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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ingrid Laubrock - Sleepthief (Intakt, 2008) ****½

On Tuesday I saw this band perform, and I must say the concert was absolutely stunning. I had the possibility this week to watch only one of the following concerts : Dave Douglas, Marc Ribot, Ornette Coleman or Ingrid Laubrock, and well I chose for Ingrid, and in retrospect, it was without a doubt the best decision I could have made. I knew Tom Rainey of course, and look here for my appreciation for him, but Ingrid Laubrock I didn't know, nor Liam Noble. The latter is an excellent modern pianist, who has played with no-one less than Moondog and with the great British trumpeter Harry Beckett. His technique, lyricism and openness of spirit provide just the absolute right ingredients for this fabulous trio. And then there is the leader, a German pianist turned British saxophonist (or something to that extent), with a free mind and even free-er musical notions. The great thing is that she does what she does, with a phenomenal emotional drive and lots of technique. From my limited perspective, and if you want references, she fits in between Dewey Redman, Evan Parker, Joe McPhee and Tony Malaby, and these are not bad references. During the concert, the three musicians fully improvised the long pieces, moving from one emotion to the next during the long intimate and expansive pieces. And that seeming paradox : intimacy and expansiveness, is even further re-inforced by the other paradoxes : warmth and creativity, tradition and avant-garde. The album of course is completely in the same vein and is highly recommendable. The only thing is, it's too short! Laubrock really needs the time to create the full expansive sensitivity that she demonstrates on stage. A great album. A great band. I really hope to hear a double live CD soon!

Watch this clip which was recorded this week.

© stef

Rob Mazurek - Abstractions on Robert d'Arbrissel (Adluna Records, 2008) ****½

Rob Mazurek is a musician of many styles, from jazz to rock over noise and avant-garde. On this album, he plays solo cornet, in the French abbey of Fontevraud, while in residence there for a multimedia art project. His performance echoes with the size and solemnity of its religious surroundings, with lots of echo and reverb in the tone. The improvisations are exercises in sound, rather than in melody or rhythm, and the beauty of it is overwhelming. Unlike many of Mazurek's other albums, the experimental aspect is not the main objective here and it is hence almost absent, although the music is far away from mainstream music. Not all the tracks are solo in the truest sense. On one, he's accompanied by singing birds, on another on piano (the inside of it, creating chimelike sounds). The last track starts with trumpet, followed by five minutes of silence, then ambient voices, presumably from tourists visiting the abbey, and a drone-like sound, some piano. The work is dedicated to the founder of the monastery, Robert d'Arbrissel, who is probably as unknown to you as he is to me. From reading his biography on Wikipedia, he was the type of person who went against the grain, as does Mazurek himself, though on another plane of course. At least the ascetism and the emotional nakedness of the music fit well. There aren't that many solo trumpet albums, but this one is certainly among the best.

The record contains a 16 pages booklet with pictures of the recording session, paintings and a poem by Rob Mazurek (I cannot comment on these, since I only downloaded the album).

Listen and download from Adluna Records.

Rohrer, Mazurek, Takara, Barella - Projections Of A Seven Foot Ghost (Peligro Records, 2008) ***½

This quartet finds Mazurek again in a fully experimental electronic environment, finding back Maurizio Takara, percussionist and electronics expert, and fellow member of São Paulo Underground. They are joined by Thomas Rohrer on rabeca and sax, and by Miguel Barella on guitar and electronics. The record consists of two long tracks (over 45 minutes each) and a short one, in which the quartet creates a long exploration of sound, with subtle shifts away from silence, through noise, through electronics, with once in a while the trumpet soaring above it, at other moments drums pound mercilessly, or the guitar screams, but that is rare, most of the time the music is faint, reminiscent of Keith Rowe (although not going that far into meaninglessness). It is a worthwhile adventure.

Listen to
Midnight In The Land Of The Twisters
Nightmares Are Over-Rated

São Paulo Underground - The Principle of Intrusive Relationships (Aesthetics, 2008) ***

The sophomore effort of this Brazilian band featuring Mazurek, further consisting of Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado on percussion and electronics, Richard "Hollywood" Ribiero on percussion, and Fernando Sanches as the audio mixer ... Electronics, noise and distorted trumpet, and processed percussion and some regular percussion. There are faint melodies, Tortoise-like, nice and friendly in an otherwise agonizingly hostile environment. There are lots of rhythms and sampled ambient sounds, and lots of noise. Not really my cup of tea.

© stef

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Antripodean Collective

The Antripodean Collective - Funcalls (Extreme, 2008) ***½

This is the second album by the Australian free improv/free jazz band The Antripodean Collective, released within the same year as their first, "The Massacre Of The Egos". In this "ever-changing" collective, Scott Tinkler remains on trumpet, as does John Rodgers on violin and Ken Edie on drums, with Mark Hannaford replacing Paul Grabowsky on piano and there is no bass anymore. This album is a little less intense than the first, on which there was a clear common drive, and it shifts away from jazz into even more avant-garde territory. Especially the absense of the bass leads to that effect. Despite being fully improvised, the music has a strong sense of composition and structure, which testifies of the musicians' listening skills and coherence of approach. Most of the tunes are abstract, with the kind of lightness and gentle exploration that makes it interesting to listen to. They give each other also lots of space and openness, and with the addition that most of the times the instruments are played "straight", with not too many uses of extended techniques, the overall effect is still one of relative accessibility. Despite that, the sound is quite cold and cerebral, with often halting rhythms, as if the band is trying to gain momentum, yet never reaching that stage, quite on the contrary, as if they're forced to re-invent the piece with each new note being played, creating eery soundscapes through subtle interactions. Their first album, the "Massacre Of The Egos", had a little more emotional depth and variation than this one.

Listen and download from eMusic.

The Antripodean Collective - The Massacre Of The Egos (Extreme, 2008) ****

So, I add this now, let me try to explain why I prefer the first album. True, Philip Rex plays bass here, adding some warm sounds to the high tones of the trumpet and the violin. But that's not the only reason why this album has more spirit, more soul ... The attitude, the intensity, the drive are different, more poignant, more urgent, with a clear and absolute desire among all musicians to tell a story, urging each other on to listen-to-what-I-have-to-tell, listen-to-what-I-have-to-add, and enjoying the interaction of storylines, which in the end becomes really one story. The sophomore album has less of this urgency, with the musicians almost challenging each other to come forward with a story, as if they're unwilling to do that spontaneously, as if they might have something to tell, but without daring to. Well, that's a difference in attitude which makes a world of difference for the music, and hence also to the listener. The "Massacre Of The Egos" is much denser, with lots of overlapping sounds, sounding a little more chaotic at times, but it is so much more human.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Carl Testa - Uncertainty (Uncertainty Music, 2008) ***½

Here is an interesting and unusual record. The backbone of the record, and the one which should provide its unity, are the three clarinets, which on most tracks play very minimalistic, almost monotonous abstract melodies, often in counterpoint and unison alternating. The concept is relatively well-chosen, and creates a kind of eery feeling when listening to it at one stretch. The variation comes with the role of the electronics and percussion, now sparse, then violent, as on "Divergence", creating a clear conflict in style, but fully coherent with the overall feel. The contrast goes too far with the uptempo "Impetus" on which suddenly a tenor is brought forward, a pulsing bass and a rhythmically pounding drums. The longest track, "A Little While", is to be found on the other side of the spectrum, fully improvised, or so it seems, and again hurting the overall focus a little, because there is no identifiable structure or melody, in great contrast to all the other tracks, on which the music is generally slow, gentle and melodic. There surely are moments when Braxton comes to mind, or Chris Speed, or even the modern classical minimalists. The effort is a good one, the uncertainty concept is also very clear, as most of the music sounds like a question mark, moving forward hesitantly, despite the precise compositions. This may be a weird comment, but the album would have benefited from less variation. If the free improv and the jazz piece had not been there, the overall effect would have been stronger. Yet in any case, a worthwhile debut album.

The band consists of Carl Testa on bass, bass clarinet, and electronics; James Antonucci on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Bill Carbone on percussion and Gergely Kiss on clarinet.

Listen and download from eMusic.
© stef

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Elephant9 - Dodovoodoo (Rune Grammofon, 2008) ****

Now that we're in the mood for something else, here is another interesting album: Elephant9 with Dodovoodoo, the brainchild of Norwegian jazzers and rockers Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Humcrush) on keyboards, Nikolai Eilertsen (The National Bank) on guitar and bass, and Torstein Lofthus (Shining), on drums. On many of his other albums, Storløkken has a tendency to get totally sucked up into electronics, but here it's the real thing : hammond organ, fender rhodes, synthesizer, and with a rhythm section that just does not stop. It starts with high tempo and the tempo hardly ever relaxes for the whole album, with the exception of "Hymne", which is played on church organ and is as slow and solemn as it gets. But that's just a very temporary slowdown, then the whole machine gets back at full speed for the rest of the tracks. It is also very 60s or early 70s because of the instruments used, but none of those early fusion bands had half the energy of these guys. Two of the tunes are Joe Zawinul originals ("Doctor Honoris Causa" and "Directions"), and musically there are references to Weather Report, but also to MMW and Miles, but those are just superficial. This band is not copying or playing covers. What they bring is highly original and energetic. Great stuff.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Karl Hector + The Malcouns - Sahara Swing (Ninja Freaks, 2008) ***

Once in a while I can appreciate more light-hearted, less artistic but still enjoyable music. And this one belongs to that category. The music is relatively simple, repetitive and superficial, but it has a great funky drive, and no other aspiration than to bring fun. It brings back musical concepts of the late 60s, especially because of the organ sound, but with the repetitive dance beat of modern music. The good thing is that the tracks are relatively short, so instead of falling asleep for lack of intellectual stimulation or emotional appeal, the variation keeps the attention going. Some of the tracks are great, as "Touré Samar", with a dry funky rhythm guitar, great bass and drums with a powerful horn section, and "Follow The Path", which ressembles some of Mulatu Astatqe's work, yet staying away from the great Ethiopian's soulful music. Don't expect the steaming magic of Fela Kuti either. It funks, it grooves, it sounds African, it sounds jazzy. Most pieces are just bland. I usually hate this kind of music, but well, apparently not today.

Karl Hector - Vocals, Percussion
Thomas Myland - Keyboards, Percussion
Zdenko Curulija - Drums, Percussion
J. Whitefield - Bass, Guitar
Stu Krause - Trumpet
Wolfi Schlick - Saxophone, Flute, Bass Clarinet
Ben Abarbanel Wolff - Saxophone
Franz Brunner - Saxophone
Bo Baral - Percussion
Arsene Cimbar - Djembe, Vocals

© stef

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hyperactive Kid - 3 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008) ****

This is the third release by the young German trio Hyperactive Kid, which is Philipp Gropper on saxophone, Ronny Graupe on 7-string guitar and Christian Lillinger on drums. All three are technically excellent players, but they use their skills in a very controlled fashion, not to demonstrate prowess, but rather to create complex, composed pieces, with rather abstract themes, with lots of variations in tempo, rhythm and mood. At first hearing, it all sounds loose and gentle, yet these three musicians interact like one, with an unbelievable focus and coherence.
The most hyperactive track is "Ländler", on which very long unison lines are played at high speed. "Herbst" is a little more avant-garde, with muted guitar sounds. Yet the best track is "Rockert Tilo", a long and intense piece with fierce sax soloing and wonderful drumming and guitar-playing, that despite the often wild roamings always falls back on its feet, agile and stable, even when adventurous. It is also the track on which the emotional component is a little stronger. It reminds of some other young European sax+guitar bands like Firomanum: lots of technical skills, but very often it sounds like dancing on the same square meter, everything is very carefully organised, including the improvisations within a self-created confined space. If I can give one advice : break out even more, guys. Carve out your own sound. Nevertheless, stellar musicians, and a great band with lots of promise.

© stef

Friday, October 24, 2008

Red Sphere - H-Alpha (Skirl Records, 2008) ****

Here is the most down-to-earth trio of astrophysicist stargazers you have ever heard. For the non-physicists among you : H-Alpha is a specific emission line created by hydrogen at 6562.8 Angstroms. H-Alpha filters are used in telescopes to look at the stars. A Red Sphere could as well be a proton or a red giant, a huge star. Whatever it is, it is clear that we are both in the world of tiny elements and huge elements. Now, how does this relate to this music? First, the band consists of Briggan Kraus on sax, Ikue Mori on laptop and Jim Black on drums. Three stellar musicians. Two, all 17 tracks carry names of stars : "Sun", "Alpha Centauri", "Barnard's Star", "Lalande 21185", and so forth, until we reach "Groombridge 34". Those interested in the exact distance of these stars from the earth, can educate themselves by looking it all up on Wikipedia. Three, there is of course the music itself : mostly short tracks with an exquisite story to tell, ranging from violent to chaotic, from scary to screechy, from rhythmic to abstract, from industrial to spacey, but never boring. One thing is sure : each track is highly energetic, with subatomic particles bouncing away against each other and in every direction, in a process of intense interaction, with electronic crackles and beeps, rhythmic and a-rhythmic percussion sounds and a wailing sax, a droning sax, a power sax. No doubt, this is weird music, but it's so coherent and uncompromosing in its approach that it's great fun. The most amazing thing about the album is the incredible interaction between the musicians. Krauss and Black seem to have been made for each other, both skilled, disciplined and creative powerplayers, and Mori does more than just provide some background noise. Her contribution is absolutely essential for the overall effect, however sparse it may be at times. It is not easy listening, but this kind of space travel is definitely worth more to me than the $ 30 mio this loser paid for, today. What a ride, indeed!

© stef

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trygve Seim & Frode Haltli - Yeraz (ECM, 2008) ****

ECM at its worse, is when Manfred Eicher acts like a lion tamer, levelling out any sound that may be considered wild or shocking or abrasive, domesticating the natural wildness of some musicians into his self-conceived musical straight-jacket. ECM at its best, is in the intimate musical moments of small ensemble settings. Think of Anouar Brahem, Jarrett, Egberto Gismonti, Jan Garbarek, ... creative angles, virtuoso musicianship, accessible, gentle, emotional, impeccable sound quality, ... and this album perfectly fits in that category. Norwegians Trygve Seim on sax and Frode Haltli on accordion bring ten duo pieces of intimate reveries. The music is calm, subtle, with both musicians using the full range of their instruments, but functionally. Seim's tone is warm and clear, he can bend notes as if it was possible to play glissandos on a sax, turning his instrument almost into an Armenian duduk. Haltli can extract sounds from his accordion which are broad and rich. Most of the compositions are relatively abstract, but on some they fall back on more traditional formats, as on "Waits For Waltz", Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", or "Yeraz", the title track which is an Armenian traditional, here played in the most heart-rending way imaginable, played with the same sentimental melancholy edge as the original folk song. Some tracks, as "Bhavana" already figured on Seim's first ECM CD "Different Rivers", although they have their place here too. The most beautiful piece is the first one, a long suite-like composition, with elements of the Greek-Armenian philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff and Seim's, with the accordion sounding like a droning harmonium on the background. Conceptually it could be Garbarek, but the tone is warm, not bone-chillingly icy. "Yeraz" is an Armenian word which could mean "people without a place", and here in the positive sense : two Scandinavians with a warm heart and wonderful musical skills, and with the world as their place, here with the perspective of the Caucasus mountains.

© stef

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Erika Dagnino & Stefano Pastor - Cycles (Slam, 2007) ****

Hallelujah!! At least one brilliant mind has understood the best relationship between poetry and music. And that person is Stefano Pastor, an Italian violinist who composes and improvises based on the specifically written poetry of Erika Dagnino. The album is hence titled and subtitled as "Cycles, for interior voice, musical instruments and objects". Meaning that each piece is based on a poem, but without any recitation of poetry. And that's the good news : there is just violin and percussion to be heard. The percussion is played by Maurizio Borgia on the first track, and by Pastor himself in overdub on all the three other pieces. Erika Dagnino not only wrote the poems, but her input has also been instrumental in shaping the overall sound of the music in preparatory discussions with the musicians. This album is remarkable in many ways. First, Pastor's violin sounds like you've never heard a violin before (at least not this guy). The sound is so full, it has so much voice and depth, and even breath, that it sounds at times like a reed instrument. Second, apart from the unusual sound, Pastor's playing is excellent, composed and improvised at the same time, providing a good balance between structure and emotion. Third, the pieces are of an immediate simplicity, not as in "simple", but as in "less is more", almost in a zen-like fashion, a feeling which is reinforced by the sparse accentuating percussion. This leads to a certain monotony too, that - depending on your listening attitude - can be considered a strong or a weak point. Fourth, despite the avant-garde feel of it all, the music remains lyrical and melodic, in direct reference to the poetry, which can be described as avant-garde too, offering an interesting mixture of physical reality, dreamlike perceptions and abstract notions. The only problem, and it's a minor one, is how to read the poetry while listening to the music and vice versa. Concentrating on both at the same time is impossible. I think it's best to listen first, then read the poetry, and then listen to the music again. Since synchronicity is not possible, the relationship between the music and the text can at best be vague and indirect. Yet that's irrelevant. The overall concept and execution are a great match.

As a side note: Anthony Barnett writes in the liner notes : "No poetry and jazz here, thank the gods. And I ask you. Just how often has that ever worked? Mingus’s “Freedom”, ok. But the poets, almost always no. And I say this as the author myself of Poem About Music, twice performed with exceptional musicians: interesting but failings. Why? Because, ultimately, there can only be writing round about music. Yet Dagnino’s writing is here too, equally".

A like-minded spirit!

© stef

Monday, October 20, 2008

RIDD Quartet - Fiction Avalanche (Clean Feed, 2008) ****½

I am not too familiar with the way in which musicians work with labels, or how long it takes before they can get their material released, but I am perplexed that pianist Kris Davis manages to release two albums within a few months time on two different labels, and more importantly, that both are of a very high qualitative level. The RIDD Quartet further consists of Jeff Davis on drums, Jon Irabagon on sax and Reuben Radding on bass. This album is not unlike "Rye Eclipse", although it is more transparent, more accessible, less urgent in its need to tell the story as its predecessor. Many of the compositions have the same abstract and emotional quality of her other recent album. But this is of course a quartet album, not Kris Davis and band. Jon Irabagon I find a revelation on this album. To be honest, I thought his "Outright" album, released earlier this year, was a little over-ambitious, yet here his tone, free lyricism and emotional drive are excellent, not of the same level of Malaby, though, but really strong. Radding is as good as we know him and so is Jeff Davis, and both complement each other well. The second track, "Sky Circles", starts out quite slowly and gentle, yet it gradually starts building intensity and momentum. Whether it's slow emotional explorations as on the title track (which does not sound like an avalanche at all, by the way), or a more intense and raw approach as on the beginning "The Eye And The Telescope", the four musicians manage to have a quite unique coherent and creative angle, with introspective and expansive moods alternating, exploring sound interactions and rhythmic invention. The stylistical elements used are subtle : repetitive piano string pluckings, or repetitive sax phrases, come and go, as do melodies and themes, and so does the volume, and the instruments, but all very subtly, creating slight differences and changes, nothing abrupt, yet full of little surprises that make this quite a great listen. I like it a lot!

© stef

Embers - Slag-Welter (Heathen Skulls, 2008) **½

At first hearing, I liked the uncompromising intensity of this Australian band. At second hearing, it all sounded bland and not very creative. At third hearing, it sounded stale. Often, with other albums, it is the opposite, the more you listen, the better it gets. The band consists of Adam Simmons on saxophones, Dave Brown on bass, Sean Baxter on drums and Kris Wanders on tenor saxophone. They mix influences from free improv (Globe Unity Orchestra) to heavy metal (AC/DC), creating some free noise kind of music. It sounds free, it is noisy, and it must (at moments) be fun to play, for sure, but not to listen to, not a fourth time. It is superficial and puerile stuff. But the latter makes it also uncompromising, which is an asset. Maybe, if they start thinking in terms of making music to channel their rebellious anger instead of just demonstrating it, they might get somewhere.

© stef

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ted Daniel Quintet - Tapestry (Porter Records, 2008) ****

It is good to see that record companies keep looking for great LP material to re-issue, as with this beautiful album by the Ted Daniel Quintet, which consists of the leader on flugelhorn and trumpet, Tim Ingles on electric bass, Jerome Cooper on drums, Richard Daniel on Fender Rhodes and Khan Jamal on vibes. The music was originally recorded in 1974 in Ornette Coleman's loft and released on the French Sun label. The music is "free", and consists of three long tracks, but the electric influences of Miles Davis are clearly present, even though it sounds nothing like Miles. The music is rather free-floating, light and very atmospheric, with a great expansive openness, with slow to mid-tempo very repetitive rhythms. The vibes, the fretless bass guitar and the Fender Rhodes form a unique early seventies sound, without sounding dated, though. The re-issue has one additional track "Asafego", which starts the album and is a little more wild, offering an excellent symmetry with the last track "Mozambique". The absolute highlight is the title track, on which the whole band is really great, each musician getting ample solo space, but Daniel is excellent, with a great warm tone, moaning and singing at the same time. Ted Daniel did not release many albums as a leader, but when listening to this album, we can only say that it's a pity. It's a great thing that it's been made available again. Record labels, keep digging up more of this stuff!

Listen to

© stef

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Silke Ebherhard Trio - Being (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008) ****

I got to know Silke Eberhard from her duo recording with Aki Takase, playing Ornette Coleman's music. She now releases her new trio album, "Being", with Jan Roder on bass and Kay Lübke on drums. Eberhard herself switches between alto sax and clarinet. Her mastery of both instruments is impressive, but so is her take on music : it is fun, it is light-footed, rhythmically and structurally complex, emotional and technically superb. Eberhard is familiar with jazz history, and starting from swing jazz clarinet, over Jimmy Giuffre to more modern players like Rob Brown, covering the whole range, integrating it and turning it into her own miniatures. Her playing is not expansive, but highly sophisticated in its changes of motifs and styles. The first track "Calypso" sets the tone, starting with a high swing it moves toward some free blowing in the middle part, only to fall back in the most natural of ways into the initial tune. All the tracks are highly rhythmic, and that's part of the fun, over which her sax or clarinet sings and dances, mostly without fixed melodies or themes, mostly abstract, yet free as a bird, and that's the other part of the fun. Even the slower tracks, such as "Rockballade No 51", keep that abstract compositional level, and stay away from cheap sentiments. "Waxing Moon" is a pure avant-garde intermezzo, and the 26 seconds long track"Little Hare" could have come from the pen of Ornette Coleman. Fun indeed. The record ends with "I Love Every Human Being", again in full lyrical swing mode, full of lightness and joy. This combination of joy and forward thinking in music is possibly the album's greatest strength. Avant-swing? Avant-bop?

© stef

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

McCoy Tyner - Guitars (McCoy Tyner Music, 2008) ***

This is McCoy Tyner's second release on his own label, and it is odd, to say the least. Around the fixed trio of the pianist, Ron Carter on drums and Jack DeJohnette on drums, one of today's leading guitarists is added to form a quartet : first Marc Ribot, then John Scofield, Belà Fleck, Steve Trucks and ending with Bill Frisell. All six guitarists are of course stylistically totally different, although they kind of accomodate McCoy here. The end result is at best entertaining, fun to hear, with great musicians showing some of their skills. But it's not great music, just good. The playing is good, the music a little boring. And at times it's even a little pathetic, like when Belà Fleck plays "My Favorite Things" on his banjo. It is all a little bit sad : it lacks musical vision and creativity, and I hate to say this about a musician for whom I've always had the greatest esteem. Yet if you like to hear jazz guitar in its many variations, you might like this, although it adds nothing to these musicians' already vast list of albums. Well, maybe. It's the first time I hear Ribot play in such a conventional jazzy fashion (on "500 Miles"). The CD comes with a DVD, of which you can view a promo video below.

© stef

Monday, October 13, 2008

Memorize The Sky - In Former Times (Clean Feed, 2008) ****

This is the second album release by Memorize The Sky, the trio consisting of Matt Bauder on reeds, Zach Wallace on bass and Aaron Siegel on percussion. I never heard their previous CD nor the 3" CDs they released before that, but their music is quite unique. Bauder's circular breathing takes center stage on most tracks, leading to gentle droning sounds, accompanied by extremely precise and accurate gentle touches by the bass and percussion, in the all the wealth of sounds they can muster. At times it sounds like the roles are reversed, and that the horn forms the backbone of the music, while the other instruments add the variation. Even if there is no circular breathing, Bauder still keeps the tune strongly anchored around a single tone center, as in the beautiful first track "Did I Tell You?". The other instruments pulse along in very repetitive patterns, shifting all the time in timbre and shading, uncovering hitherto unexpected musical qualities and textures. I am very often a little hesitant with avant-garde, because the form often takes precedence over the content, but that is certainly not the case with this band. They give the sax trio a totally different sound and dimension, while still sounding accessible and emotionally sensitive, sometimes it sounds almost electronic or industrial, but it could also be the oscillating sounds of nature brimming with insect life. Only one track, "Treat Me Like A Picture" did not really strike me (yet), but it adds variation and a slight difference in approach. There is a long moment in this piece on which it is hard to discern which instrument makes which sound, or rather, and it's hard to believe, in which all three musicians make a long, sustained, identical sound despite the difference in instrumentation. The last track is also an absolute beauty. An excellent record.

Listen and download from eMusic.
© stef

Today this blog reached 150,000 unique visitors since its creation. Quite a crowd for this kind of music.

Are we still missing someone?

© stef

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Giacinto Scelsi - The Works For Double Bass (Mode, 2008) ****½

Italian classical composer Giacinto Scelsi (or "a horizontal line beneath a circle"), who died 20 years ago, was one of the pioneers who moved Western music into microtonal environments, exploring the nature of sound itself and pitch. One of his ideas was to bring to life the "whole universes that exist within these sounds". For the first time his works for double bass have been compiled into one album, giving the music an even more direct focus than usually. On some of the tracks only one note is played by the bass, but then in a huge variety of approaches, with different attacks, requiring the musician to use lots of extended techniques, making the single note sound different each time. And it is not boring. Yet I must admit that when the cello joins on "Dharana", the variation felt welcome in my ears, despite the fact that they stick to the one tone approach, but adding more layers, creating a richer texture with the two instruments bowing along. The work is played by Robert Black, bassist of the "Bang On A Can All-Stars", and assisted on cello by Felix Fan on one piece, on bass by John Eckhart on three tracks (my favorites), and by June Han on harp and Tom Kolor on tam-tam on one track. Bizarrely enough, on one track Black starts "vocalizing" too, short almost shouts which hold the middle between orgasm and torture. This is one of those pieces of music which is beyond categorization. In its detailed notation and programmatic approach it certainly is classical music, but the boundary-shifting thinking, the unconventional sounds and the room for improvisation, together with the plucking of the bass, surely makes it avant-garde, but will certainly also please modern jazz afficionados. The last track, "Mantram" is the most melodic, with references to Indian classical music. The overall effect is stunning though, with lots of emotional power, ranging from joy to gloomy atmospheric pieces, with lots of hauntingly mesmerizing passages.

© stef

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Braxton galore ... HELP!

I got a copy today of a the 9-CD piano solo release of Braxton compositions, played by my compatriot Geneviève Foccroulle, and called "Piano Music (1968-2000)". I have listened only to pieces of it, marveling at Braxton's music and Foccroule's great interpretations, yet at the same time wondering who in the world manages to keep track of all these records that come out, day after day after day, while at the same time finding sufficient time to listen several times to the new releases, and with some luck moving back to them after a while. This year alone, no less than 7 Braxton albums were released, containing an even more stunning 14 discs, not counting the 9 by Foccroule. True, there are some re-releases but still, it's quite a task.

Here is this year's overview :

Anthony Braxton Quartet - Ghost Trance Music (Important) - 4 CDs
Anthony Braxton Quartet - Moscow (Leo)
Anthony Braxton Live At Yoshi's, Oakland 1993 (Music & Arts)
Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris - Four Duo Improvisations (Clean Feed) 4 CDs
Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Milford Graves - Beyond Quantum (Tzadik) 1 CD
Ninetet (Yoshi's) Vol. 4 (Leo) - 2 CDs
12+1 Tet (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo)

Next to the ones already reviewed earlier, the GTM is also recommended, but again 4 CDs, and more abstract, with Anthony Braxton on reeds, Max Heath on piano, Carl Testa on bass, and Aaron Siegel on drums. The music is has the distant floating feel of most of his compositions, restrained, poignant and vulnerable at the same time.

Yet at the same time, you cannot but marvel at the man's prolific output, and also of the quality of the work he delivers. Not everything is brilliant, but to have already two albums in my list with five stars this year, is not a bad result. Would quality indeed be a function of quantity? Whatever it is, from the look on Braxton's face, he's still enjoying it.

Listen, buy or download "Piano Music", "Ninetet at Yoshi's" or "Moscow" from Leo Records.

© stef

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dangerous Musics in '91 (Loose Torque, 2008) ****

Now that we're talking about trumpet trios, and times long gone, here is a great release of a tape-recorded performance by Dangerous Musics, a British band with varying line-ups, here consisting of Jon Corbett on trumpet, Nick Stephens on bass and Roger Turner on percussion. Their music is all about nervous sound, intense interaction and joint creative destruction. Don't look for themes, melody or rhythm, don't look for solos in the traditional sense, but enjoy the bursts of notes, shrieks, wails, crashes, kicks, agitated plucks ... in short, the kind of music that some will not call music. But it is, and very much so, although with a total disregard for conventions and tradition. It is violent at times, but also subtle, sometimes even emotional, with an unbelievable immediacy and playing "in the moment". The five first tracks were recorded on a cassette in Roger's flat in London. The long last track was recorded live on cassette too, at an unknown venue by an unknown person in an unknown year, and the possibilities offered by its length make it even better than the other pieces, with Corbett switching to flute, and the rhythm section moves into a powerful thundering mode which was totally absent at the beginning of the record. Don't be too concerned about the fact that the music was originally recorded on cassettes: the sound has been digitally remastered and now brought back to life, for today's audiences, who, I hope, have grown into vast multitudes ... with open minds and open ears.

You can order from Loose Torque.

© stef

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sangha Trio - Frantically, Frantically Being At Peace (Slippery Slope, 1997) ****½

Life is unjust, especially if you're a musician, and I must thank Allan for pointing out this record's existence in his comment to my recent Trumpet Trio Update. This is a great album, but even Google is not able to find it, but thanks too to Cadence for keeping a copy in stock and sending it to me. A great band with no recognition, hence my somewhat belated review (by eleven years, no less!). Sangha Trio is Nate Wooley on trumpet, Eric Warren on bass and Charlie Doggett on drums. The album is really excellent, one you should have if you like trumpet trios which are not too far "outside". The album is still very much based in the bop tradition, even including a take at Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love", and a wonderful rendition of "Stella By Starlight", taking it out of the superficial sentimentality of most of its interpretations, and bringing it back into more deepfelt emotional territories, yet most tracks are free improvisation, laying the first attempts for especially Wooley's later more adventurous adventures. Wooley is a wonderful trumpeter, someone who moved today into experimental territories beyond my understanding. But this album is just to my taste, bluesy, a little left of center, restrained and deep. I hope for you that Cadence kept some more copies in stock.

© stef

Monday, October 6, 2008

Duology - Golden Atoms (Soul Note, 2008) ****

This is only the second (third?) clarinet-trumpet duet that I can remember, next to John Carter's and Bobby Bradford's "Tandem 1" and "Tandem 2". Of course there is also Anthony Braxton's "Duets" with Taylor Ho Bynum, but then on sax and cornet, which is also a rare combination. Duology is Michael Marcus on Bb clarinet and Ted Daniel on trumpet, two musicians with a great track record. However unusual, the format deserves attention, because of its possibilities for almost abstract purity and intimate conversations. That's at least what both men do here. Like atoms, they're circling around a musical nucleus, in ellipses in the same sphere, sometimes in sync, sometimes almost in collision. Some parts are clearly composed with great unison themes, but most of it isn't, and the most extraordinary thing about the album, next to the strong musicianship of both artists, is the unbelievable speed at which they react to one another. The fun thing is their exploration of musical form, in terms of scales and rhythms, themes and structures, but all this in an unpresumptuous simplicity which hides lots of underlying complexities. But for the listener, these are irrelevant, it's the overall end result that counts. And although it sounds a little distant at times, it is more than just an intellectual journey into music, it remains first and foremost an emotional listening experience.

© stef

Anthony Santor Ari Diaconis Project - Beyond Human Aid (CDBaby, 2008) ***½

The "Anthony Santor/Ari Diaconis Project" holds the middle between a jam band and free jazz. They're a jam band in their unpretentious attitude to bring great rhythmic music for the fun of it, a kind of "audience-pleaser" for its unrelenting energy and body-shaking intensity. On the other hand they have the aspirations of the electric Miles bands and some of the polyrhythmic power of Fela Kuti (without the singing). The band consists of the double alto front of Andy Allen and Bryan McNmara, with Alex Wolston on trumpet, Anthony Santor on bass, Nick Cassarino on guitar, Ari Diaconis on congas and Geza Carr on drums. The music is not boundary-shifting, but in its eclecticism and great musicianship, it certainly is entertaining and highly enjoyable.

Listen and download from CDBaby.

© stef

Sunday, October 5, 2008


(photo by Guy Le Querrec)

Here are a number of my favorite African-influenced free jazz albums. There are surely hundreds of jazz albums that have direct African involvement (musicians and music), bands with some or even most tracks referring to Africa, its music and its rhythms, as with Kahil El'Zabar's music, Chris McGregor or Dudu Pukwana, ... But some are very direct. The ones below are my short-list in random order.

Bengt Berger - Bitter Funeral Beer
Harris Eisenstadt - Guewel
The Either/Orchestra - Live In Addis (on the fabulous Ethiopiques series)
Mulatu Astatqe - Ethiopiques 4
Byard Lancaster - Pam Africa
John Carter - Castles Of Ghana
Johnny Dyani - Angolian Cry (but also worthwhile : Afrika and Song For Biko)
Albert Heath - Kawaida (with Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, ...)
Dollar Brand - The Journey (with Don Cherry, Carlos Ward, Hamiet Bluiett)
Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis, Henri Texier - Carnet De Route
Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis, Henri Texier - African Flashback
Hank Jones - Sarala
Chris Joris - Bihogo
Soriba Kouyaté - Live In Montreux
Roswell Rudd - Malicool
Lester Bowie - African Children
David Murray - Yonn-Dé

Since I don't think this music is still commercially available, you can download Albert Heath's Kawaida for free here.

As usual : suggestions are more than welcome.

© stef

Harris Eisenstadt - Guewel (Clean Feed, 2008) *****

Guewel or N'Guewel means as much as "griot" in the Wolof language of West-Africa, a wandering musician or poet, a living repository of the oral tradition but also someone who is free to comment on society and who incorporates current events in his songs, integrating them in the already existing and generally known stories. Canadian drummer Harris Eisenstadt went to Senegal and Gambia to study griot music and rhythms. He now integrated some of this into this wonderful free jazz record, assisted by a four horn section consisting of Josh Sinton on baritone sax, Mark Taylor on French horn, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. The great thing about Eisenstadt's approach is that he gives the musicians plenty of room to play around with the rhythms and the themes. The first track starts in a total free mode, with an initial hint of a unison rhythmic theme, but the band goes on like birds singing together, or or pedlars shouting on a market place: it's the same idiom, but it sounds chaotic, but then the drums lead them back for a wonderfully compelling theme, which drops away for a few minutes of drums/french horn duet, and when the theme returns, the music is full-fledged African, joyful, polyrhythmic, expansive. The second track starts with solo percussion intro, the band joins in a contrapuntal halting rhythm, with again, somewhere in the middle, a great half-march-half-waltz-half-latin-like theme emerges (I know it doesn't add up, but here it actually does!), offering the trumpet the solo spot, while the other horns disappear into the background, succeeded later by the cornet. Strangely enough, the same structural formula is also used on the following track, rhythm and musical chaos evolve toward a great jubilant theme somewhat halfway the piece, again with the horn section playing in full counterpoint, then collapsing again into some kind of communal chatter evolving into a slow solemn melody. The four horns are a perfect fit for each other, managing to convey joy and sorrow, magic and mystery almost on command, with the biggest kudos going to Eisenstadt for his crystal clear drumming. He is not all over the place, he is there where he needs to be, driving the music, not only providing the rhythmic base, but also lots of the listening fun, giving the right touches, underscoring during improvisations, supporting the soloists, yet challenging them at the same time. His greatest feat are the compositions though. The melodies are superb, the rhythms complex and evolving the whole time, but also the structure of the tunes, with each piece being a canvas of ever-changing colors and sentiments, with tightly composed and arranged themes interspersed with either chaotic chatter and percussion plus solo moments. It gives the effect of the individual moving out into the inhospitable outside world, encountering lots of unpleasant experiences, only to be sucked up again into the welcoming bossom of the community, where safety resides. All conjecture on my part, but that's how it feels. And I find it's absolutely fabulous. Don't miss it.

Listen to

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Solo Sax ....

When deciding to release a solo album, you think you have something to tell which cannot be expressed in the context of a band. The musical result is often much more intimate, more immediate in its expressivity, more personal, like a diary, clearer in its diction, not only because there is no need to adapt to others, but especially because whatever you do, good and bad, is all attributable to you. The big risk is that you have to make sure to keep the attention going, you need loads of ideas and performing skills to avoid boring your audience to death. So, here are two great additions to the solo sax catalogue, one by an angry old man, and one by an open-minded young man, both in their own way, wanting to escape the US.

Paul Flaherty - Aria Nativa (Family Vineyard, 2008)

Paul Flaherty has been around for a while, playing his totally uncompromising music that is the punk version of free improvisation : direct, angry, powerful. His unwillingness to conform is laudable, but it's possibly the toughest decision one can make commercially. This is not music for the masses, since concepts of melody or even the notion of pleasing the listener are totally alien to Flaherty. He plays what he feels he should play : shrieks, shouts, wails, screeches and howls, alternated with soft moaning and quiet weeping, but it is all about the direct emotional conduit : heart to sound, without any other interference. There is fury to be heard, in full anger with the world and with life, resulting also in agony and pain. And even with the limitations of just one instrument - or maybe because of it - he delivers his music with an unbelievably genuine and authentic depth. Despite all the raw power and violence, the five pieces on this album each have their own character, ending with one in which a long text is recited, critical of society and the hypocrisy of America's power system, turning into a virulent attack against the Bush administration, slowly unravelling within the text the titles of the four previous tracks. The "Aria Nativa' is the land of origin from a character in the text, Italy, the land the old woman can go back to after the USA has failed her in welfare and healthcare, but the narrator has no place to go to : his 'aria nativa', his 'native air', is the USA : he has nowhere to run. He can only scream in his sax in utter agony and revolt. The icy tomb on the cover tells the rest ...

Listen and download from eMusic or iTunes.

Vartan Mamigonian (CDBaby, 2008) ****

Vartan Mamigonian is the artist's name of saxophonist Patrick Breiner, used when he performs solo, ... and well, this is his first solo album. Vartan Mamigonian is also a historical figure, the hero of the Armenians, a captain who died in the 5th Century AD when trying to defend his country against the Persians. He is said to have been both a saint and a sinner, hence the attraction for Breiner to use his name. Apart from two titles on the album that refer to this Vartan Mamigonian, there is nothing in the music on this album that even vaguely corresponds to that time or region : don't expect world music, or any other historical references. Regardless, Patrick Breiner has his story to tell, and one that needs no references, as it can stand on its own. His playing is hypnotic, often as the result of his rhythmic circular breathing technique, with long repetive phrases and slight shifts in tone. His playing is good, with lots of double-toned playing, very warm in timbre, very sensitive at times, agonizing at others, making sure that there is enough variation to keep attention going. It all sounds improvised, but clearly with preconceptions about the techniques and approaches to be played on each track. And the result is excellent, he may not create history here as his namesake did so many centuries ago, but the whole album is very enjoyable, with all pieces of the same high quality level.

Listen to
But I've Never Been To Whitehall
The Madison Project

Listen, download or buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Jason Roebke - Solo (Family Vineyard, 2008) ****

The good thing about having changed the lay-out of my blog, is that I can show white CD artwork as on this new album by Jason Roebke, well-known and often sollicited avant-jazz bassist from Chicago. On this CD he give his first attempt at the solo bass performance, and he does so with verve and creativity. The music is all his own, in a fierce dialogue with silence, in the Japanese mode that the sound in between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. Roebke goes into full deconstructivist mode, with explorations in minimalism and extended techniques. Forget about theme and rhythm, the bassist's main activities in a regular band. They become irrelevant in any solo performance. Roebke's approach is extremely sensitive, creating little sounds, be it plucked or bowed, as in Japanese ink drawings : a few quick lines tell the story. At times, there are moments when the notes attempt to cluster together in order to create fluency and to build something which you could call a pattern, but often it evaporates even before you can identify it. "Untitled 2", is the only track which is built on a single tone center, with a vamp-like phrase circling around it. Its opposite is "Untitled 7", where there is hardly anything to be heard, except for some scraping sounds. If you like bass, you will appreciate Jason Roebke's attempt to bring something new, and you will also appreciate the many possibilities for warmth, clarity, and deep sensitivity even in an environment as exploratory as this one.

Listen and download from eMusic or iTunes.

© stef

Friday, October 3, 2008

John Zorn - Sholem Aleichem, Filmworks XX (Tzadik, 2008) ***½ and ****

Most of John Zorn's Filmworks series produce nice and gentle klezmer music, brought by the great musicians of his other records, and this one is not any different. As on many of his albums, the core group consists of the usual suspects Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Greg Cohen on bass, with the interesting addition of Carol Emanuel on harp and Rob Burger on accordion. Burger is someone whose albums I've always greatly appreciated yet he appears to be under-recorded. Sholem Aleichem is a documentary on the author with the same name who lived in the 19th Century and who is known primarily for "Fiddler On The Roof". The music is melodic, lyrical, nice and sweet, with the usual backbone of unison pizzicato phrases by the string instruments over which the accordion plays great melancholy tunes and the harp brings great added value to this sound which has become so familiar to so many of us. And the latter is maybe the biggest downside : haven't we heard all this before? Who would be able to tell the difference between all the various Filmworks and many more of the Tzadik releases? Sure, the harp is different, but is the music? Yet at the same time, it pains me not to give four stars to this album, because the music is great, and so are the musicians. The sadness, darkness and melancholy of the music is as usual beyond comparison. It is great, but it's nothing new. Ok, I'll give it four stars too. You'll be the judge.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do - Heat Wave (Not Two, 2008) *****

Another quartet with Satoko Fujii, now called "Ma-Do", and she is accompanied by her husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass and Akira Horikoshi on drums. Despite her regular changes in bands and line-ups, her music is usually easy to identify : structured, rhythmically challenging, thundering, powerful, wild and sensitive with even a touch of sentimentality and aesthetic beauty. And it's no different on this CD : the approach is total, not only as a broad synthesis of jazz (and modern classical and Japanese folk music), but also as a venture into new territory, with lots of extended techniques, pushing the envelope while keeping a clear focus and coherence in the playing. It's also total because it's cerebral in its structure and concept, emotional in its delivery, evocative in its almost visual imagery, brilliant in its execution, free in its evolution and interplay, compelling because of its variety and intensity, physical in the performance ... but also for the effect it has on this guy. Just listen to the two consecutive tracks of "Mosaic" and "Ring A Bell". Both start with bass, the first plucked, the second arco. The first track moves into adventurous territory, with Fujii playing her piano strings directly, with Tamura screeching in his trumpet, when the quartet suddenly moves into a highly rhythmic, almost fusion-like unison theme, setting the basis for further improvisation. "Ring A Bell" starts with Tamura playing solo trumpet, sounding almost klezmer in scale and melancholy, making his instrument wail and weep with pain and agony, wonderfully supported by the arco bass, moving into rhythmic down tempo world jazz, with the trumpet deepening the emotional expressivity into some hair-raising moments. "Tornado" by contrast is wild as its title suggests, with crashing piano, shouting trumpet, moving into a percussion-driven part with the piano taking the lead, full of drama and menacing sounds, ... and then it changes again and again ... impossible to describe, as on "The Squall In The Sahara", the track starts in an incredibly accessible soft and sentimental way, but gradually moves into highly rhythmic, almost raw and pounding, thundering music, building up to a crescendo, including the almost circus-like percussive tension-builder, back to theme, slowing down for the bass solo, ending again in full sentimentality and beautiful theme. But whatever it is that you hear on the album, it is intense, clever and full of passion. As said earlier, Fujii is something else and her music, regardless of the line-up, is not to be missed.

Watch this quartet on Youtube (sound quality is bad on this clip though)

© stef

Totem> Solar Forge (ESP, 2008) ****

Reconsider the guitar trio... Forget about the sound of a guitar, the sound of a bass, the sound of a drumkit. Think about the definition of music as "organised sound", and be open to something new. It sounds industrial, it sounds painful, it sounds direct, like the musicans are playing directly on your naked braincells, tweaking your nervous system, twisting synapses, pulling on neurons, and bending your expectations, distorting your preconceptions. Bruce Eisenbeil uses a guitar, Tom Blancarte makes sounds on his bass and Andrew Drury on a drumkit. Ever read a novel by Chuck Palahniuk? This would be the musical equivalent of his novels. Modern, in a language that is partly recognizable but which is brutal in its refined assault on your sensitivity. In a way you want to escape, away from the noise and the uncompromising attacks, on the other hand, the music is too interesting and you want to know what comes next, there is a kind of attraction that sucks you into the music. It's not pleasant to hear, but then again it's fun to listen to. The music is deeply emotional, but not always the emotions you would like. That's a strong achievement. It's not the kind of record that you would put on for a dinner party, but then again, why not ... give it a try ...

© stef

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trumpet trio update

I am a great fan of the rare line-up of trumpet-bass-drums. My list so far is not too long, so suggestions are always welcome.

For completeness' sake, here are a few additions, which I came across recently, but which were released some time ago.

Scott Tinkler Trio

Australian trumpeter made some trio recordings in the late 90s, of which some, such as "Shrike Like" are no longer available, and that's a pity, because the playing is excellent, a little boppish yet equally free and bluesy. Quite soulful music, with Adam Armstrong on bass and Simon Barker on drums.

Dance Of Delulian (1996)
Sofa King (1997)
Shrike Like (1999)

Both can be downloaded from eMusic.


Tigersmilk is a more adventurous trio, mixing jazz with electronics, consisting of Rob Mazurek on cornet, Jason Roebke on bass and Dylan Van Der Schyff on percussion. As with the Chicago Underground Trio, Tigersmilk redefines musical concepts, including that of the trio.

Albums :
Tigersmilk (2003)
Tales From The Bottle (2005)
Android Love Cry (2007)

Listen to "From The Bottle, Part 2"

So, again, new suggestions are always welcome.

© stef