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Monday, June 30, 2008

Ornette Coleman Quartet - Live In Paris 1971 (Jazz Row, 2008) ****

Sorry guys, but here's another Ornette Coleman re-issue. The recent success of Soundgrammar, and the Pulitzer Prize he got after that, made record companies do some digging in their archives, looking for ways to surf on the waves of public attention. And that's fine with me, any reason is good to give us more Coleman material from the 60s and 70s. This record is a fine one, with the double sax front of Ornette on alto and Dewey Redman on tenor, with Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. It's recorded live in Paris in 1971, with a sound quality that is much better than the recent "Belgium 1969", although a little less adventurous musically. Two tracks, "Street Woman" and "Rock The Clock" come from the Science Fiction album, released in the same year. The second track "Summer-Thang" is an unmistakable Coleman composition, joyful and typically harmolodic, with great improvisations from all four musicians. In the last track, things get a little out of hand, with Redman playing his shrill musette, with the sound quality dropping a little and Coleman disappears into the background and Haden starts using a wah-wah for his bass, but despite the lack of coherence, it is still worthwhile - but I really would have loved to hear Don Cherry as part of the band, but he was having his own musical adventures at that time. Not an essential recording, but still nice to hear.

© stef

Saturday, June 28, 2008

William Parker - Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity, 2008) *****

Cosmic and Magnificent!

Magnificent and Earthly!

William Parker announced that 2008 would be a year of cosmic music, and of course he knew what he was keeping up his sleeve, and it surely not only referred to this album, but to the three albums that AUM Fidelity released in the Arts For Art funded project, which also includes Roy Campbell's"Akhnaten Suite" and Bill Dixon's "17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound : Darfur". Parker moves it even a notch higher : more cosmic, and more worldly at the same time. Cosmic because this music is as expansive, broad and overwhelming as can be, while at the same time offering the solidity of earth, and all the musical forms and genres it produced into a unique synthesis. The AUM Fidelity project resulted in three absolutely majestic albums, with a common element : they are absolutely musically innovative while sounding extremely familiar at the same time, as if they've tapped into some shared human musical subconsciousness that is suddenly awakened and brought to live.

William Parker is a great artist because he keeps innovating and he keeps renewing himself and his music. It doesn't always work, but that's the risk you take by being courageous and adventurous, but when it works, you get something you've never heard before. This is surely one of his most successful endeavors.

The musical concept in itself is simple : the foundation of the music is the bass, with assorted percussions to support it, bringing a repetitive vamp, an hypnotic line, very African, going on for ever. Over these rhythms, themes come and go, played by the horn section, or played by the strings, or by all, and the musicians alternate by improvising on the theme. Parker calls it the tree trunk, the branches and the leaves in his liner notes. But of course making this work is far from simple, it is a task of extreme complexity.

The most special thing is the presence of Indian singer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, whose singing soars over this band like a bird over the jungle, with long microtonal shades and nuances, full of joy and emotion, full of rhythm and sadness. It is not only stunning, it is also absolutely unique. Parker's love for the female voice and his open-mindedness for music and cultures from around the world led to this brilliant idea. Second great idea is to have oud-player Brahim Frigbane in the band, adding warmth and intimacy to the sound, while of course adding the Middle-Eastern touch and sensitivities. Frigbane is not only great in his solos, but also a very important factor in supporting the bass line. The reeds of Parker and Cole bring the North-African touches to it.

Then there's jazz of course, with Parker's usual band members and friends Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Sabir Mateen on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Dave Sewelson on baritone saxophone, Gerald Cleaver and Hamid Drake on drums, Bill Cole on reeds, Joe Morris on guitar and banjo, and Shayna Dulberger on bass.

And if that was not enough, some of today's modern jazz string-players play their part as well, with Jason Kao Hwang and Mazz Swift on violin, Jessica Pavone on viola, and Shiau-Shu Yu on cello, adding some classical and Asian touches at the same time.

... and of course William Parker himself on double reeds, doson 'ngoni and bass.

But having a great band is one thing, making it perform well and making great music are still other things. Despite the hypnotic and trance-inducing rhythmic backbone, the music changes the whole time, like waves, like tides, with themes and players coming and going, moving forward, moving backward, in layers upon layers, often controlled and disciplined, but once in a while going wild and chaotic. All band members get their moment in the spotlight, all playing in their own style, bringing a wonderful mix of emotions in the same song : the nervous and energetic guitar, the sad and plaintive violin, the soft and warm oud, the raw and wailing sax, the clarity of the joyful trumpet, the never-ending percussive drive.

If you want any musical references, at times Dollar Brand/Abdullah Ibrahim's "Hajj (The Journey)" (the track) comes to mind, or Bengt Berger's "Bitter Funeral Beer", two masterpieces of rhythmic world free jazz.

And when you think the end of invention has stopped, there is a wonderful call and response piece in the last track with Rob Brown echoing Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's heart-rending singing, with the horns fading away and the strings taking over with another theme, while the guitar and bass keep repeating and repeating the same few notes, and then listen how the violins echo her improvised singing to perfection, listen to the subtleties, the wonderful sensitivities, ... staggering ...

The biggest achievement of the album is that it all works to perfection : tight interplay, wild improvisations, wonderful rhythms and themes, the power of a big band with the sensitivity of a small ensemble, it is dark and refreshing, familiar and new, tribal and universal, expansive and intimate, control and chaos, emotional and soulful, bringing the most unbelievable cocktail of genres and styles, and it works ... it works ...

... this is music which should never stop ...

... this is music that the whole world should hear ...

Listen to Morning Mantra.

© stef

Markus Stockhausen - Electric Treasures (Aktivraum, 2008) **

German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen has always walked the thin line between artistry and commercial interests. As much as I appreciated his small acoustic ensembles with Angelo Comiso and Christian Thomé on "Es War Einmal ..." or with Ferenc Snetberger on "Dreams" , in the past years, as much I am disappointed in this album. To be frank : I find it dull and without inspiration, despite the quality of the four musicians, with Vladyslav Sendecki on keyboards, Arild Andersen on bass and Patrice Héral on drums. Electronics are often used by lower quality musicians to create effects which disguise their lack of instrumental skills. Here you kind of get the opposite, four stellar musicians who lower their standards to play around with electronics and who sound like musicians who want to create effects to disguise their lack of instrumental skills, although we know it is not the case. And to make it even worse, the electronics sound awful, often reminiscent of cheap playing around with a 70s synthesizer. The approach also clearly exposes the lack of ideas in the compositions and the improvisations. There is no depth, no melodic or emotional elaboration, there is no story to tell, no specific musical voice to be heard, just empty sound, and repetitive at that ... it may be electric, but it's certainly not electrifying.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ornette Coleman Quartet - Belgium 1969 (Gambit, 2008) ****

This performance by the Ornette Coleman Quartet was recorded live at the Belgian Jazz Bilzen Festival in 1969. Apart from Coleman himself on alto, trumpet and violin, the line-up further consists of Dewey Redman on sax and arabic oboe, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The performance brings three tracks from one of Coleman's best CDs "Crisis", which was released earlier that year : "Comme Il Faut", and the sublime "Song For Ché" and the equally sublime "Broken Shadows". The track "Space Jungle II" is a kind of sequel to "Space Jungle" that also figures on "Crisis", although there is no clear musical relation between the two songs. I am a great fan of Ornette Coleman and it's great to hear this performance, and it's a pity that Don Cherry is absent here, because to me he's always been an essential part of the band, adding a playful element and a great counterpart to Ornette's blaring sax (as said before, the man's a genius, but I don't like the sound of his alto!). Haden, Redman and Blackwell are excellent, with the latter's polyrhythmics offering a great change to performance of the 13-year old Denardo Coleman's on "Crisis". Redman's solo on "Comme Il Faut" is superb and gives an idea of what "Old & New Dreams" would bring in the 70s and 80s. The most stunning performance on this album is the the 16-minute long "Space Jungle II", which starts with Redman's arabic oboe and Haden's arco bass, both as free as it gets and wailing, generating spontaneous applause from the audience. Coleman joins on trumpet, and even if the sound balance of the recording is not excellent, the overall experience still stands, especially when half-way the track Haden's arco bass goes totally futuristic while Blackwell conjures up African rhythms, supported by Redman's gnawa-like playing, as a lead-in to a five minutes screeching violin solo by Coleman. Coleman's technique is not exceptional, whether on sax, trumpet or violin, but that is more than sufficiently compensated by the man's sense of music, he can go "out there" where few had gone before, retaining an inner logic and remaining emotional. The other tracks are great too, but have known better recordings. "Broken Shadows" brings the beautiful unison melody in a little over three minutes with no room for expansion, but thankfully "Tomorrow" brings a lot of improvisation. The overall sound quality is not excellent, but I assume it would be OK for fans. I'm an Ornette fan, so I rejoice each time something by him is released. If you're not an Ornette Coleman fan, or if you don't know his music, there are other albums that require prior listening. Great cover art too.

© stef

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

David Schnitter - The Spirit Of Things (CIMP, 2008) ***½

Many free jazz musicians are of course very much indebted and usually very respectful of the traditional jazz heritage, but it is rare for them to release an album with more standards than improvised tunes, let alone on the CIMP label. And that's exactly what saxophonist David Schnitter does, assisted by Dominic Duval on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Imagine listening to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", played in a free mode, but very respectful for the original, including the sentimentality of it, as well as Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood" and Monk's "Criss Cross". It's indeed rare to do that, and the great thing about the approach here is that the music is stripped of all embellishments and tinsel, with the musicians playing around with the tune's potential, showing in its naked beauty, uncovering it's soul. On top of that, the material seems to get the best out of them, leading to some great listening moments, and all that with the usual direct sound quality the label is known for. And I must say that I find that the tracks penned by Schnitter himself are the best of the album, probably because they offer the free-est environment for this great trio to perform.

© stef

Russ Lossing & John Hebert - Line Up (Hatology, 2008) ***½

After many recordings together in various line-ups, pianist Russ Lossing and bassist John Hebert finally play the long-awaited duo. With the exception of a piece by Irving Berlin and one by Duke Ellington, this is all new and improvised material by the two musicians. The limited line-up offers great possibilities for both freedom and intimacy, although the music has structure and form, and many of the piece are quite nervous and intense. Some pieces such as "Blind Pig" have a romantic impressionistic quality, but is immediately followed by the abstract expressionistic "Type A", just to illustrate the breadth of scope of the album and the wealth of musical territory both artists want to cover, but mostly within a post-bop environment, and they play well wherever they move, exploring lyrical and rhythmic possibilities, anticipating each other's moves and supporting it. They keep away from fixed themes or melodies, yet the lyricism in the music makes it relatively accessible, certainly when compared to "Metal Rat", his previous album. This is not ground-breaking music, and of course it doesn't have to. What counts here are the interplay between two masters of their instruments, and two artists with a common musical vision, effortlessly bringing a synthesis of piano jazz that spans more than half a century.

Listen to
Fais Do-Do

© stef

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

100,000 unique visitors ....

That's what my web-counter says. Unfortunately it cannot tell me who the lucky one is. I might have given him/her a token of apprecation.

For your information, this blog has approx. 130 daily returning visitors at the moment, and approx. 4,000 unique returning visitors per month, with about 20,000 visits in total per month. I think that's good. I started with this blog some 18 months ago, for the simple reason that I liked a kind of music that few people that I know really appreciate. Actually none to be honest. Thanks to this blog I got to know some more, not only digitally, but also in real life! I hope that I helped many of you to appreciate the music too, and that I gave you some useful suggestions.

And thanks for the attention and appreciation. That's what keeps me going (and the music of course).

I'm not sure whether the figures above capture the total potential audience for the kind of music we all enjoy, but I'm sure there is still room for progression.

... so share the link to like-minded and potentially interested friends ....

... and otherwise ...

Be free!
Love music!
Be true to yourself!

Watch some great musicians : Roy Campbell, Whit Dickey, Joe Morris and Rob Brown

© stef

Gianni Mimmo - A Watched Pot (Never Boils Over) (Amirani Records) ****

Gianni Mimmo is an Italian soprano saxophonist who, although using traditional styles, really has a great approach to avant-garde jazz, and this album is a wonderful example of what modern music can sound like without alienating listeners. He is joined by Andrea Serrapiglio on cello and Francesco Cusa on percussion. The three manage to create little gems of free music, playing their instruments with an almost classical tonality and sound, while the musical approach is exquisitely modern. It has the paradoxical quality of being cerebral and warm at the same time, with abstract improvised compositions with high intervallic jumps, but played sensitively and full of empathy. The other great asset of this record is the variation brought by the use of the instruments, and then especially by the percussion, which hardly ever provides the basic rhythm for the piece, but usually prefers implicit support, accents and shadings to the improvisation taking place.

The third great thing is the variation in the styles, demonstrating that even avant-garde can be fun and is not necessarily high-brow, such as in the joyful "Pot Head Pixies" (yes, I'm a Gong fan too!), or the somewhat bizarre "Cartoon Shouter".

I'm not quite sure what the title of the album refers to, but the best I can find is the Japanese definition of great art as "controlled passion", another contradiction which works well in this case, and which is also illustrated by the compactness of the tracks, which apart from offering lots of variation, also demonstrate that the musicians concentrate in a very disciplined manner to extract the essence of the musical idea, without loosing themselves in long and meaningless excursions. A strong achievement.

© stef

Monday, June 23, 2008

Trionacria - The Mystic Revelation (Curva Minore, 2000) ****½

Man, this is great! To the extent that I laughed out loud from the sheer pleasure of listening to these guy's having fun with music. Free, intense, rhythmic, funky, wild at times, subdued at others (though rarely). The band consists of Gianni Gebbia on sax, Rosario Paci on trumpet and Francesco Cusa on drums, all three from Sicily and all three excellent musicians. The tracks are short and compact, there are no long blowing sessions, but focused, concise little work-outs, often with a kind of melodic theme and some pre-conceived structural component, and the rest is wild and joyful interaction. This is music as intense, fresh, muscular and direct as it gets. Don't miss it.

This release is not new, but it's been made available again on CDBaby, also in download version.

So, listen and download/buy from CDBaby.

I couldn't find any other records by this band, so if anyone knows more about their releases, suggestions are more than welcome.

© stef

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bill Dixon - 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound : Darfur (AUM Fidelity, 2008) *****

This is probably one of the first recorded pieces for large ensemble by Bill Dixon, who is best known for his very avant-garde duo or trio albums. This release was commissioned by Arts for Art, the producers of the Vision Festival for the 2007 event, together with Roy Campbell’s Akhenaten Suite and William Parker’s orchestral work Double Sunrise Over Neptune (due in August).

The band consists of Bill Dixon on trumpet, Graham Haynes, Stephen Haynes and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn; Dick Griffin and Steve Swell on tenor trombone; Joseph Daly on tuba; Karen Borca on bassoon; Will Connell on bass clarinet; Michel Cote on Bb contrabass clarinet; Andrew Raffo Dewar on soprano sax, John Hagen on tenor sax, baritone sax; J.D.Parran on bass saxophone and bamboo flute; Glynis Loman on cello; Andrew Lafkas on bass; Jackson Krall on drums and percussion, and finally Warren Smith on vibes, tympani, drums.

"17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound : Darfur" is a long musical suite, centered around the long "Sinopia". Sinopia is the color of dry earth, the color underpinning oil paintings. The color is red. The color of blood. Short tracks full of foreboding, dark and menacing horns, playing slow, magnificent, cinematic music, verging on classical, in which low unison tones build a horrifying dramatic atmosphere, with percussion added to for full effect, rather than for supporting the rhythm. In some of the initial moments, the cello and arco bass strain away from the unison theme to create some dissonant sounds, on some of the other tracks, the dark wave of sound stops to let the individual voices of the various instruments wail and weep, in duet, or with the full band, creating full and intense chaos, stopping abruptly and rejoining the ranks of the main sound. On "Scattering Of The Following", the individual instruments get their first chance for real improvisation, with trumpet, tuba, bass saxophone and vibes setting the scene, one full of disarray and emotional distress. The tune "Darfur" offers the darkest pieces of orchestrated gloom and doom you may have heard so far, stopping halfway for squealing sax sounds and screeching arco bass, supported by irregular drumming, moving the music to a crescendo of despair, which is followed by solo trumpet, intervening arco bass, and slowly the whole ensemble joins, slowly, irrevocably.

"Sinopia" starts with baritone solo, and slowly evolves into the most avant-garde moment of the record, with one instrumental solo taking over from the other, and though the various musicians freely improvise, there is clear structure about when what happens and about who does what, even if the content itself is free, but gradually they start weaving a coherent sound, all contributing to the overall darkness, despite the diversity of sounds created by the individual instruments. It is both primal and funereal, ending in sheer agony.

This center pieces is followed by four short tracks, mirroring the opening tracks of the record, again with slow dark, gloomy and menacing ensemble sounds, called "Pentimenti", meaning traces of changes made by the painter, showing that he has changed his mind and started differently. The references to painting, both in the titles and on the cover, also demonstrate the composer's interest in creating colors of sound, creating new mixtures, new approaches, and he succeeds in this.

The end result is surely one of the musical highlights of the year. It is uncompromising, but clever, with a band of great musicians who play in an incredibly controlled and focused manner. And it succeeds in every aspect where Evan Parker's "Boustrophedon" falls short. It uses the orchestra to its full potential, creating true music, powerful, deeply emotional, coherent in the impactful listening experience it creates. Bill Dixon manages to create a wide array of musical emotions through playing with music's endless possibilities, while at the same time touching upon the tragedy of Darfur. This is a strong and powerful musical statement. And it is infinitely sad.

Listen and download from

© stef

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Miles From India - A Celebration Of The Music Of Miles Davis (Four Quarters, 2008) *

Plain horror! I have no other words for it.

Brought to you by a host of well-known and lesser known musicians : "The Miles alumni included on the sessions are saxophonists Dave Liebman (1972-74) and Gary Bartz (1970-71), guitarists Mike Stern (1981-84), Pete Cosey (1973-76) and John McLaughlin (1969-72), bassists Ron Carter (1963-69), Michael Henderson (1970-76), Marcus Miller (1981-1984), Benny Rietveld (1987-91), keyboardists Chick Corea (1968-72), Adam Holzman (1985-87) and Robert Irving III (1980- 88), drummers Jimmy Cobb (1958-63), Leon 'Ndugu' Chancler (1971), Lenny White (1969) and Vince Wilburn (1981, 1984-1987) and tabla player Badal Roy (1972-3). The Indian contingent is represented by keyboardist Louiz Banks, drummer Gino Banks, American-born alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, sitarist Ravi Chari, Vikku Vinayakram (a charter member of Shakti) on ghatam, V. Selvaganesh (a member of Shakti and Remember Shakti) on khanjira, U. Shrinivas (from Remember Shakti) on electric mandolin, Brij Narain on sarod, Dilshad Khan on sarangi, Sridhar Parthasarathy on mridangam, Taufiq Qureshi and A. Sivamani on percussion, Kala Ramnath on Carnatic violin, Rakesh Chaurasia on flute and Shankar Mahadevan & Sikkil Gurucharan on Indian classical vocals."

... or an exercise in bad taste. Miles must sell, and probably will ... but ... this isn't Miles, this isn't Indian music either. One more record in the "how-to-mistreat-the-Mile-legacy" catalogue, and a nice example of music for which the whole is a lot less than the sum of its parts. Avoid at all cost.

© stef

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Stephen Gauci's Stockholm Conference - Live At The Glenn Miller Café (Ayler, 2008) ****

Here is another major hit for Ayler this year : New York tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci teams up with some well-known Swedes, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Fredrik Rundqvist on drums, in the typical line-up which he seems to favor the last years. Recorded live at Stockholm's Glenn Miller Café, this download release contains two lengthy pieces, the first one a Sonny Rollins tune "Sonnymoon For Two", the second a group improvisation called "No One Knows Which Is Which", and what the album lacks in some of the superb subtleties and great musical shades in his recent studio recordings, is largely compensated by the fun and emotional depth of the performance. Here are four musicians really enjoying themselves, demonstrating their talent and skills for interplay and hard-hitting free music. But it's not all fire and intensity, the long pieces, and especially the second one, allow for expanded down-tempo melancholy moments, where the individual instruments can shine, playing bluesy themes, gentle and soft, deep and true. This download release is by itself an entire album worth of music, yet it's actually the third part of the recorded music. I haven't heard the double CD which is not available for download, and which has Mats Äleklint on trombone on the first CD and Magnus Broo on trumpet on the second. The entire CD is worth looking for, definitely if it has the same level of qualitative music as the download version.

See other Stephen Gauci reviews
Absolute, Absolutely

Available from Ayler Records as a download only release.

© stef

Stephen Haynes & Taylor Ho Bynum - The Double Trio (Engine Records, 2008) ****

A double trumpet trio, with Stephen Haynes and Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet, Allan Jaffe and Mary Halvorson on guitar, Tomas Fujiwara and Warren Smith on drums. This CD is an absolute delight of free interplay and creative composition. Despite the double line-up, the music never sounds crowded, and the musicians are skilled enough to avoid interfering yet they manage to interact soberly or full force, but always with a clear logic and coherence. Ho Bynum, Halvorson and Fujiwara are on the left, Haynes, Jaffe and Smith on the right. Although this is free music, with many avant-garde try-outs, they still keep a very strong rhythmic basis with lots of references to traditional jazz, with a great cover of Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows" and some great African rhythms and melody on "Kush". Both trumpeters use the full sound of their instrument, and bring some thrilling interplay, but this is a true band of six musicians, and the trumpeters leave the other band members ample space for guitar and drums fireworks. The music is raw and direct at times, yet often also meditative and soft. The great strength of the approach is the wealth of musical styles they bring, moving the listener almost through the whole array of modern jazz sub-genres, often based on short composed themes, with outbursts of improvisation. The same is true for the technical aspects of the instruments. A track such as "mm (ph)" has jazzy guitar, distorted rock guitar, whispered trumpet and clear-toned almost classical sounds, with the drums changing register along the way. A rich album. Recommended.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hamid Drake & Bindu - Blissful (RogueArt, 2008) ***

Hamid Drake is not only a great drummer with a very recognizable style, he's also carved out his own niche of spiritual world jazz, almost always in collaboration with bassist William Parker. On "Blissful" they move a step further from "Piercing The Veil" and "Summer Snow", now completely merging jazz with world music, by adding the guitars of Jeff Parker and Joe Morris, and the bass of Josh Abrams. Next to their usual instruments, other more exotic ones join the party : shenai, guimbri, doson ngoni, tabla and banjo. As the title suggests, the music's goal is a spiritual one, here illustrated by the poems by Ramprasad Sen , an 18th Century Indian poet, who worshipped Kali, the "Divine Mother" in hinduism, the female principle, but also the goddess of destruction, not in the physical sense, but rather of ignorance, self-centeredness, and the like. The poems are narrated and sung by Dee Alexander, and her task is not an easy one, because Ramprasad's poetry is not only not very poetic, it's also not very lyrical, with lots of abstract words and unequal rhythm. To give you an idea :

"O Mediator, hold this astonishing feminine presence
at the center of consciousness
Her three eyes are the moon of tenderness, the sun of power,
and the cosmic wisdom fire that dissolves the universe.
Her gaze creates a lover's intimacy.
This Warrior Woman, fountain of blessing,
whose daughter is she?
What motives draws her into the battlefield
this vast display of universal suffering?"

And this is just a small extract of the very long poems. Her singing is excellent, but the lyrics are awful, and - despite their possible value in terms of content -are in fact the antithesis of the music, which is, like the other albums by Drake and Parker, full of energy, rhythmic complexities, while still being unbelievably pure and authentic. The best tracks on the album, in my view are the ones in which there is either no singing, or just worldless singing as on "Visions Of Ma". On his other albums Drake managed to create an immediate and deep spiritual intimacy, strongly expressed by the limited instrumentation and his own reverent singing. Now, the higher complexity of both the instrumentation and the emotionless, too abstract philosophical lyrics, create a distance which should not be there. Otherwise, the music is nice, with lots of North-African, Central African and Asian melodies and rhythms, and the interesting mix of instruments leads to really great moments. Listen to the end of "Supreme Lady Victorious In Battle", which really becomes great once Dee Alexander's singing becomes wordless improvisation, or to "There Is Nothing Left But You", a duo between frame drum and vocal, on which Dee Alexander is brilliant as long as there is no text to sing, truly using her voice as an instrument in its own right. Strangely enough, when Drake sings on the last track, he does so in hindi (I think), and the match is better. My feelings are mixed, I feel attraction and repulsion at the same time.

But I must admit, I'm not a vocals fan, and I'm surely not a fan of spoken word in music.

© stef

Monday, June 16, 2008

Matthew Shipp & Guillermo E. Brown - Telephone Popcorn (Nu Bop, 2008) **½

Here are pieces on which Matthew Shipp is at his most lyrical, playing nice, often hypnotic and beautiful chords and figures, with Guillermo E. Brown on zendrum, laptop and electronics acting as a kind of disturbing element or jamming station, adding odd sounds, even odder rhythms for Shipp to react on. The music was recorded in 2005 and it's only now being released by the Italian Nu Bop label. I can imagine it was hard to find a label to bring this music, because it's far from conventional, let alone that it has any sales potential. Some of the music is still relatively accessible, with themes reminiscent of some of Shipp's best pieces for Thirsty Ear, but most of it is quite adventurous, not in the music per se, but because of the electronics and distortion of the sounds, which are hard and abrasive, as if the normal tunes and sounds are being sandpapered. That is literally what you can hear. On other tracks, every sound is being echoed by static noise. The whole idea was indeed to bring a new angle, a new approach to music, but it only succeeds partly, and then only on some of the tracks. Most of the music here sounds self-destructive.

And by the way, have you ever read words as arrogant as these : "my piano playing is the direct result of the fact that my mind and the cosmic mind that sustains the universe are in harmony-so when I play I intercept electro magnetic frequencies directly from the mind of god and can convert them into lyrical phrases on the piano". On this CD either god had a bad cold, or there was something wrong with the circuitry connecting the almighty to Mr. Shipp.

This is the third release by Matthew Shipp this year. The first one "Right Hemisphere" was excellent. His second solo release "Un Piano" I haven't heard yet, and I am also looking forward to a possible future duo release with Mark O'Leary. I sincerely hope "Telephone Popcorn" is the lesser one of the four.

© stef

François Carrier, Jean-Jacques Avenel, Michel Lambert - Within (Leo Records, 2008) ****½

The reason why François Carrier is a great musician is simple : he has a kind of total approach to authenticity, in the sense that he always tries to bring a deep emotional and spiritual experience. The focus of all his albums seem to be pointed at that one thing, to create a moment in which this experience becomes real and felt by the audience. And whether he does that with a strange mixture of instruments as on Happening, or by having a straight duo CD with just sax and drums, as on Kathmandu, the overall effect is the same. His music has changed over the years to achieve this level of refined directness. His first albums were still encapsulated in the mainstream, with clear melodic lines, themes and structures. In the last years he has moved away from that, playing fully improvised music, but with focus and with lots of technical skills, both on the instrument and on the interaction with the other musicians. His tone is warm and buttery, very sensitive, welcoming the audience into the music, inviting them to share the musical journey (in contrast to many of today's musicians who find interesting ways of creating a distance with the audience, alienating them). Michel Lambert is the perfect partner for his music, adding polyrhythms and creative drumming, often with lots of energy, adding intensity to Carrier's carefully built lyrical sax phrases. Having French bass-player Jean-Jacques Avenel join is a great idea. His skills on the instrument are excellent and he finds the right tone to enrich the trio. The CD constists of three pieces, one clocking even over forty minutes, but that should not deter you. Despite the small line-up, the trio has sufficient ideas for variation to keep the attention going. There is a long bass solo with powerfull percussion from Lambert to create depth, there is a short kalimba piece somewhere in the middle, meditative moments alernate with fierce and intense interplay. Adventurous and welcoming : that is a rare combination. Later this year Ayler Records will bring even more live recordings by him. Enjoy this one and look forward to what's coming!

Buy or download from Leo Records.

© stef

Atomic - Retrograde (Jazzland, 2008) ****½

The Swedish-Norwegian band Atomic is a kind of all-star band, that releases great records every few years, and when they do, it's always something to look forward to. This is their second 3-CD box set, now all recorded in the studio, with new material, although trumpeter Magnus Broo's "Painbody" was also recently released on his album with the same title. The other band members are Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor an soprano saxophones, who wrote most of the material, Håvard Wiik on piano, and Scandinavia's master rhythm section : Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. And though all of these musicians are more productive within free jazz and avant-garde idioms, "Atomic" is their tribute to their musical heritage and inspirations, the great free jazz musicians of the 60s. That means that form, structure and rhythm still play a role, as a solid foundation for free improvisations. And, man, do these guys enjoy themselves! This is one of the best free bop bands around. The compositions are great, the playing superb, the interactions clever, the improvisations free and liberated, the rhythms enthralling. The last CD is recorded live in Seattle, and all pieces but one already figure in studio version on the previous discs in the box, making it possible and interesting to see how they approach the same material in a live setting. The sound is a little more distant, but the joy of playing even more fun. I won't bore you with an overview of all the tracks on this release, but it's great as usual. Their approach hasn't changed much, and that's good. This is modern jazz as it should sound. A pleasure for heart, soul, mind and body. What more can you want?

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Terje Isungset - Ice Concerts (All Ice Records, 2008) ****

Terje Isungset's "Ice Concerts" compiles tracks from live performances with various artists, including the percussionist himself on ice percussion, flute, voice, icefon, icehorn and ice, Sara Merielle Gaup on joik, Arve Henriksen on trumpet,vocal and icehorns, Unni Løvlid, Lena Nymark and Silvia Moi on vocals, and Jon Halvor Bjørnset on live sampling. As said earlier, Isungset's music defies categorization, yet it is of an extreme simple and true beauty. Most of the pieces are duets between percussion and voice, or percussion and trumpet, or icehorn. But the percussion is the real treat musically, sparse and reverent, of an intense purity, not unlike the sounds of real snow and ice melting, which he also uses on this album. Pretty unique.

The concerts were made outdoors in order to capture the true chill of things. It's hard to believe you can get anything recorded under these conditions, let alone sing or put your lips against the trumpet.

© stef

Misha Alperin - Her First Dance (ECM, 2008) ****

There was a time in my life that I bought all newly released ECM records, then still on vinyl (Jarrett, Old & New Dreams, Abercrombie, John Surman, Lester Bowie, Garbarek, Rypdal, ... the lot). After a while I got tired of their too polished sound. You can't give Manfred Eicher enough praise for what he and his label contributed to modern music, because there are few producers who managed to get such a decisive role in shaping a musical style without actually playing music. Furthermore he managed to create a sublime and unique positioning for his label, with very clever and consistent design and a superb sound quality.

Over the years, I've grown a little bit tired of ECM's too sophisticated approach, because I became more interested in more direct emotional and musical roughness, rawness, adventurousness, ie less control, less discipline, more anger, more madness, more soul, more authenticity.

Yet once in a while, there are ECM records that grab my attention, like the recent John Surman, or Terje Rypdal, or Dans Les Arbres or this one.

This record is ECM at 100%, no question about it. Ukrainan pianist Misha Alperin plays his piano in a style which IS ECM, finding a genre between classical and jazz, with a very melancholy atmosphere, very subdued, never raising his voice, deeply emotional and full of the usual ECM aesthetic. And even when the tunes are a little more uptempo, which is only the case with "Jump", it is closer to Mozart than Oscar Peterson, joyful and lyrical. On half of the tracks he is joined by Arkady Shilkloper on french horn and flugelhorn and/or Anja Lechner on cello. Most tracks, but especially those with the guest musicians, are so sad, so melancholic, that my heart melts and that I crumble to pieces. There is no dissonant sound to be heard, there are no wild jumps into the void of the unknown, but that's not the point. What he does with "the known" is already strong enough, creative and really worth listening to.

© stef

Friday, June 13, 2008

Luis Lopes - Humanization 4Tet (Clean Feed, 2008) ****

I had never heard of guitarist Luis Lopes, and kudos to Clean Feed again for giving a lesser known musician a chance, because he deserves it. His Humanization 4Tet further consists of Rodrigo Amado, whose sax-playing and sense of music I've already recommended before, and with Aaron Gonzalez on bass and Stefan Gonzalez on drums, two young musicians with great skills and even more ideas. Lopes's playing is straight-forward, with a bluesy electric sound, more focused on delivering great music than on pyrotechnics or avant-garde excursions, and that's the overall nature of this album. The compositions are nice, with great themes and especially nice improvisations. Lopes is really in full service of the band he assembled here, as self-effacing as can be, leaving lots of room for bass, drums and sax. On the second track, dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini, his only contribution is to add eery feedback sounds and colorings of sustained notes. The third track, dedicated to physicist Stephen Hawking and called "Principio Da Incerteza", starts with a long and strong unison theme, and in line with the title, it brings changing rhythms and tempi, even to the extent that all rhythm, structure and melody dissapear for a powerful open improvisation. Again, Lopes adds sparse notes, but well-chosen, with the right timbre and sound, offering depth to the sax, bass and drums that really carry the tune, that gradually gathers momentum again, leading back to the original theme. "Big Love" is dedicated to Joe Giardullo, which is an excellent idea by the way, and it brings a more abstract energetic melody, which, as on the other tracks immediately leads into a sax solo, which is also a good idea because Amado truly is a great sax player. His tone is warm, his phrasing complex and focused. And what about Lopes? Well, at the climax of Amado's solo, somewhere half-way the tune, when bass and drums have propulsed the sax into higher space, Lopes again adds support, by offering mute echoes and little sounds of admiration, enriching the whole without taking the lead voice. "The Long March", starts with a long bass intro, joined by the drums once a fixed, and indeed march-like vamp has been established, and both sax and guitar join for the nice melodic theme that seems to end with an open question mark. Lopes then plays a solo. It is slow. It is full of openness. It is precise. It is deep. It is beautiful. And the way Amado takes over is brilliant, joining on the same note, extending it and then moving on, intensifying the piece a little, but not too much, moving it into more extravert regions. The last track starts in a totally improvised context, with all four musicians interacting in a hectic way, Amado full-voiced, Lopes with muted distorted guitar sounds, breaking into yet another unison theme, as a lead-in for Stefan Gonzalez to give a fierce drums solo, joined by Amado with a no less fierce sax solo, and then the bass joins, with the guitar adding shredded muted heavy notes, slowing down the massive sounds, bringing the guitar back to normal tones, with again bluesy, very emotional playing, very direct, sounding uncomplicated but again, precise. The strange thing about Lopes's music is that despite the fact that he clearly has a free mind, moving the band into very free territory at times, that he sticks to the usual intro theme, then improv, then repeat theme to end, as if that kind of structure is needed or required. This is a great and stylistically balanced CD, by a musician who deserves more attention, and one who certainly deserves the prize for the most self-effacing participation on his own release.

Listen to
Paso (For Pier Paolo Pasolini)

Listen further and download from eMusic.

© stef

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Matt Lavelle & Barry Chabala - I Like To Play (self-published, 2008) ***

From some of the first tracks of the CD I wasn't quite sure that Barry Chabala could play guitar, but after a while my early misconception proved wrong (again, and sorry for that). The point is, he doesn't play in a conventional way, he creates sounds on the strings - and sometimes on the body of his guitar - regardless of conventions, often hesitantly without much "stage presence". Sometimes it sounds bizarre, or even like a beginner playing around on the strings, but what he does still has coherence and direction. Matt Lavelle builds his lines (on sax or trumpet) around this, reacting fast and intense, leading to a strange mixture of sounds. They play as if they were sitting in the same room as you, that intimate it sounds, yet it is not intimate in the traditional sense, because you don't get any comfort as a listener. They move you to interesting territory, with tradition never far away, and even a traditional blues perks up its head, adding some warmth to the proceedings, while at the same time throwing the traditional elements of the blues overboard. This is friendly and nice, two guys having fun in playing together. No great ambitions, no pretence, just two guys enjoying themselves creatively, although some of the tracks are great, such as "Is That A Trumpet In Your Pocket Or, Um?", which is a long uptempo nervous, boogie-influenced, chasing duet. As the title says : they like playing.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free Unfold Trio (Amor Fati, 2008) ****

This piano trio consists of Jobic Le Masson on piano, Benjamin Duboc on bass and Didier Lasserre on drums. When I first listened to it, I got some faraway memories of the Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul album "A.R.C.", a brilliant album that I found rich, hard, intense and uncompromising in its avoidance of recognisable tunes (although they covered Miles Davis' Nefertiti). This album is more modern, but it fits within the same legacy of piano trio music. Le Masson is creative and unpredictable while remaining focused, and bass and drums move along as easily as the musical thoughts evolve. The ease with which Duboc switches to arco and back to pizzi is surprising, and Lasserre's being "in the music" with his drums is strong, more accentuating the evolution of the thoughts than offering an explicit rhythm. The intensity and energy with which the album starts is kept throughout the album and that's a major feat in itself, but Le Masson manages to keep in his improvisations a high level of abstract lyricism and sensitive power. And even in the slower movements, as half-way the second piece, their interplay is immediate and on the same level, maintaing their unique cohesiveness, moving their music in a pointillistic kind of action painting. Again an excellent album from this young French label.

© stef

"Do you really like everything?"

Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC

"Do you really like everything?" - that was a question I got yesterday by a young jazz enthusiast on a Dutch jazz forum when we were discussing free and avant-garde jazz.

The answer is simple : I don't.

As a rough estimate, I even dislike 99.99% of the music that is being made, and that currently terrorizes our media (TV, radio, print, web, ...) and public places (pubs, hotels, airports, beaches, malls, elevators, ...).

The dislike is the result of :

- lack of originality
- pretence
- recycled concepts
- clichés
- mediocrity
- dull
- emotionlessness
- self-centered idolization
- bland
- mediocrity
- superficial
- nothing to tell
- lack of authenticity
- mediocrity
- sales as only objective
- ...

Need I go on?

And, truth be told, that is not only applicable to the tsunamis of rap, funk, hiphop, fusion, mainstream and pop garbage that is engulfing us, but also to lots of jazz, free jazz, modern jazz, avant-garde jazz.

Good quality music is not limited to one genre, and neither is bad music. You have excellent music in all of the genres I just mentioned, add to that classical music, world music, and all the other genres.

In each of these genres there are musicians I like - whether it's Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Parisa (Fātemeh Vā'ezi), Portishead or Wadada Leo Smith. Because they are not only true to themselves, but they were/are able to create their own voice, and had/have a story to tell. Their musical story, one you've not heard before, one that makes you listen, because you have no choice.

So from the totality of the musical spectrum, going from established classical music to the most avant-garde endeavors, I can pick a few musicians in each genre. A few out of the thousands and thousands of musicians who try or who think they've succeeded.

Next to that, I admit that I have a strong interest in the music that fits in the tiny component of that spectrum that is squeezed between free bop and avant-garde jazz. There is still room on the right side of that spectrum. I am currently struggling with what I would call the "whisperer-scrapers", musicians such as Birgit Ulher, Axel Dörner, or the recent Mats Gustafsson & Cor Fuhler record. I appreciate their courage to go out there, where no man has gone before, but I'm not sure they can find anything there that I value in music. Yet I may be wrong. Time will tell.

So, within that tiny piece of the spectrum, I hope to be able to listen to and to review new releases. And that tiny spectrum is not so limited, if you see how many CDs are being released. You should see the stack of CDs here, next to me, that still wait to be listened to, some of which will be reviewed too, if they're lucky. I like this tiny band of the spectrum, because not only some musicians, but the genre itself offers what I like, and it hence increases the likelihood to find what I like : emotional authenticity, adventurous spirit, musical vision, ... and especially the possibility for a great listening experience : emotionally and intellectually.

I love music. I love good music.

© stef

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Steve Cohn - Iro Iro (Red Toucan, 2008) ****

Iro Iro means "this and that" in Japanese. Iro means color. On this CD multi-instrumentalist Steve Cohn brings the concept of his chamber ensemble a step further. He plays the piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki, shofar, ektara and percussion, and the band further consists of Masahiko Kono on trombone, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Kevin Norton on drums, vibes and percussion. Usually the concept of chamber jazz is limited to bands without drummer, but Kevin Norton's approach is so light and perfectly fitting the musical concept, that it could still fall within the genre. The music is avant-garde, but varied, with meditative moments, with lots of openness, as on the second track, or extremely hectic and intense moments of interplay, as the beginning of the third track. The fourth track starts with Cohn's subtle and melodyless piano-playing and you have to give it to him : his touch is fresh, unusual, and sensitive, which sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The cello joins in the same vein, with subtle pizzi lines, supported by gently accentuations of the drums. Masahiko Kono truly is a good choice on the trombone, because of his precision and capacity of slow developments, creating sounds and being present without being overwhelming. Nuance and sophistication seem to be the guiding principles of the improvisations and of the interplay. Adventurous though this music may be, it is still sufficiently accessible, with strong emotional moments, and hence, as is too often the case with avant-garde, not only concerned with form. Recommended.

Listen to

© stef

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hank Roberts - Green (Winter & Winter, 2008) ***½

This is bizarre music. Cellist Hank Roberts has always had a penchant for doing his own thing, but what he does here requires courage. He brings his music with a sentimentality that is out of the ordinary, unafraid to sing his wordless songs, the German word "Weltschmerz" is what comes to mind, a world full of pain and longing, a kind of spiritual (dis)satisfaction, and deep emotionalism that exists per se. Next to those dark, brooding, atmospheric or meditative pieces, he adds some rock and pop influenced songs. He is joined by Marc Ducret on guitar and Jim Black on drums, both the exact antithesis of Roberts, always edgy, direct, angry often, offering a good antidote for Roberts's melancholy. The non-meditative pieces are also of interest. There are some musically complex little gems, like "Cola People", or even straight rock songs, like "Trees". There is the funky "In the 60s", with different layers of guitar and cello, on which both Black and Ducret can demonstrate their rock nature. Roberts' attack on his cello is broad too, from classical over jazz to sometimes even slide guitar kind of sounds. As a reviewer, this makes it difficult because he's impossible to pigeon-hole. I prefer his slow, melancholy pieces, on which he mixes world music influences with jazz and yes, whatever creative ideas for new angles he has. Despite the gentleness of the album, I'm not sure Roberts' music will appeal to mainstream fans. Yet on the other hand, the direct sentimentality and sweetness will require some open-mindedness from the avant-garde fans.

I don't like his singing, but that's a question of personal preference. This is an interesting, varied and courageous album. The variations in genre were at first listening a little too wide, but on further listening they seem to fit. The emotional authenticity behind them obviously comes from the same source, making this a coherent album.

© stef

Kalaparush McIntyre Quartet - Extremes (CIMP, 2008) ***½

Kalaparush McIntyre is a free-minded spirit. The AACM tenor saxophonist has been a part of the jazz scene for over forty years now, and so does drummer Warren Smith. Both have known each other since they were toddlers. They are joined here by Will Connell on alto sax and bass clarinet and by Michael Logan on bass. This is free-minded music. There are typical AACM themes, but these are just there to set the scene for the long tracks are predominantly long improvisations by the various band members. McIntyre's tone has become softer, more fragile, and his music has become less dense, more open. The nice thing is the sense of freedom and range of possibilities, also in terms of emotional expressivity, but don't look for new forms of creativity and adventurousness. Good quality free jazz with a boppish base.

© stef

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Joe McPhee & John Heward - Voices : 10 Improvisations (Mode, 2008) ****

When two masters of free improvisation join forces, you can expect fireworks, and that is what you get here. Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, soprano sax) and John Heward (drums, kalimba), create some wonderful music in ten improvisations, as the title suggests. The fact that both musicians are skilled in various instruments offers additional depth and variation. For once, McPhee uses his pocket trumpet much more than usual, and with great success. True, the range of the instrument is more limited than the sax, but McPhee manages to cross that divide by adding feeling, going to the extremes from clear-toned plaintive wails to hard-blown voiceless whispers, or on the first tracks even gurgling sounds as if the bath is emptying. Heward is sensitive and creative and is a great sparring partner for McPhee's spiritual excursions and avant-garde try-outs. There are moments of deeply emotional and sensitive playing, as on "Improvisation 2", alternated with moments of great intensity, with hard and forceful dialogues, as on "Improvisation 3". As of "Improvisation 5", McPhee switches to soprano without changing the approach. There are subdued moments, and again full force blowing, but the CD ends with a beautiful and fragile improvisation, the highlight of the album. Sure, McPhee and Heward have albums that are better than this one, but those interested in both musicians will find this a great addition to their catalogue.

Listen to
Improvisation 1
Improvisation 2

Return Of The New Thing - Alchemia (Not Two, 2008) ****½

If you like creative, genre-bending, fully improvised, expansive and energetic free jazz, then you will surely enjoy this. The British-French quartet, consisting of Dan Warburton on piano and violin, Jean-Luc Guionnet on alto sax, Francois Fuchs on bass and Edward Perraud on drums, has a real take-no-prisoners approach. The three long tracks (approx. 29, 24 and 17 minutes, aptly titled 29:09, 24:41 and 17:20), are a pure powerhouse of full-speed intensity and unrelenting energy. Once in a while the wall of violence slows down for spiky and intense interactions between the four musicians, but not for long, because it swells again and becomes another giant wave that pulls and pushes everything along that crosses its path until it eventually comes crashing down, with splatters of piano notes, crashing cymbals and throbbing strings flying in all directions. The second track starts very quietly, creating bizarre soundscapes, evolving into a double-tempoed quartet, with sax and drums playing up a storm, while piano and arco bass compete for slowness, but it doesn't take long before they too are sucked up by the passing tornado, violent and powerful, which after a while unexpectedly disappears, evaporates or whatever those things do, to leave the empty space to dispersed sound debris, bits and pieces of music scattered all over the place with no clear order, each individually meaningless, and which, surprisingly, reassemble to become, yes, another juggernaut, another behemoth of sound, moving hard, moving fast, occupying all space, propulsed forward, sucking up everything that it encounters on its way, and even more suprisingly, full of velvet sensitivity.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Cosmosamatics - Free Within The Law (Not Two, 2008) ***

Sonny Simmons is a musician with ups and downs. Sometimes great, sometimes uneventful. And so are the Cosmosamatics. Although the musicianship is good on most albums, I often wonder what their story is about. They have no clear musical positioning. It's nice, it's sometimes adventurous, but then again, I often think I've heard it so many times before. So far, I find "Zetrons" to be among their best albums. This CD shows them from both angles : the first part, recorded in the studio is better than the second, recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland, in November 2006. On the first part, Simmons's plays the English horn, an unusual instrument with an unusual sound, but the tunes and the improvisations are a little more inspired than on the live performance. The band consists of Sonny Simmons on alto sax and English horn, Michael Marcus on tenor sax and Bb clarinet, Peter Herbert on bass and Art Lewis on drums. The band moves between free bop and free improv, with African influences on "Afro Funk", which leads to captivating passages. After all these years, both sax-players play together with such ease and anticipation of each other's moves, that it is fun to hear. But then something happens to the live set. It becomes kind of uneventful. It sounds nice, but I fear there is no story to tell. A little disappointing after a great start.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Guido Mazzon - As The Crow Flies (Ictus Records, 2008) ****½

I may be writing this review too soon, without having listened sufficiently to this new release by Italian trumpeter Guido Mazzon, but I'm so thrilled by his music, that I can't wait to share my enthusiasm. This CD compiles a number of recordings that Mazzon made over the years with various musicians, and always in small settings, duo or trio. I like this music because it is pure. It is genuine. It is honest. It is deeply felt. He also doesn't care about genres, moving as easily from very classical sounds to avant-garde with everything in between. The first and longest track starts with Andrew Cyrille giving us some great African polyrhythmics, as the intro for Mazzon's trumpet, later joined by Gaetano Liguori on piano. This track alone makes this record worthwhile. And then you have a number of amazing duets : a trumpet duet with the late Lester Bowie, two trumpet-flugelhorn duets with Alberto Mandarini, a sax-piano duet with Mario Schiano, a trumpet-bass duet with Giovanni Maier, two trumpet-sax duets with Roberto Ottaviano. And then a trio with Ellen Christi on vocals and Tiziano Tononi on drums. And the fantastically beautiful solo piece "Fire And Light". This is a true statement of strong musicianship. Mastering the instrument and the possibilities of music in such a way that you're no longer bothered by their limitations, and quite the contrary, that they allow you to bring a direct conduit for the emotions you feel. As Mazzon says it on the liner notes : "Different musicians, different places, different times: one mind about music. Playing like writing on a "tabula rasa" where I draw sounds, emotions, and closed relationships with my partners. Play music to live a common experience, to blow emotions not necessarily to say high concepts, anyway, to tell stories. I've always told the same story in my music, my own story. I only change the colours, the moods, the accents... I think that to be free means make close connections between ideas and feelings: this is a reasonable evolution". A lyrical feast. Highly recommended.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ideal Bread - The Ideal Bread (KMB Jazz, 2008) ****

Because of the recent Kirk Knuffke CD on Clean Feed, I checked for other recordings with the trumpet-player and I came across "Ideal Bread", a band created by Josh Sinton, who plays baritone sax, and further consisting of Reuben Radding on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Originally the band wanted to bring a tribute to Steve Lacy's trio recording "NY Capers & Quirks", recorded in 1979 and partly re-issued on Hat Hut records. What Ideal Bread does with Lacy's CD is more than just bringing an updated version of his music. I am not that familiar with the original material, but what they do here could stand on its own. The themes are of course the same as on the original Lacy release, but what they do with the music is really their own, moving it far into free territory, while often maintaing the structural anchor points of the pieces. Sinton's baritone sounds excellent, full of passion and depth, and his idea to add Knuffke's trumpet is a great one, not only because it relieves some of the burden to emulate on his own the power of Lacy's playing, which is not the point of this tribute, it's about the music, but it also adds variation and contrast to the overall sound. And that sound is also very coherent in the various tracks, because of its creative approach to the material, and its wonderful fusion of bop with free jazz and real avant-garde, presented in all its logical continuity, switching styles without changing mood or without losing focus. I hope we will hear more of this band in the future. Recommended.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

David Liebman, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Marino, Jim Black - Renewal (Hat Hut, 2008) ****

As Ellery Eskelin writes on the liner notes, this is a real quartet album, with contributions coming from all four musicians, and all equally contributing to the overall sound. Ellery Eskelin and David Liebman play tenor sax, Tony Marino bass and Jim Black drums. The music is excellent, composed, yet open and free, not really boppish, rather post-bop, but then a tad more free. So how can I describe this : lots of references to the jazz tradition, lots of interesting new angles and takes. Whatever the subgenre, this is great jazz from beginning to end. What I like most is the space they create, despite the clearly composed tracks. This music is never crowded, never in-your-face, yet it grabs the attention because of its inventiveness, both in the composed parts as in the improvisational interplay. But the best part is the musicianship itself. Listen to the mastery of the instruments, the mastery of timing and pacing, the pitch, the subtle use of power or subduedness where necessary. In short, high quality jazz.

Listen to
The Decider

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bill Frisell - History, Mystery (Nonesuch, 2008) ****

Thirty tracks spread over two CDs bring a great overview of Bill Frisell's signature music, mixing styles such as blues, jazz, country and african in one great blend of soft, gentle, clever, and technically superior playing, not only by him, but by the whole stellar cast of musicians he's lined up as usual, with Jenny Scheinman on violin, Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums, Eyvind Kang on viola, Greg Tardy on clarinet and saxophone, Hank Roberts on cello, and Ron Miles on trumpet. The musical universe Frisell creates is one of carefully crafted little musical explorations, full of sympathy and sadness, little pieces of candy for the ear, sweet, melting and then they're gone. On the few tracks that are a little longer, a little more drama seeps into the music, as in "Baba Drame" (which already appeared on The Intercontinentals), "Waltz For Baltimore", or "Struggle, part II", with its dark bluesy guitar solo, but which gets a totally unexpected turn towards the end. Four tracks are even shorter than one minute, and eleven tracks shorter than two. This is not irrelevant, because Frisell really manages to tell a story in such a short time span. The whole album is the result of several recording sessions, including a live performance, which offers a lot of variation, without negatively influencing the coherence of the overall mood.

I know this is not free jazz, it's most of the time not even jazz, but it's certainly well worth listening to.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Larry Ochs & Orkestrova - The Mirror World (Metalanguage, 2008) ****

Some years ago, I might have put this CD away after ten minutes, because of its weird soundscapes with instruments weaving apparently uncoordinated sounds into even more indiscernible textures. Today, I find it has a staggering beauty, an unusual aesthetic and a fragile sadness, which is rare. That Larry Ochs is capable of great music, is no longer a mystery. Here, he takes on a real project, a tribute to the film of avant-garde director-painter Stan Brakhage, who was most known for his handpainted - yes, image after image - soundless films, and for which Ochs has aligned two bands for a dual approach. The first CD is called "Realization 1 : Hand" and the second "Realization 2 : Wall". Musically both records are close, but surely far from identical, and that's not only due to the line-up. On "Hand", the music is played by Orkestrova, consisting of John Schott on electric guitar, Joan Jeanrenaud and Theresa Wong on cello, Lisle Ellis on bass, Ben Goldberg on contra-alto and Bb clarinets, Toyoji Tomita and Jen Baker on trombones and didgeridoos, Darren Johnston and David Bithell on trumpets, Steve Adams on bass flute, Jon Raskin on baritone sax, Tim Perkis & Matt Wright on electronics, William Winant and Gino Robair on percussion, Bruce Ackley on Bb clarinet, Moe! Staiano on percussion, and with Larry Ochs on "traffic control". And despite this big band line-up, the music retains its light quality, a level of openness and transparency, with musicians joining and leaving the overall soundscapes. There is lots of dissonance and unexpected sounds to be heard, yet they are as related to the colors in Brakhage movies, moving dynamically along, not always clear what the end result will be, but contributing to something utterly bizarre and attractive. The first CD starts very calmly with the trumpet playing in slow tones over a melting pot of sounds, that slowly flow even if they do not always blend into one harmonic whole. It moves on through moments of great dissonance but at the very end, the slow sadness comes again, with the trumpets playing bluesy tones, supported by the guitar and with the baritone sax taking care of the rhythm, which is changed on the last track with the didgeridoos giving the basic rhythm (and muted shouts!) and the sax taking over the plaintive and sad singing.

The second CD, "Wall", is brought by the Rova Special Sextet, consisting of Bruce Ackley on soprano and tenor, Steve Adams on alto, Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino, Jon Raskin on baritone, and with Gino Robair and William Winant on drums and percussion. It starts with a violence that is absent on the first CD, with the full horn section blowing away on the short first track, "Hit", which moves on into the equally short "Hung", with the rhythm section creating a strong forward movement for the saxes to interact, at first forcefully, yet alternating with melodic parts, culminating in absolute frenzy on the third track, with an unrelenting and uncompromising energy, which only stops halfway the CD, with the track "Pulsar", which contains slow drumming and percussion. After that, the musicians play in smaller units, one sax with drums, leaving more space, with more orchestrated and unison sounds, but that doesn't last long. With "Ruin", a steady rhythm moves the band back into the realm of sound bombardments, with the four saxes playing together, then each doing his own thing, then miraculously coming together again. This is not easy listening. It is hard, intense, raw, at times an assault to the ear, much like Brakhage's films are at times an assault to the eyes, but not always, beauty emerges, yet the real listening value lies in the total adventure that Ochs serves us here.

In that sense both CDs are indeed each other's mirror image too, with the first having a lighter texture despite the heavier line-up, and the second one being a wall of sound built by only six musicians. Structurally, they could also well be each other's mirror image, with the intense chaotic part at the center of the first CD, whereas the center piece of the second consists of light percussion in the middle part. Whatever, it's a rough journey, but one well worth taking.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

The first CD "Hand" can be downloaded from eMusic here.
The second CD "Wall" can be downloaded from iTunes and eMusic here.

See some footage from one of his film "Glaze Of Cathexis" (1990)