Click here to [close]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paura - The Construction Of Fear (Creative Sources, 2008) *****

Two years ago, Brazilian saxophonist Alípio C Neto released a great album on Clean Feed with 'The Perfume Comes Before The Flower", now he goes a step further into avant-garde territory on Ernesto Rodrigues' Creative Sources label, equally Portuguese. Ernesto Rodrigues plays the viola, and his son Guilherme cello, Dennis González plays trumpet (and vocals) and Mark Sanders drums. Father and son Rodrigues are of course well-known for their experimental take to modern music, Sanders is one of the finest drummers in the European free improv scene, but adding González to the band was a very clever move. Against and in the context of the unusual and weird sounds that the string and percussion create, Neto's staggering expressivity and González' emotional lyricism form a wonderful counterbalance. These five musicians are not a natural match, yet their openness to each other and their musical skills for interaction are strong enough to make this an incredibly powerful and creative piece of music. Spread over three long tracks, they dive deep into the meaning of fear, evoking the feeling slowly, gradually, like something that creeps into you, full of surprises, but then rather of the mind, getting you off-balance and into unwanted places. But this is surely not a horror movie, that lives on cheap effects and lack of subtlety, quite the contrary, nuance, finesse, and a sensitive approach to how music can sound different while still striking an emotional chord is the main angle here. This is not music that will make you comfortable, it will suck you up, it will create distress, you will be glad and relieved and sad to hear some long lyrical phrases by González, but then they are replaced by some agonizing wails by Neto, which also dissapear, and you stay with the darkness created by off-beat drums and the extended technique sounds of the viola and cello. And through the quite uncanny and eery sounds, beauty emerges, once you get acquainted with the musical universe they create, once you accept what is going on and stop rationalizing, the artistry opens like a flower, not releasing sweet scents, but a dark and terrifying beauty. No, these guys are not a natural match, but for the music presented here (and it is not jazz, really), they are no doubt the perfect match.

Listen to an excerpt from "Paura - Lyrikon"

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mikołaj Trzaska, Clementine Gasser & Michael Zerang - Nadir & Mahora (Kilogram Records, 2009) ****

Every new CD by Polish saxophonist Mikołaj Trzaska is one to look forward to, and this one also delivers the goods, in the good company of Swiss cellist Clementine Gasser and American percussionist Michael Zerang. The album is recorded live at the "Alchemia" club in Krakow, Poland (where else would it be?). Trzaska is not only a wonderful instrumentalist, but his musical creativity and sense of sound is possibly his greatest asset. He knows how to be intriguing, inventive, expressive and sensitive at the same time, adventurous and accessible at the same time. And in Gasser and Zerang he really found two soulmates. Gasser is a wonderful cello-player, wild and furious at times, heart-warming and bone-chilling, always creative and subtle when needed, also when playing in a more supporting role. Zerang too is a pleasure to hear, and he is as usual as defining for the music as the soloists, adding texture, depth and emphasis, performing a great intro for the the album's title song, as an avalanche introducing the repetitive and hypnotic single-note screeching of cello and sax, after which all three instruments move into an evocation of the sound of falling rain drops, that in turn change into light sustained sounds, all weird and sweet. Trzaska and Zerang I knew, and they more than deliver the expectations, but Gasser is absolutely stunning, with a really strong musical presence, a true revelation. I really hope to hear more from her.

Watch Trzaska and Gasser on Youtube (without Zerang, and without subtitles, but just go fast forward for the music pieces)

© stef

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stéphane Kerecki Trio & Tony Malaby - Houria (Zig Zag, 2009) ****

French bassist Stéphane Kerecki had the brilliant idea to invite saxophonist to complement his trio with Michel Donarier on sax and Thomas Grimmonprez on drums. As usual, Malaby's performance alone is worth purchasing the album, but its real value resides in Kerecki's musical approach. The compositions shift between total improvisations and tightly composed elements, of nice unison themes, often with African references and rhythms, but then with more shady outlines like a modern painting, expressive and coloring outside the lines, while remaining very accessible throughout. "Houria" is the Arabic word for freedom, and the music's open texture testifies to that, with sensitive soloing of all four musicians, but with obviously the best dialogues between Malaby and Donarier. At moments, but very rarely, it is a little too mellow to my taste, but that's personal. The really improvised pieces are the best, I think, and there is sometimes too great a distance between the inside and the outside playing to make it a really coherent album, but it clearly shows wonderful promise. It has beauty and expressivity, a warm feel and adventurous moments.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Monday, May 25, 2009

Avram Fefer Trio - Ritual (Clean Feed, 2009) ****

Melodic, energetic, soulful, spiritual. Hesitating between bop and free jazz, this is a nice album, consisting of lengthy and focused improvisations by this great trio led by saxophonist Avram Fefer. The bass is in the masterful hands of Eric Revis, known from the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Chad Taylor plays the drums, known from the Chicago Underground Trio to give for both just one reference. Despite the limitations of the trio, all three manage to make this a captivating performance. "Shepp In Wolves' Clothing" is a tribute to Archie Shepp with whom Fefer performed, but starts of like a Vandermark composition, uptempo and highly rhythmic, and Fefer even blows the theme on two horns simultaneously after a while. With a few exceptions, Fefer's sax is almost permanently on the foreground, much like David S. Ware, filling all possible space with notes, and only pausing to let his band-mates take a solo. This absence of silence to a large extent determines the dynamics of the music, even in slower pieces such as "Feb. 13th", and Fefer's rhythmic lyricism is a pleasure to hear. The band does not take too many musical risks, but listen carefully how all three manage to maintain a strong focus on each piece, despite the apparent freedom. The quality of the music and of the performance is sufficiently high to make this a very enjoyable album.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rob Mazurek - Sound Is (Delmark, 2009) *****

Cornettist Rob Mazurek's new album, "Sound Is", is a winner. With two more rock-influenced musicians, John Herndon on drums and Matt Lux on electric bass, and two jazz musicians, Josh Abrams on acoustic bass and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, he manages to create appealing unfamiliar sounds out of the familiar. Highly rhythmic, the album moves you through distant cinematic moments, low energy late night empty jazz club feelings, high energy pepped up moments, all by yourself on a rainy night kind of feelings, drive your car slowly on a sunny day kind of feeling, early sunrise wonder, enjoy the company and the world kind of moods, to what is this thing torturing my brain and what the hell is the reason of this life kind of situations, while all the time sounding somewhat familiar, but not quite. There are basically no themes, no real melodies so to speak off, but only moods, played as cool jazz, as bop, but then of the electronic age, sounding unusually modern, even without having too often recourse to electronics. At moments it sounds like a combination of Evan Lurie with Tortoise and Don Cherry, with a late fifties feeling to it. What makes the music cinematic in nature, is that there is hardly any expansion of the themes, or of the original sound arrangement : once a rhythm and pattern is established, it is kept that way throughout the relatively short pieces, with only the cornet soloing, and once in a rare while, the vibes too. That repetitive pulse and steady drive makes the music quite accessible, and also quite attractive. The pieces also start and end in a very abrupt way, as if you capture the musicians in mid-movement, with only the relevant part made public, like a snap shot of the high jumper crossing the bar. In the past years Mazurek already treated us to some fantastic recordings, taking wild risks into sonic possibilities, and this is again an absolute highlight, although of a totally different nature than the Exploding Star Orchestra or the Chicago Underground Trio or his other projects. Less expansive and ambitious than the first, more accessible than the second, more jazzy than the third, but again a brilliant piece of music.

Listen to an excerpt from "The Hill"

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gato Barbieri - In Search Of The Mystery (ESP, 2009) ****

Argentinian saxophonist Leandro Barbieri, aka El Gato, El Pampero, played with everyone from fellow countryman Lalo Schifrin to Carlos Santana, and is best appreciated with Carla Bley and Don Cherry in the early days of free jazz, to which he added his own sound without playing a major role though.

With Carlos Santana he has more than one element in common. Not only did Barbieri turn Santana's hit "Europa" also into one of his preferred tunes lately, but more importantly, both musicians added Latin lyricism to respectively free jazz and rock in the sixties, in a way that had not been heard before (I saw Santana perform several times, but Barbieri never). Then both were sucked up by the musical establishment, devolving into smooth jazz respectively pop music, using their signature sound to lively up otherwise dull music, yet endlessly repeating themselves in the process. A little sad, but well, everyone needs a living.

Anyway, here we're back in New York in 1967, with Barbieri on tenor, Calo Scott on cello, Norris Jones, aka Sirone, on bass, and Bobby Kapp on drums. On two 20 minute tracks this quartet does what it should do: play the bejesus out of their instruments. Barbieri plays like we know him from his collaborations with Carla Bley and Don Cherry : screeming, overblowing, full blast and full energy, but full of a natural melodicism and fully supported by this band. And they alternate well with softer and slower moments, but the emotional drive and tension are present throughout. Remarkably, even in the quieter parts, Barbieri can suddenly wail like crazy, in total contrast with the background, without any apparent musical reason, out of the blue, as if he got stung by something, going totally over the top, blowing his lungs out, while bass, cello and drums keep their slow pulse. But whatever he does, the emotional expressivity is there at all times, and the rhythm section offers the right balance, counterplay and context for El Gato to thrive in. Good to hear this one. Good sound quality too.

Listen to an excerpt from "In Search Of The Mystery/Michelle"

© stef

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Franz Koglmann - Lo-Lee-Ta (Music on Nabokov) (Col-Legno, 2009) ****

Austrian trumpeter Franz Koglmann plays within a category of his own: a sensitive intellectualist, an eclectist fusing classical music with soundtrack and jazz, breaking the boundaries between music, literature, theater and poetry, unafraid to explore new directions, not always successful, mixing a kind of romantic German darkness of approach with intimacy and drama, sweeping emotions with delicate compositions. Half of his work I really can't listen to, the other half is quite interesting and even beautiful. This album falls within the latter category. It is structured around his quartet and duo performances with pianist Wolfgang Mitterer. The quartet consists of Tony Coe on clarinet and alto, Ed Renshaw on guitar and Peter Herbert on bass, a band he's been performing and recording with quite actively in the past years, and their interplay is really a treat. The album is dedicated to Russian American author Vladimir Nabokov, best known for his "Lolita", a wonderful stylist and explorer of human emotions. No wonder Koglmann pays hommage to him. The fourteen tracks, of which 6 duets, demonstrate the leader's broad musical baggage, and the band manages to keep it quite coherent in approach, despite the variations in mood, now slow and sad, then sometimes even joyful, and despite the variations in style, sounding very jazzy in a traditional way, then avant-garde, or sometimes just sounding like the musical accompaniement for a movie, which is actually the case for the first piece, which is the "Love Theme" from Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita". As usual, Koglmann's sense of style and structure go a little bit at the expense of the emotional expressivity, but overall it's one of his best albums so far.

Listen and buy from Col Legno

© stef

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Andy Sheppard - Movements In Colour (ECM, 2009) **

I know Andy Sheppard first and foremost from his trio collaborations with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, little gems of modern jazz, and easy to recommend. I only have two albums he released under his own name, "Nocturnal Tourist", and "Dancing Man & Woman", two albums which bring a mix of styles and genres, with fusion, world music and modern electronic influences. Now on his debut on ECM, the British saxophonist moves this personal aesthetic into the ECM range, softening the edges a bit, slowing down the tempo a notch, and increasing the sound quality. Here too, world influences abound, not only because of Kuljit Bhamra on tabla and percussion, who adds an Indian flair, but also because of John Parricelli's Spanish guitar sounds, with Eivind Aarset's guitar and electronics throwing a more modern flavor into the mix. Arild Andersen plays the bass. Without a doubt the quality of the delivery is excellent, not only because of the skills of the musicians, but also because of the perfect production. But that does unfortunately not lead to great music. It is taking no risks, but then really no risks at all. The result is something that might have been played by dozens of bands, maybe not with this level of execuction, but certainly with the same lack of inspiration. The old recipe: if you lack ideas, open your bag of skills, mix them up, and something new may come up. Yet the end result is often a bland soup, not very spicy, lukewarm, something you can swallow without any risk of either burning your lips, throat, or having steam coming out of your ears. And like soup, it doesn't fill the stomach, and it makes you hungry for a real meal. There's no substance, no musical statement, no personal vision. So, sentimental stuff, with possibly commercial ambitions, but clearly not musical ones. What a disappointment, because Sheppard is a delicate player with great skills.

Listen to an excerpt from "Nave Nave Moe"

© stef

Monday, May 18, 2009

Petr Cancura, Joe Morris, Jason Nazary - Fine Objects (Not Two, 2009) ****

Great unpretentious sax trio, playing improvised music around thematic structures, with three excellent musicians, freely, but sounding like a very traditional bop sax trio. A pleasure to hear, "fine objects for listening", as Joe Morris aptly puts it in the liner notes. Morris plays bass, Petr Cancura tenor and soprano, and Jason Nazary drums. The playlist consists of two "older" Morris compositions, one by Dolphy, one by Ornette Coleman, and a few group compositions/improvisations. The sound quality is good, the technical skills are excellent, the improvisations deeply felt, the accessibility is high. No boundaries are broken, no exceptional things are tried out, but just listening to the absolute basic notion of what a sax trio should sound like, is a true joy. Petr Cancura is surely a guy to watch. He already released PeopleMusic earlier this year, and is planning for another trio release with Morris and Luther Gray later this year on AUM Fidelity.

Listen to an excerpt from "Rwanda"

© stef

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Transit - Quadrologues (Clean Feed, 2009) *****

In 2006 this quartet released the CD "Transit", under the leadership of drummer Jeff Arnal, with Seth Misterka on sax, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Reuben Radding on bass. The band is now called "Transit", and it brings this wonderful album of free improvisation. The first album was quite adventurous, with a very dense and loud, sometimes violent sound. This album is even more adventurous, but they let silence in, and quietness. The result is one of increased tension, of an increased quality of the individual sounds, more attention to detail (much more), less struggling between the musicians to get space, and hence a more mature interaction, if I may use that word. But over and beyond the tension, over and beyond the unusual and usual sound explorations, there is a depth of feeling that is astonishing. The first track "Strata" already starts with a strong trumpet performance by Wooley, going really deep, but the whole band excells in the slow and intense "The Science Of Breath", a long piece on which the long interwoven tones create something of a hard to place beauty. And even if the horns define the most audible effects, listen how Arnal's drums shift the deep structure by evolving from screeching sounds out of his cymbals toward hypnotic repetitive rhythms on his toms only. So much in the background yet defining the song's depth. "Flip" is more playful, toying with little sounds, interacting all four without falling into a pattern, almost, but not quite, and that's part of the fun, becoming elusive while playing the same game. Fun is also there are the start of "Rapid Eye Movement", with a nice interaction between Radding's bass and Arnal's drumming, with Wooley and Misterka joining in the repetitive but weird sounds. Subtle and creative. "Z Train" is more boppish - what else would you expect - in nature as defined by the bass, with Arnal's drums going fully against the rhythm of the bass, while sax and trumpet play slow phrases over the rhythmic excitement. Another highlight of the album is the long "Speaking In Tongues", with Wooley leading the piece with again a delight of a trumpet solo, that moves into a more African tune and rhythm, but then in a context in which all options are still open, without falling into clichés or patterns. In the hands of great musicians free jazz is without a doubt the most rich and moving musical genre. And all four of them excell here. The last track alone testifies to that. How they move the piece from avant-garde sounds, to a more uptempo piece, on which Misterka really shines with soulful and heartrending phrases. I have listened to this album at least a dozen times in the past few days, and it sounds different every time. There is lots of variation, lots of creative approaches, and a joy to the ear. Don't miss it!

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dennis González & João Paulo - Duo (Clean Feed, 2009) ****½

What a great idea to bring these two musicians together. Dennis González on trumpet and João Paulo on piano turn out to be wonderful soulmates on this lyrical sentimental album. And I mean sentimental in the most positive sense of the word, as the truest expression of refined feelings. João Paulo is a wonderful pianist, playing in the jazz tradition of Jarrett, with lots of soul and a hypnotic kind of slow rhythmic drive, hesitating between romantic classical music and jazz, often playing "inside" but capable of coloring outside the lines too. I have listed the same qualities, or almost, for González in earlier reviews. The American is a free spirit, but very rooted in tradition, less so in the form than in the style and tone of his playing. His tone is clear, but then with a very deeply felt warm and bluesy inflection, of the kind that Lester Bowie used so often. Lyricism, often romanticism and impressionism set the tone, often with references to spirituals, but without becoming mellow or superficial.

The improvised composed music does not sound complicated, but delicate and fresh, and it enters the ears all sweet and easy. Yet the overall quality of the interplay is stunning, in finding the right notes, the right pace, and above all the same style, ... and an incredible sense of humanity and authentic emotions. Excellent.

Listen to "Hymn For Later"

© stef

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mary Halvorson, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley - Crackleknob (Hatology, 2009) ****

Clarity, inventiveness, immediacy, coherence, intimacy, surprise ... are the words that come to mind when listening to this album by Mary Halvorson on guitar, Reuben Radding on bass and Nate Wooley on trumpet. This is avant-garde music that has no intention to alienate, quite to the contrary, it explores, but gently, it breaks open walls, but not with a sledge hammer, it opens new roads, but not with a bulldozer. The second quality of the album is the relative sound value of the three instruments, or rather the lack of it. All three are tuned to the same level, with the bass a little more prominent in the foreground than you would expect, and the trumpet a little more in the back, so that all three sound with an equally strong voice. All pieces are freely improvised and each musician adds his or her thing to the music at hand, without apparent lead or hierarchy, adding accents, deepening the color or contrasting. All three also vary continuously between the use of traditional sounds and phrases (good to hear Wooley's trumpet voice again, instead of only whispers!), but then placed in an uncommon context, or going plainly for more extended techniques. Halvorson's guitar playing is something of an acquired taste, but repeated listens will help overcome that feeling, and again, the variation in the music also shows another, gentler and softer side. Radding too is a wonderful listener, reacting almost simultaneously, often hard to believe for improvised pieces (although you can't see whether signs were exchanged, of course). Beauty and exploration intermingle, leading to a sweet harshness, to a sad perplexity, to a vulnerable intensity. A trio that goes against the grain, but constructively, in a great mix of skills and ideas.

Listen to an excerpt from "Caldwell, 1925"

PS: I didn't know what Crackleknob meant. The picture below is a "crackled knob", the closest reference I could find.

© stef

Monday, May 11, 2009

Anthony Braxton & Kyle Brenders - Toronto (Duets) 2007 (Barnyard Records, 2009) ****

Real Braxton fans may not like this, but I think he's at his best when he doesn't compose, but just improvises. His compositions are often emotionally distant, intellectual exercises in form - open, repetitive, with ever changing patterns - but once he starts improvising ,the distance disappears and the soul enters. It's hard to describe, but that's how I experience it. It's the same on this double CD with two lengthy duets with Canadian saxophonist Kyle Brenders. Anthony Braxton plays soprano, sopranino and alto, while Kyle Brenders plays clarinet, soprano and tenor. But don't get me wrong. The composed parts, which are interspersed throughout the piece, work as great reference points, light-footed, minimalistic and odd, serving as the basis for the improvisations, and like little islands they can move back to after swimming in the improvised parts. Yet the real musical creativity is to be found in the improvisations, tonal excursions, rhythmic contrasts, nervous repetitive phrasing, staccato bird-like chattering contrasting with droning circular breathing, ... but whatever it is, the end result is one of disciplined freedom or freedom through discipline. With an emotional component in the improvisations. The premeditated intellectual aspect of composition, structure and mutual discussion enables the musicians to go beyond any on the spot improvisation. It opens new doors and musical opportunities. Two long pieces. Not much can be said about them. Just listen to the notes themselves.

Listen to an excerpt from "Composition 199" (selected for a transition from improvisation back to a composed piece after about 14 minutes into the first track)

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Profound Sound Trio - Opus De Life (Porter, 2009) ***½

Power and finesse is possibly the best denominator for these three musicians: they are fierce with a gentle touch, wild with precision, furious with elegance, passionate with calculation. Andrew Cyrille on drums and Henry Grimes on bass are among the most renowned free jazz rhythm sections, standing at the cradle of the genre, here inviting British saxophonist Paul Dunmall for a trio live performance at the New York Vision Festival in 2008. From the very start, it is clear that the audience turns this trio into a quartet, shouting enthusiastically after each piece, applauding after solos, shouting in between, in permanent interaction with the musicians. This is an improvised live date as you might expect, lots of ideas, pieces moving in various directions, the lack of style being balanced out by the directness of the performance, with the sound quality not always right, but that heightens the atmosphere of the date. It is nice enough, and good that is was recorded, and a nice addition to the extensive catalogues of all three musicians, but it is not exceptional either.

Listen to an excerpt from "This Way, Please"

© stef

Friday, May 8, 2009

Peter Evans - Nature/Culture (PSI, 2009) *****

When Peter Evans released his first solo trumpet record, "More Is More", in 2005, it got high praise and lots of appreciation. In contrast, I was not captivated by the album. Like so many solo albums, it was a long demonstration of technical inventions and skills, but then you wonder, so what? I can also try to become proficient at getting a multitude of sounds out of a wheelbarrow or the leg of a chair, but so what if I could? Skills and inventiveness are necessary for good music, but not sufficient. They're only a tiny but essential part of it.

With "Nature/Culture", my impression is totally different. And I think this double album really is in a different league. It has much more intensity, there is continuity in the pieces, their is a sense of dynamic evolution, tension and emotional expressiveness. True, my taste could have changed over the years, and it certainly did, but then I put on "More Is More" again, and it confirmed my opinion. His first solo album was a daring adventure of instrumental skills, his second a more mature and gripping album of musical skills in a very limited setting.

The pure physicality of a musician struggling with his instrument to get more out of it, to transform feelings into sounds, to subdue, to coax, to seduce, to wring out, to motivate the instrument to come with more colors, more depth, more power, more softness, ... to force even more complex phrases out of it, it is all here. You hear the fight and the joy, the tension between concentration and the release, between intellectual will and physical constraints, you can almost see it, or even more, as a listener you (I) get so sucked into his universe that you empathetically and unconsciously work along with your own lungs, diaphragm, abdominal muscles, lips and cheeks, squeezing out the notes, the tones, the sounds, till you're exhausted yourself as a listener in an endeavour to help the musician get these sounds out, wondering how he does it, how the breathing works, where the air keeps coming from, where all these various tones come from, where the energy comes from, where the ideas keep coming from. But then you give up trying, even asking questions, and you just undergo the whole thing, giving up thinking, because the musician's unrelenting power is too strong, and Evans really pushes it to the extreme, and then, still in physical empathy, you become part of the music itself, emotionally, spiritually.

And maybe that's the reason why I find solo albums so appealing, because the distance between performer and listener is much smaller and in the hand of a true musician, the distance has the potential to totally disappear. Identifying with a big band is a challenge, because it will always be a remote and distant animal, but identifying with the music made by one individual person, in all intimacy, vulnerability, struggle and openness is much easier. And that's weird in this case, because the music itself is not accessible at all. Yet it works. And that's possibly the greatest talent any musician can have: to deeply connect with the listener. A rare thing in avant-garde.

Listen to an excerpt from "Jazz".

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kirk Knuffke, Federico Ughi, Chris Welcome - Garden Of Gifts (577 Records, 2009) ****½

Drummer Federico Ughi created with the 577 Records label a series of great albums with like-minded spirits such as Daniel Carter and Ras Moshe. On this album he is joined by trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and guitarist Chris Welcome, two upcoming musicians with a style of their own, but working in the tradition of Other Dimensions In Music (if that exists!), with long slowly elaborated pieces that explore sounds, moods and interaction. The slowness gives the music a sad, sometimes spiritual or contemplative feeling, while the open interaction leads to surprises and creative exchanges. Even if rhythm and melody are unclear, the music is relatively accessible, without shock element, or too much use of extended techniques of the instruments, whose basic sound is the norm here, with the musicians most of the time trying to play as quiet as possible. The nice thing about the music is to be found in the openness of the texture, the feeling that anything is possible, yet at the same time the three musicians to their utmost to play in a very restrained and focused way. The overall effect is almost organic in nature, without any straight lines or repetitive elements, in contrast with most man-made constructions, with sounds flowing in reaction to other sounds, like water finding its way through rocks, like leaves growing in many directions, but still growing on the same stem. Their total lack of urgency, especially their sublime use of silence and knowing when not to play, especially exemplified in the last track, gives the music a soft, meditative quality, appreciative of the moment itself, of the sound, of the creation, but then one with sufficient tension and vital force to make it all very captivating. A beautiful and very free-spirited album.

Listen to an excerpt from "Fall Extended"

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Adam Caine Trio - Thousandfold (NoBusiness, 2009) ****

Again, I must admire the new Lithuanian label "NoBusiness" with their daring, going for music that is totally uncompromising, raw and real. This record will not be to everyone's taste, which is kind of the label's mission statement, the consequence of which is explicited in their name to start with. This trio led by guitarist Adam Caine further consists of Tom Blancarte on bass and John Wagner on drums. As said, the music is raw, direct, full of energy and drive, like a rock band, more adventurous, more technically advanced, richer. In the mid-90s, Wayne Krantz started with this raw approach (at least that's one of the first guitar trios that I can remember paving the way), then Raoul Björkenheim took it a step further, and these guys build on that. Intensity. Tension. Energy. Freedom. As Caine formulates it in the liner notes : "Can I approach the guitar from a different perspective every time I play it? There will be continuity there whether I want to or not. So, if I take the idea that I do not have or want a style or one consistent approach - nothing that automatically "works" - I go at the guitar each time like it's a new instrument. The challenge is to accept what comes out". So, that's a warning. It is a guitar album. The bass and drums are there very much in a supporting role, but they do an excellent job at this, especially because Caine's approach is totally unpredictable, musically and often rhythmically. But that's the fun of it. Before I chase everyone away : there is rhythm and improvisational focus, there are concepts to be found, yet they are there to serve the immediacy of the raw delivery, the "what-I-feel-is-what-you-get" kind of approach.

Listen to an excerpt from "Thousandfold"

© stef

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Musiconspiracy - Do I The In? (Not Two, 2009) ****

Last year I already wrote admiringly about Polish drummer Jacek Kochan's musical vision for his "One Eyed Horse" album. Now he continues in the same vein with a band called "Musiconspiracy", which also consists of Austrian quartertone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger, Joe Fonda on bass and Norwegian fretless guitarist Tellef Øgrim. The band keeps pushing boundaries, mixing free jazz improvisation with electronics and even fusion at times, to produce a cocktail that is entirely fresh, open-ended and rhythmic. What makes the mix even more incredible is that the four musicians have strong characters, very clearcut ideas about music and about the use of their instruments, but it works beautifully. The band's range is best illustrated by "Feed The Hamster", a piece which starts with snippets of sound, apparently unrelated, yet gradually structure emerges, first in the form of rhythmic patterns, then the thing explodes into an unbelievable orgasm of trumpet wails, supported by high tempo steady drumming and walking bass, and bizarrely enough, with some quiet and solemn, almost religious guitar soloing as backdrop. What genre is this? I don't know. Surely, the music is indebted to the electric Miles Davis, but these four musicians take it a step further, over the boundaries of known endeavors, giving music a new flavor, demonstrating that modern electric jazz with trumpet can be electrifying and rich with ideas, avoiding the blandness of the sentimentalists or cheap commercialists. The music is mysterious, dark, unsettling, exciting, full of contrasts between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the adventurous. Many of the pieces move through different styles, adding experimental moments with more recognisable instrumentation, which does not make this an easy album, yet very unusual and attractive.

Listen to "Feed The Hamster"

© stef

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Joëlle Léandre & Quentin Sirjacq - Out Of Nowhere (Ambiances Magnétiques, 2008) ****½

The title "Out Of Nowhere" says it all, on these eleven tracks, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and fellow countryman Quentin Sirjacq on piano conjure up intimistic avant-garde music out of nowhere. Sure, you could argue that Léandre's long-standing experience must have an influence on what she brings, and that's true only to a point. You do recognize her voice on bass, and with even more certainty her real voice when she sings/shouts (luckily only on one track, "Ruins", interestingly also the highlight of the album), but on the other hand she always tries to reinvent herself, as she does here, playing relatively fresh, more romantic than we've heard her before, accomodating young pianist Sirjacq, who is her student at Mills College in California, and who does sound a little intimidated at times. And that's possibly the nice part about this music. Both musicians do make an effort to meet half-way, even if their natural styles are radically different. Sirjacq's playing is impressionistic and sparse, he does not need many notes to create a captivating musical environment, which leaves lots of open space for Léandre to accentuate, deepen and contrast. She is much more daring than he is, understandably, adding the raw tones of her bowed improvisations sometimes like a knife cutting through lace, yet also sometimes sensitively and hypnotically laying a solid single tone foundation for the high piano tones, or adding a weeping arco melody over the intimistic piano chords. The contrast and the synergetic effect are both working well and superbly delivered. All the improvisations have a different character and approach, leading to a wealth of ideas, sentiments and styles, yet all fitting really well in the album's overall unity. Léandre keeps amazing me, and Sirjacq has a great future in front of him. Strongly recommended.

Listen to an excerpt from "The Call"

© stef

Friday, May 1, 2009

Satoko Fujii & Myra Melford - Under The Water (Libra, 2009) ****

Piano duets are very rare. Satoko Fujii already had one in the 96 with her teacher Paul Bley, called "Something About Water". Now, thirteen years later, she releases an album with Myra Melford, called "Under The Water". The reference to water is of course not a coincidence. Also, on of Myra Melford's bands is also called "The Same River Twice", alluding to Greek philosopher Heraclitus' saying that you can't bathe in the same river twice, because the water is different all the time. Here too, it is all about the natural flow of things and the flux of the music. My personal problem with piano duets, as with a double tenor sax or trumpet front line, is that you try to identify who does what, instead of just enjoying the music. But the difference in this case is not all that difficult, most of the times. Fujii has a more percussive attack and is more angular in her improvisations, while Melford is more impressionistic and often uses klezmer scales in her improvisations. This album brings actually only three duets, with Fujii and Melford each playing a solo piece. The Fujii composition "Trace A River", from the album with the same name, is still a favorite of mine, and it's nice to hear it again in a solo format, as it loses nothing of its strength, even without bass and drums. Melford's "Be Melting Snow" comes from her "Above Blue" album, and has a clear oriental feel to it. When the two musicians play together, the approach is less inside, with the use of more extended techniques, especially on the start of the first piece, until Melford starts the real playing with a romantic sounding klezmer theme, with Fujii plucking the strings, evocating the walk of the hermit crab, which is the title's song, fun and awkward at the same time. The long central piece is possibly the most beautiful tune, called "The Migration Of Fish", an impressionistic, slow improvisation, with some weird excursions into this weird underwater world, sometimes thundering, sometimes with scratching sounds, or with repetitive abstract phrases, or with tightly clustered notes by the right hands, and fast runs with the left, as if some strong current is pulling everything with it, inevitably, inexorably, but the tiny high notes prevail, the fish reached their destination, happily. The last track is darker, heavier, as if danger is around the corner, more abstract, more chaotic too, until suddenly Beethoven's "Für Elise" comes up (Melford?), suddenly, but the heavy chords (Fujii?) crush it quickly and relentlessly, to the enthusiastic applause of the audience.

Piano duets are surely not the most popular format, but in the hands of two masters, they create a wealth of possibilities that go beyond the traditional views on the instrument or of sound even. The CD offers just a glimpse of this. Despite its regular length, I find it frustratingly short.

© stef