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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nils Petter Molvaer - Hamada (Sula Records, 2009) ***

Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær deserves the credit for renewing jazz by going beyond fusion, to a more sophisticated musical environment with electronics and sampling. I have always liked, and still like, his earlier work with Khmer, but then he manoeuvred himself into a dead end street, repeating himself over and over again in trumpet atmospherics, which are by themselves nice as background music, nonintrusive but also not very expressive, nor especially rich musically. On this album his main sparring partner is guitarist Eivind Aarset who also does some programming, and on two tracks Audun Erlien joins on bass and Audun Kleive on drums. Sampling specialist Jan Bang adds his material on three tracks. This album is a little calmer than some of his previous recordings, and only two pieces, "Friction" and "Cruel Altitude", have the energy and drive of his early work. All the other pieces are nice and sweet with long trumpet phrases of a landscape of electronics and guitar. It's still nice, but it's also time for further explorations.

© stef

Monday, April 27, 2009

Acoustic Guitar Trio - Vignes (Long Song Records, 2009) ****

Unless you heard Rod Poole, Nels Cline and Jim McAuley's Acoustic Guitar Trio CD, released on Incus in 2002, you will probably never have heard guitar music sounding like this one. The three musicians are the same, but this performance was recorded live on Vignes Street in Los Angeles in 2003. All three musicians venture into the microtonal universe that British guitarist Rod Poole explored obsessively, playing on an open-tuned instrument played with a bow. All three musicians are also very pre-occupied with sound, like a painter can relish the physical qualities of paint, or a sculpture of stone. All three musicians do not really belong to a musical tradition, having set aside such notions about genre. Yes, Cline is best know from his rock music, but that would be very limitative to describe his work. McAuley has a more folk sound, but again, that is not doing credit to his skills. And Poole apparently was in a category all his own. "Vignes 1", the long first improvisation, starts calmly, in a rather conventional way, but moving forward, a repetitive, rhythmic one-chord basis sets the tone for the two other guitars to fill in the empty space, creating a weird hypnotic piece, dark and light, or heavy and light if you wish, with varying levels of intensity, but inherently paradoxical, ending in almost silence, where structure and rhythm are completely abandoned for pure sound exploration, recognizable, though not always, as coming from a guitar. "Vignes 2" rebuilds improvisational density, atonal, but rhythmic, with all strings creating again a strange surreal universe, like curtains waving in the breeze, attached to nothing but the imagination. "Vignes 3" brings the trio's sense of adventure a step further, with Poole starting to use the bow on his strings. It doesn't sound like Jimmy Page, or even Raoul Björkenheim, but it has a screeching quality which some will call painful, some nerve-racking, some beautiful, or possibly all three of them. It will certainly not leave you indifferent. The performance was recorded by Poole, who was unfortunately killed in 2007. Apparently there is more material left by him and by this trio. Although this music is surely not to everyone's taste, the trio's musical explorations and the new dimension given to acoustic guitar playing clearly deserves even more releases.

Listen to an excerpt from "Vignes 3"

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Terje Isungset - Hibernation (All Ice Music, 2009) ****

Terje Isungset, the "Ice Man" from Norway, has carved out his own style of music, anchored in traditional music, tribal in nature, but free as the wind. With Hibernation, he moves his music even further into regions of greater purity and authenticity, limiting the instruments even more, to ice percussion and ice horn, with the vocals of Sara Marielle Gaup. It all sounds so unbelievably fresh, authentic and pristine, with a naiveness and sense of wonder that is almost childlike, but at the same time also spiritual, devoid of any burdens that weigh on the soul. There is no direction to the music, it seems to arise spontaneously, calm and almost natural, without any sense of urgency. As a Norwegian critic put it "ice cold and so much warmth", which is possibly the best description of the music.

Listen to an excerpt from "Starlit"

Buy or download from Maquismusic or eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Naked Future - Gigantomachia (ESP, 2009) ****

This is an album to hate or to love. It is hard, with rythmic and tonal explorations that are far removed from jazz, but it is at the same time extremely pure, without mannerisms, without any felt need to please, but then in the good sense, with four musicians trying to create something meaningful, something new. The band consists of Arrington de Dionyso on bass clarinet and contralto clarinet, Thollem McDonas on piano, John Niekrasz on drums, and Greg Skloff on bass. The music is fierce at times, with all four musicians playing up a storm, but not always, and even in the slower parts, the intensity, the energy and the fire remain intact. The title, "Gigantomachia", refers to the battle of the gods from the old Greek mythology, between the Olympians and the Giants. The music reflects this ferocity, deconstruction and creative destruction are certainly dominating the music. To quote the Greek poet Hesiod on the battle of the gods : "The boundless sea rang terribly around, and the earth crashed loudly: wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and high Olympus reeled from its foundation under the charge of the undying gods", a few lines which describe the music quite well. The titles of the album are a delight by themselves :
"We Binge on a Bloodthirsty God",
"We Boil the Raven's Skull Into Gold",
"We Engage the Monstrous With Our Mirrors",
"We Fly Beneath and Above the Flux",
"We Sleep in a Rabbit Hole".
No doubt about it, these guys are not taking us for a stroll in the park, but they take us deep into primal musical experience of sounds clashing with one another, driven by pure energy, engaging in wild interactions. The music is surely not for the faint of heart, but the coherence of the approach, the depth and wealth of the interactions open up possibilities for music, and offering the listener a quite unique listening experience.

Listen to an excerpt from "We Boil The Raven's Skull Into Gold"

Buy or download from ESP.

© stef

Thursday, April 23, 2009

John Zorn - Filmworks XXIII - El General (Tzadik, 2009) ***½

Here's another nice album in John Zorn's Filmworks series. With his top performers Marc Ribot on guitar, Rob Burger on accordion and piano, Kenny Wollesen on marimba and drums, and Greg Cohen on bass. The pieces are atmospheric, with a Latin influence, but then more in sound than in rhythm (except for "Besos De Sangre"), with the piano, the marimba and the electric guitar creating a fine and unusual soft combination. The themes are quite repetitive, like you would expect from film scores, with not too much difference between the calm and unobtrusive tracks. As with many of Zorn's compositions, the tunes are sweet and accessible, but with a dark and nasty undertone at times. The album was intended as the score for a documentary about Plutarco Elias Calles, one-time dictator of Mexico, "who was called everything from a nunburner to the father of modern Mexico", yet apparently only three tracks were actually used in the film. It's always a pleasure to hear these four musicians play, and regardless of the subgenre, they usually have something new to bring as they do here. Nice, but not essential.

Listen to an excerpt from "Recuerdos"

© stef

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tony Malaby - Paloma Recio (New World Records, 2009) ****½

Regular readers of this blog will know my apprecation of Tony Malaby, and on this album he demonstrates again what a wonderful musician he is : technically brilliant, capable of many sounds on his tenor, from beautiful warm melodic sounds to unusual exploratory expressivity, he is at the same time a true artist, creating music that borrows from the known yet moves it into a different kind of perspective, making it rich, deeply felt as well as intellectually stimulating music. On Paloma Recio he is joined by three other brilliant instrumentalists: Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Their music is often soft, restrained, precise and full of tension, although there are moments when the tension gets unleashed, as on the long "Loud Dove", the translation of the album's title. In contrast to his superb "Tamarindo", there is more compositional structure to be found on this one, even clear themes, but the beauty lies in how the four musicians interact around those themes, creating shifting environments in which the melody flourishes, both rhythmically and harmonically. Sure, some of these must have been premeditated and even rehearsed, but the quality of the playing is of the kind that cannot be captured in musical scores. It's like with modern painting: the real attraction is not in the lines, but in what lies between them, the implicit quality of space, color, contrast, pace, and openness, offers a more powerful listening experience than any in-your-face melody and rhythm. The end result is a relatively accessible album, with a strong musical vision and powerful execution. Great!

Listen to an excerpt from "Lucedes"

© stef

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alexandra Grimal Trio - Shape (Futura Marge, 2009) ****½

To be honest, the first track of this album mesmerized me, sucking me into a weird musical world, and it kept me in that state till long after the album stopped, mainly because of the unusual combination of sax, hammond organ and drums, playing some incredibly intense, highly uptempo almost a-rhythmic music, which has a kind of strange halting drive, like it wants to move forward yet gets dragged back the whole time, like running without moving. Alexandra Grimal plays the sax, and how, with all her heart and body, stunningly, sensitively. Antonin Rayon plays the organ, creating some weird aural landscape, uninhabitable at times, often inhospitable, rarely sweet, while Emmanuel Scarpa does the drumming, breaking all possible patterns while keeping the drive going (how does he do that?). Especially on the long first track "Mouvances", this leads to some great listening experience. Something totally new, yet also attractive, powerful and sensitive at the same time. The second piece, the one-minute long "En Silence", captures the essence of the music: dark, somewhat industrial, yet fragile at the same time. This vision is further expanded upon in the long "Le Sang N'Est Pas Bleu" (the blood is not blue), a slow and equally depressing piece, on which Grimal's high soprano is the only light in the darkness, yet then she switches to tenor, and her wailing becomes deeper, more desperate. At times it's hard to categorize this music as jazz. The sounds produced by Rayon and Scarpa are more based on rock tradition, creating an atmosphere that is in essence alien to jazz, but one in which Grimal's playing fits perfectly. And as the lead voice, she is the one defining the music, its evolution, its sound, its otherworldliness, its agonizing terror, its intense expressivity, its vulnerability. What a voice for a debut album : strong, full of character and what a powerful musical vision! Highly recommended.

Listen to "Mouvances"

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Rempis Percussion Quartet - The Disappointment Of Parsley (Not Two, 2009) ****

I have rarely heard a live CD that starts so powerful as this one. After a short intro, the whole band dives in full throttle, no holds barred, full of energy and drive, full of self-confidence and without hesitations, slow-downs or any other deviations: onward and forward, no matter what. The train driver is Dave Rempis, on tenor on this piece, with Anton Hatwich on bass and with the double drums of Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly. After six minutes Rempis shuts up and leaves his locomotive in the hands of the rhythm section, full speed, onward and forward, and when Rempis re-joins, what started as a boppish tune, now swirls into full swing, with his expressive horn borrowing from tradition in a wild rollercoaster of a free solo, relentlessly, keeping up the powerplay without slacking down, but then yes, it comes to a halt, unavoidably, after eighteen minutes of madness. On the second piece, Rempis switches to alto, for a piece which is the exact opposite of the first one, slow, sensitive and calm, first solo, then joined by arco bass and gently the percussion enters the tune as well. The third piece starts with polyrhythmic drums, for a free form piece, more abstract, totally unpredictable, and it is only after about ten minutes that a steady vamp gets going, giving the tune a more traditional foundation for the music's development, yet it slows down into a quite kind of intermezzo, with the four musicians softly bouncing off ideas, gently, sensitively, slowly gathering volume, and speed, ending the tune again in a paroxysm of sound, to the general satisfaction of Alchemia's enthusiastic audience.

Listen to an excerpt from "The Disappointment Of Parsley"

© stef

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Billy Hart Trio - Live At Café Damberd (Enja, 2009) ***½

Billy Hart is without a doubt one of the most elegant and versatile drummers of the moment. In this live performance with Johannes Enders on sax and Martin Zenker on bass, his skills get the perfect context to shine. And the performance is good, with all three musicians getting ample time to solo, interacting well, with sufficient variation and moments of interest to keep the audience's enthusiastic attention. It is mainstream jazz, in a modern and creative version, very accessible without being boring: it bops, it funks, it swings. Enders and Zenker are more than good, and listening to Hart is a real joy. Nothing earth-shaking, but nice enough. If you're more into mainstream than I am, this one is highly recommended.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sing Sing Penelope & Andrzej Przybielski - Stirli People In Jazzga (Monotype Records, 2009) ****

Sing Sing Penelope is a Polish "post-jazz" band, established in 2001 by musicians playing in jazz, avant-garde and rock groups. For this album they have trumpeter Andrzej "Major" Przybielski as their guest of honor. The latter is a kind of popular figure in Polish jazz, having played with all kinds of bands, in all kinds of settings, from traditional big band to free and avant-garde jazz, yet without having released any record as a leader. Sing Sing Penelope consists of Tomasz Glazik on saxophone and synthesizer, Wojciech Jachna on trumpet and flugelhorn, Rafal Gorzycki on drums, Daniel Mackiewicz on electric piano, synthesizer, organ and percussion, and Patryk Weclawek on bass. The music is hard to describe. Influences range all over the place, think of splintered sound of the electric Miles mixed with the psychedelia of the early Pink Floyd (the organ! the synth!), joined by the melancholy of Tomasz Stanko (especially on Hosanna SSP), and added to that a freewheeling modern jazz touch, all sweet with a little sharp edge. Clever, inspiring and beautiful music.

Listen to an excerpt from "Stirli People".

Listen and buy from Monotype Records.

© stef

Monday, April 13, 2009

Search - Today Is Tomorrow (Search Music, 2008) ***½

With the first notes of this record, you can hear that Ornette Coleman is not far, or at least that Don Cherry is not far. I've been racking my brain to find the exact spot where Cherry plays the phrase that is used as the theme of the first piece "Blues If It Is", I can hear it, with Haden's arco bass in accompaniement, but only in my head. I will share the track below and will thank the reader who can find it for me. Anyway, the band is called Search and consists of RJ Avallone on trumpet and wooden flutes, Matthew Maley on tenor saxophone and clarinets, David Moss on bass, and Bryson Kern on drums. I like the emotional opening track, the middle-eastern flavor of "Herds", the second piece, the openness of "Next", the joyous theme of "Joujouka", the dark theme of "Day Terrors", but then some of the other tracks, especially the more boppish ones, are all too familiar and predictable, going back to the early free jazz of the 60s without adding much. In search of the Don Cherry phrase in my head, I listened again to the best Ornette Coleman Quartet, i.e. "Old & New Dreams", the band that played his music but without the master himself, and to me still one of the best bands ever. It all still sounds so fresh, so joyful, so deep, so creative, and I know, it's unfair to compare this band to them, but the difference is of course huge. "Search" has the skills, both in the compositions and in playing the instruments, but this band could do themselves a big favor by indeed looking at tomorrow, and to get rid of the past. Create your own voice, guys. Even more. Very promising debut.

Listen to "Blues If It Is"

Listen, buy or download from CDBaby.

© stef

Sunday, April 12, 2009

François Carrier & Michel Lambert - Nada (Creative Sources, 2009) ****½

For their third duo recording, Canadian saxophonist François Carrier and drummer Michel Lambert, play no less than twenty short improvised pieces, varying between 44 seconds and 6 minutes. In stark contrast to most other releases by Creative Sources, the music is relatively accessible, there is melody and rhythm, even implicitly, as opposed to the "organised sounds" that the label is better known for. The two musicians keep delving deeper into the essence of music, delivering their little miniatures with an immediacy and authenticity which also characterized their latest albums. The effort makes the music go away from the long Coltrane-like expansiveness that Carrier used in his live performances, yet transforming the spirituality into the more compact form, somewhat analogous to the short Japanese "haiku" verses. The music is indeed not epic anymore, it's poetry. Even in the wildest and most expressive pieces, lyricism and subtlety are omnipresent. There are moments when Carrier sounds like Dewey Redman, both in his warm tone and melodic phrasing, and Lambert is, well, himself, creative and light of touch. The shortness of the tracks also forces the two musicians to focus on the tunes' essence: a feeling, a sound, a rhythm. Creating it, wondering at it, playing around it, and closing it. But each piece has a story to tell, giving impressions from nature, and expressing a reaction to it, whether serene, as in "Growing", sad, as in "Tabula Rasa", or distressed, as in "Transformation", joyful, as in "Clouds" or "Unknown". The sound itself is very organic, with notes and rhythms growing out of their predecessors, quite naturally, without pretence, without a clear plan, yet definitely part of the same piece, and beautifully. The sound of life. Again, a great album.

Listen to "Unknown".

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, April 10, 2009

Michael Bates - Live In New York (Greenleaf, 2009) ****

When I heard Michael Bates' debut album in 2003, I was thrilled by his specific approach: not too far left from the mainstream, which makes his music quite accessible, yet sufficiently adventurous and creative to surprise the listener, to add little ideas, integrate elements from the jazz tradition but also from other genres such as modern classical and folk music, and then twist them into something new, but then in a very intelligent and sensitive way. Over the years, his band, "Outside Sources", with Russ Johnson on trumpet, Quinsin Nachoff on sax, and Jeff Davis on drums, has even become better, and this live date, recorded at a performance at the Cornelia Street Café in New York this past September is really great. The "live" aspect is not really dominant: you hear the audience only once at the end (except for some clattering cutlery during Bates' bass solo on "Simple Interlude"), but the directness of the performance, the little emotional extra that deepens the sounds, both on the wild as the slow moments, is typical of a live date. The two opening tracks "Bloodletting", and "Russian School", come from his latest album "Clockwise", together with three other tracks "Machinery", "Fellini" and "Damasa". Not only are Bates' compositions exceptionally good, so is the band. Russ Johnson and Jeff Davis are their ususal excellent selves, as is Bates, and I think this is saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff's best performance with the band so far. Only two tracks are new, and although the performance is good, the pieces do not differ all that much from the studio recordings. So, if you don't have anything from this band yet, this album will make an excellent introduction. If you already have Clockwise, you must really have loved it, to buy it again in a live version.

Listen to an excerpt from "Lucifer", one of the new pieces.

Buy or download from Greenleaf.

© stef

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Marcin & Bartłomiej Brat Oleś - Duo (Fenommedia, 2008) *****

The Polish Oleś brothers, Marcin on bass and Brat on drums, are like the William Parker and Hamid Drake from Europe. They can play in any environment, with any musician or line-up, playing strong and in line the other musicians' musical vision, yet still sounding like themselves: creative, rhythmical, lyrical. To hear them play with just the two of them, as they do here, is a real treat. And if you think that a line-up of just bass and drums is a little too limited to be captivating or gripping, think again. I could give several examples, but just take "Skrik" (sampled below), and listen how Brat's drumming, next to being absolutely rock solid, adds variation and accents in support of his brother, while changing in the meantime the piece by moving from a very light touch to the lower sound of his toms and bass drum, herewith mirroring the dialogue that the bass is holding with itself, between the bowed high notes, contrasted with a single deep tone. The result is one of plaintive drama, full of tension and suspense hoping for release. And then listen again to assess how much can really be heard, just played by two instruments that are traditionally only in support roles.

During the album, they move from Ornette Coleman influenced pieces ("Betula"), tracks with a boppish bass vamp à la William Parker ("Lukacs"), klezmer ("Jewisher"), African polyrhythmics ("Afrik"), to more adventurous abstract pieces ("Avalanche"), and whatever the style, the quality is superb: balanced, rich, with lots of feeling. Each piece is not limited to the exploration of one melody or theme, it contains a wealth of ideas, the opening of new possibilities, going beyond predictability, creating new angles and approaches as you move along. There are moments that I was wondering whether the drums were overdubbed, which is not the case. Add to that a high recording quality which gives the music a very crisp and clear sound, as if they're playing in your living room. William Parker and Hamid Drake also recorded a duo CD ("Piercing The Veil"), but they added a whole arsenal of additional instruments, here you get the real stuff : just bass and drums, but Goethe's line "in der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister" (it's only within a context of strict limitations that a true master reveals himself) has never been more true. This is definitely not a record that will only please drummers and bass-players, this album should appeal to all music lovers. It is fun, expressive, moving, adventurous, melodic and accessible. Don't miss it.

Download directly from the musicians.

Listen to an excerpt from "Skrik"

© stef

250,000 Visitors

... reached tonight in a little over two years. Thank you visitors for the interest. I hope it benefits the music and the musicians!

By comparison, some other sites reach the same number on a daily basis, but we're not in it for the money, just for the fun of it ...

(The picture is an old AACM photograph from the early 70s)

© stef

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Old Dog - By Any Other Name (Porter Records, 2009) ****

This is the first release by Old Dog, an appropriate name for a band consisting of veteran jazz musicians, with Karl Berger on vibes and piano, Louie Belogenis on tenor, Michael Bisio on bass and Warren Smith on drums. Well, they're not that old, really, and certainly not when you listen to them play. The music has drive, vigor, adventurousness and wonderful expressivity. Half the compositions are penned by Michael Bisio, who is extremely prolific these days - this is my fourth review in which he figures this year - and his title song bookends the album, once in a trio format, and ending with the quartet. His compositions are freebop, with clear theme and rhythm, and they alternate with more open quartet improvisations. The improvisations are equally excellent. "Endless Return" has a coltranesque spiritual expansiveness, a steady bass vamp, repetitive piano chords and a soaring sax. "Who Are You?" offers the other end of the scale of free form: less epic, more intimate, more human. The longest piece, "Constellation", brings a mixture of both, with Berger playing a leading role on piano and vibes. But the real highlight is Bisio's title track "By Any Other Means": sensitive, rich and deep.

These are four musicians who are underevaluated and underexposed. Belogenis has profiled himself more as a leader in the past years, but then with changing line-ups and band names, which does not really help to get wide recognition. Smith has also contributed to some of the better albums and performances of the last years, but again in all modesty. Karl Berger has been almost invisible in the past decades. Bisio has been more prominent lately, but still, the public awareness of these musicians is inversely proportional to their skills and value.

Listen to an excerpt from "Who Are You?"

Listen and buy from Porter Records.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Angelo Olivieri - Caos Musique (Terre Sommerse, 2008) ****½

French virtuoso cellist Vincent Courtois joins a trio led by Angelo Olivieri on trumpet, with Marco Ariano on drums, percussions and objects, and with Antonio Pulli on interactive electronics. The latter one's blips and bleeps can be heard on only a few tracks, but most pieces are just acoustic. Olivieri is a trumpeter with a very mainstream sound, with a warm round tone, but the music is a wonderful mixture of jazz, traditional Italian folk music, old blues, not mainstream at all, but quite creative and innovative without being avant-garde or free, although there are elements of those too. Like Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, the pleasure is to be found in the playful interaction between the musicians for quite modest little compositions, that change mode, rhythm and melody all the time. There is nothing broad, wide or expansive in the music, quite to the contrary, it is human, vulnerable, expressing emotions that we all share: melancholy, fun, joy, sadness and fear, often contradictory at the same time. The many references to old music, like movie soundtracks from the fifties, or popular songs our grandparents enjoyed, give the compositions a kind of universal touch, while its focus on the little detail and the unpredictable evolution of the pieces give it a very modern feeling. This is about you and me. Musically recognisable, emotionally recognisable, close and intimate, yet fresh and creative. And absolutely great in how it brings the everyday human reality to life, even if small and parochial, but with truckloads of sympathy and understanding.

Listen to an excerpt from "Chernobyl's Lullaby"

Listen and buy from Terre Sommerse.

© stef

Cécile Broché & Etienne Bouyer Duo (Igloo, 2008) ***½

There aren't that many sax-violin duos in jazz, and with the exception of a Leroy Jenkins and Joseph Jarman album, I wouldn't even be able to name many more. But that the combination can work well, is clearly illustrated by this record. Cécile Broché is a Belgian electric violinist, teaming up with French soprano and tenor saxophonist Etienne Bouyer for no less than fifteen short duets. Some of those are excellent, little miniatures that despite their short length still manage to create a world of sound, that combines classical with jazz and world music influences. The two musicians are wonderful instrumentalists, very disciplined and playing with a superb clarity of tone. On the downside, the album is a collection of pieces that lack unity. Some pieces, like "Page Blanche", but especially "Jezerca", have a quite dramatic beauty and a novel approach, while other tunes, such as "Molvanian Dance" are part of the almost obligate balkan-influenced hipness, or have poetry in them (OUCH!), or are inconsequential, such as the light-footed boppy "Isi Bop", nice but the kind of music that has been played to death by so many others. On "Könnyu Darab # 5", Broché demonstrates that she can sound like Hendrix on electric violin, but again, it brings a totally different approach to the music, and again a stylistic break in the album. The record also contains a short version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", with vocals, played solo by the violin. A little more coherence and unity of musical vision would have made this a great album. Just delete five of the tracks and you have it.

Listen to an excerpt from "Jezerca"

© stef

Saturday, April 4, 2009

AlasNoAxis - Houseplant (Winter & Winter, 2009) ****

With AlasNoAxis, drummer Jim Black created his own substyle in jazz. Rock-influenced rhythms and rhythm section form the basis for the beautiful, almost naive melodies that flow out of the sax and the guitar. Apart from Black, the rhythm section comes from Iceland, with Skuli Sverrisson on bass and Hilmar Jensson on guitar, the sax is played by Chris Speed. For those familiar with the band's former records, there are no real surprises to be heard. The music keeps its great pulse, its sweet melodies, and its deliberate contrast of powerful drive with niceness. It sounds like emo rock or alt rock with the sax taking over the role of the voice. There is no real soloing in the jazz sense. It is rather a build-up of layers of composed structures that create a musical effect, gripping and moving at times. The music sounds simple and accessible on the surface, but there's actually a lot going on, changes in tempo, rhythm, structure and sound coloring that are well thought through, adding a level of complexity which makes this music nice to listen to repeatedly. And the quartet are four absolutely stellar musicians, but they play fully in the service of the music itself, not to display their skills, and in that sense the music is totally unrelated to any fusion. AlasNoAxis have carved out their own place in the jazz rock world, one that is interesting to follow. But this guy prefers it rawer.

Listen to an excerpt from "Malomice".

© stef

Friday, April 3, 2009

Michael Bisio Quartet - Live At The Vision Festival XII (Not Two, 2009) ****

Recorded at the New York Vision Festival in June 2007, this album brings a performance by the Michael Bisio Quartet, led by the great bassist, with Stephen Gauci on tenor, Avram Fefer on tenor and soprano, and Jay Rosen on drums, and to my knowledge this is only the third release of the band, after their CIMP albums "Connections" and "Circle This" . In line with the Festival's positioning, the music is free, wild, driven by a muscular sensitivity, with emotional outbursts, velvet tonal subtleties, and more contemplative moments. None of the material is new, "Hystory Of A Mystery", figures on "Connections", and also on the recent trio with Bob Gluck, and "Nitro, Don't Leave Without It", comes from "Circle This", but that's fine of course, because the quality of the music is more in the performance than in the composition itself. The two pieces are a little over twenty minutes each, giving the musicians ample time to explore and expand the tune, to move it through various layers of intensity and momentum. They can do it all, and they do it all, from the wild all-hell-breaks-loose powerplay to the quiet fragile solo moments, with in between the perfect unison themes. And it must be said, the quartet's expansive quality music has that extra touch in a live performance, not only because of the length of the pieces, but clearly for its much more emotional directness.

Listen and download from Klicktrack.

© stef

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vector Trio - Nomina (CDBaby, 2008) ****

The chances that you ever heard a trumpet-bass-drums trio that sounded like the Vector Trio, are close to nil, because they bring music into new realms. The band consists of Scott Forrey on trumpet, electronics and percussion, Gary Rouzer on bass, bass cello, loops and electronics, and Marshall Hughey on drums and landscape percussion. Totally improvised and highly rhythmic but with (un)clear structure, often repetitive themes, electronic enhancement and distortion, this is music that will please younger audiences too. It is a kind of the-electric-Miles-goes-trip-hop-in-a-cloud-of-noise. It is dark, violent at times, raw, yet strangely attractive too. The good thing about it is that it has its own unmistakable approach. These guys developed an interesting angle to music. They surely have a story to tell. And it's not all violent and abrasive, even in the quieter parts they manage to capture and maintain attention. And keep the same unity of musical vision. Stubbornly. Uncompromisingly. That unity is helped by the similarity of the some of the trumpet phrases in the various pieces, which gives it a kind of suite-like feel and flow. And when the electronics slow down for a minute, and acoustic voices can be heard, it is also clear that these three musicians know how to play their instruments, also without tricks and effects. Not bad, not bad at all.

Listen to an excerpt from "Synochus".

Listen and download from CDBaby.

© stef

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver - Live At The Loft (ILK, 2009) *****

This is the second release by Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker with her trio with Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The concept that started on the first album, "Tryptich", comes to fruition on this live date, and takes the concept a notch higher. Gone are the high-toned nervousness, and some of the density of the improvisations, making room for slower, warmer, more deeply felt and opener structures, and it works to perfection. Anker delves deep into the nature of music, stripping it of all its mannerisms, patterns and clear melodic lines, revealing a subtle, sensitive, melodic emotional nakedness, fragile and beautiful, intense and heartfelt. Taborn and Cleaver provide the ideal support and interaction, enjoying the subtleties, reinforcing the emotional depth, adding perspective and color, but leaving the center stage to Anker, whose calm presence defines the music. On "Magic Carpet", the long first track, she moves the music from calm, almost contemplative moments to increasing levels of intensity towards the end, but without raising her voice, or without losing the sensitivity, drawing Taborn and Cleaver into her realm of fast little sounds, who echo her, join her, then take over for two consecutive solos, compact, efficient, but great. The equally long second piece starts again in the faintest of modes, with barely audible sax notes vibrating in the air, floating sensitively, encountering their counterparts from the piano and finger-played drums, dancing around each other rhythmically, but then one without recognizable pattern. And out of this almost-silence erupt some gut-wrenching agonizing wails, slowly, plaintively, and then listen how Taborn takes over, capturing the idea, playing around with the implicit rhythm for a wild yet light piano excursion, and when Lotte Anker joins, she moves the piece back to slowness, stretching her notes, laying a quiet blanket on top of the rhythmical frenzy that Cleaver starts creating, followed in that by Taborn, leading to a strange musical contrast between the rhythm section and the tenor, the one hectic, the other slow. The last piece, "Berber", brings again this strange mixture of abstract and deeply emotional music, demonstrating that in the right hands and ears, musical purity in all its polished rawness, in all its real sensitivity, devoid of fake feelings, averse of false pretention, is not a vague dream, but a real possibility. Free form unleashes true feelings. An absolutely stunning performance.

Listen to an excerpt from "Magic Carpet"

Listen and download from eMusic.

PS: Some weeks ago I thought that the financial crisis had hit the music industry, because the incoming flow of new music was lessening, as was the quality, but now, I have to revise my opinion. Last week saw some wonderful records being released, and this one is certainly among the highlights.
© stef