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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Marcus - The Magic Door (Not Two, 2007) ***

The first album I heard with Michael Marcus was "Ithem" a sax trio with William Parker and Dennis Charles, and I was immediately charmed by this excellent musician. He has a very strong sense of melody and pitch when improvizing, a great sense of swing in his compositions, a clear respect for the traditional form which he recreates in a very open modern format. Whether he plays with Jaki Byard, the Cosmosamatics or in other bands, his core characteristics are always present as they are on this record. He sticks to his clarinet on all songs, with Jay Rosen on drums and François Grillot on bass on most tracks. Daniel Levin plays cello on three pieces and Rahsaan Carter and Eric Revis play bass on one track each, and Newton Taylor Baker drums on one track. Anyone interested in melodic free jazz with a great swing feeling, should look this one up.

Listen to :
The Magic Door

Blaise Siwula - New York Moments (Konnex, 2006) ****

Total improvization is not only a rare thing, it is also a very risky venture, that more often than not is doomed to fail. Yet when it is successful, the result may be very rewarding. And this is certainly the case for this album by the "Total Improvization Unit", led by alto saxophonist Blaise Siwula, and the sequel to the earlier Konnex release "Brooklyn Moments". Nobu Stowe on piano and Ray Sage on drums provide continuity in the line-up, with the addition of guitarist Dom Minasi on this record. Just like on the previous one, the quartet manages to create a very unique sound, very coherent and intense, with interesting excursions in their interplay. The four musicians each play a specific role : Ray Sage is an energetic drummer, who can play very implicitly at times, but with a forceful regularity, Nobu Stowe offers the melodic backbone, Siwula soloes creatively yet very composed, and Dom Minasi acts as a sounding board to Siwula, reacting with short dry notes or with chordal counterpoint. The four musicians play almost the whole time - except on the two trio tracks of course, at times giving the impression to be soloing simultaneously, yet never falling into chaos, with Stowe really acting as a strong anchor to keep it all coherent. The nice thing is that the music is so open-minded, that nearly everything can happen, and with intense listening a unique logic and beauty emanates from the music. This is the kind of music which is hard to put into words for lack of real references for comparison. But I can recommend it to anyone with open ears.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

John Surman - The Spaces In Between (ECM, 2007) ****

John Surman has always managed to find the perfect balance of accessible and emotional playing without falling into the abyss of cheap sentimentalism. The tone of his sax-playing is recognizable out of millions, regardless of whether he plays in a jazz quartet, in more free mode with Jack DeJohnette, with supportive electronics, or with a classical string quartet as on this one. Chris Laurence's bass plays both in a classical and jazz mode, bringing more balance to the album. The music is, as the title suggests, very spacious, creating a peaceful yet intense musical environment. I am personally not really a fan of the use of strings on jazz albums, because they're often no more than a chordal musical backdrop, without any role other than to heighten the ego of the artist, giving him an air of seriousness and importance : snobbery in sum. Luckily that's not the case here, the strings are players in their own right, they make the music, participate actively, as illustrated by the title track, central on the CD, which is only solo violin, and one of the many highlights of this album. The music varies between jazz, modern classical music, baroque and romanticism. There are clear references to Bach ("Wayfarers All") as well as Ravel ("Mimosa"), yet the compositions are characteristic of Surman, the finale of the second piece is reminiscent of his "Edges Of Illusion" from the early 80s. On "Mimosa" the music is also mediterranean in nature, with the strings accentuating the theme as in Arabic music. The record offers lots of variation in terms of moods : from melancholic ("Winter Wish") over playful ("Now See!") to downright gloomy ("Leaving The Harrow"). A great album, with lots of excellent soloing by Surman, whether on baritone, soprano or bass clarinet. His technique, the variation of his playing and the clarity of his tone are stunning. Surman has always looked for his own romantic aesthetic, and finds it here, with lots of the credits for it going to the strings. It's not jazz in the traditional sense, but it's excellent music.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Raymond MacDonald & Günter Sommers - Delphinius & Lyra (Clean Feed, 2007) *****

Raymond MacDonald is a young Scottish saxophonist, Günter "Baby" Sommer a veteran Swiss drummer who has been instrumental in creating European free jazz. They enter into a musical dialogue on this album, and how! The record begins with a serious kick by Sommer on one of his cymbals, and the party begins : free jazz improv from beginning to end, with an intensity that is maintained throughout, even on the slower pieces. The title of the album refers to signs of the zodiac in the southern hemisphere, Delphinius (the dolphins) and Lyra (the harp), which could lead to think that the music refers to the spiritualitiy of Coltrane's "Interstellar Space", also a sax and drums album, if only the titles of the tracks were not so prosaic by comparison : "GIO and the Dresden Free Team", "Socialistic Hip Shit", "Peter's Red Shoes", it's hard to find titles less spiritual than these. That's a little odd, but who cares, the music is brilliant, varied, deeply emotional at moments, sometimes hard, wailing, crying, shouting, singing, yet never wild, never without purpose, never without intent, because the two musicians build an interesting, coherent and sometimes suprising musical universe, such as in "I'm OK", in which MacDonald's slowly weeping alto sounds like a wounded dog lying by the roadside, when suddenly Sommer walks along playing harmonica in the most joyful way, just disappearing while the wailing goes on. Once in a while Sommer also plays mouth-harp, and on one song MacDonald sings/shouts like he's celebrating something, just to have his ass kicked a second later by an entire police corps (the evoked images are bizarre, and may be the result of the madness of your servant). The most fun is to be had from listening to "Socialist Hip Shit", that flows on a repetitive almost tribal rhythm, starting with an intense sax solo, moving into a joyful and unrestrained spontaneous singing by both musicians, just to end in an absolutely beautiful solo. We're already familiar with Sommer's capabilities, but MacDonald's playing is absolutely stunning, in pitch, timbre, variation, and he also demonstrates his skills for circular breathing on the last two tracks. Despite the limited line-up and the totally free approach, there really is no boring moment on this album, quite the contrary even, the interaction between these two stellar musicians grabs the listener's attention from the start until the very end : intensity, suprise, beauty, creative collisions, ... If you like free jazz, you will certainly enjoy this one!

Listen to sound samples :
GIO and the Dresden Free Team
Socialist Hip Shit
Parked on the Positive Side of Remembrance

You can download via

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Declared Enemy - Salute To 1000001 Stars (RogueArt, 2007) ***

I have mixed feelings about this record... Again, a courageous thing by the French label RogueArt to release this adventure. An American line-up consisting of Matthew Shipp on piano, Sabir Mateen on clarinet and alto saxophone, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, is among the best free jazz units you can assemble, but then performing in the company of Frenchman Denis Lavant, who recites French texts by Jean Genet. The idea was Shipp's, because of his admiration for the French author. Yet the concept doesn't work very well. My first problem is of a general nature : the combination of music and poetry doesn't mix well. Poetry is in the very first instance meant to put words in a musical language, without being spoken out loud, and definitely not with the intention of being spoken with a musical backdrop. The spoken word looses this competition, by a big score difference. I do not know of any successful examples at least. It's often quite the contrary, they're examples of pretence. My second problem is specific : Denis Lavant's reading of the texts is in the 19th Century romantic mode, quite pathetic actually, and probably more suited for poets such as Verlaine or Rimbaud, but definitely not for Genet's attacks against the political system of the 60s. My third problem is that music and text were recorded separately, leading to a certain artificiality. Luckily, the spoken word just spoils two tracks, but together they last more than half an hour. The saddest thing is that the music is good, and the other tracks are a real relief, despite keeping some of the menacing tone of the texts, but then with the sensitive clarinet and the precise and often dissonant expressive piano, and the whole band doing great things. There are more CDs that I re-recorded, filtering out the spoken word. I will do it again with this one. The music is great, I can only applaud the courage of the initiative, but too bad not all roads lead to success.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sonic Openings Under Pressure - Muhheankuntuk (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

In truth, I wasn't too thrilled with Patrick Brennan's two previous efforts "The Drum Is Honor Enough" and "Rapt Circle". Yet this one is different. Apart from Brennan on sax, Hillard Green's bass is the only constant with the previous albums. David Pleasant plays drums and harmonica on this CD. And the music is totally different too. The more limited line-up has opened the music quite a lot, and the three musicians weave some sensitive and creative textures. You have the feeling that anything could happen on this album, and it does. The music is often tentative, timid even, creating soft but intense interplay, with the exception of "Hardships", which is an uptempo high enery great anger vocal rap/spoken word piece. But indeed all the other pieces are free form open improvizations around agreed themes and structures, played with a musical delicacy and precise elegance that demonstrates once again that free jazz can be so much more than noisy blowing contests, and truth be told, even more subtle, nuanced and emotionally authentic than the large majority of more mainstream releases. The music itself is built around themes, that appear and then disappear again, depending on the mood of the musicians, like waves on a river. And that is what the title means "river that flows in two directions", in the local native American language, referring to the Hudson's typical tide currents. On "Flash Of The Spirit", Pleasant switches to harmonica, which makes for an unheard of combination, but it works, and it works well. In "The Terrible" Brennan's sax speaks in short bursts, words and phrases over a very varied rhythmic creation by Pleasant and Greene. The last piece, which I find the highlight of the album, starts with a weeping duo of sax and bass, moving into a lightly funky form, then almost organically shifting to a higher gear free bop, and the fun thing is that despite the ever increasing power play of the rhythm section, Brendan keeps his cool and his soft angle, right until the very end, when he does explode, only to come to a sudden halt for a final blow, literally. Open and intense music by three stellar musicians. There is much to enjoy here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra - Transmigration (Delmark, 2007) ***

If there is one musician about whom I can claim that I have all his recordings, then it's probably Kahil El'Zabar. I like his musical vision, the joy he expresses in the performance and the interplay, the beauty of his composition, the polyrhytmic feasts, the intimacy and directness of emotional and spiritual power, partly too the result of his playing in small ensembles, with five musicians at the most. But this is one is something else. The Infinity Orchestra is a big band from Bordeaux, where El'Zabar has been artist in residence for some years at the Academy of Music, and consists of young French musicians, ranging from pure jazz musicians to turntablists and hip-hop singers, with the addition of El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble musicians Ernest Dawkins on sax and Joe Bowie on trombone. The great thing about the album is also its weakness. The music is without a doubt El'Zabar's, and he adds his respect for each and every individual's musical style and competence and wants them to be made apparent. Like a teacher he tries to bring the best out of this band, and he really succeeds. Some of the musicians are absolutely excellent, such as the saxophonist on the first and third track, Arnaud Rouanet, who has a really great tone and expressive power, or the 15-year old clarinetist Jean Dousteyssier on the second. The downside of this approach is that you have a clash of genres at times, a democratic principle to showcase all musicians which is not always succesful, and because of the size and the orchestration much is lost of El'Zabar's usual light-footed approach and spur-of-the-moment creative changes. In any case, his objective was to demonstrate that music is a universal language tapping into the origins and styles from across the globe, like the members of this band. And although it's different in terms of form and orchestration from his usual work, the joy and the vision are still there, and the intimate directness is replaced by the power of a very coherent team. Great fun!

Michael Bisio - Circle This (CIMP, 2007) ****

Without a doubt Michael Bisio is one of the best and most creative bassists in the free jazz genre today. On this album he is assisted by two sax players, Avram Fefer and Stephen Gauci, and by Jay Rosen on drums, a promising line-up I would say. The album starts in a boppish mode, with the horns bringing a short unisono theme, which moves into a soprano solo, supported by the bass, which increases the tempo and once a summit of tension is achieved, the whole thing dwindles down into a slow drum solo, which in turn invites bass and horns back into the theme, back into the same mood, but now the tenor is brought to an uptempo summit of tension, wonderfully accentuated by the drums, and the whole thing collapses again for a bass solo. I will not describe every track, but suffice it to say that the music is excellent, the bass is the pivotal point around which the music circles, both horns are really a great match for each other throughout the record, and Rosen is his usual subtle self. There is beauty to be found in the melodies and the interplay, softness and tension, creative thoughts and perfect execution. There is great respect for the jazz tradition, and "Island Circus" is a perfect example of this, it could have been penned by Ornette Coleman. By the way, the tenor sounds at moments like Ethopian saxophonist Mulate Astatqe, but also a little middle-eastern. The most beautiful composition is the 10-minute long "The Fighting", which starts slow with Bisio on arco and the horns playing the theme with intervals, moving away from it for some simultaneous circling around it, but bass and drums call them back to the main theme, revving up the tempo a bit, to move one tenor into a sensitive solo, transitioning perfectly to the other tenor after a while, which equals the power of its predecessor. The record's real power is the perfect balance between composition and free form, between horns and rhythm section, between form and emotion. Great!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Music for melancholy moments

Rufus Cappadocia - Songs For Cello (Cappadociasongs Bmi; 2007) ****

Frank London - Invocations (Tzadik, 2000) ****

Depressed? Melancholy? In a lonely and emotional mood? Then I can recommend both these albums. What trumpeter Frank London did on the Tzadik label some years ago, is now sort of repeated by cellist Rufus Cappadocia on his own label : creating an intensely sad piece of music, for the length of an entire album, and without any mood shift at all, no moment of joy, no moments of fun, no hope, no ray of light, only sorrow and sadness, lamentation, powerlessness, gloom, mournful moaning and misery ... Paradoxically the expressive power of the music is intense, partly due to this sustained monotony. And not by the compositions themselves, harmonic structure and rhythmic changes are of less importance than the melodies and the language of the lead instrument. Although Frank London does not play solo - he is accompanied by either harmonium or bass, which actually emphasizes the loneliness - both albums reflect in essence the loneliness of one musician in the wide universe, alone in the vast expanse, little and insignificant, a speck of dust in endless infinity. Obviously spirituality and religious feelings are not far away. Both musicians use musical ideas from a broad range of world genres, jewish cantorial singing with London, but also the blues, jazz, ottoman or middle-eastern music, and both manage to use their instrument to its full extent, London producing long wailing shifting tones on the trumpet, Cappadocia heart-piercing double tones on his cello. Really great, melodic and expressive. But keep these handkerchiefs close by.

Listen to :
Frank London :
T'Kias Sofar
Ezkeroh Elokim
Tzaddik Rabbi Elozar

Rufus Cappadocia :

Rob Wagner Trio (Valid Records, 2007) ****

I'm sorry to sound over-enthusiastic again for a new record, but this one by the - at least to me - unknown sax player Rob Wagner is really worth listening to, all the more so because Hamid Drake plays the drums on it. De bass is in the hands of Nobu Ozaki. Wagner and Ozaki are both from New Orleans, where the CD was recorded, with the devastation caused by hurricane Katrina still all too present, and some of the tracks refer to it, or rather to the lousy administration and the lack of political will to tackle the problems adequately. But now the music : only to hear Hamid Drake playing this CD is already worth purchasing : varied, accurate, flashing, perfectly supporting, creative, sensitive, ... a real master in body and soul. Ozaki is a drummer by education but he switched to bass in order to make a living in New Orleans, and his bass-playing is excellent, melodic and rhythmic as you might expect, but also with emotions and insight which puts him definitely above average. But the real star of this album is Wagner himself. Already from the first notes of "Desoparia", Wagner's soprano demonstrates what you will hear for the rest of the album : middle-eastern or klezmer inflections in his phrasing, a warm tone, variation, and a very tight and intense trio. The music swings, has vision, sensitivity, structure and his solos have focus. Drake switches his drums for frame drums on some tracks, offering a more intimate world jazz feel, especially because Wagner plays around the rhythms with hypnotic melodies. After a few more subdued pieces, some uptempo tracks, led by a fierce tenor, change the tone a little, creating real power and intensity, but all very coherent and with a great sense of direction. "Childhood Memory" is a children's tune which is updated, and serves as the basis for a long improvization. Rob Wagner is truly excellent and this album is highly recommended.

Listen to :
Shock, Awe, Sham, Shame
Freedumb (Aren't You Glad You Can Vote In America)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Two reviews : Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Mountain Path + Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle Live

The great thing about music is that once you sufficiently master the technique of an instrument, or several instruments, it's like talking a new language, which enables you to express your feelings, or even have conversations with other people speaking the same language. And that's about what happens in two new albums by Daniel Carter.

Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Mountain Path (577 Records, 2007) ****

In the first album, "Mountain Path", Carter switches instrument on every track, in the following sequence : piano, flute, trumpet, tenor sax, clarinet, alto sax. Federico Ughi plays drums throughout. The record brings both musicians together six years after their previous "Astonishment". The music played here is entirely improvized, open en melodious, with both musicians interacting in a subtle and gentle way. And although the intensity of the music varies between quiet, subdued tones and high energy, the overall mood is one of creative spirituality. The fact that only two musicians embark on such an endeavour makes it also more accessible. Great album. Both musicians should definitely not wait another six years before their next album.

Listen to Folkwaves

Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle - Live At Tower Records (Atnimara Records, 2007) ****

The same conversational practice is even more dominant when both musicians speak with various melodic instruments, as is the case here. Matt Lavelle too plays trumpet, bass clarinet (his two usual instruments), yet here he adds the piano, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet. Matt Lavelle describes the method used by Daniel Carter as "no leaders and total freedom", and although that would lead to utter chaos in most instances, on this album it generates very intense and intimistic moments of musical interplay, gentle and creative, in the typical vein of many of Carter's albums, with depth and feeling. Great too!

Listen to sound samples

Both CDs can be listened to and downloaded from PayPlay.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Andrzej Przybielski/Marcin Oles/Brat Oles - Abstract (Not Two, 2005) ****

I'm always on the look-out for new trumpet trios, and I found this great CD in the Polish Not Two catalogue, with Andrzej Przybielski on trumpet, Marcin Oles on bass and Bartlomiej Oles on drums. This is the kind of music I really enjoy : sober, creative, abstract without loosing the melody or the rhythm, improvized yet structured. I cannot sufficiently sing the praise of the Oles brothers, and I've done already done that in previous reviews, but Przybielski himself is also an superb musician. He keeps his notes short, powerful, precise and implicitly rhythmic, with a sound as if he's playing in the same room as you and I, and in that respect almost the exact opposite of what his compatriot Tomasz Stanko does with the instrument.

Most pieces start with some instructions by the trumpet-player in Polish, and hence for me unfortunately impossible to understand, but according to the Oles brothers these are just part of his methodology : play the music as raw as possible, without rehearsing or clear agreements, yet some precise instructions at the beginning should suffice to get the music going. "Real music does not require declarations and if it is to come into being, it will do without them", says the comment in the liner notes. That's also the reason why the recording took place with only three mikes, one for each instrument (Jack DeJohnette should hear this : he uses five times as many only for his drumkit!). The result is a very direct, intimistic effect that fits perfectly with the compositions, which leave lots of open space, but also bring lots of warmth and musical tension, including a short ode to Don Cherry, with the aptly named title "Cherry", in which he borrows some pieces from Ornette Coleman's "Focus On Sanity". And the way in which the brothers Oles manage to complement the often unpredictable Przybielski, rhythmically, melodically and in terms of tone, is absolutely remarkable and half the fun. Great CD. Recommended.

Listen to Ballada

Mike Pride - Scrambler (Not Two, 2006) ****

It takes about five minutes into the first track before the drums start playing some explicit rhythm, yet in the meantime, this band, which includes Tony Malaby on sax, William Parker on bass and Charlie Looker on guitar, has managed to create a sound which is haunting and captivating, while reminding us that this is a drummer's album, in the sense that Pride's drumming is all over the place, creating an eery intensity from the very first seconds, and remaining on the forefront all through the track, together with Malaby's powerful sax. The album shifts in the second track, as Malaby firmly takes the reins in his hands, and the rest of the band follows suite, creating absolute intensity going full power into the highest possible tones of his tenor, to justified acclaim of the audience. Mike Pride is a young US drummer with great intensity and unrelenting drive and creative ideas, and he has played with some great jazz musicians such as Anthony Braxton. Charlie Looker is also a Braxton student and is also active in avant, jazz and rock/punk bands. Although Parker and Looker are excellent, they are very much in the supporting roles on this album, providing the necessary backbone and unity, accentuating when necessary, once in a while coming to the forefront. But Pride and Malaby are absolutely wild on this album, in a no-holds-barred attitude, playing as if their life depended on it. It is only after about half an hour, in preparation of the finale of the second piece, that - driven by Parker's bass - melody, even tenderness intervene, as a logical bridge to the more soft-spoken abstract third piece, where Looker and Parker consecutively build the piece, leading in for Malaby who plays slow, almost microtonal phrasings, while Pride is hitting for two in the meantime, propulsing the sax into top gear for some fierce and expressive blowing, which is the kind of thing you would not immediately associate with the title "A Prayer For Peace". The album ends with another track of close to half an hour, again starting of slowly, but then moving on into a strangely abstract cacophonic bop, first hesitantly, then gaining momentum and explode, but the longest part of the track is more introspective, the musicians circling around each other, creating new tones, alone, in duo or trio, without loosing any of the tension built up before. In sum, this incredibly intensive band combines the wild enthusiasm of two upcoming musicians, eager to demonstrate their ideas and skills, with the mature musical power of two worldclass jazz musicians. Energy and inventiveness, ideas and emotions, power and subtlety, intensity and interplay, you will find it all on this record, and with truckloads.

Listen to A Cry For Unity

Monday, August 13, 2007

Louie Belogenis/Charles Downs/Joe Morris - The Flow (Ayler, 2007) ***

Although the recording of this sax trio's live performance took place in 2004, it has only now just been released by Ayler Records, where it can be downloaded from their website. "The Flow" consists of one long piece of almost 45 minutes, to which a 2 minute extra is added. Belogenis is a sax player in the tradition of John Coltrane, very expansive, with spiritual aspirations, at moments very melodious, sometimes intensely overblowing, but always with ideas and a sense of direction. The fine rhythm section of Morris and Downs supports well, often very boppish, offering a very tight unit, despite the fact that they are not his usual band. Belogenis has recorded and performed more often with players such as drummer Rashied Ali, saxophonists Tony Malaby or Daniel Carter, and also with the Exuberance quartet with trumpeter Roy Campbell (also available through Ayler Records and recommended). It's definitely good to hear him play the lead role. A great performance, with lots of variation. Of interest for those who can appreciate a long story.

Dupon T - Spider's Dance (Ultrabolic, 2007) ***

(Thank you Jean-François for bringing this album to my attention!)

A nice new CD by the French bass player Hubert Dupont, who expands his usual trio, consisting of Yvan Robilliard on piano and Chander Sardjoe on drums, with Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax. It's clear that Mahanthappa's unique phrasing on the alto colors this record, yet it is not comparable to his own albums or those with Vijay Iyer. The tone of Hubert Dupont's compositions is much lighter, and he falls back more easily on more classic jazz forms and rhythms, which does not mean that he takes the easy way out, quite the contrary. His music is accessible yet creative, with tight compositions yet open. Dupont rarely brings his bass to the frontline, with the exception of the few tracks where he gives the intro on arco : this is clearly a project where the musical composition get the entire focus, and the four musicians build something great around Dupont's music, with an elegant and refreshing result. Clearly a new voice and someone to follow.

Liste to:

Mais Presque

The record can be downloaded via

Friday, August 10, 2007

Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, Kent Kessler, Michael Zerang - Guts (Okka Disk, 2007) ***½

On November 6, 2006, sound technician Malachi Ritscher committed suicide by plublicly setting fire to himself on the street in Chicago in protest of the Iraq war and "the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country". This CD is a tribute to him by four musicians who knew him well. The music was recorded a year earlier by Ritscher himself, and the music is suited to commemorate his act, and the guts he showed. After an introduction by Zerang's drums, all hell breaks loose, as Brötzmann and McPhee simultaneously start blowing their lungs out, with Kessler's bass building a powerful drone on in the background, and not surprisingly, especially Brötzmann's sound is absolutely fierce, yet when drum and bass stop somewhere in the middle of the first piece, the German slows down to be joined by McPhee and both play some deeply emotional lamenting sounds, finding each other beautifully and softly, echoing each other, playing simultaneously or in counterpoint, then picking up with a basic bluesy kind of rif, signal for the rhythm section to start kicking up the engine again.

The second piece starts with a sound exploration led by Kessler's arco, with the others playing fine, thin and abrupt lines, then long wailing monotonous lines, building up musical tension, Zerang laying on the accents of an increasingly menacing sound, which bursts open with the pocket trumpet and the tarogato screeching, coming to rest after about 15 minutes, for a slow duet between the two horns, McPhee the bluesy melodious one, Brötzmann enraged and dissonant, followed by a great rhythmic duet of drums and bass, giving the time for the horns to be changed into a battle between tenor and alto, which find peace together, leading into a slow and beautifully melodious unisono ending. And as usual, their music expresses emotions of anger, frustration, rage and suprise even, but also sadness and respect in a very direct way. If the musicians had said this music had been composed in memory of Malachi Ritscher, you could have believed it. But even then, it is a worthy tribute for the man.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Middle-Eastern World Jazz

The Mediterranean has always been a melting pot of cultures and a crossroads of all great civilizations, with the exception of the native American culture. But now jazz gets thrown into the mix, and that has resulted in some worthwhile music, integrating the warm, emotional sounds and rhythms from Persian, Arabian and Ottoman music. There is more than plenty of kitsch to find as well, often westernized music for night-clubs and belly-dancing, or electronics for the current-day mass tourist dancing parties.

I give an overview of some albums and musicians I can recommend because the integration of styles is the result of genuine artistic endeavors with excellent results (and there is of course much more, and suggestions are also more than welcome).


Hafez Modirzadeh - People's Blues - Iranian sax-player who released a staggeringly good jazz CD with People's Blues, with strong influences of Persian classical music as regards scales and rhythmic patterns. The album is dedicated to the Kurdish victims of the first Gulf War. Very strong and deserves more attention. Tracks can be listened to on his site (it takes a while to open, so please be patient).


Ahmed Abdul Malik - Jazz Sahara, Jazz Sounds Of Africa - One of the first musicians who started integrating North-African music and jazz in the early 60s (I know, I know, Ellington and others did this as well, and a little earlier, ...) Abdul Malik plays bass and oud. Listen to Isma'a.

Maurice El Medioni - Café Oran. El Medioni is a jewish Algerian who played piano in the nightclubs of Oran and Algiers in the 60s and 70s. His music brings an odd mix, but fun, and unreal in the authenticity of its entertainment value. Listen to Moel Medio.

Rabih Abou-Khalil - The Cactus Of Knowledge, The Sultan's Picnic, and many other CDs. Lebanese oud-player Rabih Abou-Khalil brings an uncredibly intense kind of jazz, often funny, or deeply emotional, with rhythmic changes which are hard to follow. Almost all his albums are of interest. Listen to Lamentation and watch the video clip below of "Ma Muse s'amuse".

Gilad Atzmon - Exile - Israeli musician with a very strong commitment to the cause of peace in the Middle-East, and he plays jazz with predominantly Arabian influences. Exile is his best album, with astonishingly good pieces (his last record "Musik" is not recommendable, bringing too many styles together in a pathetically pretentious album). Listen to Al Quds.

Anouar Brahem - Thimar - Tunisian oud-player Anouar Brahem is the absolute master of the refined composition, the precise arrangements and technical virtuosity. I prefer his CDs with only traditional instruments, but his more jazz-oriented releases with John Surman or Jan Garbarek are also highly recommended because of the sophistication and emotional depth. Listen to various sound samples.

Sami Moukaddem - The Crest Of A Wave. Young Irish-Lebanese guitar player. Brings a nice integration of jazz and Arabic music, with clear references to Rabih Abou-Khalil. Listen to March Of The Lemmings, although there are songs on the CD with a more personal approach.

Fayçal Salhi - Timgad - French-Algerian guitar and oud player, who makes a wonderful synthesis of cultures on Timgad. Listen to Entre Deux Mondes ("between two worlds").

Wajdi Cherif -Phrygian Istikhbar - Tunesian pianist who knows his jazz classics really well. Listen to Voyage.

The Belgian piano-player Nathalie Loriers also integrates Mediterranean influences in her music. Listen to L'Auberge Des Femmes. You can also read a review of her recent L'Arbre Pleure on this blog.

... and then two more fusion-oriented CDs:

Dhafer Youssef - Malak - Tunesian power-singer and oud-player, brings world fusion, with jazz instruments and at moments also very strong music. Despite his unique powerful voice, his singing is very precise and emotional. I find Malak his best record, with amongst others Markus Stockhausen and Nguyen Le. Listen to A Kind Of Love

Jonas Hellborg - Aram Of The Two Rivers - Swedish super bass player brings acoustic fusion of world jazz with Syrian musicians on violin, ney and percussion. Listen to Salah Al Din.


Kudsi Erguner - Ottomania - Kudsi Erguner is one of the best ney-players in the world, and in the sufi tradition. He usually plays traditional music, but on Ottomania he is accompanied by some European and American top jazz musicians. Listen to Semai.

Okay Temiz - Istanbul da Eylül - Temiz is a master percussionist who played with many European jazz musians, but also with Don Cherry. Istanbul da Eylül is exceptionally good, with Sylvain Kassap and Lennart Aberg on saxes. But there is much more of interest to find in his discography.

Barana & Co - Live At The Music Meeting - Dutch-Turkish ensemble with amongst others Behsat Üvez on vocals, Ernst Reijseger on cello, Steven Kamperman on clarinet. Nice CD. Listen to Halai.

Alain Blesing - Yörük - Great album by this French guitar player with the Senem Diyici quartet.

And of course not to forget Don Cherry himself, with various recordings, including Live In Ankara, where he plays with a Turkish ensemble, transforming traditional Turkish music into his own kind of jazz.


George Mgrdichian - One Man's Passion - Wonderful album by this Armenian oud-virtuoso, with an ensemble including Souren Baronian on sax. Listen to sound sample

David Yengibarjan - Pandoukht - Armenian accordionist who brings some great music here with Frank London on trumpet and Hungarian friends. This music goes already more into Eastern-European styles or balkan music. Listen to Ouverture

Watch a video clip by Rabih Abou-Khalil and band playing "Ma Muse s'Amuse" :

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Oluyemi Thomas - Nigeria (Not Two, 2006) ***½

Encouraged by the recent strong releases on the Polish Not Two label, I took a deeper look in their catalogue and came across this album, led by Oluyemi Thomas on bass clarinet and musette, with Ken Thomas on piano and synthesizer, Eugene Wilson IV on fretless electric bass and Howard Byrdsong on drums. And this record is unusual, if only because it's rare to find free jazz albums with both synthesizer and fretless bass. OK, David S. Ware has done experiments with synth and so did Joe McPhee, but the use here is more sparse, more functional, less intrusive. The album is a kind of suite, without pauses between the tracks, reinforcing the very strong musical unity, and an incredible raw poetic power. From the very beginning the four musicians are into the music, led by drums and piano, with the screeching, howling cries of the bass clarinet soaring through the space, evolving into a very intense and more uptempo moment, just to calm down again and to soften on the tones of the synthesizer, which often acts as the glue between new themes, and - strangely enough - creates a soft warmth throughout. Two long tracks begin and end the CD, with in between some shorter pieces on which each musician gets his solo moment, breaking down the music to its four bare constituents, and each doing a great job with the received time. The last track "The Other Side Of Self", continues in the more subdued, meditative style of the solo pieces, but quickly gains in intensity, counter rhythms while the shrill sounds of the musette tear the peace to pieces, yet ending the whole again in a more meditative duo of piano and drums. Thomas is not an absolute top clarinet-player, but he is extremely expressive, as is his music. Raw poetic power, I can't find any other words for it.

Listen to Recreated By Fire

Indian World Jazz

Jazz and Eastern music have given each other mutual influences for decades. Don Cherry took courses in Karnatic singing in India, Coltrane inspired himself on Indian ragas for his later releases, and recently Canadian saxophonist François Carrier did the same in his double-CD Happening. On the other hand, many Indian musicians are very active in jazz-circles and actively participate in re-shaping it, like Rajesh Mehta, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa.

As Rootsworld explains it : "The late Don Cherry, the trumpet player who performed with saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "harmolodic" bands, explained that the symbiosis between Hindustani music and jazz comes from the fact that to a greater extent than having notes, Indian music has tones - 36 of them to an octave, so that there is a greater potential for playing "between the notes" and creating what is called free jazz.

However, unlike American jazz, or other western music, Indian music is built around the rag or melody, which the individual artist clothes and makes new with improvisation and variation each time the melody is performed. On the liner notes of his album,
Ravi Shankar Plays Three Classical Ragas in 1956, the artist explained the very minor role of harmony, saying, "Indian music is modal by nature, and though harmony may be present in its simplest form, it is inherent, rather than deliberate. For the better and finer enjoyment of Indian music, Western audiences should forget about harmony and counterpoint or the mixed tone colors which may be considered the prime essentials of a symphonic or similar work, and relax rather in the rich melody and rhythm, and with the exquisitely subtle inflections through which the atmosphere of a Raga is built up."

In the more authentic mix of integration of both musical traditions, I can recommend the following, a little to everyone's taste.
  • Azopa - Makahia - An excellent Hungarian/French/Austrian improv album with violin, bass and percussion (Zoltan Lantos, Patrice Héral, Achim Tang) - see cover above. Listen to Daksha.
  • Ravish Momin - percussionist who is more avant-garde and has released some excellent CD's. See review of his last album Miren (A Longing).
  • Rajesh Metha - this trumpet player brings also very avant-garde free improvization with lots of extended techniques and strong southern-Indian influences. Alternatingly beautiful and irritating.
  • Natraj - Meet Me Anywhere, Deccan Dance. Indian jazz with Phil Scarff, Mat Maneri, Jerry Leake, and others : beautiful and rhythmically complex music. Listen to Footwear
  • Kamala - Indian Song Book - a Swiss band with sax/clarinet, piano, bass and drums that brings very melodious jazz : listen to Oru Mandiram
  • Jonas Hellborg - Kali's Son - Swedish super bass-player brings fusion-like Indian music, with electric sitar and percussion : absolutely unreal and a totally distinct sub-genre. Listen to Kali's Son
  • Shakti - Saturday Night In Bombay - According to me one of the best (Remember) Shakti albums - this is not fusion in the real sense, but rather jazz-influenced Indian music. Listen to Bell'Alla.
  • Jan Garbarek - Ragas and Sagas - Garbarek brings his icecold Norwegian sound in line with the warmth of Indian music, and through the spatial expansiveness, they find each other beautifully well. Listen to Raga 1.
  • L. Shankar - Vision -This is a different kind of music, very powerful. Shankar plays his 10-string stereophonic double violin, Garbarek sax and Palle Mikkelborg trumpet. Listen to All For You.
  • Mukta - Dancing On One's Hands - French/German/Indian ensemble, a little bit more mellow and accessible, but with nice sound at times. Listen to Shady Side.
And then there are of course the Indian jazz musicians who let their musical traditions seep through their compositions, yet who play predominantly jazz.
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa - Black Water, Codebook - Indian saxophonist who has made some wonderful albums with pianist Vijay Iyer.
  • Vijay Iyer - Blood Sutra, Raw Materials, Reimagining - Indian pianist who has made some wonderful albums with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
  • Rez Abbasi - Snake Charmer - Abbasi is very skilled guitar-player, who has his own custom-made guitar-sitar. Snake Charmer is an OK album, but his other music suffers from too much ingredients. A little soberness would increase his musical power.
  • Trilok Gurtu - master percussionist, who makes more fusion. Has trouble finding his own style.
In sum, some great cross-polination is taking place between East & West. It does not sound always successful or tasteful, but the search for new forms of expression can by itself already be worthwhile, leading to some great results. I hope that the above can give some form of direction.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Joe Morris - Rebus (Clean Feed, 2007) **½

This new album by Joe Morris, Ken Vandermark and Luther Gray looked promising with those names on the cover, but after several listens, I must admit that I do not quite understand this music. There is some fierce playing going on here, very atonal and uncompromising, but I'm unsure of what they're trying to achieve or what it's all leading to. Joe Morris is of course a special kind of guitar player, with a style all his own, often limiting himself to playing fast notes without coherence, without structure, stuttering, sputtering without end. On one of his better albums "Beautiful Existence" he plays very much in the same vein, but not only like that, and that CD also includes some great compositions such as "King Cobra". Ken Vandermark is of course skilled enough to play along, to dive into Morris's music with his tenor skills, and Luter Gray is powerful too on drums. But strong musicians may be a necessary condition for great music, but not a sufficient one, as is again demonstrated here.

Downloadable on

Adam Pieronczyk Trio - Live In Berlin (Meta Records, 2007) ****

I've sung the praise of Polish saxophonist Adam Pierconczyk before, and I'll do it again now for his new release "Live In Berlin", with Ed Schuller on bass and Krzystof Dziedzic on drums. The performance itself dates back to 2005, played for an obviously small yet attentive audience. Three of the four pieces come from his recent album "Busem Po Sao Paulo", the last piece from "Few Minutes In The Space". Pieronczyk's playing is very melodic and creative, accessible with a deep emotional tone, and his compositions are beautiful, simply beautiful. The limited audience creates and intimate atmosphere, which is further reinforced by the minimal line-up and the nature of the music : it's as if you're there, or they here. Ed Schuller's lyrical approach fits perfectly with Pieronczyk's playing and Dziedzic's drumming is a real treat as well : subtle, sophisticated and rock solid. Together they bring long and exciting musical explorations, with great interplay and real soul. While listening to this CD, more than once the thought occurred to me : "this is what jazz is all about". So : recommended.

Listen to Sound Samples

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Miles Davis Tribute Albums

Allright, let's get rid of these bland so-called "tribute" albums that serve only one purpose : to sell CDs just because the name of a famous artist figures in the title. A cheap trick, unfortunately also all too common in the jazz world. But there are exceptions.

Fusion For Miles - A Bitchin' Brew (Tone Center, 2005) *

This is another monstrosity in the Jeff Richman series, on which each title is brought by another guitar heroe, namely Eric Johnson, Jimmy Herring, Mike Stern, Pat Martino, Warren Haynes, Bill Connors, Bill Frisell, Bireli Lagrene, Steve Kimmock, accompanied by musicians no less than Larry Goldings (organ), Alphonso Johnson (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums). And do you really think these great names manage to "brew" something? Nothing! Saltless fastfood. They have understood nothing of Miles. It is less painful though than the Coltrane "tribute" because the music is in essence a little bit closer, but still ... how is it possible?

Dave Liebman - Back On The Corner (Tone Center, 2007) *

And there is this one, issued earlier this year, a tribute by Dave Liebman, who played sax in Miles' band of the early seventies after Shorter left. Here he is accompanied by Mike Stern (also at one time with Miles) and Vic Juris on guitar, Anthony Jackson and Tony Marino on bass, Marko Marcinko on drums. These are all excellent musicians, but again : this music is really hard to listen to. They bring the tunes, recognizable enough, packaged in outright fusion wrapping, funky, with screaming guitars and pumping bass, but everything is so shallow, so stripped of even the simplest emotion, without any depth, without any musical vision. Technically skilfull, but if that's the objective, then join the circus, but don't give us this. Miles deserves better.

Tribute Allstars - Update Miles Live (Sara Records, 2007) ***

Luckily, there are some Scandinavians to bring some consolation in this miasma of cheapness.
Jannis Eliasson plays the guitar, Magnus Broo trumpet, Fredrik Ljunkvist sax, Tovert Elovsson keyboards, Tommy Thordsson bass, Margan Agren drums, Rafael Sida and Per Tjernberg percussion. They bring Miles' Bitch's Brew period back to "live" somewhere in the far north of our planet. And in contrast to the other tributes, this one is built on the joy of playing Miles, with interesting interpretations and musical vision. Not that it comes even close to the original, but their covers of "Selim", "Funky Tonk", "Bitches Brew", "Theme From Jack Johnson" are actually quite good. Their cover of "It's About That Time" is excellent. The musicians are good too, and despite the fact that Eliasson has the lead over this band, he plays very much in a supporting role, but quite well. Magnus Broo on trumpet is not Miles of course, but his technique and reading of Miles is good, as well as his own coloring of it. Ljunkvist too goes very deep on his sax. This music is real, not plastic. Just great fun!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Archie Shepp & Dar Gnawa (ArchieBall, 2007) ****

Already in the late 60s Archie Shepp was playing music with North African traditional musicians, then in Algiers, now in Morocco. The liner notes to the 1969 album read "Sounds of creative freedom revealing possibilities and departures beyond the accepted music-forms and expressions. It is not surprising that the seriousness of the NEW music coincided with an awakening/awareness of East-West Pan Africanism and the efforts to reveal an alter culture and spiritualism, since Sound has always been the main expression of this culture, and the Innovators/Musicians of the NEW music; by their insight into our times, their dedication to fresh/er ideas had to project this music into our minds ... synthetic as they have become in present-day reality ... to display another direction into our Art Forms". Are you still there? That was apparently the kind of thing you had to write then, but the essence of it is still true for this album. Anyway, Shepp has always been open to other musical experiences, then as much as now, and although he has lost a little bit of his sense of adventure with the decades, he has definitely not lost his sense of music, neither his skills on the sax or the joy of playing with people from other musical traditions. And in that category this album is definitely a winner. The Moroccan Gnawa are the descendants of the Arab slaves brought to the north from sub-saharan Africa, and their music builds on that tradition, mixing central African rhythms with Arab influences. The musical integration that Shepp's quartet brings is very intense, hypnotic, the rhythm section and the piano propulsing the whole thing forward, and they could go on for hours, with Shepp soloing on top of it all, alternating with the traditional vocals. And Shepp is absolutely great, keeping the attention going, wailing, screaming, singing, moaning with his tenor, like in his best days. Don't expect any complex harmonic evolutions, because that's beside the point. This is all about rhythm and creating a common musical understanding and experience. Dar Gnawa are led by Maalem Abdellah Gourd, who takes the lead vocals, Abou El Gourd, Abdelkader El Khlyfy, Khalid Rahhili and Nourredine Touati, all play percussion, traditional string instruments and background vocals. The western musicians are Wayne Dockery on bass, Steve McCraven on drums and Tom McClung on piano. Shepp's music has changed a lot over the decades and at moments he moved to more mainstream playing, seeming to loose a little sense of direction, trying various other routes but none too succesfully. So it's great to hear him here in absolute top form, full of enthusiasm and intensity, clearly enjoying the interplay with the Moroccan musicians. A great album.

Listen to a sound sample
Dawn Of Freedom

Dennis Gonzalez

Watch two new videos by Dennis Gonzalez' Yells At Eels, with Aaron Gonzalez on bass and Stefan Gonzalez on drums (it takes a few seconds for the audio to catch up with the images, so be patient!).

1. Dancing On Flypaper

2. Midsummer Rain

Guitar Tributes To John Coltrane

Once in a while the fusion interest from my younger days is awakened by such publications as these : guitar tributes to John Coltrane. Let's have a look at them.

A Guitar Supreme - Giant Steps In Fusion Guitar (Guitar Nine Records, 2004) *

This awful piece of music is part of guitarist Jeff Richman's tribute series, for which he aligns fusion guitar heroes of the highest caliber, like Mike Stern, Larry Coryell, Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, Greg Howe, Frank Gambale, Robben Ford and Richman himself. They each receive a Coltrane tune, which they then masterfully destroy, demonstrating their own lack of musical insight, talent and taste. It is obvious that these players probably had never heard of Coltrane before, or at least they do not have the least bit of understanding of his music. This is guitar fusion as you might expect it, with full focus on the guitar technique, as fast as possible with a "mama-look-what-I-can" attitude, but the musical equivalent of plastic, as eloquent as chewing gum, as expressive as a rag. Richman made similar albums "in honor" of Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, which only shows that he needs big names to sell, just for lack of inspiration. So, avoid at all cost.

Jukka Tolonen - Cool Train (Prophone Records, 2006) **

Then Tolonen's take on Coltrane deserves some more credit. At least his approach is sincere. Jukka Tolonen is a great guitar player, with wide-ranging skills from Django over Joe Pass to Hendrix and McLaughlin, skills that he amply demonstrates on his many albums. Despite his technique, he never managed to craft his own style, yet he can play. His approach to Coltrane shows more respect for the sax player's compositions, but again, this is bland fusion, without any of the expressive, expansive, explorative power you would expect from Coltrane's music. Tolonen takes on such Coltrane classics as "Giant Steps", "Naima", "Resolution", "Afro Blue", "Impressions", as if he'd only had the sheet music to base himself on. He carries the tune, the harmony, the rhythm, but turns it into middle-of-the-road fusion. So, avoid at all cost too.

Nels Cline & Gregg Bendian - Interstellar Space Revisited (Atavistic 1999) ***

This album is something else entirely. Nels Cline on guitar and Gregg Bendian on drums take on one of John Coltrane's more controversial albums "Interstellar Space", then also a duet between Coltrane and Rashied Ali on drums, an absolute fest of out-of-this-world unbound creative power. The strength of Cline's and Bendian's approach is that they do not copy tunes, rather, they delve into the very essence of the music and make it into a new version, and although Cline writes in the liner notes that their approach is one of humility, their effort is ambitious and a worthwhile one. This is music is hard, raw and genuine by comparison with the slick and bland tributes reviewed above. And although it will not be to everyone's taste, at least it has the merit of being authentic.

Listen to Jupiter

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fred Anderson & Harrison Bankhead - The Great Vision Concert (Ayler Records, 2007) ****

There are some jazz labels that deserves kudos (and a statue for the people behind the labels), and one of those is Ayler Records from Sweden, another one is Clean Feed from Portugal. I'll get more into their catalogues and merits at some other time. Suffice it to say now that those labels release excellent albums with a good balance of "well-known" free jazz artists and some by young, upcoming artists.

And Ayler records did it again : the release of the great album by Fred Anderson & Harrison Bankhead, and it is great from beginning to end. Four tracks of 15 to 20 minutes, each with long improvizations on given themes, and it is inspiring music, fun to hear, a joy for the attentive listener. Technical and musical skills abound, but the players' main focus is on the common project : the musical end result. And although there's nothing new in Anderson's approach, his warm tone, his long and elegant phrasing, his lyricism and rhythmic attack, are among the best he's played and in line with the superb quality he brought on all his released performances of the past few years. And Bankhead is really great to hear on bass, both arco and pizzi, not in a supporting role but as a co-leader as it should be in the duet format. The fact that it was recorded live also adds to the fun, with the audience participating attentively and enthusiastically. This CD will not change the course of music history, but it will definitely give you some moments to savor.

Click here for a short clip from YouTube

Stockhausen/Comisso/Thomé - Es War Einmal ... Istanti Infiniti (Aktivarum, 2007) ****

For the first time Markus Stockhausen released an album which pleases me. On the two other ones I know, Aparis and Karta, he seemed still to be looking for his own sound and style, hesitating between ECM-like sounds and fusion, but without bringing something memorable. With "Es war einmal ..." he goes for melodic chamber music, accompanied by Angelo Comisso on the piano and Christian Thomé on drums. With these excellent musicians he brings pieces that thrive on his compositional power, rather than on the creation of atmospheric layers. This style fluctuates between meditative, melancholic, lightly dancing and jubilating sounds. The musicians' broad musical background is of course a great asset in bringing this to a good result. Stockhausen's trompet sound is crystal clear, and is especially impressive in the highest tones, sounding at times like it came out of a classical concerto. It is only by exception that he plays muted or electronically transformed sounds, especially on one piece "Kraftfelder" where he moves from a more classical form to more jazzy, fusion and back, as implied by the title, which means "power fields", and that's also the only piece on which the synthesizer is used. So all in all, a mature album with strong compositions by three musicians bringing an esthetic and refreshing view on modern jazz.