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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Michael Adkins Quartet - Rotator (Hatology, 2008) ****

This is the second album by tenor saxophonist Michael Adkins and it is a winner. Accompanied by stellar musicians as Russ Lossing on piano, John Hebert on bass and Paul Motian on drums, the quartet brings very intimate structured post-bop improvisations. Apart from the compositions which seem to hesitate between tradition and novelty, and apart from the high quality improvisations you can expect from such a band, Adkins' tenor itself is the great joy of this album. He has a very traditional tone, going back to the late 50s, sounding like Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins even, full, warm, and eloquent, creating an intimacy which brings you back to the sentiments of dark bars on desolate evenings, where the only hope of any human warmth can come from the deep musical voice of this tenor, so recognizable, so true in its emotions, so rich in its subtleties and phrasings, that your spirits will be lifted again ... And yet it is not all mood, the music is also about form, about rhythm and interaction, and with these four musicians it all seem to happen just by itself, without any effort. A little too sweet to my taste at times, but a great album by objective criteria.

© stef

Feuermusik - No Contest (Standard Form, 2008) ***½

Feuermusik ("fire music" in German), is a Canadian duo with Jeremy Strachan on woodwinds and Gus Weinkauf on percussion. I don't know anything about these musicians nor about their band. I downloaded their CD from eMusic, and these are unfortunately downloads (still!) without liner notes or any further information. On myspace they describe themselves as "trash-can-busted-up-broken-reed-blues", and that does not do the music much justice. True, many of the tunes are very direct, joyful, almost funky pieces, reminiscent in their almost musical innocence and naive approach of the Swiss Lucien Dubs trio, including the heavy rhythmic sax playing and the very polyrhythmic percussion. But that's only how it starts, then some tracks play with clearly orchestrated and overdubbed pieces (since there are no credits to other musicians, that's what I assume), creating a more African feel in the melodies and the counterpoint, especially on "Nearness/Distance". These guys are at their best when they keep it simple, and often the overdubs become a little too much, but it's great fun listening to. And in these sad days, that is a welcome break.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Watch their clips on Youtube (not exactly a performance in Carnegie Hall, but so much the better!).

© stef

Monday, July 28, 2008

Paulo Curado - The Bird, The Breeze And Mr. Filiano (Clean Feed, 2008) ****

This is the fourth Clean Feed release on which Paulo Curado contributes, on alto or flute, and here as the leader of a trio format, with Bruno Pedroso on drums and Mr. Filiano on bass, for what seems to be eleven improvisations. I say "seems to be", because at times it's hard to believe that it is improvised. Each piece has its own angle, its own logical flow, which remains present throughout the piece even if there is no clear theme or melody, although on some tracks, such as "Escondidas", a kind of theme emerges from the improvisation. Ken Filiano is without a doubt one of the best bass players around, not only because of his technical skills (his arco playing is unbelievably precise), but because of the feeling he puts into it, often bluesy, with lots of soul, and because of his creative musical approach, mixing new forms with old feelings, or old forms with new emotional experiences, and any other combination of this. Listen to his solo piece "As If", where he has a captivating dialogue between arco and pizzi. And Paulo Curado is in the same league, which makes this a great fit. He's a cautious, gentle player, with a warm tone, very creative in his phrasing, which is sometimes very jazzy, and at other times more easily catalogued as avant-garde. Bruno Pedroso, acting as "The Breeze" in the title, plays very open, following the music well, creating the right percussive backdrop to create depth to the music, without falling into rhythmic patterns in the "open" pieces and very dynamic on the more boppish tunes. His duet with Curado on "Pequenos Duendes" is a real delight of interplay. There is lots of variation on this CD, strong musicianship, and great music, with the long "Por Fim Assim" as my favorite.

Listen to
Novos Mundos Para O Joâo

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Phantom Orchard - Orra (Tzadik, 2008) ****

Phantom Orchard is the brainchild of Zeena Parkins (harp, omnichord) and Ikue Mori (electronics). Their first release was issued in 2004, and now they have a new album called Orra on the Composer Series of the Tzadik label. Both artists create a surreal musical environment, which is friendly, warm and accessible on the surface, but the undercurrent is one of displacement, perplexity, mystery, pain and distress. The title of the album refers to a verse by the Scottish poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie.

"Yea, when the cold blood shoots through every vein :
When every pore upon my shrunken skin
A knotted knoll becomes, and to mine ears
Strange inward sounds awake, and to mine eyes
Rush stranger tears, there is a joy in fear"
(Joanna Baillie, 1762-1851 : Orra, A Tragedy)

And this "joy in fear" reflects the sentiment of the whole album well. There is something inevitable in the outcome, an acceptance of fate, which relieves the listener of all anxiety, despite the presence of the fear that a catastrophe will happen. So tension abounds, and a strange beauty too, accompanied by scary sounds, creating an uneasy attractiveness.

The two women are joined by Makigami Koichi on voice and jew's harp, Josh Quillen on steel drum, Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje on voice and real time processing and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The music is slow, subtle, precise with little sounds clustering together to create a whole which has coherence and a direction. The overall effect is a musical world that you will have rarely heard. It is surely not jazz. This is experimental music, yet focused on the emotional expressiveness of music, regardless of the form it takes, not with the experiment itself as a goal, and some of the pieces are of wonderful beauty, sweet and dark and the same time. I've said before that I'm not a fan of electronics, but these two musicians manage to create something unique with it. Not everything works for me, but most of it, and that's already good enough.

© stef

Friday, July 25, 2008

Solo percussion

I tried to keep away from this topic for a long time : the solo percussion album. Why? Because it's boring. It may be of interest to drummers and percussionists, but it lacks sufficient ingredients to tell a good story.

Some of the best drummers in jazz gave it a try, including Max Roach ("Conversation On Drums", "Sfax"), Baby Dodds, Milford Graves ("Grand Unification", "Stories", "Entelechy"), Andrew Cyrille ("What About"), Eddie Prévost ("Loci Of Change", "Material Consequences"), Andrea Centazzo ("Midnight All Day"), Susie Ibarra ("Drum Sketches"), Brat Oles ("FreeDrum Suite"), Andrew Drury ("Renditions"), Chris Corsano ("The Young Cricketer"), Paal Nilssen-Love ("Sticks & Stones"), Han Bennink ("Solo", "Nerve Beats", but only partly), Jerome Cooper ("From There To Hear"), Tony Scott ("Music For Voodoo Meditation"), Tatsuya Nakatani ("Green Report 12"), and many more. And then of course there's Art Blakey who made "Drum Suite" with a whole percussion band. But despite all the skills and the variations, drumming or just non-melodic percussion (so no vibes or balophon, or the like), makes it really hard to keep my attention going.

And even though there aren't too many duo percussion albums, they do exist.

I recently got this new CD from Canadian drummer Michel Lambert, together with Rakalam Bob Moses.

Michel Lambert & Rakalam Bob Moses - Meditation On Grace (FMR 2008)

The CD consists of four lengthy pieces, recorded live in Quincy, Massachusetts in 2004. If the first track brings some forceful drumming, the second track is a little bit more varied, with softer touches, more creative, conjuring up percussive landscapes, reacting well to one another, doing their utmost to bring that story, trying to make percussion by itself sufficient to tell a story, trying to act as if melodic instruments are no longer necessary. Bob Moses shouts once in a while. The best thing about the album is that both drummers play just for the fun of the interaction. Many solo drum albums are show-off albums, pieces of demonstrations of skills. Here the music itself dominates, and the fourth track is the most powerful one, with some quite intense whipping sounds, rumbling sounds, dry beats, and sizzling brushes. There are some great things to hear on the album, even for non-percussionists, despite the limitations of the concept. Drummers will surely find this of interest.

© stef

Sabir Mateen - Other Places Other Spaces (Nu Bop, 2008) ****

Sabir Mateen is one of those highly active free jazz musicians who play in many bands (TEST, William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, The Other Other Quartet, Earth People to name but a few). By comparison, he has released relatively little as a leader, and that's a pity. Apart from Mateen on tenor, alto, flute, clarinet and alto clarinet, the band further consists of Raymond A.King on piano, Jane Wang on bass and cello and Ravish Momin on drums, talking drums and percussion. Mateen has always been a free jazz man in heart and soul, enjoying the rhythms, enjoying the freedom, enjoying the expressiveness, enjoying the interplay, and going at it to the full. Mateen is great on this album, and so is the band, and they are at their best in the high energy full steam moments, when the four musicians push each other forward relentlessly. The slower tracks such as "For The Unborn One", or the more avant-garde tracks such as "Shades Of Khusenaton" I find a little less focused or less engaging. But all the rest is raw and intense, and especially on the longest tracks do all musicians, and especially Mateen get the space to unleash their musical power. And the last track "Journey Into The Deepness Of Positive Light" is surely one of the highlights of the album, showing both the power and the tenderness of the band. And all that straight from the heart. No embellishments. No pretense. No water added. Straight. The real deal.

© stef

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Barry Guy - Phases Of The Night (Intakt, 2008) ****

For once I will let some paintings write the review. Barry Guy rejoins forces with pianist Marilyn Crispell and percussionist Paul Lytton, for four "compositions" that were inspired by paintings of Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Yves Tanguy and Wilfredo Lam. I could not find the last painting on the internet, so I gave another one with a title that comes close (a doubtful practice, I know). The music reflects the paintings quite well : surreal, figurative yet moving to abstract, lots of open space inhabited by nightmarish creatures or images arising from our collective subconsciousness, conflicting elements trying to merge into coherence, and sometimes they manage to do that, often they don't, yet the overall effect remains imprinted in the brain as an unusal thing, a glimpse into another reality between waking and sleeping, questioning truth, revealing unexpected events, possibilities, harsh, unyielding, scary with an attractiveness of the personal experience of having seen, of having heard, of having been the witness of something unusual, something out of the ordinary, something irrational yet emotionally gripping ... a weird privilege.

Max Ernst - Phases Of The Night

Dorothea Tanning - Insomnias

Yves Tanguy - With My Shadow

Wilfredo Lam - Visible/Invisible

© stef

Poetry and Spoken Word in Jazz -- Why I don't Like It

Some weeks ago, I said that I didn't like poetry and spoken word in jazz. That is unfortunately still the case. Nevertheless, as Chris Monsen on his perfect sounds blog points out, there are indeed good things to hear, and he illustrates this by showing the clip below based on a Gil Scott-Heron tune, and sure he is right. This is good stuff. Unfortunately, most poetry and spoken word is mostly bad poetry, bad spoken word, high brow fake intellectualism and painfully sentimental mellowness. But ... there is some good stuff. Hence the sharing. Thanks Chris!

© stef

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lol Coxhill and Andrea Centazzo - great again

Ictus has not only been re-issuing some of its fantastic catalogue, but it's now also available digitally from several sources (Klicktrack, eMusic, Allaboutjazz). Here are two re-issues with Lol Coxhill (soprano) and Andrea Centazzo (percussion), the first with Franz Koglmann on trumpet, the second with Giancarlo Schiaffini on trombone. Neither album can be considered to form a unique concept, they're rather a collection of recordings, which are all in the same style of improvisation : free and fresh, inventive and interactive.

Lol Coxhill, Andrea Centazzo, Franz Koglmann - Darkly Again (Ictus, 2008) ****

"Darkly Again" is the sequel to "Darkly" (even in creative environments, not everything should be a surprise), and the music is similar yet not entirely the same. Here there are two Centazzo-Coxhill duos, on Coxhill-Koglmann duo and two solo pieces by Coxhill and Koglmann. On the previous album five tracks had them as a trio and three pieces offered a duo Koglmann-Centazzo. The music is again very open-ended, played for the sake of the sound itself, the pleasure of coming up with new combinations, fast interactions, creating unexpected twists and approaches.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Lol Coxhill, Andrea Centazzo, Giancarlo Schiaffini- Moot & Lid (Ictus, 2008) ****

"Moot & Lid" is a little bit different. The six "Mooting" interactions are all trios, and the fast-response dialogue of short bursts of notes are alternated by pieces with more meditative or expansive phrases. The five "Lid" tracks are Coxhill solo, with or without dubbing, and despite the obvious break in concept with the first part, the music remains consistently in the same style and quality, although the overal mood is a little bit more joyful.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Monday, July 21, 2008

Atomic/School Days - Distil (Okka Disk, 2008) ****

The bands Atomic and School Days share the same rhythm section : Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Atomic further consists of Magnus Broo on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and Bb clarinet, and Havard Wiik on piano. School Days has Chicagoans Jeb Bishop on trombone and Ken Vandermark on baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet and Norwegian Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone. After "Nuclear Assembly Hall" this is the second release by the octet, and again a double CD. All these guys are very prolific, and I think that this year Magnus Broo beats Ken Vandermark to it, this being the 6th release this year to which he contributes if my calculations are correct. The band has the same overall style as Atomic, but the additional instruments give it a broader range while not necessarily having the same sense of focus. Because all musicians are excellent, they also get ample space to improvise and show off their skills. All tracks are composed with the brass section playing the themes in unison as in the best bop tradition, but they can be adventurous and entirely modern at the same time. The first two tracks illustrate this quite well. Jeb Bishop's "Deadline" is a fast-swinging bop piece with a strong solo by Haker Flaten, while "Irrational Ceremony" could count as its slow counterpart, with arco bass, melodic piano, as a long intro for a beautiful horn theme somewhere in the middle of the piece, and for Bishop to take the first solo improvisation, followed by Broo and Nordeson, chaos follows only to flow back into the main theme in full force, dropping dead on one single vibe note, back into gentler regions.

Apart from the superb musicianship, the band's great strength is that they can move within a single piece from one style of jazz to another, making it all sound very consistent as if it was the most natural thing to do to move from cinematic big band swing to screaming saxes, interspersed with some Latin rhythms and once in a while rock attitudes. Listen to Ljungkvist's "Andersonville" to get an idea. And that can only be achieved because this band has not only very open ears and respect for all these subgenres, but more importantly they enjoy every single note of it. Listen to the contrast in styles in the last track, a Vandermark composition, with the reeds and trombone playing a slow eery background tune, over which Broo's trumpet and Paal Nilssen-Love's drums dance like crazy, just to suddenly jump into full bop mode, with the sax, piano and bass taking over. This is wonderful fun to hear. This is not boundary-shifting music, nor does it aspire to great artistic achievements. But it's a great performance by a band (or is it two bands?) that really starts benefiting from playing a lot together. I would love to see this band perform live.

(When talking about this record last week at a concert to a musician, her reaction was : "too many big egos for one band" - I can tell you : it is certainly not the case! - or at least it does not seem to affect the music!)

© stef

Sunday, July 20, 2008

PHAT - La Grande Peste (Insubordinations, 2008) ***½

I'm not quite sure what subgenre of jazz PHAT brings, call it underground jazz, dark jazz or doom jazz. The point is that this young French band, with Fabien Duscombs on drums and percussions, Marc Perrenoud on bass and electric doublebass, and Heddy Boubaker on alto and bass saxophones, does not have the most optimist world view. The title itself gives already sufficient clarity about the tone and mood, "La Grande Peste", means "The Great Plague", and the titles of the tracks leave even less to the imagination, "Between The Titty And The Beer", "The Feast of The Cockroaches" or "The Great Purgatory Of Dead Porn Stars" (the last one being a contender for the title of the year award, but also the best track on the album). The music is jazz, with lots of rock and even punk influences, but then without being violent, aggressive or even angry. The overall mood is more one of anguish and gloom, despair and revulsion. You must like the genre to really appreciate the music, but even if you don't, you cannot but admire the unbelievable coherence of the approach, the energy and intensity, the focus and the uncompromising attitude of these three young musicians. They give what they have and they give it without restraint. The musicians are not bad either, Boubaker is a powerful saxophonist, Duscombs is unbelievably energetic and Perrenoud is a wonderful listener with lots of creative ideas. All three manage to deliver the goods : jazz as you've rarely heard it, creating an unusual atmosphere but with sufficient emotional depth to keep the attention going. Many more gifted and skilled musicians could learn a lot from this band's musical vision. To make it even better - and appreciate the coherence here - the music is free, in the monetary sense. You can just download it from their website.

Listen and download from "Insubordinations" for free.

© stef

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Matthew Shipp Quartet - Cosmic Suite (Not Two, 2008) *****

Matthew Shipp brings another of his instant classics, like "Pastoral Composure", "New Orbit", or "Nu Bop", his quartet recordings with respectively Roy Campbell, Wadada Leo Smith or Daniel Carter on the horn. The rhythm section here consists of Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums, and Daniel Carter plays trumpet and sax, four musicians who've played numerous times together and released regular albums over the past twenty years.

The album brings a suite in 9 parts, starting with an interesting and disturbing piece, that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Carter's trumpet is meditative, and Shipp seems to joins for slow jazzy accompaniment, weaving beautiful harmonics, but only briefly, shifting tone and tempo abruptly, moving into more avant-garde territory, followed by bass and drums. And as Carter moves to tenor, this does not seem to perturb his meditative feel, despite the nervousness playing of the three other musicians. The second part is really calm, without any apparent theme or melody, yet it is structured, with lots of silence and openness, Carter's on bass clarinet, still keeping his cool tone, with Morris on arco, and Shipp and Dickey accentuating the barely audible fragile playing by Carter. This seamlessly moves into the third piece, still calm, but dark and intense, with the piano taking a break. The fourth track increases the tempo and back into bop harmonics and rhythms, with Shipp setting the scene and driving the music forward, just to retreat again and leave the floor to the three others, only to join again for the closing chords. Part six is a piano trio, with very abstract improvisation by Shipp, with lots of variation in mood and rhythm, slowing down for a solo piano piece on the seventh track. After a more intense and propulsive, thundering piece, the last track goes back to the open-ended avant mode of the third part of the suite, but now with the piano joining. It is the most sensitive and most beautiful piece, and that says a lot, because every track on this album is stunning. Lots of variation, sensitive and creative playing, innovative and familiar. Without a doubt one of Matthew Shipp's best records in years. Highly recommended.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Friday, July 18, 2008

Greg Osby & Andrew Cyrille - Low Blue Flame (TUM, 2006) ****½

A little later than planned, I bought this CD, after I tried in vain to order it through the Finish TUM label on which it appeared and strangely enough no longer figures. Anyway, when two of today's greatest jazz musicians play together, fireworks are the result. The veteran free jazz drummer demonstrates what experience and rhythmic creativity mean for music, while young alto and soprano saxophonist Greg Osby's warm and broad pallette really flourishes in this free and dynamic environment. Apart from Monk's "Work" all the tracks are original material, mostly improvised or composed for the occasion. So, in short, anyone interested in drums and sax should have a close listen at how these two artists bring musical interaction to an almost sublime level. The title track alone is worth the album : a highly intense bluesy piece with a steady opening riff hammered into your head sufficiently enough to keep it in the back of your mind for the rest of the track, and then listen how these two wonderful musicians play around it, moving away from it, doing completely different things, but never missing a beat from the original riff : six minutes of pure musical joy. As Cyrille describes it : "The blue flame of the fire is its hottest part. It does not waiver in its uniqueness. In a similar fashion, let this music be a testament to that uncommon quality". Quite an accurate description. The only downside on the album is a poem recited by Cyrille over a sax solo (sorry guys, I still hate it!). This is further and free-er than Osby has ever played on record, and even if he starts playing melodic and with patterns, Cyrille's dynamic approach pushes him on to go further and further into more adventurous areas, and the saxophonist does it and he does it well, but without losing the warmth and the roundness of tone in his lyrical playing. Andrew Cyrille's drumming is absolutely stunning at moments, not only because of his technique, but more for his creative wealth, his organization of his rhythms, his permanent changes in approach on the same rhythm. Pieces like "Cyrille In Motion", allow him to showcase his fabulous technique and musical ideas, as is "The Music In Us", again a bluesy track with initial slow blowing by Osby, but rapidly gaining speed and intensity, underpinned by a 13/4 rhythm, which results in a strange, energetic combination of sadness and joy. The album ends with Cyrille playing light percussion in a tribute to Roscoe Mitchell, and he does it with lots of silence, creating a spiritual, shamanistic feel. Another wonderful record which has almost gone unnoticed. Don't miss it.

© stef

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Angles - Every Woman Is A Tree (Clean Feed, 2008) ****½

Magic from Sweden, published in Portugal. This Swedish band consists of Johan Berthling on double bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Martin Kuchen on alto sax, Mats Aleklint on trombone and Mattias Stahl on vibraphone. The band brings a strong anti-war album here, and an ode to women in war-time, the "trees" that hold the families together. The music has this unbelievable combination of energy, melodic beauty and emotional sensitivity. Some of the tracks are wonderful, and possibly among the best I've heard this year. The opening track starts with arco bass, followed by dramatic and sad alto sax, with the vibes offering the right supportive touches, then the rhythm instruments move into a unison theme, opening the floor for the rest of the band to join in the sad melody. The bass also has a long intro for the second track, now on pizzi, for another wailing and tearful theme by the rest of the band. The title track is brilliant, with a strong and sweeping melody, very moving and heartfelt, offering lots of possibilities for expansion, and played in a wonderful African call-and-response mode, including percussive polyrhythmics and a staggering trumpet solo by Broo. And the next piece is great too, starting with a gut-wrenching sax solo by Küchen over a slow and bluesy rhythm, which offers the right background for the ensuing vibe and trombone solos. Those who know Küchen and Nordeson from their work with Exploding Customer will find similarities in the music, albeit less joyful here of course, and richer because of the additional instruments. The music is rhythmic, melodic, with a clear structural approach of theme, improvisations and back to theme, although a little more sophisticated than I describe it. But compositional power is one thing, the major achievement is in the performance itself, which is warm, sad and wonderful. A great album.

Listen to
Peace Is Not For Us
Don't Ruin Me

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

François Corneloup - Next (Hope Street, 2008) **½

François Corneloup is a great baritone sax player, yet I'm not too sure what to think of this record which is hesitating between genres and styles, with moments that are really good, and are often in shrill contrast with the more beaten-track approach of the rest, so much so that conflict arises and coherence is lost. Corneloup also plays soprano and he is accompanied by Dominique Pifarély on violin, Dean Magraw on guitar, Chico Huff on bass and JT Bates on drums. The album starts with fusion elements, especially in the dialogues between violin and electric guitar, there are some jam band elements to be found too, improvisations which are more based on having fun over a steady funky rhythm than real musical explorations. Other tracks, such as "Luez Entre Deux Eaux", are a little more adventurous and creative, "Cease Fire" offers various approaches consecutively, "Seule" is slow and emotional in a mellow way, but more often than not it's uneventful. So, it funks at moments, guitar, bass and drums play fusion, so does the violin at times, so are some of the fast and rhythmic themes, but ii falls short somehow. After his great release U.L.M, the more avant-garde Nu, and having heard his performances with Henri Texier, Carlos Barreto and Hélène Labarrière, I would have expected more adventure and more musical vision. I would have loved to see him explore more in avant and free environment.

© stef

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stéphan Oliva & Jean-Marc Foltz - Pandore (SansBruit, 2008) ****½

I already appreciated Stéphan Oliva's and Jean-Marc Foltz's "Soffio Di Scelsi" last year, now they continue this collaboration, but then without a bass, limiting the interaction to piano and clarinet. The music is as ethereal, as aesthetically beautiful and sensitive as on the previous album, but a little more accessible. It has jazz connotations, but it could as easily be classified as modern classical music, and once in a while some other influences come through, like middle-eastern scales on "Vestiges". The mood is intimate, introspective and meditative, or dark and gloomy as on "L'Imprévue". These two masters never raise their voices, but carefully develop the themes, meticulously, with lots of precision, lots of attention to detail, to silence, to space and pace, and to a balanced delivery. The often abstract themes are fragile and sensitive, and despite their intrinsic romantic angle, they shy away from sentimentality and mellowness, bringing a rich and innovative style of music with lots of emotional depth. All tracks are beautiful, but the last piece, with Foltz's clarinet bending notes in wailing plaintive sorrow over the slow piano chords are absolutely heartrending.

You can download this album from SansBruit at the cost of 6€. You can't be offered more democratic prices than this.

© stef

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daniel Humair, Joachim Kühn, Tony Malaby - Full Contact (Bee Jazz, 2008) ****½

Swiss drummer Daniel Humair and German pianist Joachim Kühn released their first album together in 1985 ("Easy To Read"), and now, for Humair's 70th birthday, they join forces again, for the first time with Tony Malaby on sax and without a bass. Half of the tracks are newly composed, some others come from previous occasions. "Buried Head" figures on Tony Malaby's "Tamarindo", "Ghislène" is "Guylene" (why the different spelling?) from "Easy To Read", and "Salinas" by Kühn from "Triple Entente" (1998). All three musicians have a fantastic track record in the jazz scene of the last twenty to forty years, and have played in all kinds of settings and genres, from traditional bop and mainstream to more free jazz and fusion. And it's interesting to see that amongst the three of them, the overall mode is free, with often wild improvisations, yet strongly anchored in structure and often with a harmonic basis, even if that's not always so apparent. The same holds true with the rhythm : it is there, sure enough, but more often implicit than anything else. The absence of a bass pushes the three musicians to fill that void, especially the drums and the piano, by going into the lower tones, yet Humair clearly prefers adding to the music, accentuating, participating in creating the overall texture rather than filling in the rhythmic gaps. That gives the music a little more of a harsh and abstract sound than we would expect, but it is all the richer for it. Most tracks are complex and offer lots of variation, changes in tempo, in intensity, moving between slow sensitive lyricism and thundering abstract rawness. All three musicians are in absolute top form, throwing in a wealth of ideas and emotions, feeling perfectly comfortable in this world of musical contrasts and paradoxes, reinforcing each other or bouncing off ideas. Humair is precise, intense and creative, Kühn less romantic than I know him, more percussive than you would expect, yet always lyrical, and Malaby is the perfect fit, free, deeply emotional and also very lyrical, re-using successful phrases from Tamarindo (even on other tracks), even using some from Coltrane, with the superb tone and richness in feeling that he's been cultivating over the years. "Full Contact" is superb.

© stef

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shot x Shot - Let Nature Square (High Two, 2008) ****

Two years ago I was more than charmed by ShotxShot's first release, a live album, and their second album sounds just as solid as the first. The quartet consists of Dan Scofield on alto saxophone, Bryan Rogers on tenor, Matt Engle on bass and Dan Capecchi on drums. The music is real modern free jazz in a style that I like : warm, open-ended, emotional, low-tempo yet also very intense. There is only one short track, by Matt Engle, which is more uptempo and composed till halfway, when the tempo suddenly changes, the rhythm turns odd and the improvisations can begin. The four long tracks work with composed parts and agreed concepts, yet just to build a framework for the strong and long free improvisations, in which the four musicians almost permanently play together, including both saxes, creating interweaving lines and phrases, especially on the contrapuntal "Overlay", carefully listening and interacting, and you never know what's going to happen, one sax may come to the foreground with the other one retreating a little or both come forward, creating a flowing feeling, moving forward, with the rhythm section as crucial to the music's development as the horns. The calmer the music gets, the better it becomes, intensifying, becoming maybe more vulnerable and emotional, as on "Oh No"on which the solos, including a long bass solo, are among the best on the album. What I find powerful about this band is that they manage to create their own voice, or even a signature sound after only two CDs, and this in a very crowded jazz environment, stylistically coherent, and with a strong emotional and creative focus. Great music!

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Friday, July 11, 2008

NovoTono - Wanderung (Amirani Records, 2007) ****

NovoTono are two Italian master clarinet players, the brothers Adalberto and Andrea Ferrari, the former also playing soprano sax and the latter baritone sax. This beautiful record brings a combination between modern classical music, jazz, free improvisation and avant-garde. All tracks have a clear structure, with anchor points for reference to the two musicians, sometimes with rhythmic patterns played by one of them, but those are just the basis for the improvisations. Their approach is abstract yet intimate at the same time. The title, "Wanderung" is the German word for hiking or even stronger for migration, with reference to a poetic line "perfection lies in he who sees the entire world as a foreign land", (probably) meaning that you have to look at things with fresh eyes, full of wonder and surprise at what you see, full of opportunities to explore, even the familiar. And that describes the music well. There are familiar rhythms and patterns, even references to Italian folk music, but it all sounds suprising and new. Don't expect real melodies though, the most you get are sounds over rhythm and sound patterns, often with lots of space in between. Only on the two "Ship's Log" tracks does the excitement increase in some twirling abstract, almost funky line. On the longest and last track "Isles & Lives" Federico Cumar joins on trombone and Luca Serrapiglio on soprano sax, and it is also the most varied piece of the album, with some joyful dance-like tune played by the bass clarinet, once in a while backed up by the other horns, slowing down for the other clarinet to play a mournful solo built around silence, disturbed by some abstract chaotic interference of the other instruments, changing the dance-tune into something sad and plaintive, slowly taking up speed again with other reeds in unison acting in counterpoint until the trombone takes over, deep, dark and menacing, yet all ends well, with joy returned and all four musicians playing together. The Ferrari brothers clarinet playing is stunning, and their music is creative and exploratory, while still remaining intimate and close. This seems to be the hallmark of the label, and it's an approach we can only welcome.

© stef

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Point4 - Panopticon (Sofa, 2008) ****

The line-up of two pianists, Kenneth Karlsson and Jon Balke, and two percussionists Bjørn Rabben and Ingar Zach, is highly unusual, and at first sight you would expect interfering keyboards and relentless percussion, but you get the exact opposite : minimalist soundscapes built around silence. What they bring is very fragile, open and totally unexpected music, adding sounds to sounds in a very coherent and focused way. The tracks are short - the CD consists of no less than 19 tracks - which forces the musicians to be concise in their explorations while still being able to create something of interest. You hardly ever have the impressions of four musicians playing together, yet they play single notes, single beats, some electronic sounds that last a little bit longer, but which all together manage to create eery and unreal music.

A Panopticon is a prison concept in which the inmates can be watched without them knowing it, creating to the observer "the sentiment of invisible omniscience". This feeling of dread is clear in the music, but then rather in empty space than in a crowded prison, but the overall effect is there.

The total absence of any sequence of sounds, the perfect sense of pace, the restrained and careful discipline of the musicians make this something special. Only on the last track does the intensity build up to a kind of paroxysm of noise, only to fade away into almost non-existent vibrations in the air.

Listen and buy from eMusic.

© stef

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Poetry and spoken word in jazz - why I don't like it ...

There are many things I don't like in jazz, but reciting poetry in a piece of music is to me one of the most conflictual combinations you can have. I hate it, actually. And I'm not too sure why it doesn't work, but let's give it a try.

1. Poetry is "text made lyrical", it means that you try to bring musical elements into plain words and sentences. You add rhythm, you add rhyme, you add repetitive elements, you play with words and letters to make sentences flow, or fly, or even halt, or shout ... you make the text sing. And this works perfectly fine as long as you read it (silently!). Great poetry can sing to you as a reader, it can move you, it can surprise, it can make you laugh. Now when you put poetry (text trying to be music) into a piece of music, you put it in sharp contrast with its ultimate ambition. And that contrast is too great to make the poetry survive. It's like making music with the brakes on. It's not good for the brakes, it's not good for the car's speed. And certainly not for the passenger's nerves.

2. The poetry used for music is often of a pitiful quality, penned by the musician, trying to sound like a poet. It's an ambition the musician shouldn't have. The words, the phrases, are often high-brow, with lots of dull cliché images, or spiritual, or romantic elements which are closer to the kitsch of the Bragolin paintings of the boy with the tear on his cheeks than to art. Just like few great poets are truly great musicians, great musicians should not assume they are great poets. Be yourself, don't fake what you aren't.

3. Writing poetry is one thing, but reciting it is still another. Sometimes professionals are hired to do that, sometimes one of the band members does it. In both instances, the reciting is almost always overly dramatic, full of misplaced pathos.

4. And then you have the bad poetry recited badly. That makes the passenger jump out of the car (at no risk, since now the brakes are more powerful than the engine of the car).

5. Singing poetry is still an option. But the odd thing is that this still does not work. You can put words to a melody, as often happens in rock music, doing the opposite is extremely difficult. It sounds artificial and musically poor.

6. What I find most perplexing is that all of the above often takes place a free jazz context. Free jazz musicians who try to find ways to circumvent conventions, to find new ways to express themselves, sometimes fall back on the most horrible conventions of poetry, as they were taught in school, as they think that they are supposed to be written and supposed to be recited or sung. Why is that?

So, hence my often negative comments on poetry in jazz. As said earlier, I re-recorded some CDs to eliminate all the tracks with spoken word or poetry on them, just to make them audible, just to drive without the brakes on.

To end in a positive note. There are some notable exceptions of excellent spoken word in music, although not in jazz specifically, but then only because they managed to get a perfect integration of music and words.

Tom Waits - What's He Building In There (from : Mule Variations - see clip below)
Michael Mantler - The Hapless Child (with Robert Wyatt, Terje Rypdal, Carla Bley, Jack DeJohnette... with weird texts from Edward Gorey, but the whole album is weird, yet worth listening to)
Laurie Anderson - many songs on Life On A String, Big Science, Bright Red, ... (she's a truly under-rated artist)

... but that's still not jazz.

© stef

Monday, July 7, 2008

Per Jørgensen & Terje Isungset - Agbalagba Daada (Norcd, 2008) ****½

Great stuff from Norway again, and by two musicians who make pure music from the heart, sounding like the true heirs of Don Cherry - it is open, joyful, in-the-moment, focused on the fun of the performance and the interaction, in the pleasure of the act of creation itself. Per Jørgensen plays trumpet, heriba-ton, tabla, flutes, coupon, vocal, kalimba, percussion, piano and Terje Isungset plays drums, percussion, wood, stones, goat horn, voice, electricians-tube and mouth harp. That says it all - from the world music influences to the "any-object-is-an-instrument" attitude. These two musicians also play as if they couldn't care less about what the world thinks of them or their music, let alone about which music genre this is. The only thing that counts is the music itself.

And that music sounds like an ode to life, an ode to simplicity, to spontaneity, to spirituality, to human interaction. Yet despite the restricted line-up and the full improvisational aspect of the music, both Isungset and Jørgensen manage to remain captivating for the full double CD, creating rich music with a wealth of ideas and approaches. The first CD is more focused on the core instruments : trumpet and drums, while the second has more of the weird instrumentation and vocals in it. But regardless of what they play, this music is so refreshing, so timeless, and so basically natural, with such an admirable sense of innocence, that I'm afraid it will be overlooked.

Yet for me, this is music in its absolute and pure essence.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Mark O'Leary - Ellipses (FMR, 2008) ****

Most fusion is bad music. Because it brings lots of technical skills with little or no creativity, often centered around the guy on the guitar who wants to take on self-proclaimed stardom. There are some rare exceptions of fusion musicians who seek other things. John McLaughlin is a true musician in that sense. He is interested in the music, and his fabulous guitar technique helps him in achieving this musical result. Terje Rypdal belongs to the same category, as does Jonas Hellborg, the acoustic bass guitar wizard who made breakneck speed world fusion (if you like the real guitar wizardry in an adventurous environment, check out Hellborg's CDs with the late Shawn Lane or with the fabulous Niladri Kumar on his custom-made electric sitar : mindblowing stuff by guys who still manage to make music despite their skills).

Anyway, Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary belongs to the same category. Sure, the guy has technique, but if you just listen to the variety of music he released in recent years, it covers avant-garde with Mat Maneri, over electronics with Gunter Muller to free jazz with Han Bennink. He is on a clear quest to find new ways of expression, and he sure has covered some ground.

This is his 17th CD since 2005, and it covers yet again other musical territory. Sure, it is fusion-inspired in his guitar style and in the dramatic build-ups, but there are as much electronics to hear, especially on the first piece, as ethnic influences in the rhythms. He is assisted on this album by John Herndon on drums, known from Tortoise and more recently from the Exploding Star Orchestra, and by Ståle Størlokken on synths and samples, known from Supersilent. The band creates soundscapes, not of a dreamy nature, yet full of tension, full of dramatic effect, with lots of musical surprises and expectations of what will come next. Melodies arise once in a while, as does rhythm, but these are only secondary to the overall musical effect, which can be at once flowing and lyrical to jagged, angular and full of pins, sharp claws and pointy hooks. The title track offers everything from pure soundscape electronics to death metal heavy chords, but moving into wild rhythmic and sonic areas. The longest piece "Theme From Jack Johnson", titled after the long Miles Davis tune on "Agharta" is dark, eery at times, full of agony and despair, with no hope of obtaining release or relief, it goes on and on. Herndon's fierce and irregular drumming is fascinating to hear and the role of Størlokken is vital in creating the overall effect (yes, even though I do not usually appreciate electronics), and the real jazz thing is that these guys improvise and react to each other as you would expect in an acoustic context. It's hard to say what is planned and what is not. The music is uncompromosing, not built on expectations, but on surprise and creativity and brought in an extremely coherent new and sustained language. Mark O'Leary himself calls it "epic post-fusion", and that sounds about right. Or call it the fusion version of Downpour by Cline/Parker/Rainey. But don't expect jazz, don't expect fusion, don't expect electronics. Whatever the description, it surely is something you're unlikely to have heard before, and it is worth listening to : demanding but rewarding.

© stef

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Circadian Rhythm Kings (Innova, 2008) ***½

The biological rhythm of day and night is called the circadian rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm Kings is a band which has not stolen its name : they bring highly rhythmic free bop, free funk, free jazz or whatever you name it, alternately, but which immediately appeal to you biological system, and at times it's hard to keep from dancing along. Most pieces are based on a regular beat, but some, as "The Early Worm", are more abstract work-outs, with all instruments more focused on creating an abstract soundscape. The band consists of Andrew Hickman on tenor sax and indigenous wind instruments, Ken Field on alto sax and flute, Todd Brunel on clarinet and bass clarinet, John Funkhouser on double bass and Gary Fieldman on drums. The music is excellent, even really beautiful at times, with bluesy ("The Pen") and sometimes even middle-eastern influences ("Escape Goat"), but the band is at its best when they funk like hell, like on the last two tracks, on which the front-line of the three reeds creates lots of variation and intertwining melodies and counterpoint, while bass and drums create a beat seldom heard in such an otherwise free environment. Fans of Exploding Customer and The Fully Celebrated Orchestra will surely enjoy this one too.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mathias Eick - The Door (ECM, 2008) ***

Dear Mathias,

I think you have delivered a beautiful album, and on ECM no less. Many young musicians surely envy you. I hope it sells well, and from the other reviews I've read about this CD, it won't surprise me that it does. You are a great trumpeter, with a velvety sound, and you have good musical ideas, as you already demonstrated in other bands. You got some great international awards for your trumpet-playing, and rightly so. Your band of fellow Norwegians on this album is good : great instrumentalists and musicians : Audun Kleive on drums, Jon Balke on piano and Audun Erlien on bass, with pedal steel guitarist Stian Carstensen on a few tracks.

You don't know me. I'm an old man, you're still young. Allow me to give you some advice. At moments when I was listening to your album, I got the following impression. That you walked around your living room and came to the conclusion that live is OK. That's the feeling I have when listening to "The Door". A feeling of contentment. Nice, friendly, and carefully crafted music. Everything is in place, neatly organised. No conflict. No pain. A kind of sadness maybe. A little melancholy. And you're only 28 years old.

What I can suggest is that you leave the house you're in now, go out into the world. Look around, and see what really makes you angry. And believe me, there is more than enough to make you rebel and revolt. But don't forget to watch out for joy and beauty too.

Then have a deep look inside, and see what other feelings you might have. Is there no frustration, no fear, no anger, no joy, no excitement? Is there only melancholy? At 28?

Then think of how your instrument could express those feelings. Tear it out, rip it out, blow it out, from outside, from inside!

And last but not least, think about which musical language is best suited to convey all this : the sounds, rhythms, maybe even the instruments still need to be discovered to do that. Make the language. Don't rely on what exists. It's kind of stale.

Don't let yourself be harnessed by the ECM sound. Don't let yourself be harnessed by concepts developed by others (NPM, Truffaz, Stockhausen, ...). Don't let yourself be sucked into atmospheric mood music, which surely pleases wider audiences, but which is a dead-end street, both artistically and career-wise. "Aftenposten", one of your country's leading newspapers called your album "tasteful", which it certainly is, but it's also a description which should send shivers down your spine.

You're a great musician, a great trumpeter.

Don't rely on the success this album surely deserves. I know this doesn't sound friendly, but friendliness is not what life is about, nor is art.

Do your own thing. I hope the income from this album will give you more freedom. Freedom to explore. To go out there. And to bring us back excellent music.

I wish you the best,


© stef

Friday, July 4, 2008

Heath Watts & Dan Pell - Breathe If You Can (Leo Records, 2008) ***½

Fully improvised sax-drums duo by Heath Watts on soprano and Dan Pell on drums, also known as Grass Hair Duo. Both play a totally free, unbound feast of sound and percussion, influenced by many genres, ranging from tribal music to Coltrane and Lacy. Dan Pell is originally from Norway, and used to be called Haon Sregor, but he changed his name after moving to the US, where he learned percussion from a native American called Iron Cloud. Watts is from Philadelphia and is a powerful free player. His tone is raw, hard and heavy, certainly for a soprano, yet he manages to be very emotional and expressive. Don't expect structure, fixed melody or anything which could vaguely ressemble patterns or repetitive things : this is far from these musicians' thoughts and intentions. What you get is in-the-moment improvisation, sounds following sounds, all incredibly intense and direct, but still lyrical and melodious. Both musicians interact perfectly well and speak the same musical language.

Listen to People

Listen and buy from CDBaby. Download from

Watch a weird video of one of their performances (what's happening on this tape, what's happening to the cameraman?)

© stef

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Daniel Carter, Chris Welcome, Shayna Dulberger, John McLellan - Singular (Empty Room, 2008) ****

Chris Welcome, on guitar, Shayna Dulberger on bass and John McLellan on drums have played and recorded before, in quartet and trio settings. For this release, they added avant-garde jazz veteran Daniel Carter on alto and tenor saxophones, Bb clarinet, flute, and trumpet, for a very calm, subdued and almost chamber jazz adventure of free improvisation. The whole focus of the band is on creating soft and gentle musical texture, very down-tempo, very sensitive and almost hesitatingly. The overall effect is one of absolute openness and space, with fragile and intimate sounds, that seem to meet each other uninentionally, surprised at this and moving along, friendly and hand-in-hand. Even the presence of the electric guitar and the drums do not create any volume or substance, they also limit themselves to providing accents, colorings, shadings, yet it moves forward coherently, flowing in the same direction. Daniel Carter changes instrument on every track, adding variety in approach to the tunes. He is far away from the music of Test or of Other Dimensions In Music in terms of overall timbre and effect, yet the deeply emotional and creative approach is also present in this utterly restrained and expressive sober music. Nice!

© stef

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Denman Maroney - Gaga (NuScope, 2008) ****½

Pianist Denman Maroney is something else. Already on "Distitch", with Mat Maneri, his cerebral approach to creating new musical universes became apparent, while maintaining a high sense of emotional lyricism. Music can sound clever, yet awful. The real challenge is to create something new that still sounds great, as on this album. Maroney is joined by three stellar musicians : Ned Rothenberg on reeds, Reuben Radding on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. Because of Maroney's calculated, even mathematical approach to music, every piece sounds extremely precise and finished, even the long title track, while still sounding very open and refreshing. "Gaga", the track, changes the whole time, while remaining essentially the same, giving the impression of watching the flow of the water just next to a river bank, very repetitive, very minimal, yet every few notes adds something different, either rhythmically or musically. The music is measured, thorougly composed with limited improvisations and certainly not very expressive. In that sense it's very un-jazzy in its approach, despite the line-up, and yet, it has a jazz sensitivity in mood and tunes. While searching for a clear aesthetic form, it does not sound distant at all. "Social Security" is probably the most jazzy tune, while "Frogs" has some Latin influences and "Blip" has a march-like cadence. But genre has become irrelevant for Denman Maroney's music. He loves rhythmic and compositional complexities while keeping the surface of the music appealingly simple and accessible. And the four musicians are absolutely a pleasure to hear. This is ear-candy from beginning to end.

Listen to
Flower's Blues

© stef

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

His Name Is Alive - Sweet Earth Flower : A Tribute To Marion Brown (High Two, 2007) ****

There aren't many rock musicians with a jazz sensitivity, exception made for the 70s mostly British prog-rock scene, and some recent endeavors by the French label Chief Inspector. But it's even more unusual that the entire album is a tribute to one jazz musician, and a living one at that. And that's exactly what His Name Is Alive does here, making a tribute to saxophonist Marion Brown, and they do it brilliantly, without relinquishing their rock background, but without making it rock either. Their take on Brown's music is gentle, respectful, often contemplative, with a sometimes simplified take on the music, but that's fine here : the constant rhythm and the clear structure offer a great background for the trumpet and the saxes to solo on. The objective is not to demonstrate instrumental skills or to be too overly expressive : the music of Marion Brown stands at the very center as it should be, but then in the atmospheric mode that the band is known for.

His Name Is Alive is actually a band with ongoing personnel changes around founder guitarist/pianist Warn Defever, assisted by
Jamie Saltsman on double bass who performed with the band before. Five of the other musicians come from the neo-Afrobeat band NOMO : Elliot Bergman on tenor saxophone and Rhodes, Erik Hall on electric piano, Justin Walter on trumpet, Dan Piccolo on drums and percussion, and Olman Piedra on congas and cajon. Michael Herbst from Antibalas joins too on alto saxophone and Jamie Easter on percussion.

Marion Brown has given the project his blessing. Warn Defever said "I thought we should do it while he is alive. We've talked quite a bit about the project and he's supported us all the way. His encouragement and insight has been incredible".

And Marion Brown commented himself : "It's beautiful. Thank you. You really understand me".

And who are we to say anything else?

(Thank you Pedro for pointing out this album to me!)

Listen to "Sweet Earth Flying"

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef