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Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Claudia Quintet - For (Cuneiform, 2007) ****

Percussionist John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet belongs to a sub-genre all by itself : it combines elements of jazz, prog rock and chamber music. The band is already on its fourth album ("four"?), and always with the same line-up : Chris Speed on clarinet and sax, Matt Moran on vibes, Ted Reichman on accordion, Drew Gress on bass and Hollenbeck himself on drums. The compositions are like lightly flowing rivers, with repetitive undertones, complex interacting melodies and often changing rhythms. The overall musical effect is more important than the musician's soloing. There are solos of course, but they don't carry the weight of the performance. There are no emotional outbursts here, no screaming saxes, no hourlong explorations. The whole is tightly composed, with the unusual melodies shifting on top of each other, with each instrument playing together, then following different paths, just to come back together at regular intervals. It requires skilled musicians with experience together to achieve all this, and is it should hence be no suprise that The Claudia Quintet gets better with each album, and that holds also true for Hollenbeck's creative compositions. On of the strongest and longest pieces is "Be Happy", on which clarinet, vibes and accordion play a unisono repetitive theme not unlike a Philip Glass piece as support to an enchanting bass solo by Gress, which evolves into a moving but also hard-hitting performance by the whole band. The emotionally strongest pieces is "This Too Shall Pass", on which the accordion creates some eery monotonous sounds, and the arco bass and clarinet tear the the mother of all sadness out of their instruments, and on which especially Moran's bluesy vibes steal the show. But not everything is peace and quiet. On the short uptempo "Rug Boy", the rhythm sections unleashes all its energy, while clarinet and and accordion play a slow melody.

In analogy to Ken Vandermark's habit, all tracks are dedicated to someone (hence the title "For"), and even one to "all music teachers" and one "for you". I thought you might appreciate that I told you so. Recommended.

Listen to some sound samples :

I'm So Ficking Cool
Be Happy
Rug Boy
This Too Shall Pass

Soundscapes & Soundsculptures : two avant fusion reviews

If the word "soundscapes" can be used for slow, quiet music, consisting of long passages in which the instruments bring layers of sound rather than rhythm and melody, and where the structure offers a horizontal impression like in a landscape, then the word "soundsculpture" can be used for its more vertical version, with strong changes in intensity, jagged edges, nooks and corners, not many regular or smooth surfaces. If you then apply these two forms to two new postmodern jazz albums with strong electronic approach and heavy post-production and you will have an idea what the two following albums each have to offer. Apart from that the line-up is comparable : guitar, sax, piano, bass, drums. And the piano is twice played by Craig Taborn, and that's definitely no coincidence.

David Binney - Out Of Airplanes (Mythology Records, 2006) *****

David Binney has already issued some interesting post-modern jazz albums, with quite some influence from rock and even country music, yet these albums were still very close to mainstream jazz. On this one he takes a big step further, with quiet, jazzy, often on rock-harmonies based music. The music is complex and well-crafted, with beautiful, airy and intense melodies. Next to Binney, no one less than Bill Frissell plays the guitar, Eyvind Opsvik on bass (check his solo albums), Kenny Wollesen on drums and of course Craig Taborn on keyboards. Binney takes risks as a composer, leaving lots of space (hence the title probably), melody, harmony and rhythm are present, but they drop away regularly, creating a space which is then filled with long soloing by guitar or sax. Pieces such as "Jan Mayen" are heart-rending, with Frisell and Binney soloing in the high registers of their instruments, howling and wailing. And the same holds true for the title song, which starts with a nice enough melody, to be replaced by only guitar and sax, then the melody comes back with the thumping drums of Wollesen in support. "The Forgotten Gem" is totally soundscape, with the electronics offering a permanent base tone, with light guitar music on top and light drumming below the surface. I never jumped out of an airplane, but if this music comes even close in terms of feeling, then it seems like really worth a try. This is nice, airy, fresh, pretenceless music. The best CD by Binney so far.

David Torn - Prezens (ECM, 2007) ****

Prezens by David Torn is a totally different ball game. Here you're being sucked into a listening experience like you've probably had very few so far : this is jazz which is played in the studio, then cut to pieces to be reassembled afterwards, minutely with lots of attention to detail. Too many details to absorb even in several listens, because each piece brings constantly new approaches, new rhythms, new sounds, unexpected melodic changes, as if you're walking around a sculpture, seeing the same thing, but from an ever changing different perspective. And the music can be hard. Torn is a fine guitarist, yet I don't think he cares much for the instrument as such, it's sometimes even difficult to distinguish guitar and keyboard, for the level of transformation and electronic distortion. The other musicians are also among the best : Tim Berne on sax, Tom Rainey on drums. The album begins slow and quietly, with plucked guitar and a bluesy organ, with light cymbal work and the high sax of Berne, yet they are the heralds of a raging menace, that suddenly explodes out of Torn's heavily distorted hard rock guitar. Effect is the key word here, and I agree, the trick has been used more than enough, to slow down the music, just to let it explode again, but it still works, at least on this album. Estethically speaking the "Structural Functions of Prezens" is the most beautiful piece of the album, especially because of Berne's stellar sax playing, which we know from his extremely long improvisations, but which is here extremely subdued and beautiful, and remaining so throughout the piece, despite the ever-changing musical background, with amongst others Rainey giving some hard-hitting high energy playing on his drums. "Bulbs" too is full of effects, first with a quiet build-up, then all the instruments fall away, just the guitar plays some plucked chords, which then really (again) explodes in a piece of mad feedback-driven guitar-screaming the likes of which I haven't heard since Hendrix. Effect? You bet! This is music full of tricks, full of chaos, full of electronics, full of sampling, full of intensity, full of suprises, full of pretence, lots of pretence, but Torn offers a voyage which promises to be one of the most unique musical experiences of the year. Forget about your musical preferences for a moment : close your eyes and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Triptych Myth (Aum Fidelity, 2006) ****

In my daily search for music that flies under the radar screen of the more traditional music critics, I can with pleasure recommend Triptych Myth, a trio consisting of Cooper-Moore on piano, Tom Abbs on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, a piano trio such as you've probably rarely heard one. There are some more conventional approaches at first hearing, such as the first track "All Up In It" and the beautiful "Frida K. The Beautiful", but the alienation is just under the surface, really presenting itself in the following pieces. In "Trident" the arco bass leads the piece, with piano and drums giving the rhythmic support, and that is according to me the great strength of this album : the trio is so tight that no single instrument is at the forefront, or rather, all three instruments are in the creative spotlight, giving direction, demanding attention, without the whole becoming a cacophony. The music is familiar yet eerily so, drenched in blues and soul, yet in a refreshing, surprising new way. "Pooch" is in that respect a nice example : the soft melodic line of the piano is heavily counterplayed by the drums, hitting hard and energetic, almost in full conflict, urging for a tempo change, which takes places just to be rehabilitated in the former soft theme. You will hear more candy for the ear at each listen.

Te downloaden via

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Create (!) - A Prospect Of Freedom (Sounds Are Active, 2006) ****

Before you start reading, please click on this link : Six Dreams Divided.

On this album Create (!) bring non-intrusive, free improvization with a strong melancholic flavor. The band, consisting of Orlando Greenhill (vocals, acoustic bass, percussion); Chris Schlarb, Raymond Raposa (electric guitar, electronics); Lynn Johnston (clarinet, bass clarinet); Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn); Justice Constantine (drums, percussion), brings a fragile mix of slow tempi and hesitant, tentative instrumentation, which jointly look for musical texture and beauty, yet also for variation in impact and effect. Don't expect any known patterns here, because about everything you hear falls in the category of creativity and inventiveness, they didn't choose their name for nothing, and with success, because the overall sound is more than worth listening to. Emotionally the listener gets torn between tenderness, melancholy, fear, disorientation, tension, and pure aesthetic suprise, and that's the prime purpose of this music, not from the power of the soloing or the creation of a quickly identifiable melody. Common improvization is the key word, with refreshing new angles and rhythms, and new forms of musical expressiveness. Is this jazz? Yes, because it's a typical jazz line-up, yes, because improvization and adventure are at the core of the music, yet on the other hand this music is far removed from the usual jazz structures and melodic or even harmonic approaches. Possible points of comparison are Tortoise, Mazurek, H.I.M. This is modern music, full stop. Brilliant, exclamation mark!

Te downloaden via

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mark O'Leary - Two reviews : Awakening & Waiting

Mark O'Leary - Awakening (Leo Records, 2006) ****

Mark O'Leary is an Irish jazz guitar player who has already published quite some albums, yet who is unfortunately too little known, especially Levitation with Tomasz Stanko (trumpet) and Billy Hart (drums) is also worth looking for. But don't look too far, because Leo Records has now issued all its albums, including the whole Braxton catalogue, for download via, for the democratic price of $ 5.49 per CD. What more do you want? Back to this album, it's a guitar trio, with Steve Swallow on bass and Pierre Favre on percussion. O'Leary's style is great, with a sound which is reminiscent of John Abercrombie on his Homecoming or Getaway albums, with the tone button at the lowest possible level and the reverb high, giving a very soft, warm and spacious atmosphere. Although the music is anchored in bop, with often walking bass and steady rhythm, it is extremely open to new forms, acoustic intermezzi, rock and free jazz influences, yet relatively accessible. "Intimate, or feather-light" may be the best adjectives to describe it, rare qualifiers indeed for a free setting such as this one, but make no mistake, this is adventurous music, full of tension, and in pieces such as "Melting", the atmosphere takes on gloomy and nervous connotations, yet the two qualifiers still apply. O'Leary is a great guitar player, with a very subtle touch, both in the arpeggios as in the fast soloing, yet his major skill is the unity of musical and sound approach he creates. It requires strong musical and compositional skills to keep the attention going for a trio outing, and this band does so extremely well on this album.

Listen to sound samples

Bello Corazon
Last Light

Mark O'Leary - Waiting (Leo Records, 2007) *****

And O'Leary doesn't stop producing great material (and again, thank you Leo for putting all this on , making these albums accessible for many among us music fanatics). On this album O'Leary ups the ante by working with Cuong Vu (trumpet) and Tom Rainey (drums), both exceptionally good musicians with their own style and approach and they prove to be a perfect fit for O'Leary's elegant adventurous approach. This album is dedicated to Samuel Beckett, the playwright of amongst others "Waiting for Godot", whose hundredth birthday anniversary was celebrated in 2006. Beckett was a pioneer of absurdist and surrealist theater of the period after the second world war, where religion, the meaning of life, so-called human values were strongly questioned and the incapacity of real communication between human beings emphasized. Yet if there is one thing which is absolutely fantastic on this album, it's precisely the communication between these three musicians. The title piece "Waiting" starts with acoustic guitar, very gently, to which the trumpet adds a beautiful improvization, creating the false expectation that the rest of the album will be in the same vein. This is not about discordance or dissonance, what you might expect from a Beckett tribute album, but quite the contrary, it's about tight interplay among three stellar musicians. The second piece illustrates this even better. "Endgame" offers a strong composition, with high tension nervousness in the strong tonal attack of the trumpet, to which O'Leary offers some fluttering counterpoint on electric guitar, again deep-toned, and wonderfully accentuated by Rainey. The third piece "Lucky" brings an esthetic which could fit the nomer ECM-jazz, highly stylized, creating visions of open space, yet things start to become rougher on "Mr. Krapps Neurosis", with screeching trumpet and high speed distorted guitar, to go even more down the road of madness and disorientation on "Assumption", with electronics, echo effects reinforcing the e-bow sounds. And it goes on like this, deeper and deeper into unchartered musical territory, with the trio creating an high energy high intensity music the likes of which I haven't heard in previous years, and all this with a very clear musical vision, creating a unique sound, with excellent balance between the calm and high intensity moments, hence creating a strong feeling of depth and variation. And also on the calm moments, like on "Godot", the guitar and the trumpet sound like whales communicating, with long and endless sad wails and moans, with Rainey meanwhile quadruple-timing the soloists, and what you believe is free improv appears to be perfectly composed and timed. Amazing. Without a doubt this album will be on the top-10 of the year. One more thing : of many of the best new albums I heard in the previous months, Tom Rainey is the drummer (Tim Berne, Mark Helias, David Torn, Brad Shepik, Tony Malaby). And that's no coincidence either.

Listen to sound samples from Waiting


Sean Noonan - Stories To Tell (Songlines, 2007) **

If you notice that some of today's top musicians, Marc Ribot, Jon Madof, Jim Pugliese and Mat Maneri play together on one CD with amongst others African singer Abdoulayé Diabaté, you go "wow, this is going to give fireworks!". Maybe my expectations were too high, because this is lukewarm, if not tepid stuff. The core concept of percussionist Sean Noonan is maybe too ambitious : to combine celtic and African music with rock and jazz. And indeed the album brings all these genres together in a mix, but without any real authenticity, as if every sharpness, every sting has been taken out for fear of the genres hurting each other. You would expect hypnotic rhythms, refreshing musical collisions, emotional outbursts, but there's nothing of the sort on this album, this is mellow background music for the coffee bar on the corner. Allright, admittedly, there is once in a while a soaring guitar solo, but so what? The musicians are good, and that's about all that can be said about this album.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Free Improv from Clean Feed - two reviews

John Butcher & Paal Nilssen-Love - Concentric (Clean Feed, 2007) **

Playing free jazz or free improv can easily be compared to walking on a tightrope. If you put one step too far to one side, you're gone into into the depths, and that's what I think happened with the music on this album. John Butcher (sax) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) are fine musicians with a long track record in free form music, but this CD is to me over the edge. OK, they can get the most unusual sounds out of their instruments, and their interaction speed and interplay are great, but where is the music, where is the emotion? Playing these sounds may be fun for the musicians themselves, but as a listener you don't get involved. Still, kudos of the Clean Feed label to take the risk of publishing this kind of music. I hope others enjoy it more than I do.

Russ Lossing, Mat Maneri, Mark Dresser - Metal Rat (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

Equally risky and equally free improv and equally on Clean Feed, is "Metal Rat", an album by pianist Russ Lossing, with Mat Maneri on viola and Mark Dresser on bass. This music is unusual, to say the least, with eery soundscapes, creating a gloomy, menacing atmosphere throughout. The major difference between this album and the previous one, is that this one creates music, even if not an easy listening experience, it has vision, it paints an aural canvas, albeit an abstract one, that is adventurous, that absorbs the listener in something new, something exciting, with interesting twists and turns, offering unexpected angles. This music sucks you into a different world, pointillistic and microtonal, without allowing the listener to get grip on any fixed pattern or rhythm, yet the overall sound image you get is worth listening to.

Download Metal Rat

Jason Lindner - Ab Aeterno - (Fresh Sound World Jazz) ***

Jason Lindner's first album, Ab Aeterno, offers a sparkling combination of jazz and world music, in a trio with Omer Avital on bass and oud, and Luisito Quintero on a large variety of small percussion. Lindner himself plays piano, and on some songs also melodica and mbira. The music is light as a feather, not unlike chamber music, with playful influences from the Middle-East, Africa and Latin America. But also Monk and Bud Powell join in. Monk and even Bach are identifiable together in the lightly classical "Song for Amos", Bud Powell in "Sure Thing/Glass Enclosure", a mix of two Powell compositions. On the rhythmically repetitive "Montserrate" the piano is replaced by the melodica, and the bass by the oud. Lindner is a fine pianist and composer, the melodies are harmonically and rhythmically well-crafted, yet it's all a little too composed for me, with not enough climaxes. And that might by due to Lindner's approach of the compositions : once he's got the core melody in his left hand, there aren't too many changes throughout the songs, creating an overall flat impression. On the other hand, the lightly dancing combination of piano, bass/oud, and hand percussion is so refreshing and the compositions so easily accessible, that they form the ideal music for this sunny Sunday morning.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mikolaj Trzaska - Kantry (Kilogram Records, 2007) ****

Mikolaj Trzaska is a musician who deserves wider recognition than he does today. He is not only an excellent sax player, as a composer he is also not afraid to take risks and to look for a renewed, more expressive musical language without becoming too experimental or without chasing away potential listeners. He has made some really excellent sax trio albums with the brothers Marcin and Brat Oles, especially "LA Sketch Up" and "Mikro Muzik", both also issued on the Polish Kilogram Records and highly recommended. On these albums, jazz sounds as you've rarely heard it, soft-spoken, sophisticated, nostalgic, yet raw, creative and full of tension at the same time. Interesting. Next to these albums, he's also written a lot of work for theater and television, and this albums fits into that category. It was originally ordered for an internet radio drama, but the music on this album is far removed from the original idea. The input for the music appears to come, not from the play, but from dictaphone recordings made from the author's journey in the Balkans: Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The dictaphone recorded everything that was possible to record, starting with the sounds of streets in Sarajevo, conversations in a Balkan bar and finishing with the singing of a muezzin from a minaret in Sarajevo, but also church bells can be heard, dogs barking, car doors slamming, etc. Right through these ambient sounds Mikolaj Trzaska weaves music in his own specific syle, often solo, or accompanied in the lightest possible fashion, sometimes an accordion, often an organ, or just bass, or drums, but never with the whole band together. It is odd music, sometimes bizarre ("Barbarian's Child"), sometimes of extreme beauty ("The Silence of Fish"), but always airy and accessible. And what he makes of this is really powerful : the human emotions laid bare, pain, longing, distress, anxiety, joy, nostalgia. And it doesn't really matter whether you understand any of the slavonic languages heard on the tape. Just let yourself go and listen to the fragile soul of man, made a little bit more eloquent by Mikolaj Trzaska.

Click here for audio samples

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chicago Underground Trio - Chronicle (Delmark, 2007) ****

The Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet has two stable members : Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on percussion. Jeff Parker played guitar in previous configurations and Noel Kupersmith was the regular bass-player, but for this trio he is replaced by Jason Ajemian. This is not what you would call a real trumpet/bass/drums trio, because each musician has an assortment of additional instruments, from the very simple such as a bamboo flute, an mbira or a Chinese cymbal to the more complex electronics, computer of moogerfooerpedals. The album is the chronicle of a transformation in six steps : Initiation, Resistance, Power, Crisis, Transformation and Transcendence. And the music evolves along those steps. "Initiation" is a bass solo, on "Resistance" the percussion starts bringing counterweight to the bass, first with light percussion, then marimba, then electronics until the bass stops, followed by the percussion and only the electronics remain. "Power" begins with light arco bass, marimba and light percussion, rolling on to menacing drumming, first without apparent rhythm, then very rhythmically, with a hard pulsing bass adding power to the playing, offering a solid foundation for the muted cornet sounds of Mazurek, now light and sensitive, then chasing hard, evolving into a quiet bluesy melody, which in terms of trumpet style holds the middle between Lester Bowie and Don Cherry, moving on to light percussion again, an almost-lullaby like melody so fragile and joyful it sounds, soon to die in an electronic chaotic drone of about five minutes, and then you think "that's it, we've had it", but no, out of this chaos emerges a lightly dancing melody of trumpet, arco bass and mbira, the real finale of a track which lasts close to half an hour. And it goes on like that for the rest of the album. The band takes its time to discover the music, to transform it, to think of new angles, but the overall structure is essential, this is free improv along fixed paths. This is avant-garde jazz or experimental jazz, but then with soul. And you can hear this soul at best in the last piece "Transcendence", that unleashes all power with a manic repetitive rhythm, with Mazurek's cornet creating wonderful melodies above this hypnotic drone of bass and drums. This music is probably not to everyone's taste, but the way this band explores new musical avenues is really fantastic to hear and highly commendable. Mazurek suprised us earlier this year with his great album with The Exploding Star Orchestra, but this one is equally brilliant.

Below you can view and extract from the promo video of the accompanying DVD ("Transcendence"):

Friday, June 15, 2007

Matana Roberts Quartet - The Calling (Utech Records, 2007) ***

Good marks and bad marks for the free jazz label Utech Records. They get the good marks for their existence and for the risks they're willing to take. Bad marks because the sound quality of their - usually live - recordings is lower than what you can expect nowadays. And that's not a problem with this album only, the same problem manifests itself on other albums of the label. But enough complaints. Matana Roberts has her own quartet now, after having led her sax trio Sticks & Stones for the past years. She is now accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Thomson Kneeland on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. The band takes on a number of classics, such as Billy Holiday's "My Man", Sun Ra's "We Travel The Spaceways" and Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)", the latter piece obviously referring to the devastation created by hurricane Katrina. This band brings excellent free jazz, with lots op spaciousness and creative interplay, combined with quieter moments, yet it does not hesitate either to bring the core melodies in their traditional swing and bop-mode, or even to add a playful call-and-response between sax and cornet. In sum, a nice trip through jazz history brought from a modern free perspective. The quality of the performance makes the lack of sound quality even more of a shame.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rob Brown Trio - Sounds (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

Rob Brown is one of those New York sax players who have always been able to combine free jazz blowing fests with melody, rhythm and emotion, but on this album he seems to have reached a state of mental peace and relaxation that is absent on his other albums. He is accompanied by Daniel Levin on cello and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. His other recent albums are also worth looking for (Radiant Pools and The Big Picture), as are his collaborations with William Parker and Matthew Shipp. Admittedly, his alto does still howl and screech and wail at times, but then above a rhythmic and harmonic basis, with more often than not a recognizable melodic structure. The choice of the cello is a good one, because the instrument can play a more prominent second voice than a bass ever could, both arco and pizzicato, and on top of that Takeishi is a percussionist who manages to give depth to the music by giving the right accents rather than feeling forced to give an explicit rhythmic foundation. The opening track, "Sounds, Part 1, Archeology" immediately offers the musical vision of this band : a subdued unisono melody on a slow tempo, as an introduction to a tearing and heart-rending solo by Brown, followed by some open and equally soft improvizing by the whole band, just to end in joined harmony. This music is characterized by spaciousness and openness. The second piece "Sounds, Part 2, Antics" offers a more abstract feel, with a Mysterioso-like tonal build-up. The third piece starts with a slow cello introduction and Brown's following long solo fits like magic on this. "Stutter Step" is more in the free-bop idiom that we know from his previous albums such as "The Big Picture". "Tibetan Folk Song" starts with a long cello-percussion intro, and Brown again brings a more than credible improvization on this traditional source material. The CD ends in peaceful beauty. Who could have expected that much internal peace and musical quietness from a player like Brown? But the approach appears to be the right one, offering a strong musical unity without loosing any of the free creativity.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oles/Trzaska/Oles/Cappozzo - Suite For Trio + (Fenommedia, 2005) *****

Better late than never. This album was released about two years ago, but I managed to get hold of it just now, so it can still get a review, and with reason. I have expressed my appreciation for the Polish twin brothers Marcin Oles (bass) and Bartlomiej Oles (drums) before, and with this album they climb even higher in my esteem. Their fellow countryman Mikolaj Trzaska plays sax to form their usual trio, and Frenchman Jean-Luc Cappozzo now also joins on trumpet. I had never heard of Cappozzo, and I'm glad I do now, because he is really excellent in this free musical environment, which is suprising for someone who apparently learned to play in the French army. This is the kind of free jazz that I like the most : free improvisation on a structured basis, creative, rhythmic, soft and intense. Listen to the title track : a unisono melody of sax and trumpet on a slow Eastern rhythm, out of which the trumpet frees itself for a beautiful solo, then the whole thing evolves into a bass solo by Marcin Oles, and believe me, this guy is among the best you can hear on the instrument these days, both pizzi and arco. His touch is both elegant and powerful, his improvisations melodic and creative (his solo bass album "Ornette On Bass" is also worth checking out). "JLC" starts with solo trumpet, then the band joins with some dissonant interplay, followed by arco bass which move into a folkish melody which could have been written by Henri Texier. "Budmo" is a slow, sad and gloomy piece, which stands in strong contrast to the next one,"5-5", a funky uptempo rhythm fest, with amongst others a stunning duet between trumpet and drums, which then evolves into a variation of Ravel's bolero, with the well-known slightly dancing rhythm. Mikolaj Trzaska, on bass clarinet, is the star of this track. You could say that Trzaska is almost the opposite of Peter Brötzmann : he is a very sensitive sax player with a velvet tone, although he can do some fierce and outside blowing if needed, but it always remains elegant. An I think that word sums up the whole musical style of this album. The last track, "Urodzaj", starts with flutes in a kind of jungle atmosphere, with light trumpet blasts, reminiscent of Don Cherry and Codona, but then Marcin Oles comes on the stage with a wonderfull bass line and he takes the whole band along into a beautiful melody with trumpet and sax alternatingly in unisono and counterpoint, fantastic, but too short, too short, too short... This is free music that is not aggressive, music that is accessisble even if you haven't heard this kind of approach before. Anyone with interest in jazz will appreciate this album. It's rhythmic, melodic, great mastering of the instruments, great interplay. A real treat. Don't miss it!

Joshua Redman - Back East (Nonesuch, 2007) ***

On this album Dewey Redman's song brings hommage to Sonny Rollins' Way Back West, the first sax trio album ever. When I started listening to it and heard the tones of "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top", I feared for the worst, but I kept listening, and to my satisfaction. The albums starts out within the tradition, but not for long, because Eastern scales and rhythms starts seeping into the music and they keep having their mark on most tracks of the CD, with titles such as "Zarafa", Coltrane's "India", Shorter's "Indian Song", "Mantra #5", "Indonesia". Two of Rollins' own songs are also covered. Although most pieces have a sax/bass/drums line-up, this is definitely not a "band" recording. Additional saxes join in on some pieces, and not the least : two tracks have Dewey Redman on sax, recorded before his death in September last year, other tracks have Joe Lovano and Chris Cheek as sidemen. The basses are played by Larry Grenadier, Reuben Rogers, Christian McBride and the drums by Ali Jackson, Brian Blade and Eric Harland, in short about the best you can hear on the circuit these days. A nice album, with great musicians and tight interplay, but if Redman had taken a little bit more risks, the overall effect would have been more gripping.

Loren Stillman - Trio Alto Vol. 1 (Steeplechase, 2006) ***

Loren Stillman is a great sax-player with a powerful yet warm tone. On this album he is accompanied by Steve LaSpina on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. The trio takes on a number of standards such as "All The Things You Are", "Body and Soul", "What Is This Thing Called Love?" amongst others, but then not in the umpteenth version drained from all lifeblood, but in a very novel fashion, first reduced to their harmonic essence and then rebuilt and touched upon through sustained improvisation. In this manner the version of "All The Things You Are" is in the best free jazz tradition barely recognisable at the beginning (like in former days free performance mode "guess what tune I'm playing now!"). It's only after seven minutes into the solo that the melody is recognisable. Yet this is not free jazz, but modern contemporary jazz that is accessible without having to fall back on familiar melodic structure. Stillman's great strength is that he focuses his solos wells and that he brings the music with depth, and this makes listening an exciting experience. This is not background music. And Stillman is not alone of course : with Hirshfield and LaSpina the trio forms a perfect band for a creative, enthusiastic, great album. Jazz with soul!

Giovanni Guidi - Indian Summer (CamJazz, 2007) ****

Once in a while mainstream piano ensembles deliver albums of a stupefying beauty, such as "If" by Myriam Alter, "Le Pas Du Chat Noir" by Anouar Brahem or "L'Arbre Pleure" by Nathalie Loriers. This album belongs to the same category : a chamber music atmosphere, strong melodies, tight compositions, musical tension and variation through smart arrangements, emotional depth, and all this without any pretense. This is music which Americans would call European jazz, but without the often heavy-handed ECM approach. I do not usually like jazz that doesn't leave the beaten track, but the aesthetics on this album easily overcome this. Guidi is creative enough with lots of ideas to bring a fresh performance for these strong compositions, even if they are covers of for instance Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip". Guidi is accompanied by Dan Kinzelman on clarinet and sax, Francesco Ponticelli on bass and Joao Lobo on drums. The music is sometimes visually intense and playful like on "Il Campione", or sad such as in "September Never Comes", or menacing such as in "Windmill". Smart, refreshing music.

Taylor Ho Bynum - The Middle Picture (Firehouse, 2007) ***

Taylor Ho Bynum has been the trumpet player in Anthony Braxton bands, but the music he brings on this album cannot be compared, with the exception on the importance given to compositional structure. Ho Bynum is accompanied by a band consisting of Matt Bauder (sax, clarinet), Mary Halvorson and Evan O'Reilly (electric guitar), Jessica Pavone (viola and electric bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums). "Brooklyn With An E", the opening track, brings us a light story, with the guitar playing a repetitive dissonant pattern, with drums and cornet filling the space. "Woods" starts with solo cornet and after about three minutes the rest of the band barges in with pointillistic notes without apparent coherence out which the viola emerges with a sad improvisation. Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way" brings a very sad consecutive sax and cornets solos on top of menacing percussion, guitar and bass. Throughout the album Taylor Ho Bynum uses many influences, but he tears them apart first, then sticks them together again like in a collage, but in an abstract manner, without recognisable figures. Each time a theme emerges, or a rhythm, or even an instrument, it is immediately replaced by something else. This offers lots of variation for sure, yet as a listener you loose every foothold you expect to get. And that becomes tiring after a while... There is without a doubt a strong unity in the musical vision, and all tracks fit perfectly well together, but it is not really my thing.

Cooper-Moore - Digital Primitives (Hopscotch, 2007) ****

What is this...? An absolutely new way in the approach of jazz! Free jazz piano-player and iconoclast Cooper-Moore does not play a note of piano on this album, but he plays "diddley bow, mouth bow, bango, voice", some pretty unusual instruments which nevertheless fit perfectly in the music on this album. This is free jazz with a high level of joy in the performance but also of fun in the music itself : rhythmic complexities, some hard blowing at times, and especially the incredible interplay on these short yet to-the-point pieces. Chad Taylor on drums is exceptionaly strong, but Tsahar on sax is stellar as well, even composed at moments, and it is indeed a rare occasion when you hear the Israeli sax-player hit a tune. And then there is Cooper-Moore's role with the instruments he seems to have borrowed from the etnographic museum around the corner. This music is hard, funky and different : a free jazz version of Tom Waits, even to the extent that there is even a use of traditionals, as in "Ol' Saint Peter", on which Cooper-Moore even sings, and not bad at all, listen to it on the link below to have an idea. But it's not all funky funky, there are also some quiter pieces, even subdued, such as "Refuge" or emotinally strong such as "Money Wars", but enough talking : all the music can be heard below : judge for yourself.

Listen to the album :

Turn It Up
Old Saint Peter
Human Interest
Electric Garden
Digital Primitives
True To Life
Money Wars
Back It Up

Here is some clarification I received from cooper-moore about the review :

"The song "Ole Saint Peter," was written by me in honor of the late German bassist, Peter Kowald, whom we greatly admired and very much miss.

I've only heard Tom Waits a couple of times. I grew up listening to Oscar Brown Jr and feel very close to what he was doing."


Ellery Eskelin - Quiet Music (Prime Source, 2006) ***

Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin brings us quiet music indeed on this double album, yet don't let the title surprise you, this is not easy listening, but a permanent search for new musical avenues, yet brought in a calm and composed manner. Eskelin is accompanied as on his previous albums by Jim Black on drums, Andrea Parkins on keyboards and accordion, and with newcomer Jessica Constable on vocals, and on some pieces also with Philip Gelda on keyboards and voice. And what Eskelin does with this band, or rather what this band does together with Eskelin is excellent. The points of departure are recognisable, but brought differently, with tight interplay and unexpected turns. I am not a fan of vocal jazz and I definitely dislike vocalese, singing without words, and that explains the rather mean score I give to this album.Without the input of Jessica Constable the music would sound different, but I think I would appreciate it more.

Click Here For Video Samples