Click here to [close]

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

François Carrier - Happening (Leo Records, 2007) ****

François Carrier is a stellar Candadian soprano saxophonist. His tone is warm, buttery, yet powerful. I was already strongly touched by his former CDs. "Travelling Light" with Paul Motian and Gary Peackock, is in my eyes the musical equivalent of a watercolor painting : sensitive, precise, gentle, but so strongly emotional. "Play" is more of a free jazz outing with drums and bass, again recommended. On "Happening", Carrier brings his music a step further, adding Mat Maneri's viola and Uwe Neumann's sitar to the party, an unusual combination, with his regular partners Pierre Côté on bass and Michel Lambert on drums. This double CD is one great free collective improvisation, with at first temptative and sometimes hesitant approaches in the creation of the music, but as the first long piece evolves, it starts hitting solid ground and a coherence of sound. This is indeed unusual music. It offers the contradictory feeling of a band playing in your living room, while opening a musical horizon of pure and unlimited space. It has the expansive freedom of the music of Jan Garbarek, but instead of Nordic chill, you get a warm, almost tropical charm. A great adventure of free music. Despite Carrier's extreme respect and the long solo space he offers to his bandmates, especially Matt Maneri, he is the star of this CD. He has the rare quality of playing sensitively and powerfully at the same time. A great musician to follow. If there is one negative aspect to give, it is the sound balance of the recording : the sitar sounds very far away at times, and with the limited "voice" of the instrument, this is a pity.

Below you can watch a five minute video sample of the performance.

Tin Hat - The Sad Machinery of Spring (Hannibal/Rykodisck, 2007) ****

Tin Hat (Trio) is a group to my taste. Call it chamber jazz, call it folk jazz, it is great music. The core of the band consists of Mark Orton (guitar, dobro, banjo, piano, basss drum, bass harmonica) and Carla Kihlstedt (violin, viola, celeste, trumpet violin, piano, bass harmonica, vocals). Accordionist, pianist Rob Burger has apparently left the trio and has been replaced by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Ara Anderson (trumpet, toy piano, celeste) and Zeena Parkins (harp).
I think they're fantastic because they are outside any known genre, yet with creativity and a clear musical vision. On top of this, the musicians are great instrumentalists. The music is soft, non-intrusive, friendly but with character, at moments sweet, but with claws. Music to listen to on a Sunday morning when it rains. Sadness indeed, melancholy galore. Is it jazz? Of course it is. Of course it isn't. But because jazz is the sponge of all musical genres, let's call it jazz.

Trumpet Trio - the list

Here is the list of the trumpet trios (trumpet/bass/drums) I know of at the moment.

Don Cherry - Blue Lake
Charlie Haden/Don Cherry/Ed Blackwell - The Montreal Tapes
Roy Campbell - Ancestral Homeland
Roy Campbell - Communion
Roy Campbell - Ethnic Stew & Brew
Tomasz Stanko - Bluish
Paul Smoker Trio - Genuine Fables; Come Rain or Come Shine
Trio East - Stop Start
Trio East - Best Bets
Chicago Underground Trio - Slon
Chicago Underground Trio - Chronicle
Hugh Ragin - Metaphysical Question
Raphe Malik/Cecil McBee/Codaryll Moffett - Storyline
Cuong Vu - Come Play With Me
Kahil El'Zabar/Lester Bowie/Malachi Favors - The Ritual
Tim Hagans - Audible Architectures
Herb Robertson - Falling in Flat Space
Herb Robertson - Sound Implosion
Ian Smith/ Simon Fell / Harris Eisenstadt - K 3
Michael Bisio Trio - Composance
Dave Ballou - Insistence
Andrzej Przybielski - Abstract
Masahiko Togashi - Session In Paris, Vol. 1 (with Don Cherry & Charlie Haden)
Wadada Leo Smith - Touch The Earth
Ehran Elisha - Suite Empathy
Dennis Gonzalez - Geografia
Eye Contact - Embracing The Tide/Making Eye Contact With God
Eye Contact - War Rug
Birgit Ulher - Sperrgut
Scott Tinkler Trio - Dance Of Delulian (1996)
Scott Tinkler Trio - Sofa King (1997)
Scott Tinkler Trio - Shrike Like (1999)
Tigersmilk - Tigersmilk (2003)
Tigersmilk - From The Bottle (2005)
Tigersmilk - Android Love Cry (2007)

Suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Exploding Star Orchestra - We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey, 2007) *****

Rob Mazurek is hard to pigeon-hole. With his Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet he produced consistently great avant-garde jazz CDs. On his solo albums, he took often even more adventurous routes, including some failures (including his concept of underwater trumpet, which is a nice gimmick, but not to listen to for a whole album). Last year's electronic Brasilian experiment with the Sao Paulo Underground was also not really my cup of tea. But now there is the Exploding Star Orchestra, a mammoth of a CD, a collosus of music : structured chaos, plenty of energy, intense and sensitive pieces, a line-up of top musicians, yet with a clear coherent vision in terms of composition and execution. The CD consists of three pieces : Sting Ray and The Beginning Of Time, Black Sun, Cosmic Tomes for Sleep Walking Lovers. The first notes of the CD set the tone for the whole : with a solid beat not unlike the Mission Impossible theme, the "beginning of time" commences, with flute, vibraphone and trombone in the lead roles, the rhythm and melody suddenly change after four minutes, but the tempo remains high and relentless. On one part of the first piece, the energy of some twenty eels is transformed into sound, as a background for some free improv. But don't let this deter you : it does work. The second piece is introspective piano music and the third brings free group improvisation, interrupted by repetitive minimalistic music, orchestrated chaos, tight interplay and strong soloing. I have no name for this music. It truly is genre-defying. It's not big band, not experimental, not free jazz, not avant garde, not mainstream, not spiritual music, not film music, but it is all of it. This music is not always for sensitive ears, but anyone will have to acknowledge the musical power of "We Are All From Somewhere Else" .

A masterpiece.

Rob Mazurek – Composer, Director Cornet, Electronics
Nicole Mitchell – Flutes, VoiceJeb Bishop - Trombone
Corey Wilkes - Flugelhorn
Josh Berman - Cornet
Matt Bauder - Bass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone
Jeff Parker - Guitar
Jim Baker – Piano, ARP Synthesizer, Pianette
Jason Adasiewicz - Vibraphone
John McEntire – Marimba, Tubular Bells, Edits, Recording Engineer
Matt Lux - Electric Bass Guitar
Jason Ajemian - Acoustic Bass
Mike Reed – Drums, Percussion, Saw
John Herndon - Drums

Order or download at Thrill Jockey : here

Alvin Fielder Trio - A Measure Of Vision (Cleanfeed, 2007) ***

Alvin Fielder is a jazz-drummer and a pharmacist and one of the founding members of the AACM in Chicago, a highly unusual combination. "A Measure Of Vision" is a collaboration with Chris Parker on piano, Dennis Gonzalez on trumpet and the latter's sons figure as guests : Stefan on vibes and Aaron on bass. The first two pieces are relatively introspective, and because of the line-up and of Gonzalez's tone, remind me a little of Tomasz Stanko. That changes with "Camel", the third and longest piece, where Aaron's bass sets a different tone, and the whole vision becomes more expansive, with great soloing, first from father Gonzalez, to be followed by Chris Parker, Aaron Gonzalez and Alvin Fielder. Musically the album wants to reconcile the old with the new, and some of the titles als hint at this attempt to close the divide between the generations : "Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy", "Your Young Men Shall See Visions", "Your Old Men Shall Dream Dreams". Whatever the bullshit, these gentlemen know what music is : they quote freely from the jazz songbook, yet bring it at times to a high level of abstraction, blending genres. The last piece "The Cecil Taylor - Sunny Murray Dancing Lesson" is a real treat. Fielder is strong, an economical drummer who accentuates with precision. The revelation for me on this CD is pianist Chris Parker, whom I didn't know, and who lifts the album above the average.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Drake/Beger/Parker - Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (Earsay, 2006) ****

It must be clear that I am more than a little crazy about Hamid Drake and William Parker, the best "drum&bass" duo of the world. And "Evolving Silence, Vol. 2" confirms this again. This is the second CD of a series of recordings that the duo had in Israel with Albert Beger, an Israeli sax-player/flautist, who is not really known, but he deserves otherwise. His playing is creative, precise, sensitive, melodious. It's bizarre that the CD was issued as two albums because they actually form one, and with some effort they might even have fit into one CD, because both are relatively short : 42 and 40 minutes. Other downside : you can only order them in Israel, but the good news is that they arrived within a week's time.
Then there is the music : exactly as I like it. Pulsing and complex rhythms with seas of freedom to move for the whole trio. You can hear the players enjoy the interplay, reacting to each other, coming back to the main theme, just to move away from it through free improvisation. The first piece is powerful, furious even, but also melodic. The second one is a free improv of flute and bass. Beger sings, howls, snorts and heaves through his instrument, but rhythmically and ending with a slow and beautiful solo. On "Funky Lacy" Drake takes the initiative, and we get his typical powerful beat, with little touches in between, drum-rolls, deleted shots, funking like hell. Beger and Parker join the fun. "Skies of Israel" is a menacing and slow piece, lead and controlled by Parker who conjures a beautiful melody out of his arco. Then unisono with Beger, in a serpentine interplay. You can hear the pain, the loss, the fear, the despair, ... Parker plays some wonderfully shrill tones in the high notes, piercing your heart, then the trio brings the song to an end, sensitive and joined by common feelings. Remarkable! This last piece alone makes the purchase worthwhile.

Parker's daughter studies in Israel, which explains his presence there.
Both albums are now available for download on
To order a hard copy :

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Kahil El'Zabar - The Ritual

Another trumpet trio (and there are more to come). This is actually the first CD by Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, although not yet named as such. In essence this trio consists for two thirds of members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago : Lester Bowie (trumpet) and Malachi Favors (bass), who play one of their own songs, Magg Zelma (from Full Force, 1980) on this album. This is just one song, but still close to 42 minutes long. This music has deep SOUL, sensitive, solemn, intense, open, authentic, respectful. I doubt whether this album can still be purchased anywhere, but it's available for download at iTunes.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trio X - Roulette At Location One (Cadence, 2006) *****

A moment of joy. New CDs are entering the new year and Roulette At Location One by Trio X is already reserving its space on the rankings of best-of-2007. Duval starts the first piece, Funny Valentines of War, with a contemplative bass, to be joined after several minutes by the sparce notes of Joe McPhee on sax and Jay Rosen on drums. After four minutes Duval and Rosen bring in a stomping rhythm, while McPhee remains contemplative with a serene and slow rendering of My Funny Valentine. The contrast between rhythm section and sax is big, but then McPhee lets loose and the theme turns more into "war" than "my funny valentine", just to change the mood again into a fragile and subdued interplay, ending a lightly funky mode. The second piece, Improv of Melodies and Themes, brings a loose collection of known themes, with Lonely Woman being the center-piece. This composition by Ornette Coleman, with McPhee on soprano and Duval on arco bass, is gloomier and sadder than ever. These are pieces which the trio has often played before and they master the themes to perfection, yet still managing to bring them in a refreshingly innovative way. The same level, with recognizable themes throughout (Ellington, Monk), is kept up on the rest of the live album. The variation between serene pieces and intense passages, the technical mastery and the telepathic interplay of the three musicians, is absolutely stellar. The small crowd attending the performance is enthusiastic, and rightly so. This is what music is all about. Highly recommended.
Can be downloaded via iTunes.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mâäk's Spirit - 5

Mâäk's Spirit is a Belgian jazz band that has a track record of avant-garde adventures, with varying success. Lives and Le Nom Du Vent are so far their best records, their collaboration with Moroccan musicians and singers on Al Majmaä was less good. Their fourth CD brought a combination of jazz with spoken word, something I am allergic too.
On this CD, the attack is different : the spoken word is still there, but the electronics and post-production reign. The music is extremely violent, and I would qualify it as noise-jazz or violent-jazz if these terms exist. The album starts with a big band swing, which sounds like it comes out of from a 78" album played on a grammophone. But then the violence takes over, once in a while with added poetry, and the violence doesn't stop. The last part of the CD was recorded live in Brussels in March 2006, a concert which I attended. Guitarist Jean-Yves Evrard ended the last with only one string on his instrument, to give you an idea of the powerplay this band brings. But don't get me wrong, these are six top musicians, yet the chaos, the electronic distortion and the violence smother the musicality which tries to rise to the surface once in a while. These guys are not afraid to leave the beaten track, but this is a little too much for me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

John Appleton & Don Cherry - Human Music

This is what I meant in my piece on Don Cherry. His openness to look for new things, has often lead to abuse of his name for the sake of selling impopular music.
This reissue on CD brings us electronic music of the early days, which is more technology-driven than musically inspired. The only thing I hear are blips and squeacks and whooshes and peeps. It is unclear where the contribution of Appleton ends the one of Cherry begins, but it is in any case not really succesful.
To avoid.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Paul Smoker Trio - Genuine Fables

Allright. Another trumpet trio I forgot (see my previous post on Roy Campbell). Shame on me! The Paul Smoker Trio with "Genuine Fables", with Ron Rohovit on bass and Phil Haynes on drums. A wonderful CD, not in the least because the three bring a cover of the St. Louis Blues by W.C. Handy, a unique version. You have to know, dear reader, that my very first contact with jazz, was one of the best jazz albums of all time "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy", and that because my mother was a great fan of Satchmo (thanks, mam!). If you don't have it, well then, shame on you!
The album starts with "Total Eclipse" by Haynes on which he lets loose all his devils : he combines the sophistication of Jack DeJohnette with the powerplay of Jim Black ... and that for 11 minutes without slowing down. Rohovit follows at top speed, but Smoker remains calm, playing long notes, just to change once in a while in a sparkling trialogue, which evolves again in a lengthy and slow melody, while Haynes keeps beating his drums with four hands and four feet. Then we get the "St. Louis Blues", changing the form, respecting the spirit. Even when all discernable melody and rhythm have disappeared, it is still unmistakeably the same song. The longest piece, Tetra, is a 16 minute long epic by Smoker, to be followed by Mingus' "Fables of Faubus", and believe it or not, "Hello, Young Lovers", brought back to life by Haynes who turns it into a rhythmic fest. And that's the strength of this CD. The trio gives us some old material, and ressurects it by bringing it down to its absolute essence, and then refreshing it in a surprising and innovative way. Great!

Fred Anderson - Timeless/Live At The Velvet Lounge (Delmark, 2006) *****

This CD is the last performance by Fred Anderson in his own Velvet Lounge, which had to be broken down to make place for an appartment building. Fred, 77 years old, set up a new Velvet Lounge in the meantime. A great thing, because his was the place-to-be for the Chicago free jazz scene.
Fred Anderson is a perfectionist, still now practicing for hours on end on his sax, still learning.
On this CD he is accompanied by Hamid Drake (drums) and Harrisson Bankhead (bass). They bring four songs, each between 13 and 25 minutes, of great and exciting music. It's amazing how they can lock in tightly, then let loose again for individual solos, change the tempo, move on different paths again to suddenly rearrange rhythms or come back into a tight core theme. The three players listen intently to each other. Anderson has a very warm and authentic tone, with strong rhythmic solos, searching and soaring, and listening to him is a real pleasure. Hamid Drake is his stellar self : I know few drummers who manage their rhythms so perfectly as Drake, while at the same time adding ligh touches here and there. His personal joy in playing this music is obvious. Bankhead is rock-solid, but what a sensitivity. It's amazing how in his solo in "Ode To Tip" he lets himself be directed by Drake while still doing his own thing. It goes on an on with surprises, some singing, hefty passages, slow passages, even a wind-tube (?) interlude, an enthusiastic and participating audience, but great stuff all along. If you own more than 20 euro, run to the store!

There is also a DVD version of this performance. I'd be more than happy to find it.

Wadada Leo Smith - Compassion *****

This is a unique CD, just trumpet and percussion. Wadada Leo Smith and Adam Rudolph both belong to the free jazz avant-garde, masters with great technical skill, unafraid to search for entirely new forms of expression, but always with a strong spiritual element into it. This kind of initiative often fails because the music itself suffers from this search for new form. Smith and Rudolph have both made albums for which you really need open ears in order to be able to endure the music till the end of the album at one stretch. On the other hand both have also already issued beautiful CDs with relative accessibility (Smith : Kulture Jazz, Rudolph & Pharoah Sanders : Spirits).
Compassion is again a spiritual journey, starting with lonely and voiceless stuttering by the trumpet, soon joined by slight percussion, like the sounds of the night. The second piece brings us dawn, and as the sun breaks through we get the long notes of Smith's trumpet, supported by Tibetan bells and gongs of Rudolph. This is a quite intimistic kind of improvisation without any preconceived structure, but with an authentic joint search to subdued beauty and emotional expression. On Fragrance of Light, Rudolph a changing rhythm on the framedrums, with great improvisation by Wadada. The pièce-de-resistance is the long "Love Rhythms, Heart Songs", on which Rudolph also sings, sometimes in overtone. On the last piece, The Caller and The Called, Rudolph digs up his dousn' gouni and we get sounds that remind us of Codona with Nana Vasconcelos and Don Cherry. This is music which will not directly appeal to those who expect clear melodies, structure and harmonic changes. It is in any case no mellow new-age emptiness, because despite the minimalistic line-up, the music is exciting from beginning to end, and the focus of both musicians is clearly kept on the creation of a coherent musical journey. Highly recommended.

Either/Orchestra - Live In Addis

Wanna have fun? Then put on this CD. It's a two hour long afro-jazz fest with strong compositions and a tight horn section. The Either/Orchestra is a mini big band with four saxes, two trumpets, a trombone and a rhythm section. One of their earlier albums, "More Beautiful Than Death", was alreday inspired by the Ethopian music of Mulate Astatqe, but on this double CD, they went to Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia to meet the master himself. The series Ethiopiques (published by the French label Buda Musique) is really worthwhile checking out, especially Ethiopiques 4, with Mulate Astatqe himself playing the lead role. Addis Abeba has known a very lively jazz scene that developed in parallel with western jazz since the 60s. Astatqe, on keyboards, vibraphone and percussion also joins in on some of the songs of this album, together with some of his band members. It's hard to describe the music : African rhythms, sometimes a tinge of Latin, sometimes middle-eastern influences, even some Balkan humpa for all I know, but always with a tight horn section, almost non-stop four percussionists doing their thing, with ample space for the soloists to perform (and how!), exciting with once in a while a subdued moment, strong melodies throughout, but a party from beginning to end, and that's also to the liking of the audience that listens carefully, applauds, jeers and cheers. Have fun too!

Why is free jazz the ultimate music genre? (3)

When listening to free jazz you just have to let go of your rational and ordened mind and surrender to what is taking place. Free jazz can offer a moving moment, absolute beauty, an exciting rhythm, a painful note, a dynamic interplay, a chaotic cacophony, a crushing loss, a trance-inducing drone, a surprising turn, a magical melody, a punch in the face, raw emotion, gut-wrenching agony, a leap of joy, a desire to dance, an aesthetical summit, ... a musical experience. Free jazz will not leave you indifferent. You like it, or you don't. And even the most practised listener will like certain things and not the other. Free jazz is like dancing on a tight-rope, and many fall off. On the left into emptiness, on the right into chaos. That's the adventure of free jazz. You take risks as a listener as well. The adventure can turn into a catastrophe, but you could also reach home safely. The risk is yours, and so is the reward. So, join and listen intently. Let go of the safe haven!

Kahil El'Zabar - Big M

Kahil El'Zabar is hard to put into a box. He's a disciple of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), the Chicago free jazz movement, to which also the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Fred Anderson belong, yet he's carved out his own space. Kahil El'Zabar is a great drummer and percussionist; rhythm is extremely important in his compositions and they are inspired by African music. The core theme of his pieces are thematically repetitive and often hypnotic. The simplicity - without being simple - of the themes give the soloists the opportunity to take up all the space. El'Zabars Ritual Trio has at least the record of the longest piece in my collection : 1 hour and 19 minutes and 57 seconds, short for 80 minutes (on "Ritual Trio with Pharoah Sanders Live")! The power of this music is to be found in the energy, the improvasitional inventiveness, the joy of the musical interplay, even the spirituality of it all.
Big M is dedicated to Malachi Favors Maghostut, the bass player of the Ritual Trio, who died in 2004. Kahil started playing the drums at the age of 14 after having seen a performance of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, impressed by Favors' bass work. Ari Brown on sax and piano completes the trio. Ari Brown himself replaces the late Lester Bowie. Malachi Favors is replaced by Yosef Ben Israel, and for this CD Billy Bang also joins in on violin. This CD is not really his best performance, yet really worth listening to. The Ritual Trio recorded a live album two days before this CD was recorded, called "Live At The River East Art Center". I find the latter a little more energetic, more intense, but it is harder to find. Big M offers over one hour of great music : the endless creativity of El'Zabar on percussion, teh warm, intense and soaring sax of Ari Brown and the powerful yet sensitive bass of Yosef Ben Israel. Enjoy!

David S. Ware - Surrendered

David S. Ware is a force of nature on tenor, someone who's managed to collaborate with the best of the American free jazz scene : Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Suzy Ibarra, Hamid Drake. On this album he is accompanied by Shipp (piano), Parker (bass) and Guillermo E. Brown on drums. On some of his CDs one gets the impression that the band has only a supporting role, and even hardly gets any space to do their thing, as is sometimes the case on the three-disc set "Live In The World". That is not always a negative factor : Ware knows how to keep things interesting. Surrendered is somewhat different. More subdued, more melodious, even harmonious, and hence somewhat warmer and more accessible. There is an atmosphere of spirituals you rather expect with Albert Ayler than with David S. Ware. Yet his playing remains 100% free jazz : no sound of his sax is left unchecked to convey a wide emotional range, expressing dispair, fear, anger, resignation, hope. Last year he also issued a similar "calm" CD, Balladware, a little bit too mellow to my liking. For those who do not know David Ware, Surrendered will offer a good introduction.

Other Dimensions In Music

Other Dimensions In Music is a unique band. With Roy Campbell on trumpet, flute and recorder, Daniel Carter on sax and trumpet, William Parker on bass and Rashid Bakr on drums. The first album I bought of this band was "Time is of the Essence, The Essence is of Time", with Matthew Shipp on piano, an album which was praised to the sky by All Music Guide. This CD was then, and it still is today, for me impossible to listen to. So I thought that all the rest of this band would be in the same vein. Last year I received the book "New York is Now : the new wave in free jazz" by Phill Freeman as a present (thank you, Tom!). The book also praises Other Dimensions in Music, yet gives "Time is of the Essence ..." a bad rating. So, I changed my mind and starting looking for the other albums, and indeed, the two others I found are absolutely fantastic. Among the most beautiful CDs free jazz has to offer.
So what's the lesson from this story : Never believe critics and judge for yourself.
Question to ask : do we really have to buy everything in order to evaluate? Answer : no : read this blog!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Vinny Golia - Sfumato

Sfumato by Vinny Golia is one of those records that I put on countless times last year (partly while painting my bathroom and since this is no background music, my walls suffered terribly). This quartet also consists of Bobby Bradford (trumpet), Ken Filiano (bass) and Alex Cline (drums). Golia, who plays soprano, bass flute and bass clarinet, created some really strong compositions for Sfumato. Veteran Bobby Bradford is a great asset for this band, creating the right gloomy atmosphere. Golia gets out of his instruments what is in them : high double sounds, shouts, long staccato pieces, but also at times a velvety softness. Cline is never less than efficient, with lots of light touches. The real treat on this album is Ken Filiano, whose arco work is stellar, and who even keeps supporting the soloists in a telepathic fashion right up to the very highest tones of the horns. This music is free, without any doubt, but still quite structured and anchored in both jazz and blues idioms. Highly recommended.
Can be downloaded via

Trumpet trio

Here is another trumpet trio I did not immediately think about (see my previous message on Roy Campbell) : Trio East, with Rich Thomson on drums, Jeff Campbell on bass and Clay Jenkins on trumpet. It's not really free jazz, yet very adventurous jazz. Two of their CDs are available on iTunes (Best Bets since January 1 of this year, Stop-Start since last year : check under Rich Thompson and/or Jeff Campbell. Stop-Start is really worth having. Three top musicians.

Roy Campbell - Communion

Trumpet trios, consisting of trumpet, bass and percussion, are relatively rare.
Tomasz Stanko has one (Bluish), Don Cherry has two (Blue Lake and on Charlie Haden's The Montreal Tapes), the Chicago Underground Trio has one (Slon), but that's about it, I think. There are of course variations, with guitar (Chet Baker), marimba (Schaphorst), electronics(Arve Henriksen), but then always with a harmonic instrument. If you know more trumpet trios, please let me know. Otherwise, there are dozens and dozens of sax trios. Why is that? I don't know. Are there more sax players than trumpet players? Is the range of a sax broader so that it's easier to entertain for a whole album? Whatever it is, Roy Campbell has issued three albums as a trumpet trio : Ancestral Homeland, Ethnic Stew & Brew and Communion. William Parker plays the bass on all three, the drummers are respectively Zen Matsuura, Hamid Drake and Reggie Nicholson. All three are highly recommended. Communion offers a little more variation than the other two. Campbell is a technically very strong trumpet player, but the musical space he creates is even more impressive. Strongly based in the blues, with openness for music of other continents. Real free jazz, with open ears. Despite - or thanks to - the limited line-up, the other musicians get plenty of space for soloing and to offer their musical contribution. Everything is possible in this music : the openness and breathing space created, is perfectly taken advantage of by the band : sensitive, meditative, entertaining, involving, suprising, ...

For more info check his website.

To order : Silkheart website

Michael Bates - A Fine Balance

In 2005 Michael Bates, a Canadian bass player, issued Outside Sources, a very promising album. His second, "A Fine Balance", figures in my top-10 list of 2006. Outside Sources is now the name of the band, consisting of Quinsin Nachsoff on sax and bass clarinet, Mark Timmermans on drums, and Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. This is jazz that digs deep into a broad array of source material. Bates himself cites Shostakovich, Prokoviev, Miles Davis, Tony Malaby, Dave Douglas and middle-eastern music. The music remains 100% jazz, though, with strong compositions offering lots of space for improvisation. The addition of Kevin Turcotte on this album creates more interaction than on the first CD, and by consequence also more depth and perspective to the music. It is obvious that Bates looks for effect and beauty through his compositions, and with success. The result is adventurous jazz, with in each piece sufficient bends in the road to keep surprising you with the new view you get once you've taken the turn.

More info on Michael Bates at:

CDs available on

Julius Hemphill - Dogon A.D.

From the very first notes of this album, you know that something special is taking place. The cello of Abdul Wadud brings a repetitive theme, supported by some energetic drumming by Philip Wilson, with Hemphill and Baikida Carroll on sax and trumpet playing the main theme. After a minute or so Carroll drops away and Hemphill starts with a magical sax solo. Wadud and Wilson relentlessly continue with their hypnotic basis, sometimes only playing parts of it, yet keeping it implicitly present at all times. After about 13 minutes the piece changes and the contrapuntal interplay between the cello on the one hand and the sax and trumpet on the other hand leads to a climactic finale. "Dogon A.D." is phenomenal in the simplicity of its form and the power and creativity of its performance. "Rites", the second number, starts with strong interplay of the four band members, who quickly pursue their own lines without loosing focus of the whole. "Painter" brings Hemphill on flute. This CD is an absolute must for all jazz fans. It is unfortunately impossible to get in stores anymore, and it is very hard to understand that it was never brought out on CD. Tim Berne put the album on his website some months ago (thank you, Tim), but it has disappeared in the meantime. Luckily a colleague blogger put the link on his site, which I offer to you here :

McPhee/Duval/Shipp - In Finland

This is also one of the best of 2006. Joe McPhee (sax, trumpet) and Dominic Duval (bass) are old companions. They have performed for years with Jay Rosen (drums) as Trio X, with so far eight albums together. This drumless trio brings three long pieces : Never Before, Never Again and In Finland. The first starts with a six minute long thundering piano intro by Shipp, which McPhee suddenly brings to a more peaceful theme, after which Duval immediately switches to arco. McPhee is extremely lyrical with long notes, forcing Shipp to calm down a little. But that is just for a moment, and the theme explodes again in some powerplay by the trio, which goes on for the best of 20 minutes, when McPhee suddenly starts to hint a My Funny Valentine, followed by Shipp who picks up the theme in its entirety, slow, emotional, deep. It's absolutely great how they bring this to a beautiful ending. Never Again is an ode to Monk, starting with Blue Monk. It's quite remarkable that McPhee starts very similarly on the Trio X album “On Tour Toronto/Rochester” (2001) with his version of the same song (and by coincidence (?) My Funny Valentine was also one of the songs on this album too). It starts with McPhee's stuttering and voiceless blowing on his pocket trumpet, staccato piano by Shipp and the pulsing bass of Dubal. Monk is being deconstructed in a chaotic stream of music, only to make place for a newly built beauty and calm, with McPhee on sax. The last piece continues in the same vein : open, adventurous, with much variation. Great album.

Bridge 61 - Journal

Bridge 61 is one of the musical highlights of 2006, Vandermark on sax and clarinet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Nate McBride on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. McBride is also the bass player of Spaceways Inc., and Tim Daisy is the drummer of the Vandermark 5. Despite his incredible output of albums, Vandermark manages to keep the attention up. The pieces on this album are all composed but with room for improvisation, the search for new effects and sound combinations. Styles differ from more hesitant work, such as in Superleggera, over a more bop-oriented approach in Atlas, to funk with Nothing's Open, with McBride on electric bass. The sax and the clarinet search for each other, complement each other, respect each other. On the beautiful and slow "29 Miles of Black Snow", McBride brings a long solo, tenderly joined by Vandermark and Stein. On "A=A/b=b bass and clarinet start with a strong rhythmic intro, to be replaced after approx 4 minutes by drums and baritone sax : the same theme, different music. The song is closed by a powerful unisono line of the whole band. On the last piece, "Shatter", which is dedicated to guitar player Sonny Sharrok, McBride plays both distorted and non-distorted bass guitar, bringing noise rock elements, yet remaining composed and fresh. The band manages to keep up the high level of composition and performance throughout the album. Recommended.

Why is free jazz the ultimate form of music? (2)

Still my subjective appreciation of the music.

Free jazz is the ultimate symbol of everything that is important in life : absolute freedom, openness of mind, listening to others, creativity, emotional wealth and intelligence (tough luck for those who're interested in money : it won't make you rich). No musical form is as open as free jazz : because of the lack of an imposed format, it is easy to incorporate other music. That was one of Don Cherry's great missions - to integrate the muscial wealth on earth into his own music.

Free jazz means going against patterns, leaving the beaten track, including your own. That is one of the reasons why free jazz is so difficult to play. Most musicians have automatisms and routines in their play, patterns in the fingers that take over spontaneously once they start improvising. The real improvisor has to let loose of these patterns. Not an easy task. On top you have to be able to listen closely to the other band members and take over tunes of changes you've never heard before, and do something creative with it.

Why is free jazz the ultimate genre of music? (1)

Why is free jazz so fantastic? To me, free jazz is emotionally and musically the richest music ever made in history across the globe. Classical music has a predominantly esthetical function, with the emotional component starting to surface during romanticism (dark, gloomy, menacing, triumphant, ...), but that's about it. Original jazz brought fun into music, into the performance itself, in dancing. The blues brought in sadness, but also fun with the boogie. Rock music brought anger and protest. But free jazz jazz just simply offers the whole range of human emotions : sadness, anger, pleasure, doubt, menace, pain, joy, distress, loneliness, peacefulness, ... and not always in big brush strokes, but with all the subtleties imagineable. Free jazz offers a direct emotional expression which is no longer incapsulated in rhythm and melody. That's why, in order to appreciate free jazz fully, you have listen to the whole piece of music, undergoing the chaos at moments in order to appreciate the joy. Free jazz is a genre in which you have to submerge completely. This is not wallpaper music. Listen to Joe McPhee, listen to how he forces his sax to almost human expression (panting, whispering, hesitantly, shy, but also shouting, screaming, wailing). Listen to Charlie Haden's bass on "Silence", listen to Ahmed Abdullah's trumpet on "Song of the Times", list to the sax of Ken Vandermark, Frode Gjerstad, Vinny Golia. Listen to them. Free jazz is raw emotions.

Bengt Berger - Bitter Funeral Beer

This album is already 25 year old, but really worth mentioning. Berger, a Swedish percussionist, uses music recordings from Ghanese tribes, and especially mourning chants, as a backdrop for one of the saddest free jazz albums imagineable. This mini big band with vocals, saxes, violin, trumpet, xylophone, electric guitar, cello, bass and percussion, and with no one less than Don Cherry on the pocket trumpet, brings a musical experience beyond anything you've heard before. This is not afro-jazz, not world music, but a bizar cocktail of African rhythms and an unusual jazz line-up : very rhythmic, haunting, trance-inducing, repetitive and full of variation. The expressive power of this album is extremely rare. The band is totally unknown to me (all Swedes), but it does what it has to do, and how! Cherry is absolutely stellar. The last piece of the album, Darafo, is a 22 minute musical fest, by itself already worth the purchase.

PS - I heard some other CDs by Bengt Berger after I bought this one, but they are pretty boring.

Dennis Gonzalez - No Photograph Available

Dennis Gonzalez is an underexposed trumpet player and his music is hard to find, especially in Europe. His CD Nile River Suite is available on Gonzalez's website, but for your convenience linked below in its entirety. Nile River Suite is a great album, with Gonzalez and Roy Campbell on trumpet, Sabir Mateen on sax and flute, Henry Grimes on bass and Michael Thompson on drums. The music is slow, flowing like a river, with once in a while some slight middle eastern influence in the melodies, with lots of space for the soloists, pushed on by the horn section and with a rhythm section which is at moments hypnotic. Gonzalez once received the complaint that he gave too much space to the soloists, a reality which he luckily turned into his trade mark. This CD is again available on the market.

No Photograph Available is one of the best free jazz CDs of 2006, with Gonzalez on trumpet, Charles Kohlhase on sax, Joe Morris and Nate McBride on bass (together), and Croix Gallipault on drums. The latter is a 19-year old student of Joe Morris. I won't discuss this CD in detail : lots of space, lots of spontaneous composition. Buy it!

Download :

River Nile Suite : hier te beluisteren op Mp3

Lyons In Lyon (For Jimmy Lyons)

Sand Baptist

The Nile Runs Through New York (Part 1a)

The Nile Runs Through New York (Part 1b)

The Nile Runs Through My Heart (Part 2)

The Nile Runs Through Us All

Hymn For The Ashes Of Saturday

Carlos Barretto - Lokomotiv

Wanna hear something else? Free jazz from Portugal. Carlos Barretto is a bass player who has played with Steve Lacy, Mal Waldron and Barry Altschull. On Lokomotiv, he is accompanied by Mario Delgado on electric guitar and José Sagueiro on drums. The French François Corneloup on baritone sax is a guest player on half the pieces. This is not entirely free jazz, rather modern creative, whatever that means. Delgado's guitar gives the music a fusion feel, but nothing more than just a touch of it.
The album starts very strong, with a panting bass, an hesitant guitar, slight drum rolls and the baritone sax really sets the thing going and once they're all on board, the rhythm changes, a short break, a panting bass and we're gone again (real locomotive stuff). Eirò is more subdued, again with a long and complex bass-line, against which the distorted guitar starts to react, first with sounds and noises rather than music, supported by a funking drums, to suddenly burst open into a pumping unisono guitar/arco bass rendition of the theme, just to set off again into free territory. The fourth song starts with nervous guitar work worthy of Robert Fripp, followed by very slow arco bass and baritone sax, to change into a strong funky duel between sax and drums. You get the picture : lots of surprises, unexpected changes in melody and rhythm, lots of contrasts and all this without sounding artificial. A joy to listen to.

The plastic sax of Ornette Coleman

Dear Ornette,

Your contribution to music history has been invaluable and this cannot be overestimated, but please use your plastic sax again. Your new album "Sound Grammar" is praised to the sky by the press, and admittedly, the music is excellent, but less adventurous than we are used to. The sound of your sax is awful, however. Or was this your plastic sax? Whatever it was, please change it.

With best regards,


School Days - In Our Times

School Days is one of the approximately 30 bands of which Ken Vandermark is a member. This one consists of the rhythm section of the Norwegian band The Thing, with Ingebright Haker-Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, together with vibraphonist Kjell Nordesen and Vandermark 5 trombone player Jep Bishop. To make it even more complex, the first piece of the album is dedicated to Havard Wiik, the piano player of the Norwegian Band Atomic, of which Haker-Flaten en Nilssen-Love are also a member. This is high energy playing with solid rhythms but also with its little downsides. For starters, I am not a fan of drum solos which are accompanied by a repetitive bass. At times the sax of Vandermark sounds too full in comparison with the more aetheric tones of the vibes. The album has its great moments, but the Dave Holland Quintet, which has a similar line-up sounds more solid and intense than School Days.

The Gift - Live At Sangha

I've always been a great fan of Roy Campbell (trumpet, flute), whom I consider to be the true musical heir of Don Cherry. I have all his great albums with William Parker and Hamid Drake, but this one I bought without knowing what to expect. The trio also consists of William Hooker (drums) and Jason Kao Hwan (violin). By itself, this is already an unusual line-up, but the CD is one long piece of free improvisation, with slow, hectic, intense, sad moments. I have listened to this album dozens of times as if hypnotised. The music is at the same time open and free beyond belief, yet very accessible and emotionally powerful. This is free jazz at its best. Campbell and Hwan circle around each other, complete each other through the warm acoustic sound of Campbell's trumpet and the electronically deformed sound of Hwan's violin. Hooker is a very dominant drummer and changes the whole piece from time to time by some astute interventions. This CD opened a new way of listening to music to me. It is as if a door opened which made all other free jazz which I found very inaccessible, suddenly something to be cherished (starting with Joe McPhee and Vinny Golia). Really great stuff. An emotional experience

Free Jazz & Politics

OK - our friends free jazzers do not really like the Bush Administration, and probably rightly so. After having written a review about The Nu Band Live some hours ago, of which the last piece of the album, called "Four of Them", starts with a long introduction against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and George Bush, I'm now listening to Spirals/The Berlin Concert of Ullman, Stevens, Fonda and Schuller, on which a piece is called "Three" with again a spoken introduction of a few minutes against the US policy in Iraq. This time the three "very sick fellows" under attack are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz - "the real architects of war". Free-jazz, free us from all evil. (Spirals is also an album worth listening to).

William Parker - it's Raining On The Moon

There aren't many CD's I enjoy more than this one. It is not entirely free jazz, despite Parker's reputation as a free jazz bass-player with his other bands, The Little Huey Orchestra and In Order To Survive. This album swings from beginning to end with lots of free improv and strongly rooted in the blues. Leena Conquest sings on five of the eight songs, with lyrics which are at times absurd and at times offer criticism on society. Rob Brown on sax and Louis Barnes on trumpet are a pleasure to listen to, but the real treat is the interplay between Parker and Hamid Drake. They've probably played hundreds of times together and that's very clear to hear on this album. This is music to laugh by, to cry by. A must-have!

John Lindberg - A Tree Frog Tonality

This CD offers a strong combination of chamber jazz and free jazz. All pieces have a clear structure but the improvisations are quite free. The musicians are stellar : John Lindberg himself on double bass, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Larry Ochs on sax and Andrew Cyrille on drums. The pieces evolve from very intense interplay of the whole band to more melancholic duos. The four musicians are at their best. I was not too enthusiastic about Lindberg's previous albums, but this one is absolutely excellent. Highly recommended.

Lonely Woman

Lonely Woman is probably the most wonderful piece ever written by Ornette Coleman. The music is melancholic, cinematic, dragging and staccato at the same time, it sounds like crying and sobbing. It's no mystery that there are dozens of covers of the song played by artists from both free jazz and mainstream styles. Personally, I do not care much for Ornette's own version. But listen to Old & New Dreams, 8 Bold Souls and Ahmed Abdullah : these are among the best versions to be found, and not without reason each one of those is longer than ten minutes.

The Nu Band Live

This is the Nu Band's second album after Live At The Bop Shop. The band consists of Roy Campbell (trumpet), Mark Whitecage (sax), Lou Grassi (drums) and Joe Fonda (bass). All four musicians are masters of their instruments with a long track record and their own albums. The Nu Band Live is a fantastic album. Beginning with some composed melodic lines, the themes are deconstructed and added upon. This record offers listening joy from beginning to end, intense, melodic withouth being screamy or chaotic. Just the last piece, an attack against the Bush administration's Iraq policy, does not add much musically.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Top 10 World jazz

World jazz is a combination of jazz with world music. That's the best name I can find for it - suggestions are welcome. The essence of the genre is that it's still jazz.

Here is my list of favorite albums :

Rabih Abou-Khalil - The Sultan's Picnic
Anouar Brahem - Astrakan Café
David Chevan - The Days of Awe
Codona - Codona (1, 2 én 3)
Davka - Live
Peter Epstein - Lingua Franca
Jerry Gonzalez - Y Los Piratos Del Flamenco
Soriba Kouyaté - Live In Montreux
Frank London - Invocations
Hafez Modirzadeh - People's Blues
Natraj - Meet Me Anywhere
Paradox Trio - Source
David Yengibarian - Pandoukht
John Zorn - Bar Kokhba

Top 20 free jazz albums of all times

Sure, it's incomplete, and I may change my mind as well, but here it is, without a specific order.

Ahmed Abdullah - Song Of The Times
Fred Anderson - The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 1
Bengt Berger - Bitter Funeral Beer
Carla Bley - Escalator Over The Hill
Roy Campbell - Communion
Don Cherry - Complete Communion
Don Cherry - Nu - BBC Sessions
Ernest Dawkins - Mean Ameen
East New York Ensemble De Music - At The Helm
Eight Bold Souls - Sideshow
Kahil El'Zabar - The Ritual
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Freedom Jazz Dance
The Gift - Live At Sangha
Dennis Gonzalez - Nile River Suite
Charlie Haden - The Ballad Of The Fallen
Julius Hemphill - Dogon A.D.
Keith Jarrett - The Survivors' Suite
Charles Lloyd - Sangam
William Parker - Raining On The Moon
Matthew Shipp - Pastoral Composure
Wadada Leo Smith - Compassion
Spaceways Inc. - Version Soul
John Surman/Jack DeJohnette - Invisible Nature

Top 10 freejazz 2006

Of course there are more than 10, but the choice is difficult, also to rank them. I'm not sure either if they were all published in 2006, but that's at least I when I got hold of them.

Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker - Evolving Silence Vol. 1
Kahil El'Zabar - Big M
Fred Anderson - Timeless, Live At The Velvet Lounge
Michael Bates - A Fine Balance
Bridge 61 - Journal
Rob Brown - Radiant Pools
John Coltrane - One Up/One Down
Ernest Dawkins - The Messenger
Dennis Gonzalez - No Photograph Available
Kidd Jordan - Palm Of Soul
Adam Lane - Music Degree Zero
John Lindberg - A Tree Frog Tonality
Joe McPhee/Matthew Shipp/Dominic Duval - Live In Finland
Myra Melford - The Image Of Your Body
Romano/Sclavis/Texier - African Flashback
Wadada Leo Smith - CompassionTripleplay - Gambit
Vinny Golia - Sfumato