to Whitecage, but possibly also for the whole band in its various configurations: "Mark always came to the music and to the performance without his ego. Never do I remember, ever seeing him perform and get caught up in his ego while the music was be being played. It was always a spiritual process for Mark to play music. It was always a selfless act. It was always about what he could give to the world through his music. I loved the fact that Mark played from his body. He had a special Groove a special rhythmical reality that he could create whenever he wanted to make the band groove. That was what I call the Mark Whitecage feel.

The album also has a rendition of "One For Roy", an open-textured flowing composition that gradually unites diparate sounds in a common form, and that also figures on Heberer's "The Day That Is". The other track by the trumpeter - "The closer you are, the Further it Gets" - also figures on last year's "Remedy".

The album ends with the beautiful "Dark Dawn In Aurora", a slow and sad Grassi composition that we already know from the "Cosmological Constant" (2015) on which both Heberer and Whitecage give hair-raising bluesy solos, a moving and deep performance that presents an adequate finale. 

Like with most albums of the Nu Band, there is a lot to enjoy. The joy of creating music is essential to their existence, the pleasure of playing together is almost palpable, whether in the more spiritual parts or the boppish ones. 

The Nu Band's first album from 2001 was called "Live At The Bop Shop", as is this one. Let's hope this does not finish the cycle. 

Let's leave the final word to Lou Grassi: "Mark’s brilliance and originality as a musician will live on through his music and through the many musicians who had the privilege of coming into his sphere and being encouraged, inspired and nurtured by him. As an artist he was original, uncompromising and totally committed to using his art to make the world a better place".

Friday, August 5, 2022

Jazz em Agosto 2022 (Part 2)



Part two in the ongoing coverage of Jazz em Agosto 2022. See part 1 here.

Monday, August 1


The day's adventure began with a walk along the multi-lane Av. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian which took me to the Águas Livres Aqueduct. The impressive 18th century giant stone structure spans a valley between the main part of the city and the surrounding hills and has intrigued me since I first laid eyes on it. My goal today was simply to get as close as I possibly could, which, as I found out after winding about some complicated footpaths, is very very close. Climbing up from the base of one of the arches, I entered the Campilode neighbourhood and discovered the Museu da Aqua, a museum dedicated to the creation of the water system. It was closed on Mondays.

I then followed a blue dotted line on my Google maps from the top of the hill down to the Principe Real neighborhood, with a stop for a drink in the Amoreiras Garden / Marcelino Mesquita Garden, a lovely small park with a dense canopy of leaves. The park also abuts the Reservatório da Mãe d'Água das Amoreiras, a terminal building of the aqueduct which contains an indoor reservoir. Also not open, but it will be on my agenda to return to in the coming days. 

For now, back to the Gulbenkian Foundation where the concerts shift from the focus on Chicago to the fantastic music being made right here in Portugal, with a few geographical outliers thrown in.

6:30 p.m. Anteloper

Anteloper. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

At an early point in the pandemic, during the first set of lockdowns, I watched a streaming show by trumpeter Jaimie Branch. It was a low-fi, high-tech affair, in which Branch simply let her creative process drive the show. She played some trumpet, captured and reprocessed the sound, added some layers of electronics, and let it happen. She even sang a slightly sideways version of Moon River.

The duo Anteloper is this, but energized and magnified. Branch, along with drummer Jason Nazary, also allow their combined muse dictate in all of its unbridled creativity what happens on stage. The duo play against a motion image backdrop featuring kaleidoscopic images, sometimes overlaying images of antelopes, birds and tigers. These changing shapes and color schemes are a constant behind each set they play, which I am told is very different each time.

In the smaller auditorium of the Gulbenkian, the act of sitting during the set felt almost out of place. What they were doing -- Nazary playing complex drum patterns over electronic beats and amorphous pulsations, and Branch fiddling with samples, playing organ, and looping her trumpet -- would be entirely appropriate for being in an altered state of mind at big sweaty party in a warehouse that is soon to be torn down to make way for more luxury condos. On the other hand, the act of creation was also quite interesting to witness, and the results of thier sonic explorations was really enjoyable.

At one point Branch sang a lounge tune with the refrain, "we are not the earthlings that you know. It really makes you think, it really makes me drink." It was a fun tune and added a bit of gentle humor to the set. Aside from this Os Mutante moment, the music draws from hip-hop, punk, and 70's Krautrock (especially when Branch laid into the keyboards), but constructed out the controlled chaos, it is very much its own thing.

9:30 p.m., Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble

Black Monument Ensemble. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

The show began with an empty stage and the group's manager coming out to press play on a recording. As the song played out, the members of the Black Monument Ensemble took their places: Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet on the left side, Damon Locks on samples and electronics on the right. Then, in the backrow, the incredible rhythmic nexus of drummer Dana Hall and percussionist Arif Smith, and front and center, both of the stage and of the music, the singers Erica Nwachukwu, Monique Golding, and Tramaine Parker.

The group began with a catchy sample that the percussionists locked into immediately. Dawid unveiled a serpentine melody delivered with a distinctive tremolo, and then the singers began. An effervescent melody filled the air, simple and unbelievably catchy, it hooked the audience immediately. Later, Locks' narration added density to the breezy music, tracing themes of freedom and the conditions in the U.S.. "I can't rebuild a nation, no longer working out," rang out the repetitious and sweet-sounding chorus of one song, direct and effective.

Another important ingredient of the music's secret sauce was in the rhythms. This was underscored by a drum and percussion duet that drew a fit of applause from the enthusiastic crowd. After a ceremonial-like leaving of the stage to the sounds of the drums, to a standing ovation, the group came back for a final piece. From behind me I heard in a hushed voice, "wow, they never do an encore!"

Tuesday, August 2nd

6:30 p.m. - A Escuta ('To Listen'), a film about Carlos "Zíngaro" Alves

Portuguese violinist Carlos "Zíngaro" Alves is a seminal figure in the countries avant-garde musical history. He is a self described "well behaved misfit" who chose very deliberately to follow his own path. For a while, if you follow the news clipping that appears briefly on screen during the wonderful 65-minute film, Zingaro, being so outside of the culture, did not have anyone to play with in and around Lisbon. In fact, he spent much of his formative years playing outside the country. This is obviously a situation that has changed and Zingaro can now be found playing in many different configurations in Lisbon, including Jazz em Agosto this year with Turquoise Dream.

Inês Oliveira's film is a fresh blend of styles. A classic documentary approach is used for the aforementioned career retrospective done through showing old headlines, interviews, and concert programs, and an intriguing clip of Zingaro in perhaps the early 1980s performing a piece of new music accompanied by a giant stack of electronic gear. Then, employing a cinéma vérité approach, a lengthy film-within-the-film follows the quartet of Zingaro, Joelle Leandre, Paul Lovens, and Sebi Tramontana between performances on a recent tour in Europe. Finally, choreographed segments show Zingaro deep in thought, holding his violin, and simply waiting.

It is in small interactions, like one where Leandre has to carry her bass up a set of narrow stairs and then assemble it with Zingaro and Tramontana's help, or the conversation about the harsh reality of the creative music life while on a train to Vienna, that provides tacit commentary. Voice overs provided by Zingaro ruminate over the what led him from needing at a young age to be different, and to now, as he thinks about how to use the time he has left well.

It is fantastic film, that in a gentle and loving way gives a glimpse into the inner-life of an important and vital artist.


9:30 p.m., Tashi Dorji / Turquoise Dream

Tashi Dorji. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

Tashi Dorji, who readers of the Free Jazz Blog are likely to be already well informed about, took to the amphitheater stage on Tuesday night just as the sun had set. A lone figure in the middle of the large stage, he began his set with a violent slash at the strings of this electric guitar. Then, he paused. Then again, he struck the strings. A pattern began to emerge: a pause then a doubling down of forcefully strum arhythmic tonal clusters, sometimes a single high note would ring out clearly. Dorji began looping the rhythmic textures and layered on additional sound.

In some sense, Dorji was exploring and reinventing the guitar, live on stage. For a listener who has fixed ideas of how a guitar is typically played, they must see the guitar anew, as an object with many possibilities to make sound, including ones still waiting to be found. For example, at one point Dorji flipped the guitar over and rammed its headstock into the stage, letting the resonant vibration of the strings then ring out. It was a bit painful to see a guitar played this way, but I trusted it would be ok, as he is the professional. 

The experimentation goes beyond the guitar itself as well. During an extended section, Dorji laid the guitar on the floor and harnessed the resonating frequencies of the amplifiers and maybe even dabbled with the flow of electricity itself, to make an expressive array of tones. Using his looper, he developed a stomping rhythmic figure that he then used to accompany himself to a powerful end.

Turquoise Dream. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

When Turquoise Dream took to the stage they, in some sense, picked up with Dorji let off with textural sounds and some unorthodox approaches to their instruments. The acoustic quartet is Marta Warelis on piano, Helena Espvall on cello, Marcelo dos Reis on acoustic guitar, and Carlos “Zíngaro” on violin. The quartet's playing is free, ego-less and and unfraid. They began by creating a whirl of sound. Zingaro played a series of elongated tones as the cello and guitar played single, rapid notes, and the piano added a sprinkle of harmony. 

The group played in long concentrated passages, each musician engaged with their instruments in a seemingly solipsistic way, but were actually quite attuned to each other. The different solo strands would come together to reach intense musical peaks. There were no solos but each player would come to the fore at times, and often it would be Zingaro whose melodic contribution would cut above the others. Sometimes too, small sounds became important ones, like a scrape on the cello or a prepared plinking from the piano.

At one point, placing the guitar in his lap, dos Reis used mallets to strike his instrument, hitting the body of the guitar for its resonance and the strings to create an exotic chime. Another improvisation (each piece was short and had a distinct form) began quite harshly, but even through the most dissonant statement, the music was imbued with sentimentality, buoyancy, and in Zingaro's bowing, hopefulness. It was a lovely set, made so especially through the mix of gentle and somewhat musically violent moments.

Wednesday, August 3rd

9:30 p.m. The Voltaic Trio / Ahmed

Voltaic Trio. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

The first group of the evenings double header was the Voltaic Trio. I had a reviewed their album 290241 and spoke about their "face melting blast of electric noise and a wealth of harsh, but nonetheless, fascinating rhythms and textures" and was excited to experience it live. The Portuguese trio is Luís Guerreiro on trumpet and electronics (he gravitated to the latter this evening), Jorge Nuno on very electric guitar, and João Valinho on drums.

The set opened with an electric buzz and fizz from Guerreiro's complex seeming set up, which he delivered with flair, seeming to want to physical push a whole bunch of sound at Valinho whose drumming was an artful mix of heavy beats and a lithe pulse. Nuno's guitar buzzed along side the electronics. As the voltage increased on stage, Guerreiro pulled out his trumpet and blasted out a heavily effected series of long notes. The sound was a dense thicket of crackling and buzzing energy with some ringing notes from the guitar.

Nuno then experienced a technical issue, losing sound from his guitar. Guerreiro and Valinho valiantly covered with an intense electronics and drum duel, keeping the energy alive. When Nuno returned, the frustration seemed to pour out of him through his instrument with the energy amped up even higher into a explosive freak-out. The brief return of trumpet slid right in and added another layer of tension.

The next song took a more direct rock angle as Nuno rhythmically discharged a series of power chords, Guerreiro's electronics made a circular buzz, and Valinho worked out a series of slippery thwacks. Excellent and electric set, and many kudos to the band on how they handled the technical issue.

أحمد [ahmed]. Photo: Gulbenkian Música – Vera Marmelo

After a quick change over, أحمد [ahmed] took the stage. Comprised of the British pianist  Pat Thomas and saxophonist Seymour Wright, the Swedish bassist Joel Grip, and French drummer Antonin Gerbal, the quartet creates music from the song of the American bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, who integrated Middle Eastern and North African music styles in his compositions. With such far flung origins and influences, it makes serendipitous sense to have them playing in the middle of the festival whose theme connects the US and Europe.

As I had described the group's performance at JazzFest Berlin 2021, أحمد [ahmed] "spent the better part of an hour locked in a hypnotic and demanding groove." This is their thing, and it's a physical wonder how they pull it off.

The set began with Gerbal playing a light "Caravan"-esque drum pattern. One could hear the exotic influences and accents and retro-groove. Wright came in with a purposefully disjointed phrase as Thomas concentrated on tone clusters in the middle range of the keyboard, hitting the high end of the keyboard with his palm for accents. Grip was the rock for the music to cling to, his bass line locked in tight with the drums.

The music is demanding, the group takes a phrase and begin working it in all possible ways and shapes. The riff is like a tape set to loop as the tape player is shaken, the voltage changed, and the play head jostled. The music is dynamic, building up to a formidable tempo and then kept at a high energy level for the next hour. At this pace, I would imagine the group to start seizing up, like an overheating machine. At some point, maybe 30 or 40 minutes into the set, they began to slow down, stretching out the notes and lowering the tempo. One might have thought, ahh they're winding down, only to be surprised at the quick reversal and the band reaching for a new high.

Phew.

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See: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4