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Friday, February 29, 2008

Co Streiff Sextet - Loops, Holes & Angels (Intakt, 2007) ***½

Shifting between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the Co Streiff Sextet finds a great balance of world music rhythms and avant-garde explorations and traditional jazz. The band consists of Co Streiff on alto and soprano sax, Tommy Meier on tenor sax, bassclarinet and balafon, Ben Jeger on piano, farfisa, clavinet and accordeon, Christian Weber on double bass, Fredi Flükiger on drums, percussion and balafon, and Russ Johnson on trumpet and flugelhorn. Co Streiff's compositional talent is excellent, one track after the other brings strong musical themes, with lots of room for improvization and with a great rhythmic basis. The first track is modern jazz, the second moves into real African territory, the beautiful third piece mixes both styles with some electronics. The slow "Batak" brings some intense music, with slow balafon and piano, with great solos by Streiff and Johnson. Her soloing is quite restrained, very melodic and precise. Her long solo on "Chtau" is a real beauty. And Johnson is excellent too (by the way, his "Save Big" album is a real treat, as was his collaboration last year on Nicolas Masson's "Yellow (A Little Orange)", two records worth looking for), forming a perfect match for Streiff's playing. His bluesy solo on "Die Brücke" is so deep and touching that you wish it would never stop. Not everything works though : the accordion is added at the intro and outro of "Chtau" and I'm not quite sure how it fits with the rest. The variation on the album is great but not always very coherent, leaving the musical unity of the whole album somewhat lacking. Yet the overall quality of each piece is so good that it makes this a worthwhile album.

Below you can see a video with the Swiss female jazz band Ratraba with Co Streiff on alto, Hilaria Kramer on trumpet, Beatrice Graf on drums and Karo Hoefler on bass.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Régis Huby - Simple Sound (Le Chant Du Monde, 2007) ****

This is a hard to pigenhole record, blending chamber jazz, avant-garde jazz with modern classical music with at times European folk ingredients. The band consists of Régis Huby on violin, Alain Grange on cello, Bruno Chevillon on bass, Olivier Benoit on electric guitar, Catherine Delaunay on clarinet and Roland Pinsard on bass clarinet. Every piece is completely composed, with lots of contrapuntual and often sophisticated arrangements for the strings, full of rhythm and tempo changes, yet offering freedom for the soloists to improvise. In his compositions, Huby is a master in creating tension and release : repetitive figures, often reminiscent of Steve Reich, played in unisono with lots of dramatic power are reacted upon by the other instruments in the same vein, driving the composition to moments of climax, yet never exploding but changing unexpectedly into slow and sweet melodic interplay and than back into an overdrive forward movement. The contrast between the strings and the rawness of the electric guitar or the bass clarinet is strong, giving the music extra power and depth. The musicians are absolutely stellar, and their genre-blending skills are amazing, moving from one to the other while maintaining a high quality performance in each. The music too shifts from one mood and mode to the other : accessible with claws, sweet with a angry attitude, reverent and iconoclastic, hypnotic and refreshing, serious yet light. A musical adventure. Fans of John Zorn's string ensemble or of Bang On A Can will love this.

Listen and download from eMusic or iTunes (both sources mention that the album was first released in 1999, but that is wrong : it was recorded between September 2005 and March 2006, and released in October 2007, according to the CD cover).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Empty Cage Quartet - Stratostrophic (Clean Feed, 2008) ****½

The Empty Cage Quartet moved back into the studio for a great record, and a much better one than last year's "Hello The Damage", and this for a variety of reasons. First of all, the sound quality is excellent, with all four instruments coming across perfectly and well-balanced. Secondly, the band brings brings more variation thanks to eleven tracks that - though not all of the same level - are all sufficiently coherent in their approach to give the album a strong sense of unity. Jason Mears plays alto sax and clarinet, Kris Tiner trumpet and flugelhorn, Paul Kikuchi drums, percussion and electronics, and Ivan Johnson double bass. This is an original Ornette Coleman line-up and the music is surely indebted to him, but even more to bands as Other Dimensions In Music, or Wadada Leo Smith, daring to take the time to improvize on a thin rope above empty space, but with sufficient instrumental skills and perfectly attuned to each other to keep the high quality of interaction going, without tumbling down into the void. Some tracks are fun, others are soulful and beautiful free explorations with lots of contrapuntal interplay by the horns, as on "Through The Doorways Of Escape Come The Footsteps Of Capture". This title itself tells you something about the band : the music is serious but the musicians don't take themselves too serious. Some tracks are hard bop with a rhythmic head, improv and back to theme, such as "Old Ladies", on which all four musicians show their reverence for their musical tradition. But they go even further : "Steps of The Ordinarily Unordinary" sounds almost like medieval European court music. "The Power Of The Great" is dark and brooding. Variety indeed. The great thing about these young musicians is that they stayed and played together for many years and that really pays off. The way they interact on every track is a pleasure to hear, even at the most intricate moments, as in the first track "Again A Gun Again A Gun Again A Gun" - and the repititiveness of the title is also to be found in the music, with all the rhythmic subtleties you may want. They end the album with the 17-minute long climax "Don't Hesitate To Change Your Mind", which illustrates again the band's strengths : a great sense of focused freedom, a great sense of rhythm and interplay, and so soulful and emotional throughout. This is without a doubt their best album so far, and with the upward curve they're in, we can expect even more fireworks and intensity in the future.

One recommendation though for the band : delete these low quality videos from youtube - they don't do credit to the band's music, quite the contrary even.

Order at Clean Feed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Esa Pietilä - Travel of Fulica Atra (Fiasko Records, 2007) ***½

A Finnish free jazz trio with Esa Pietilä on tenor, Ulf Krokfors on bass and Markku Ounaskari on drums. The three technically skilled musicians hesitate between real exploration and more traditional forms. The music is inspired by nature on the great Finnish lakes, at times evoking the sound of birds or the flowing of water. Some of the tracks are absolutely beautiful, such as the short "Free The Bird", but in some tracks, such as the long "Forget Gravity", the music is the opposite of its title, it never really takes off, and the ballad "Summer" is a kind of conflict of style with the rest of the album. The trio is at its best when their playing is improvized on the spot, intimate and meditative, as on "Radar" or "Pond", which are really intense and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the band. The title track too is wonderful. This is one of those records that you have to re-arrange yourself in your playlist. Take out a few tracks and the totality becomes even better. A pity the band did not do that itself.

Listen, buy or downloand from CDBaby.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Daniel Levin - Blurry (Hatology, 2007) ****½

With "Blurry", the Daniel Levin Quartet brings an album of extreme aesthetic beauty, full of sadness, melancholy, and late evening slowness. The quartet consists of Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Joe Morris on bass. As Art Lande writes in the liner notes of their previous album "Some Trees" : "... if the instruments that establish the rhythmic foundations - especially the drums - are removed, then each remaining instrument is free to vary the timing, spacing, and emphasis within its own phrasing". And that's a good description of the feel of the album - the music floats along in slow tempo, rarely with all four musicians playing together, but just rotating roles to add notes and sounds in support of the soloist of the moment. Chamber jazz, indeed. The album expands on the ideas of the previous record, and goes a step further in reducing structure and composition, giving more space to freedom of interaction and emotional expressiveness. Although the music is built around empty space and silence a lot, this is music with substance, dramatic power and musical adventure too. "Improvisation II", but especially the title track, which ends the album, lead to some raw free improvisation, full of anxiety and angst, adding a stark contrast with the intimacy of the other pieces, revealing the dark side underneath all the beauty. Highly recommended.

Listen to
Law Years
Improvisation II

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Solo Cello Albums

Here are a number of my favorite cello solo albums in the free jazz, free improv, avant-garde genres. The instrument is very much not jazz at all, and there is always this classical presence, combining a cerebral approach with deep emotion. If I ever get banned to the moon, and if I'm allowed to take only ten albums with me, then Bach's Suite For Cello Solo is certainly one of them. This piece of classical music was for me a personal revelation of the absolute power of artistic beauty, leading to an unprecedented musical experience. Ever since, the cello has been one my favorite instruments. It is also a very feminine instrument, with magnificent musicians as Joan Jeanrenaud, Jane Scarpantoni, Maya Beiser and Peggy Lee, to name but a few. I will write a review on my most favorite cello contributions in jazz albums shortly.

These solo cello albums are easy to recommend :

Abdul Wadud - By Myself
Maya Beiser - Worlds To Come
Erik Friedlander - Volac
Rufus Cappadocia - Songs For Cello
Ernst Reijseger - Colla Parte
Joan Jeanrenaud - Metamorphosis
Dave Holland - Life Cycle
David Darling - Cello
Fred Lonberg-Holm - Anagram Solos
David Eyges - Wood
Tristan Honsinger - A Camel's Kiss
Tom Cora - Gumption In Limbo

Other solo cello CDs that I haven't heard (yet), but are probably worth looking for :

Fred Lonberg-Holm - Personal Scratch
Eric Longsworth - I Hear You
Hank Roberts - 22 Years from Now

Any suggestions for other solo cello CDs are most welcome.

View Maya Beiser with Worlds To Come (music and image are not synchronised)

And see the great Yo-Yo Ma with Bach's Courante from the Cello Suites : pure musical joy!

Paul Rogers - Being (Amor Fati, 2007) *****

A Paul Rogers solo bass album on Amor Fati, a new French label. All CDs on the label are issued in not more than 500 copies, and all in unique hand-painted covers. There is no information on the cover or backside at all, as a dual token of both lack of commercial interest and excellent positioning. The record brings a live performance from Rogers in the Musée d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux, France in April 2007, consisting of two tracks : "Being One", which lasts a little over 70 minutes, and "Being Two", which lasts a little over 3 minutes. This is, to my knowledge, Roger's third solo bass release, and one well worth getting if you're interested in the genre. His custom-made 7-string bass with 14 sympathetic strings is a unique instrument which of course broadens the possibilities of sound exponentially. What you hear could come from a variety of instruments : bass, guitar, percussion, cello, piano strings or even harp-like sounds, although the bass itself is the dominant voice. As the music is improvised on the spot, it has no goal, it is moving nowhere, and to Roger's great credit, he manages to make every moment interesting and captivating.

He starts the long track by dark arco playing, then alternating with playing pizzi throughout the piece, yet always creating tension, suspense even, and out of the gloomy atmosphere he builds, once in a while a jubilant half-melody of extreme beauty arises. His playing is rich and varied, from dark droning moments to barely touched silence and faint birdlike sounds, to pulsing deep-souled jazz sounds. And that's the only thing he does on the short second track, of which at least one minute is the audience clapping enthusiastically. Here is a man at the peak of his powers, creating beauty and deep emotion at the same time. Don't miss it!

Here are a few quotes of interest :

Paul Rogers in an interview : "You have to be inquisitive and find the keys to get in to the art. Be honest with yourself and don't tolerate bullshit. Because that's when it all goes wrong as an artist, when the ego comes in and it's me, me, me! Forget that and just get on with it."

From another Rogers review : "There's an old joke about a marriage guidance counsellor who manages to get uncommunicative couples talking to each other in his sessions by playing Charlie Mingus records, in the belief that no-one can keep quiet during a bass solo." Why are there so many jokes about bass players?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Satoko Fujii Quartet - Bacchus (Onoff, 2007) ****½

Pianist Satoko Fujii is not only one of the most prolific jazz musicians, her music is always of an extremely high level, often completely different than the previous record, depending on the musicians she is playing with. Her Satoko Fujii Quartet, with Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Takeharu Hayakawa on bass and Tatsuya Yoshida on drums brings more composed avant-free-fusion jazz with mainstream elements. Don't mistake her Quartet with the Satoko Fujii Four, also with Tamura on trumpet, but then with Jim Black on drums and Mark Dresser on bass. The Quartet has so far only released CD's with titles referring to ancient Greek gods and goddesses. This time "Bacchus", the god of wine, pleasure, but also of madness (perfectly illustrated in the title song), gets the honor. The music here can best be described as an unbelievable amalgam of styles and influences, brought together in carefully crafted pieces, in which anything is possible : changes in rhythm, melody, tempo, mood, style and genre, and not once, but several times, and not only slight changes, sometimes even radical changes. The piano can dance like a Mozart piece, the drums can rock like heavy metal and the electric bass can slap like Jaco, while the trumpet is in the most avant-garde areas, or vice versa and the other way round. The musicianship of all four players is virtuosic, the compositions extraordinary and unique. But the ultimate thing that seems to drive this high energy music is the creation of new musical forms, to explore possibilities, to enjoy the juxtaposition of hitherto untried style elements, the absolute fun of throwing the whole thing around and take the listener by surprise. Musical effects in their purest form are sought and brought, full of drama, full of tension, often dark, often daring, not avoiding musical complexities and difficulties, but actually seeking them out, just to play them with the most accurate instrumental precision, and all that with the greatest respect for melody and rhythm. Sure, this is not free jazz, or fusion or whatever, there just is no name for this deliberately different genre. You can listen to the tracks again and again and again, and there's always something new to be found. There aren't many musicians of her creative calibre around. The music itself is a little too composed for me to get the full five stars, just because I prefer (her) music in a more free context, but that's a very personal appreciation. By all objective standards, this is a great album.

Buy by e-mail via her website. (and the CD gets delivered relatively fast).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fantastic Merlins - Look Around (Innova Recordings, 2007) ***

Two years after their first live EP, the Fantastic Merlins now released a full CD (which is the EP plus a few additional tracks). The band consists of Nathan Hanson on tenor saxophone, Jacqueline Ferrier-Ultan on cello, Brian Roessler on bass and Federico Ughi on drums. The music they bring is "mood" music, especially because of the determining voice of the cello, with often calm and long phrases, very cinematic, yet free and improvized at the same time. Some of the tracks are a little more uptempo, such as "Lenny" or "I Was Behind The Couch All The Time". Tracks like "It Would Seem", start as pure improv with some punky rhythmic part thrown in, and bring a little more variation to the record. But that's probably its greatest weakness. Their approach is quite interesting, yet musically insufficiently substantial to fill the whole album and the more uptempo variation disrupts the coherence of their unique chamber-like style. Still, quite an interesting endeavour. With a little less willingness to please and a little more focus, their approach and vision holds a great promise.

Listen to
Look Around
I Was Behind The Couch All The Time
A very Small Animal
Runoff Water.

Buy from eMusic or iTunes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla - Born Broke (Atavistic, 2008) ****

You know I'm not a fan of Brötzmann - and I therefore do not know everything he has released - but if he keeps going like this, I might get to appreciate him better. In a duo setting with Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla, the two musicians bring some staggering free improv, for more than an hour and a half of relatively accessible music - relative, that is, to Brötzmann's standards. He typically wails and screams of course, but often the music is sad, slow, sometimes even subdued and quietly moaning. Especially at the end of "Born Broke", the title track, but also at the beginning of "Beautiful But Stupid", which starts slowly, evolving into a typical high energy blowing session. "Ain't Got The Money" starts with plaintive wails, evoking the misery the title suggests, with Uuskyla creating great reaction to Brötzmann, urging him on, playing counterrhythms at moments, but always very rhythmic, and in a way not free at all. And that recipe explains the quality of the music. No matter how wild Brötzmann is, the rhyhtmic foundation is rock-solid and rich. The third track collapses into silence about halfway, going back to the sad crying it started with. "Dead And Useless" is the only track on the second CD, which lasts close to 40 minutes. Uuskyla is a real revelation, and on this CD, right now, to me, Brötzmann too. The two musicians seem to be led on by the same feelings of love and rage, subtlety and power, sensitivity and brutality. The duo combines the directness of street musicians, with the skill of real artists. And have you have read a more desperate list of titles on one CD?

You can download from eMusic.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Larry Ochs/Joan Jeanrenaud/Mija Masaoka - Fly Fly Fly (Intakt, 2002) *****

In preparation of a piece I'm writing on jazz cello, here is one of my favorites, which demonstrates what free jazz can really mean : freedom in the development of improvizations, which could go in any direction, but which, in the hands of true masters with good ears and a common vision can lead to something extraordinary. In four lengthy pieces, saxophonist Larry Ochs, cello-player Joan Jeanrenaud and koto-player Mija Masaoka create a strange and compelling musical environment. All three players use the possibilities of their instruments to the extreme, ranging from virtuosity in the most traditional uses to the most uncanny extended techniques, which are fully functional in creating tension, relief, depth and variation. Ochs did not actually compose the music, he just used pictograms as a structural element to indicate changes in the flow of each piece, anchorpoints if you want. The result is stunning. All three musicians can play deeply emotionally and beautifully in the traditional sense, alternated with more exploratory efforts, sometimes creating sounds close to silence or evoking nature (listen to Jeanrenaud's bird sounds or Masaoka's streaming mountain stream on the first track). And despite the length of the tracks, you still have the feeling that each note is carefully positioned, not one is out of place, and there is not one too many to create the overall effect of lightness and wonder. In order to create this effect, Ochs does a tremendous effort in playing softly, toning down the volume and pitch of his tenor and sopranino to the level of the cello and even the more voiceless koto. Beauty, musicianship, creativity, adventure and a great listening experience. In sum, a wonderful album.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

John Lindberg Ensemble - The Catbird Sings (Soul Note, 2000) ****

And here is another winner from John Lindberg, in an ensemble with Andrew Cyrille on drums, Larry Ochs on sax and Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Not all tracks are played by all four musicians. The first piece is a wonderful slow meditative duet between trumpet and bass. The second, "Waltz Four", starts with a strong two-minute long bass intro, after which the three other musicians join, with a staggeringly beautiful melody in the high tones by Ochs, with solid thematic counterpoint by Smith. "Hydrofoil", dedicated to the late bassist Fred Hopkins, starts very intense, dark and menacing, with Lindberg on violent arco, for sure the most free part of the album, with the other musicians playing up a storm. "Ascendant" is a Jimmy Garrison tune, very boppish. Mingus's "Nostalgia In Times Square", is a bluesy bopper, with great trumpet playing by Smith, and with a wonderful drums and bass duet in the middle part. "Ground Multiple" a beautiful slow and meditative piece that starts with excellent bowing by Lindberg. "Area 6" brings us back into free zone with lots of unexpected twists and turns and lots of extended techniques by Ochs and Lindberg. "Sophie's Lullaby" is a bass-drums duet. And the album's main dish is the fifteen minute title song, again a free bopper. The music is great, the musicians too. If there is one downside to mention, it's the lack of musical coherence on the record, which happens to be one of the strengths of Lindberg's more recent releases. Recommended nonetheless.

Heinz Becker/Louis Sclavis/John Lindberg - Transition (FMP, 1987) ****½

This is an old LP from 1987, re-issued as a CD in 2003. I am currently trying to find music from John Lindberg, because I like his incredible musicality as an improvisor and as a composer. This CD is entirely improvized, with Heinz Becker on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet. It may be hard to find, but it is more than worthwhile looking for. I found it in my usual treasure chest. Throughout the album, the three musicians create chamber-jazz-like music on the spot, jointly crafting little gems, one after the other, with a common mood, common focus, common intensity, reacting to each other in the most gentle and understanding of ways. The music is light, melodic, rhythmic, full of joy and sadness, and the immense pleasure the musicians must have had during the recording is audible with every note. Add to that the immense mastership of their instruments, and you know this is an absolute winner. What a pity their recording collaboration is limited to this album. And what a pleasure to have come across it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Yatoku (NotTwo Records, 2007) ****

"Yatoku" is an acronym that stands for Yuriy Yaremchuk on saxophones, Mark Tokar on double bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. Yaremchuk is a Russian who moved to Lviv in The Ukraine, the city where bassist Mark Tokar was raised and educated. Kugel is from Germany. Does that mean anything? Yes, to a certain extent, because the musicians are very much in the more European free jazz tradition, which is closer to free improv, a little harsher, less soulful at times, but no less interesting musically. Yet here they bring a mix. The first track starts quietly and slowly, then becomes a little fiercer without turning violent, ending emotionally strong, and evolving seamlessly in the second track which starts with a nice bass introduction, after which Yaremchuk plays some beautiful, almost sentimental phrases (and I've heard them before, and I've been wracking my brain for the past few days to find where I heard it before, and while writing this it now comes to mind : reminiscent of a Dewey Redman phrase on Keith Jarrett's Survivor's Suite), which turns into a pre-composed melody and even a bop vamp into great agonizing free frenzy, to the great delight of the Polish audience. The third track changes moods and modes completely, bringing a hesitant, gentle approach to sound and tension, apparently improvized on the spot and with great results. And the joy is continued on the following track, starting with a solo sax intro, in which Yaremchuk bares his soul in several minutes of highly controlled emotional tension, that makes you want to cry in sympathy, that deep he goes, suddenly released from his pain by the rhythm section which takes the sax on for a ride in some wild territory, bop-based, but wild, with a halting rhythm, with surprising turns and twists, some moments of fluid forward propulsion and screeching release of tension, with telepathic changes and shifts, unbelievably strong. The other tracks move on in the same vein : excellent jazz, excellent music, excellent and definitely under-exposed musicians. And the audience enjoys it. And rightly so.

You can order at iRock Productions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures - Dream Garden (Justin Time, 2008) ****½

Adam Rudolph is a musician with a variety of tastes and I do not like some of the stuff he does, like with Hu Vibrational, but some of it I find magnificent, as is his CD "Spirits" with Pharoah Sanders and Hamid Drake, or his "Compassion", with Wadada Leo Smith. His Moving Pictures band is a little bigger than the other line-ups he's recorded with, and the result is excellent. Apart from Rudolph himself, who plays as usual a large variety of percussion instruments from around the world, the band consists of Brahim Fribgane on oud and tarija, Graham Haynes on cornet and flugelhorn, Hamid Drake on drums and frame drum, Kenny Wessel on guitar, Ned Rothenberg on shakuhachi, bass clarinet, bass flute and alto sax, Shanir Blumenkrantz on acoustic bass and sintir, and finally Steve Gorn on bansuri, clarinet, Pakistani oboe. Despite the size of the band, the music is as light as it can get, with rhythmic complexities and melodic power, but never heavy-handed, and never insubstantial as lots of world music or new agey material. There is spirituality here, but there is first and foremost music to be heard. And the music is excellent. Consisting of fourteen relatively short tracks, the band, in various formats, creates accessible, light-hearted and free music. Rhythm plays of course a key role, yet mostly as a foundation for the melodies and the improvizations. Some tracks, like the 2-minute "Mysteries" are little gems of free improvization, as is the title track too. Other pieces are composed, like "Helix", the longest piece, on which a nervous percussion acts as backdrop for the improvizations, with the horns playing a great and slow unisono theme at precise intervals. The last track is so absolutely fun, full of African polyrhythms and musical joy in the improvs, that it alone justifies the purchase of the album. Yet the major feat of the whole record, is the coherence of the sound and approach, despite the variation in the music. This music is so deep, so real, so eclectic, that by itself it defines what the term world jazz means. It is jazz, but with influences from all over the world.

Listen to
Twilight Lake

Listen and download from eMusic.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mats Gustafsson & Paal Nilssen-Love - Splatter (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007) ***

Here are Mats Gustafsson and Paal Nilssen-Love again. This is the umpteenth time that the Swedisch saxophonist and the Norwegian drummer must have played together, and from the sound of it, they're still enjoying and - what's more - still looking for new forms. "Splatter" is very much a percussion-driven record, with short bursts of sounds and rapid-fire interactions. The music is intense in the sense that it is not a violent blowing session, but you have the impression that most of the music is not getting out of their instruments, but stuck somewhere between mind and reality. What is coming out, are short notes, snorts, screeches, half-realized concepts, muffled rumblings, a few wails, some agonizing howling, and hard and raw interaction. This 20-minute long EP shows both musicians in top-form, but is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Guitar madness

Original Silence - The First Original Silence (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007) ***

The Original Silence is a band consisting of Mats Gustafsson on sax, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Terrie Ex and Thurston Moore on guitar, Massimo Pupillo of Zu on bass, and guitarist Jim O'Rourke on electronics. With these musicians you know you can expect anything, and "anything" is what you get : chaos, noice, violence, experiments, mad stuff and interesting interactions, pumping, hard and wild. It doesn't quite succeed, but at least they tried.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Free Form Funky Freqs - Urban Mythology (Thirsty Ear, 2007) **

Energy is what you get here. Some funky stuff too. But nothing new. Entertaining, but only for a while. With Vernon Reid on guitar, Jamaladeen Tacuma on bass and Calvin C. Weston on drums. We heard all three musicians in more inspired environments.

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane - Forgery (Intuition, 2007) **

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane is a blues band of jazz musicians. The playing is good, the music boring and on the beaten track, without adding anything of new and of value. In this genre we've heard much better. With Sharp on all sorts of guitars, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Alex Harding on baritone saxophone, David Hofstra on bass and tuba, Toney Lewis on drums, Eric Mingus and Tracie Morris on vocals. I don't think many people were waiting for this kind of music.

Food - Molecular Gastronomy (Runegrammofon, 2008) ***

In 2004, Food, the Anglo/Norwegian quartet, consisting of Iain Ballamy on sax, Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Mats Eilertsen on bass and Thomas Strønen on percussion, released "Last Supper", giving the impression that it would be the band's last recording. But no, here is another one, with only sax and percussion, assisted by Maria Kannegaard on Fender Rhodes on five tracks. The title, Molecular Gastronomy, refers to the new hype in cooking, in which chemistry of cooking plays an important role in coming up with creative results, often with surprising, unexpected and conflicting tastes in the mouth. And that's what happens here too in a way, the music is electronically processed, redubbed at times, but still fresh and melodic. All the titles of the tracks refer to meals made by molecular cooking. But in the end it gives me the same feeling as molecular cooking. Nicely done, interesting perspectives, tasty moments, but a little lacking in substance. The sax is great and the percussion is great and innovative. For those who like electronics in their jazz, there is lots to savour here. The other albums of Food are easier to recommend.

Listen and download from iTunes.



(photo from
February 1, 2008

On Friday, January 25, 2008 world-renowned saxophonist/composer Andrew D'Angelo suffered a major seizure while driving in Brooklyn, NY. Tests in the hospital revealed a large tumor in his brain. Andrew will undergo brain surgery at some point in the next few weeks. At this time, it is believed that the tumor is not cancerous, but this will not be confirmed until a biopsy is performed.

Like many Americans, Andrew has no health insurance. A fund has been established to help with the costs of his surgery and recovery. Donations can be sent via PayPal at We deeply appreciate any efforts that can be made to spread the word about Andrew's situation.

Benefit concerts are currently being planned for New York City and Boston. More information about these concerts will be posted on as soon as it is available".

So far for the press release. The latest news I heard is that Skirl Records will use the income from the sales of his latest CD Skadra Degis to help cover the costs. So buying the CD will help him.

You can buy the CD from Skirl Records.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Jean-Marc Foltz - Soffio De Scelsi (La Buissonne, 2007) ****

Three French musicians bring something extraordinary, music beyond categorisation, based on the ideas and music of Giacinto Scelsi, the Italian composer who died in 1988. Jean-Marc Foltz on clarinet, Stéphan Oliva on piano and Bruno Chevillon on bass, bring improvised music that is haunting, full of tension, dark and out of this world, based on Scelsi's saying "One could consider sound to be the cosmic force that underlies everything that exists, ... and even if its very nature is cosmic, it can be activated and used by man". The musicians use all their skills to exploit the whole array of possible sounds out of their instruments to create sonic effects, even percussion. The music itself is composed in the instant and together, keeping close to the tonal center on each track, with the instruments creating joint sounds, their individuality at times not discernible, changing pitch, timbre and pace, but with the coherent discipline not to move to far and not to create anything close to melody. Despite this, the album is relatively accessible, with 14 pieces each creating a beautiful yet hard musical environment.

Listen to or buy from


Lonely Woman - new covers

Here are two new covers of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman.

Charlie Haden's Private Collection, available on iTunes, brings a 22 minute cover of the song, with Alan Broadbent on piano, Ernie Watts on sax and Paul Motian on drums. Nice, but certainly not his best version.

João Lencastre's Communion, out on Fresh Sound New Talent, with Bill Carrothers on piano, Phil Grenadier on trumpet, João Lencastre on drums, André Matos on guitar and Demian Cabaud on bass. Truly a wonderful cover.

Click here for the full list of Lonely Woman covers.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Plunge - Refreshingly Addictive (Kopasetic, 2007) ****

Impressive new album of fully improvised pieces by this Swedish trio, that consists of Andreas Andersson on baritone sax, Mattias Hjorth on double bass and Peter Nilsson on drums. Although the music is fully improvised, the three musicians feel each other blindly, building very coherent and focused pieces, that manage to build up tension and keep increasing this tension - and hence also listener's expectations - without leaving the tune's main angle of approach. Andersson's playing on the baritone is warm, single-toned and controlled, without squeals or overblowing, slow, precise and full of direction. This "slowness", if that's the correct word, is one of the band's main features : they're not afraid of silence, yet without making the music meditative, they use it as a functional element to keep the tension going. Emotional expression and aesthetic beauty are the main drivers for this band, in which all three musicians play an equal role. Hjorth's bass-playing is free and anchored in the tradition, but great, as in Charlie Haden's bass-playing, full of ideas and melancholy. Nilsson's drumming is broad and creative, working his instrument often like a percussionist would, adding accents, creating musical effects rather than rhythm and pulse. The only downside of the album is that most tracks keep within the same tonal range and tempo, yet on the other hand that enables them to get this tight instant compositional feel. Recommended.

Listen to
Refreshingly Addictive
Kind Of Askew
The Zürich Effect

Download or order from CDBaby.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

John Zorn - Filmworks XIX - The Rain Horse (Tzadik, 2008) ***½

Film music has some other characterstics than normal record music : it requires easy to remember themes that are often repeated, and an immediate creation of mood that can accompany and reinforce the images on the screen. It is no different for John Zorn's Filmworks series. His latest, the 19th already, features three of his stalwart musicians : Erik Friedlander on cello, Rob Burger on piano and Greg Cohen on bass. And the result is good, one of the more accessible and aesthetically beautiful Filmworks he's made in recent years, which will possibly appeal to a broader audience. Some of his Filmworks are a little flat or bland, mainly due to the functional limitations of the genre, maybe also due to the speed at which he works : on the liner notes of one of his preview records in this series (I can't remember which), Zorn writes that he composed the score in less than three hours. Three hours of compositional work for one hour of music, not a bad result. This is probably not the case here. Although the usual klezmer inflections are in the music as might be expected, he introduces other styles too, with "The Stallion" starting like the best Michael Nyman theme, and the title song, "The Rain Horse", brings in tango elements and mediterranean influences, and of course the versatility of the three musicians add flavors of classical music with chamber jazz. As usual with the series, the musicianship is excellent. Fans of chamber jazz will love this.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Trio X - AIR : Above and Beyond (CIMP, 2007) ****

Trio X is another one of my favorite bands, playing totally free, subdued, spiritual and emotional jazz, with technical skills which are among the best to be heard. This album was recorded live in Montreal, Canada in June 2006, and my initial reaction was one of "haven't we heard this before?", because the music is so much in the same line as the previous long live recordings. But then one you're sucked into this band's universe of deep respect, sensitive interplay and subtle nuance, you cannot but admire what they're doing. Even the sound quality, which I did not really like at first, no longer mattered in the end, and sound engineer David Rush bends over backwards in the liner notes to explain how difficult it is to maintain CIMP's recording principles in a live setting, so lots of appreciation for his work. Joe McPhee (sax), Dominic Duval (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums) can each master many styles in free jazz from violent free blowing contests to avant-garde and experimental music, but with Trio X, free melodic emotionalism seems to be the key qualifier. The last track "A Valentine In The Fog Of War" is a variation on "Funny Valentines Of War", which already appeared on Roulette At Location One, and is itself a free funky version of "My Funny Valentine". There is only one track which is a little wild, "21281-2 Indiana", which starts with a drum solo introduction by Rosen, with a fierce McPhee and dynamic Duval joining half-way. All the other tracks, and especially the ones where Duval takes the lead, are calm, very calm even, but beautiful. Yes, it is more of the same, but at this level of excellence, who cares?


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bill Dixon & Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey, 2008) *****

The great thing about the internet is that you know when a new CD is being released, and that it is immediately available for download. Such is the case with Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra. Rob Mazurek's adventurous band was a revelation last year, and it is now accompanied by Bill Dixon, the free jazz and avant-garde trumpet icon who has been most comfortable in small settings, in very spacious surroundings. Rob Mazurek's band is of course in stark contrast with this, because it brings extremely "busy" music, without a moment's rest, moving forward, moving forward, as it's name suggests. And that's how the album starts, hectic, frenetic, overpowering, but then halfway the first track the music slows down, with some droning horns and noise as a backdrop for Dixon's trumpet solo, with Mazurek's cornet echoing from a distance, full of intense drama and cosmic expansiveness. The orchestra keeps weaving sounds over sounds, mostly improvized reactions, with shades of color, interspersed notes by guitar, vibes, arco bass moving to silence and brought back to life in a one-note crescendo, which evolves into the spoken word of the second track (I am not a fan of spoken word, since it is often not more than pretentious non-poetry, and it is no different here, but luckily it doesn't last very long). The whole band moves into a chaotic frenzy, briefly leaving the full space to Dixon again, but then the orchestra starts with the composed piece, which is rhythmic, compelling, broad, expansive and cinematic, like on the first album. The third track, "Entrance/Two", brings a second version of the first one, equally impressive, yet not that different. In all, this is again a magnificent album, finding the right balance between composed orchestration and free improvization, impressive from beginning to end.

You can download or order from Thrill Jockey.

An alternative 25 minute version of the second track can be downloaded via iTunes.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Mark O'Leary & Han Bennink - Television (Ayler Records, 2008) ***

I'm a great fan of Mark O'Leary, but not everything he does is magic. As is this CD, which gives a duo improvization between O'Leary and Dutch master drummer Han Bennink, recorded in 2001. The great thing about the album is the interaction between two free minds, mostly in very nervous staccato conversation, with rapid-fire attacks and reactions between O'Leary's low-toned guitar and Bennink's special drumming, with the exception of one track "For Bernie", which is more traditional in it's down-tempo work-out. The rest of the album is all within the same range of music, rapid, precise and creative, but still far removed from the more adventurous and impactful voice he developed in the last two years. There are no special effects here, just down-to-earth naked guitar and drums. Some (most!) of the tracks are technically awe-inspiring, like "Woodcuts" on which Bennink's drumming is maniacally hard, precise and with a sustained energy that is hard to fathom. That being said, all tracks bring a little too much of the same, with not enough variation, and the sound quality is not superb either, especially for the drums (but that's unfortunately too often the case with Ayler releases). The album gives a great demonstration of O'Leary's skills on the guitar, his real talents as an artist will blossom some years later in his career. Fans of O'Leary and Bennink will appreciate this release by Ayler, for those who don't know him, it may be worthwhile to start with his more recent work.

You can listen and download from Ayler Records (only available as a download).


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mark Harvey Group - Mark Harvey Group (Re-release, 2007) ****

Another great re-issue on the ReRelease label, one of the early records by Mark Harvey, methodist Minister and professor at MIT, recorded live at the Harvard-Epworth Church on January 23, 1972. The music is avant-garde jazz, and relatively unique in its genre, with lots of moments of percussion only, even long moments of silence, interspaced with bursts of horns and piano for dramatic effect, or slow trumpet playing in the more contemplative parts. With Peter Bloom on reeds and percussion, Craig Ellis on percussion, Mark Harvey on brass and percussion and Michael Standish on percussion. The CD consists of two parts : "Invocation" and "Tarot, The Moon". The former starts with all kinds of percussions, slow, almost zen-like, comparable to what Andrea Centazzo would do later on his albums, with improvized sax laying a plaintive tune over it, accompanied by a trumpet in the distance (whether that was the idea, or just the result of poor recording conditions, is hard to tell). It is totally free improv, with no sense of direction, just in the moment ideas which surface one after the other, but to the musicians credit, they manage to keep the whole concept very coherent, accessible and captivating. "Tarot", starts with dramatic piano chords with accompanying trumpet, evolving into almost total silence, with light bell sounds to give this silence more depth. As Mark Harvey explains : "Our own collective improvisational approach worked from minimal conceptual and/or orchestrational frameworks that gave an identity to each specific piece, yet left enormous space for fresh development and essentially the creation of a new composition in each performance. As many improvisers did in that period, we performed in almost total darkness, save for illumination from one or two candles. Sets went as long as the music demanded, and the same for individual selections." Again, a more than worthwhile re-issue by the new label. Recommended.

You can listen and download from iTunes and other sites (for 7 euro).



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Friday, February 1, 2008

Gibbs/Campbell/Dunmall/Carter/Rogers/Parker/Drake - Blown Away (Duns, 2007) *****

"Gibbs, Campbell, Dunmall, Carter, Rogers, Parker & Drake" may sound like the name of a law firm, but it isn't. It's a collection of some of the best free jazz improvisors from the US and Europe. Here is the band : Paul Dunmall, tenor saxophone; Philip Gibbs, guitar; Roy Campbell, trumpet, flute; Daniel Carter, alto saxophone, trumpet, flute; Paul Rogers, 7-string bass; William Parker, bass, shenai; Hamid Drake, drums. So, in sum, it's Other Dimensions In Music from the US, meets the Dunmall/Gibbs/Rogers trio from the UK, in essence two totally different bands with each their own style and approach. Other Dimensions In Music usually brings slow contemplative pure free jazz improvization, but with an exceptionally deep emotional component. Dunmall/Gibbs/Rogers are more "European", closer to free improv than free jazz at times. But with two such bands you can expect anything, with things potentially moving either way : total chaos because the mix doesn't take, or a great success. And it is the latter. Mainly because of the concept of the album. On the first CD, only 1 of the 6 tracks is played by the full two bands, but even if that is the case, this is not a blowing session, but rather a focused and respectful interaction, at times even offering an chamber-jazz feel, sensitive and elegant. The second CD brings the fourty-minute title track "Blown Away". And whatever the line-up, the music is great. Parker and Rogers seem to enjoy the interplay the most, having fun alternating arco and pizzi. On "Eye Miles" the whole band slows down for the two basses to play a duet, on the following track "Eel Miles", the basses circle around each other, tentatively, hesitantly, with Phil Gibbs' guitar adding shadows of sound, colors of intensity, sounding as deep and low-toned as the basses. On "Franticle", Dunmall plays for a change with the best rhythm section in the world, and you cannot but admire how both Parker and Drake together respond to Dunmall's great, but idiosyncratic tenor-playing. He can be a fierce and even violent blower, but not here, quite the contrary; his warm tone and creative style are all his own, regardless of the power he pushes out of his lungs. In that sense, the next track, "Sparticle", with Roy Campbell, Phil Gibbs and William Parker, continues in the same vein : great free soloing with a solid yet equally free bass and guitar rumbling in the background. What a pleasure to hear such great musicians at work. In the next piece, a slow and intimate free ballad (if that exists), Rogers and Drake are the rhythm section, first with Campbell on flute and Carter on trumpet, then later with the two trumpets until Carter picks up his sax. The subdued high intensity playing continues on the second disc, with wonderful interaction and alternation between the musicians, and it's absolutely rare that they're all playing together, it's rather a band of musicians selecting a short time sparring partner, or just doing a solo dance, or with two or three, then one of those goes on with someone else, just blowing away, free and unencumbered, ready for anything, open to initiatives and surprises. About halfway, the controlled and restrained tense calmness erupts into a total frenetic agony of all musicians playing together, with Parker's chenai competing in sound with Dunmall absent bagpipes, indeed just "blowing away", but not for long, because once they establish a common focus, the music becomes astonishingly beautiful, with Campbell playing a sad and melancholy solo to make Chet Baker jealous, and Rogers' 7-string bass comment is even more impressive, mixing in a more classical element, but then we move back into more experimental formats, equally strong, with Dunmall bringing the music back to a close harmony for a single tone of restrained tension. And I think that's the major achievement of this double-CD : all musicians without exception are masters of their instrument, but also of music itself, creating more than 100 minutes of emotional tension and surprises, creating something new, creating a new listening experience. Highly recommended.

Why does such music remain unnoticed?

You can order directly from the artist.


Adam Lane Quartet - Buffalo (CIMP, 2007) *****

Adam Lane's is not only one of my favorite bass-players of the moment, but definitely one of my preferred musicians. His sense of musical freedom, combined with melody and bluesy soul is superb, as is his choice of band members. On this album Vinny Golia plays reeds, Paul Smoker trumpet and Vijay Anderson drums. The album captures several days of live performances in Buffalo, hence the title. And Paul Smoker did not participate on one track presented here. These musicians no longer need any introduction, but the way they play together here, is absolutely stellar. The first track brings an absolutely beautiful melody - although you have to wait a bit before a theme emerges - played superbly by the whole band, compelling, fierce and free. The second track starts with a gut-wrenching arco solo by Lane, which evolves into a straight blues with the horns circling around each other in wonderfully emotional counterpoint, then speeding up the whole thing to some free jazz uptempo boogie, just to slow down again at the end, leaving the audience enthusiastic and your reviewer with goosebumps (sympathetic piloerection). The third track, "Free", starts with Vinny Golia playing flute, all bucolic, cosmic and light, to be replaced by the tenor, creating an all the more astonishing effect with the agonizing violence of the storm that comes, unleashing all power a trio can muster to create a wall of sound, ending again in peaceful calm. "In Our Time" is a fully improvized piece, but the four musicians interact so well, creating chaotic tension on the spot, out of which the arco bass elicits some highly sensitive beauty, accompanied by long slow trumpet tones and an accentuating drums. But then listen how Golia intervenes, adding little rhythmic notes, without interrupting, but emphasizing the power of the trumpet, first echoing, then slowing the sax down till it becomes unisono, a signal for Lane to end in the same long arco-played tone. Astonishingly beautiful. The last track is an odd-metred piece, mid-tempo pushed forward by a bass-vamp and strong drumming, starting with the sax leading into a theme, and when the trumpet takes over, the piece shifts into a walking bass supported free bop frenzy, and each time the sax comes in, the original rhythm appears again, with Lane moving up the speed, pushing Golia to play the bejesus out of his soprano. This is a really an excellent album, with four top-musicians at their best and interacting at their best, responsive, creative, enthusiastic, melodic and respectful. Adam Lane is truly great, and I must say that every CD that he released so far is recommended, but this one is highly recommended.