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Friday, November 30, 2007

Anthony Braxton Trio - (Glasgow) 2005 (Leo Records, 2007) ***½

The trio consists of Anthony Braxton on alto saxophone and electronics, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn and trombone, and Tom Crean on guitar. This double-CD set consists of two tracks, one on each disc, called "Composition 323a" and "Composition 323b". The first clocks at over 110 minutes, the second over 90. To me, Braxton has always kept the very subtle balance between a cerebral approach and human feelings. The latter seep through at times, but the main focus is on the form of the music, the exploration of the interaction of sounds and the search for new approaches to music-making, rather than on the expression of emotions. In that sense, he is often closer to free improv than to free jazz, more European than American. But whatever he does, he is always genuine in his approach and each record he releases offers a worthwhile listening experience. The music here consists of sound musings between three instruments, alto, trumpet and guitar, the latter always muted, more percussive than melodic, more rhythmic than harmonic. The trumpet too is muted, and the sax doesn't shout either. They converse, they dialogue, they challenge each other, in short bursts of notes, at times not leaving each other any space to manoeuvre in, at times leaving all options open. No melodies emerge, no patterns are given for reference ... And it is an interesting listening experience, with lots of subtleties and shifts of intensity, but you need to take your time. And who can concentrate on such long pieces, who can listen without interruption to two pieces lasting longer than one hour? There is only one solution : put it on in your car, leave your cell phone where it was, and drive for a couple of hours (but don't close your eyes).

Listen to Composition 323a

Album can be downloaded via

Mainstream trumpets ....

Mainstream jazz is not really my thing, so it's a little bit unfair to review mainstream albums, but if it's great music, why not mention it? (and I don't like reviewing music I don't like, yet now I do it for a change).

Marcus Printup - Bird Of Paradise (SteepleChase, 2007)

The best one in the series is Marcus Printup's Bird Of Paradise, subtitled "The Music Of Charlie Parker". This is JAZZ! Parker's music is of course excellent, but Printup's 21st Century rendition of it even more. He gets across the bluesy elements, the nervous tension and energy, the joy of pure improvization and interplay with like-minded musicians. And the band is great too : Riza Hequibal on harp, Kengo Nakamura on bass, Ted Nash on sax and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums. Straightforward, emotional, joyfull. I LOVE IT!

Paul Brody - For The Moment (Tzadik, 2007)

Paul Brody is an American classically trained trumpeter, now living in Germany. He is probably best known for his klezmer-influenced fusion on Tzadik, as is this album "For The Moment". The music is a little too much of everything, and adds not much to his previous albums on the same label. Actually, I think his best albums are Minsker Kapelye and South Klezmer Suite, the latter available on

Peter Kenagy - Space Western (CD Baby, 2007)

As much as I enjoyed Peter Kenagy's "Little Machines", released in 2005, as much disappointed I am with his new album. His trumpet playing is excellent though, and he tries to create his own musical language here, with sparse melodies, and lots of openness, yet somehow it just doesn't get off the ground, remaining very down-tempo, with insufficient variation to make it captivating. It is too nice, too sweet, too slow.

Terence Blanchard - A Tale Of God's Will (Blue Note, 2007)

It's also a little unfair to judge this album without having seen the movie, Spike Lee's "When The Levees Broke", for which Terence Blanchard wrote and performed the music, with a band consisting of Brice Winston on sax, Aaron Parks on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Zach Harmon on tabla, and with an 40-piece string orchestra. The album starts nicely enough, with "The Ghost Of Congo Square", raising lots of expectations for the rest to come, but then the whole thing collapses into some syrupy, mellow, sentimental and superficial piece of music, which has troubles standing on its own. Blanchard is a great trumpeter, and some of his former collaboration with Spike Lee worked well, as in "Mo' Better Blues", but this is not my kind of music, at all.

Alex Sipiagin - Prints (Criss Cross, 2007)

Technically, Alex Sipiagin is a great trumpeter, having played in the Mingus Big Band, in Dave Holland's big band, with Michael Brecker and others. He's unfortunately a better musician than an artist. Despite the great band, with Chris Potter on tenor saxophone, Scott Colley on bass , Antonio Sanchez on drums, David Kikoski on piano and Monday Michiru on flute, the music brings nothing new, nothing creative, nothing exciting. Too bad.

Helena Espvall - Nimis & Arx (Pax Recordings, 2006) ***

My son forced me to listen to some rock music he liked, saying it was close to the free jazz I listen to. Truth be told, it was less close than he expected, but while jointly browsing the internet, we came across Helena Espvall, a Swedish guitarist and cello-player, who moved to Philadelphia in the year 2000. She currently plays with the psych-rock band Espers. But she also released a solo album "Nimis & Arx", which incorporates cello, guitar and electronics. It's not jazz, it's not really free improv either, but the musical tonality and freedom are pretty close. In terms of technical and instrumental skills, she is not in the same league as other female cello players as for instance Maya Beiser, Jane Scarpantoni or Peggy Lee, yet her music is quite interesting, mixing ambient with prog rock and free improv. Some of the pieces she plays here, with lots of overdubs, are really strong. Technical skills are the basis, musical vision is the essence. And she clearly excells in the latter. With a little more experience, she may become an artist of real importance. Clearly someone to follow (and to encourage).

Listen to sound samples
Kretslopp Av Blod Och Stjärnor
Nimis & Arx
Mar Amarga
Purgatory Chasm

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Satoko Fujii & Carla Kihlstedt - Minamo (Henceforth Records, 2007) ****

This is the sixth album with Satoko Fujii on my review list this year, and the second by Carla Kihlstedt. Both are classically trained musicians, who moved to jazz and avant-garde while completing their studies. Kihlstedt furthermore has co-founded several bands, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (rock), Tin Hat Trio (folk-jazz), Charming Hostess (world), Two Foot Yard (avant-folk). This album captures two live performances of free improvization in San Francisco in 2002 and Wels, Austria, in 2005. And what can you expect from two such musicians? Indeed, they manage to create four pieces of magnificent and captivating interplay. It is amazing how Fujii manages to play patterns while still keeping the music sufficiently open to keep all new options possible. The first track starts with some pizzicato violin, with Fujii plucking her strings and playing the keys, first tentatively, then both start finding a rhyhtm and pattern, which is only there to be further expanded upon : break it down again, build in silence, join the parts and let the violin improvize over it, creating a new melody, sustained by dark and menacing piano. The second track is much longer, much more open and their true virtuosity comes to the fore in the creation of shifting passages of varied intensity and pitch, with slow emotional weeping moments by the violin, brilliantly echoed by the piano. The music is abstract, in the sense that nothing has been prepared, yet the whole is focused, creating its own logic, order and structure as it moves on, changing from jazzy moments to avant-garde excursions with lots of extended techniques, but ending a more romantic mood. This is music of suprise, emotional interaction and abstract gentleness. The third, shortest track, brings a speedy dissonant but perfectly aligned interaction between the two artists, challenging each other to the extreme. The last track shows the calm maturity of both musicians, in the sense that they allow silence to be one of the main components to start with, playing almost uninvasively, elegantly letting the notes of the two instruments touch each other in mid-air, hesitantly, backing off and repeating the move again, and again, but each time from another angle, with different approaches. Gradually, the empty space is filled completely with a more intense and ongoing interplay with many repetitive chords, but changing attacks, now gentle, then powerful, moving the music into a paroxysm halfway, only to shift the music back to lighter, yet eery tonal explorations. This music will not appeal to all jazz fans, because it isn't jazz, but it's great music.

Listen and download/order from CDBaby

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Nu Band - The Dope And The Ghost (Not Two, 2007) ****½

The Nu Band is something special. Free free bop with a political message. On their last album they ended with it, on this one they start with it : a long blues-based romp called "Bushwacked", with Roy Campbell "reciting" a newspaper article on President Bush's administration and doubtful policies, and even if this kind of message tends to be tedious in musical settings, this one works well, because the four musicians change this blues into a high energy free jazz piece. The four are Roy Campbell on trumpet, Mark Whitecage on alto sax and clarinet, Joe Fonda on bass, Lou Grassi on drums. Marco Eneidi joins on alto on one - twenty minute long - track. And what can I say? These guys ARE free jazz. Each of them has played a major role in shaping what the genre is today, in showing new ways of expressing emotions and of jointly creating a superb listening experience by ... well by listening to the other band members in the first place and then adding to it, enhancing it, pushing it further, creating new dialogues and phrases. This is music that is adventurous, emotional, but at times so tight, so interlocked, so on the same level, that it's getting uncanny. But the greatest thing : it's real fun too. The intensity! The interplay! The melodies! The emotions! The music! And indeed, something which can only work in front of a live audience.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trio M - Big Picture (Cryptogramophone, 2007) ****

Take a blues-based foundation, add some modern classical lines, a little impressionism here and there, some hard bop and swing and even funky rhythms, jazz harmonies, combined with superb instrumental skills and creative improvizational musicianship which push the boundaries of all the combined genres mentioned above, and you start having an idea what this album is all about, with Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. From the very first notes of the first track "Brainfire & Buglight", you will immediately notice that all three musicians play an equal role in creating this varied, intense and captivating music. Just listen to the samples below and judge for yourself.

Listen to
Brainfire & Buglight
Naive Art
Modern Pine

Terje Isungset - Two Moons (All Ice, 2007) ****

The "Isglem" recent review made me look for more information on Terje Isungset. He seems to have carved out his special niche in world music history by being specialised in playing instruments made of ice, not only percussive instruments, but also trumpets! Because it is to special, I can only recommend you have a look at this Norwegian's blog to grasp the full extent of his instruments and performances. But back to his music now. It is interesting to say the least. It is not really jazz, but rather a bizarre kind of accessible avant-garde, with folk, electronic and jazz elements. "Iceman Is", was the first of the ice instruments series, with Isungset on percussion, Iro Haarla on ice harp, Arve Henriksen on ice trumpet. Other instruments have been added later, with Lena Willemark on vocals, Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet, and Icelanders Hilmar Jensson and Skuli Sverrison on electronics. This album from 2001, recorded in the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden, has now been re-issued.

The second album in the series, "Igloo", has a more folk approach, with Sidsel Endresen's beautiful singing over Isungset's bizarre percussion, and is also recommended listening.

The third album was released earlier this year, with Isungset on ice-percussion, ice-horn and voice, and with Per Jørgensen on ice trumpet and vocals. Especially the vocal part gets a more prominent role, sounding like shamanic incantations. The overall sound is one of desolation, loneliness, and it's not hard to visualize white landscapes or month-long darkness. But again, a thrilling listening experience.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tin/Bag - And Begin Again (Evander Music, 2007) ****

I have to say that I must change my mind about the Tin/Bag duo, consisting of Kris Tiner on trumpet and Mike Baggetta on guitar. I found their first two albums too experimental to my taste, because of the searches for extreme new sounds and sound combinations, using lots of extended techniques, but as I said, I have to change my mind, because this record is absolutely excellent. They are on this one also searching for sounds, but they seem to have found the music back in the process, and that's more than welcome, because by doing so both musicians demonstrate their creativity and skills on their instruments, but more importantly, their ability to express emotions (I know I keep repeating this, but music without emotions is nothing more than a sequence of meaningless sounds). For some of the tracks they are accompanied by Brian Walsh on clarinet and Harris Eisenstadt on percussion. The focus on this album is on the music, which is open-minded, intimate, sparse even, allowing for lots of space, also each other's. A big part of the music is improvized, but it does not always sound like that. Most tracks are down-tempo, creating a meditative, ethereal atmosphere, but there are some uptempo tracks such as "Bienvenue" which create a welcome variation. A really great album.

Listen to
And Begin Again
The In Between

Tiner-Phillips-Schoenbeck Trio - Breathe In, Feed Out (pfMentum, 2004) ****

And while looking for information on Kris Tiner, I came across this record (I already knew him from the Empty Cage albums and his duo collaborations, but this one did not appear on my radar screen in 2004, and what a shame!). And what a beautiful album! It's rare to hear a bassoon in jazz (here Sara Schoenbeck), and the combination with trumpet (Kris Tiner) and guitar (Noah Phillips) is highly unusual, yet it works wonderfully well on this intimate, contemplative, fragile, open-ended, adventurous and sensitive music. It's not a new release, but it would be a shame if you missed it, which almost happened to me.

Listen to : The Mistook Time For A Line

You can listen to and download from

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dave Douglas galore ....

Dave Douglas's reference to my humble blog in his own blog diary some days ago, is an open invitation to write some reviews about his recent records. And truth be told, Douglas has had a major influence on my renewed interest in jazz many years ago, when Masada and the Tiny Bell Trio caught my interest. In case information is needed about him : he is a technically brilliant musician, and a musical adventurer anchored in tradition. He has explored many aspects of jazz, from klezmer, balkan, chamber jazz, free and avant-garde to more modern projects with electronics, fusion and even funk inclinations, or recently the jazzy cinematic pieces for old silent movies.

Dave Douglas - Live At The Jazz Standard December 5 to December 10 (Greenleaf download, 2007) ????

For starters, after Ken Vandermark published his 12 CD live set "Live At Alchemia", Dave Douglas does the same with Live At The Jazz Standard. This downloadable set consists of concerts given at The Jazz Standard between December 5 and December 10, 2006. My experience from Vandermark's Alchemia is that such abundance is hard to digest, and after a while it becomes absolutely impossible to compare the performances because it all gets confused in a head such as mine (limited space, limited memory, no ordening system). So, all that just to tell you that I did not download them and that I did not listen to all these performances. Luckily, there is now also a 2 disc version, which is also available as a separate album, as well as downloadable on Douglas's website.

You can download here.

Dave Douglas - Live At The Jazz Standard (Greenleaf, 2007) ****

Then the music : it is absolutely excellent : Douglas limits himself to cornet, with Donny McCaslin on tenor, Uri Caine on Fender Rhodes piano, James Genus on double bass, and Clarence Penn on drums. The album contains the best (I hope) from the longer version, and the music is either new, or from the recent studio records "The Infinite", "Strange Liberation" and "Meaning & Mystery". The band plays in Douglas's typical restrained way, never indulging in raw emotional outbursts, yet never becoming too cerebral either, with compositions and improvizations taking a central place. It's all about music and musicianship and without a doubt one of the best live albums of the year.

You can download the album version here.

Dave Douglas - Moonshine (Greenleaf, 2007) ****

On "Moonshine", the music is radically different, partly due to the presence of DJ Olive on turntable and laptop, but also because the concept is different. If the above live dates are fresh and direct, this one is more processed, with fluffy creamy layers in between the jazzy compositions, with and acid icing on the cake. The album is inspired by the Buston Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle comedy with the same name, but the music does not have the functional objective of supporting the images, as the live piano did in those days. Rather, the music tries to capture the overall mood of both characters and plot. With Dave Douglas on trumpet, Marcus Strickland on saxophone, Adam Benjamin on fender rhodes, Brad Jones on ampeg baby bass, Gene Lake on drums, and as mentioned, DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. It's hard to give a preference, but I think I would go for "Moonshine", if only for the more adventurous approach and musical surprises. And with "Tough", it brings the funkiest piece since "Mad Dog" on "Sanctuary". Great!

Both albums are absolutely great for any lover of modern jazz.

You can donwload Moonshine here.

Watch "Moonshine" below.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Michael Blake - Amor de Cosmos (Songlines, 2007) ***½

I think Michael Blake is one of modern jazz finest composers, because he combines a lightness of approach with complex compositions and arrangements. His music is there just for the sake of the music, without any intellectual or snobbish pretence, a little bit in the same league as Wayne Horvitz, only different. Both are also comparable in the sense that they can as easily refer back to tradition (blues, americana, ...) as test the boundaries of avant-garde and even further. Next to making great compositions, Blake is also an excellent, warm-toned saxophonist, who learned his trade with the Lounge Lizards in the 80s, and who has made an interesting series of albums, of which his "Kingdom Of Champa" with fellow "lizards" is the one I listened to the most over the years, but "Elevated", "Drift" and "Blake Tartare" are also of interest. This album is inspired by the life of 19th century British Columbia newspaperman and politician William Alexander Smith, who renamed himself Amor de Cosmos. For the album, his line-up consists of fellow Canadians : Brad Turner on trumpet, Sal Ferreras on marimba and percussion, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Andre Lachance on bass and Dylan van der Schyff on drums. This is modern creative jazz at its best : warm, eclectic, rich, accessible, creative, full of musical surprises and variation. The best piece of the album is the longest track "So Long Seymour", because it shifts in nature every few minutes, with elements of bop, free, avant-garde, traditional, offering the musicians the opportunity to expand within the given compositional framework. Nice!

You can download from

Listen to :
Temporary Constellation

Isglem - Fire (NORCD, 2003) ****½

I borrowed this CD two weeks ago, and it was an instant revelation. I had heard things from Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset, but this album really is something else. Karl Seglem plays sax, ram's horn, voice and electronics. The two musicians create a kind of music you've never heard before : tribal, intense, furious, melodic, mad, frantic, explosive, rhythmic, intimate, expansive, hypnotic, joyful, sad, ... and all that in a very compact format. The whole CD consists of 12 tracks of which only two last longer than 5 minutes. The major feat of this music is that it is absolutely impossible to classify, yet extremely coherent and unique in it's own approach. All pieces are totally different, but they all speak the same (new) musical language. It is so utterly creative and at the same time so accessible and avant-garde and out-of-this-world that it's hard to compare to anything I know.

All I can say is : get your copy of it!

Listen and download from Musiconline.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Herb Robertson NY Allstars - Real Aberration (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

I am not a fan of Herb Robertson. Despite the many good reviews some of his previews albums received, I never really got "into" it, finding his music to tight, too cold, too experimental, too abstract, not all of this qualifiers necessarily at the same time, but I almost always found something lacking, regardless of the excellent musicianship, and the great musicians who accompany him. Not so, however, with this album. This is the second release with the NY Allstars, consisting of Herb Robertson on trumpet, Mark Dresser on bass, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Tim Berne on sax, and Tom Rainey on drums. The first one "Elaboration" offered one long piece which had its good moments. But on this one "Real Aberration" (a pun on Re-Elaboration), they push the concept further but in a more gentle, calmer, more restrained way. The music is intense throughout, as on the previous albums, but the music is less dense, less crowded, more spacious, allowing for more room for the individual musicians to explore and hence to add color, shades, emotional and improvizational changes, and for the music to expand, to become more free and lighter. It is indeed rare to have all musicians play at the same time, even though the two disc set just consists of two lenghty suites, more often than not there are one, two or three musicians playing, one dropping off, another joining in, and in doing so creating interesting shifts and an effect of waves of music succeeding each other. The idea to have a two disc set was indeed a good one, because it allows for some brilliant moments, as for instance on Mark Dresser's bass solo on the opening track, on which he poignantly demonstrates the variety of moods and sounds his instrument can produce, lightly supported by Rainey, pushing his arco into an endless tone, the perfect door through which the piano and the horns can make their entry for the next piece, where Rainey is leading the dance, on the third piece, the trumpet, sax and piano engage into some excited trialogue, and it is only on "Part 4" that the whole band seriously starts its group improv. The two suites are not totally free improvizations, some structural elements and themes have clearly been prepared in advance, and those anchor the overall freedom in limited but welcome moments of reference. It seems to me that Robertson's concept of opening up the structure of his music, unleashes its emotional power better and allows for the music to really shine, and suprise ... The title "Real Liberation" would have been closer to the truth.

(PS - the hideous dog on the cover should not deter you : it's by far the ugliest part of the whole album).

(PS 2 - another great album from Clean Feed : they become a true reference for quality modern music)

Solo Trumpet CDs

Solo trumpet CDs are pretty rare. And the music on them especially, often very experimental, looking and searching for the extreme extended sounds you can get out of the instrument or looking for microtonal or electronically distorted possibilities. If you are an adventurer, you will like to listen to some of the records below. Markus Stockhausen and Hugh Ragin are the most accessible. Some of them are plain weird, and will only be of interest to trumpeters who are looking for interesting new angles.

Bill Dixon - Collection (Music for Solo Trumpet)
Hugh Ragin - Sound Pictures For Solo Trumpet
Natsuki Tamura - A Song for Jyaki (Leo Records, 1998), Ko Ko Ko Ke (Natsat 3012)
Peter Evans - More is More (PSI Records, 2006)
Kelly Pratt - Solo Works for Trumpet & Flugelhorn (Sachimay Interventions, 2006)
Axel Dörner - Trumpet
Markus Stockhausen - Solo 1
Thomas Heberer - The Heroic Millipede
Nate Wooley - Wrong Shape to be a Story Teller
Rob Mazurek - Silver Spines
Mazen Kerbaj - BRT VRT ZRT KRT
Franz Hautzinger - Gomberg
Greg Kelley - Trumpet
Wadada Leo Smith - Creative Music 1; Red Sulphur Sky; Ahkreanvention (re-issued on Tzadik)
Lester Bowie - The One And Only (re-issued as disc 2 on "All The Magic")
Arve Henriksen - Sakuteiki
Baikida Carroll - The Spoken Word
Nassim Maalouf - Improvisations Orientales
Birgit Ulher - Scatter

Anyone with suggestions for other albums, please let me know.

Many thanks,


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fat Kid Wednesdays - The Art Of Cherry (Hope Street, 2007) ***

Don Cherry is one of those musicians who never reached the status of the jazz giants, because his trumpet technique was too limited for that, but his musical vision was so broad, adventurous and unique, that he inspired many musicians, leading to a little more than a handfull of tribute albums. He was furthermore a very nice and joyful person, and especially this joy of life shines through many of his compositions. This album is by Michael Lewis on sax, Adam Linz on bass and TJ Bates on drums, with Greg Lewis joining on trumpet on some tracks and with vocals by Debbie Duncan, Carei Thomas and James Piers on some other tracks. Next to Cherry classics such as "Guinea", "Art Deco", "The Thing" and "Bamako Love", the band adds some of their own compositions. The music is fun, as could be expected, respectful and nice, though not very adventurous, and at moments a little bit bland, especially on the vocal tracks. They play the music of Don Cherry, they don't expand on it, or add to it. Interesting for collectors of Don Cherry tributes. The most important thing is that Cherry's musical vision has been instrumental in many of today's world jazz, and he has also opened new avenues for accessible yet very open free jazz.

Here are some more tributes to Don Cherry (ranked according to my appreciation) :

- Ya-Sou - Tribute To Don Cherry (with Tomasz Stanko)
- Berger/Knutsson/Spering - See You In A Minute (with Eagle Eye & Neneh Cherry)
- The Thing - Crazy Wisdom
- Tiziano Tononi - Awake Nu - A Tribute To Don Cherry (with Herb Robertson)
- New York Jazz Collective - I Don't Know This World Without Don Cherry (with Baikida Carroll, Marty Ehrlich, Michael Formanek, ... too mainstream to my taste)
- Lennart Aberg & Peter Erskine - Free Spirit - A Tribute To Don Cherry (with Palle Mikkelborg + big band)

Suggestions are welcome for other tribute albums to Don Cherry.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Carla Bley - The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (Watt, 2007) ***

In a mellow mood. Why not? Carla Bley has always been one of my favorite composers, and next to the unparalleled Escalator Over The Hill, I've always liked her "Songs With Legs" trio best, with Steve Swallow on bass and Andy Sheppard on sax, an album of pure musical joy. You add Bill Drummond on drums and you have the Lost Chord quartet. And this quartet has now "found" Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, for this beautifully crafted record. Gone are the madness and the unorthodox tunes, what remains is introspective, melancholy downtempo, bluesy evening jazz, all perfectly executed, heartwarming, smooth to the ear and soothing to the soul. But then what? Is this what it all comes down to in the end? Gone are the creativity, the suprise, the compositional inventiveness, the freshness, ... But it is great jazz by great musicians, for the late hours in smoky lonely bars, when the last customers have left, and you sit there smoking your cigar with a good glass of scotch in your hands, contemplating life and the remote possibility of a slow last dance ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dennis Gonzalez - Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (Clean Feed, 2007) *****

The reason why I like Dennis Gonzalez's music, is the combination of emotional expressiveness, open musical form, warmth of tone, his sense of free melody, and the absolute priority he gives to the music as the outcome of the whole band's performance, rather than using the band to demonstrate his own skills. Every Gonzalez album is a "band" album. And all the above together is not a minor feat. Add to that, that this band is not just a band, it consists of Ellery Eskelin on sax, Mark Helias on bass and Mike Thompson on drums, three stellar musicians who no longer need introduction. Because of all these excellent ingredients and characteristics, the music is immediately identifiable as his. Starting with "Reaching Through The Skin", Gonzalez kicks it off with solo trumpet, melodic, rhythmic emotional, to be joined by high energy complex drumming by Thompson, a duo format with which the album will also end. Thompson's drumming is one of the most typical features of this album, and at moments it gives the impression that he's leading and driving the music forward, of course in the central track "Soundrhythmium", wich is solo percussion, but also on the title track, and on the long "Afrikanu Suite" his role is decisive in creating the tension, accents and depth to the music, offering a perfect counterpart for Helias' sad or menacing bowing and Gonzalez melancholy lines. "The Afrikanu Suite" brings some counterweight to the trumpet/drums of the other tracks, by starting with a great sax and bass duet, with Helias and Eskelin opening their bag of technical skills to create one soundsculpture after the other, varying incessantly, while remaining coherent in their approach, leading towards a fragile sensitivity, preparing the ground for Gonzalez' sad trumpet, which evolves into a more free bop mode, dropping the rhythm somewhere in the middle for some tentative collective free improv, and when the rhythm comes back with a Latin twist, the audience applauds enthusiastically. I wish I had been at Tonic that night to watch this live performance. Needless to say that Gonzalez is one of my favorite artists of the moment. I like his musical vision, and the rare joint strengths of accessibility and creativity. This is without a doubt his best album since his "Nile River Suite".

You can order from Dennis Gonzalez directly or download via

Monday, November 12, 2007

Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble - Fujin Raijin (Victo, 2007) ****

Min-Yoh is Japanese traditional folk music. The form, structure and scales are simple. That is ... until they get in the hands of Satoko Fujii. The Japanese pianist is a musical adventurer in the truest sense of the word : she explores new musical territory with each album, changing line-ups, musical vision, approaches, yet everything she does has this incredible intensity and authenticity. She really wants to hear what's behind the bend, and which new aural landscapes emerge when you push things a step further. And sometimes it's successful, and I find this to be the case mostly in her small ensemble settings, and sometimes it's not, to my taste less so in her big bands, but her music will always be a conduit of raw emotional power and expression. And that's no different on this record. As she states it in the liner notes "When I play, sing and listen to this music, it goes directly to my heart. ... There are many music styles that have used the form, scales and rhythms of Min-Yoh, but they often lose the power, which is the most important part of this music". And power you get here. The first and last tracks are traditional Japanese folk songs, the other four are Fujii compositions based on Min-Yoh heritage. She is accompanied by Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone and avant-gardist Andrea Parkins on accordion.
And these musicians go really deep into the possibilities offered by the material. At moments quiet and subdued, melodic, romantic and impressionistic, they build the simple form to paroxysms of avant-garde intensity, sometimes controlled chaos, but without leaving the core structure and melody, and in that way unleashing indeed the inherent power of the song as unexpected as it was undiscovered. "Shimanto", the longest track of the record illustrates this well, moving from introspective moments, to joyful dancing interplay, avant-garde sound exploration, to darkly brooding piano thundering, ending in unisono sad melody for the horns. The four musicians are excellent and the unconventional combination of instruments and especially their approach to music, and Min-Yoh in particular, makes this another worthwhile album in the lengthy Fujii catalogue.

Paul Motian Trio 2000 + Two - Live At The Village Vanguard, Vol. 1 (Winter & Winter, 2007) ***½

If you like stellar musicianship, post bop leaning on free jazz, then is one is for you. The band consists of Paul Motian on drums, Chris Potter on tenor saxophone and Larry Grenadier on bass, with Greg Osby on alto and Masabumi Kikuchi on piano, acting as the "plus two". The musicians need no introduction : Motian has been the inventor of a drumming style which has become common now, but for which he is still unequalled : accentuating rhythm and music, rather than acting as the metronome of the band, and which he still demonstrates to the full on this CD. The music itself is not really ground-breaking, but the interplay, the technical capabilities and emotional expressiveness are of a constant high level. The audience is very attentive and enthusiastic. (One minor aspect : if you don't like Jarrett's humming along when he plays, you will also not like Kikuchi doing the same on the more quiet parts, despite the excellent quality of his playing).

The George Burt/Raymond MacDonald Quintet - Hotel Dilettante (Textile Records, 2005) ****½

Here is another album that is a few years old, but which I came across last week, and it is absolutely wonderful. Hotel Dilletante is a Scottish band consisting of George Burt, guitar; Raymond MacDonald, alto and soprano saxophone; George Lyle, double bass; Nicola MacDonald, voice, melodica, bass; Allan Pendreigh, drums; Lol Coxhill, soprano saxophone; Sushil K. Dade, bass, theremin and drums. This music combines elements of ambient, prog rock and free jazz, and it is as light as it is accessible and emotional. The music is relatively simple in its form, more rock-like, at times reminiscent of the Penguin Café Orchestra or even Laurie Anderson (especially on the second track "The Worthy Constituent"). There is an intimacy here, something naive and direct which is really compelling, like broad abstract strokes on a canvas, led by Burt's guitar, over which Raymond MacDonald draws his extremely beautiful and restrained tones and melodies. Nicola MacDonald's wordless singing on some tracks is like joyful girlish humming on a sunny spring day. In contrast to much of the violence on endless overblowing on many free jazz records, this one is gentle and a welcome variation. Yet it's creative, full of avant-garde try-outs and musical collages, so great work was done in the studio too. Highly recommended.

Listen to
Speed Boat Taxi
The Worthy Constituent

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dhafer Youssef & Wolfgang Muthspiel - Glow (Material, 2007) ***

Tunesian singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef has always been a musician to my heart, in the sense that he managed to create his own voice in contemporary music, in a creative and intelligent way. So far, Malak was in my eyes his best album, with Nguyen Le on guitar and Markus Stockhausen on trumpet. Here he is joined again by Wolfgang Muthspiel, as on "Electric Sufi". The whole CD is a little more introvert, and yes, Youssef's singing is still amazingly great and absolutely rare in its absolute power and range, but it's becoming a gimmick. His former albums, Digital Prophecy, was already less spectacular, but this one is even a little bland at moments. It's not bad at all, but it's not terrific either. There isn't enough musical expansion, his oud-playing is completely pushed to the background, and although Muthspiel is an excellent guitar player, the whole CD remains within a riskless zone, probably trying to appeal to more tastes. And that's never a good strategy.

Listen to
Mon Parfum

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Anthony Ortega - Afternoon in Paris (HatHut, 2007) ****

Saxophonist Anthony Ortega is accompanied by bass-player Kash Killion on some tracks recorded in the studio, the rest is Ortega just by himself, recorded live in Paris. He is a great sax-player, technically skilled, but especially strong in getting all emotions across in all their various shapes and forms, sensitive and elegant, with a tone quite his own. Some of the pieces are well-known standards : "I'll Remember April" (on flute), "Blue Monk", "Ornithology". I like his take on "Blue Monk" especially, because he tears it apart in his solo version without moving too far from the theme either, but with joy and respect. And that's basically his approach for most of the tracks : lots of pleasure in playing the music, giving his own reading, and all that with great lyricism and emotional power.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Clarinet duos - two CDs to put on your search-list!

I borrowed two CD's this week with similar musical approaches, but a few years old or more, but both with a remarkable similarity in approach : a clarinet + bass or clarinet + drums duo. On both records, the music comes straight from the heart, is channeled through superb musicianship and is delivered with a clear and common musical vision between the two performers. If you come across them, get hold of them!

Jean-Marc Foltz & Bruno Chevillon - Cette Opacité (Clean Feed, 2005) ****½

Jean-Marc Foltz plays clarinet, Bruno Chevillon bass. Together they play this absolute wonderful CD of free improvisation, called "Cette Opacité", played at the Jazzdor Festival of Strasbourg in France in 2003. The two musicians play some fabulously fresh, raw, inventive and fun music. The melodies are great, the rhythms are stunning, the interplay is remarkable. Foltz's playing at times reminds me of Ned Rothenberg, and true, both are experts in the circular breathing technique, but here Chevillon's bass gives it a more haunting and hypnotic quality. Yet there is joy too, and plenty of it, and suprise, and melancholy moments too. Apart from their stunning musicianship, their sense of space and silence is excellent as well. As said, a wonderful album.

Available for download from

Andrea Centazzo & Gianluigi Trovesi - Shock!! (Ictus, 1984 - re-issued 1995) *****

Andrea Centazzo is this Italian drummer and composer who never shied away from taking musical risks and financial risks in getting his music known. He was the founder of the by now defunct Italian Ictus label. On this disk he is accompanied by Gianluigi Trovesi, the Italian master of the bass clarinet, who also plays piccolo clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone on this record. Trovesi is a master of many styles, and he feels as comfortable in the free jazz idiom as in modern jazz, as in his romantic excursions into Italian traditional music. This album is an absolute joy from beginning to end, because both musicians go as broad as they can, spilling the whole bag of styles and melodies and rhythms they have accumulated over the years, but doing that in a most inventive, entertaining and creative manner. This is free music, and many of the sounds, and sound-bursts and emotional discharges will be new to the ear, but yet also accessible. Great!

This disk was originally recorded in January 1984 in Bologna, Italy in Centazzo's studio. Part of the income from the re-issue will go the victims of the Bosnian war.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hafez Modirzadeh - Bemsha Allegria (self-published, 2007) ***½

Hafez Modirzadeh is a San Francisco-based saxophonist of Iranian origin and with a very specific approach to music. He created his own "chromodal" scale, built around traditional Persian music and jazz scales. For those interested, you can have a look at his website, where he explains the whole concept. For those wanting a quick glance, you can click here to get an idea. To make matters even a little more complicated, he adds some flamenco ingredients into the music on this CD, accompanied by Spanish musicians Pancho Branas on drums, cajon, percussion, Juan Masana on electric bass and Jesus Hernandez on piano. Despite all the theoretical complexities and Modirzadeh's desire to knock the listener out with his technical approach, the music sounds simple, sensitive, sensual even. His takes on Monk, Coltrane and Mingus are really well-done, yet his approach really gets its full effect on his own compositions. I like his tone, his sense of melody and the emotional aspects of his playing. His best album so far remains "People's Blues", on which his Persian melodiousness is fully integrated in jazz with great effect.

Listen to and download from CDBaby