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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Demian Richardson - The Gowanus Recordings (577 Records, 2009) ****

Real free jazz is like water : it flows freely, refreshingly, you can dip your feet in it, submerge in it, drown in it. You can't tell. But the best way to enjoy it, is to make sure you keep afloat (don't swim!) and let the music carry you away, without expectations, without an idea of where you will end up, stop rationalizing (where? what? when? how? ), stop asking questions, stop wondering, just float along. At least that's how I appreciate most of real free jazz, think of Other Dimensions In Music for instance. This album is in the same vein, and I enjoy it at the same level.

The band is led by Demian Richardson on trumpet, with Matthew Putman on piano, David Moss on bass, Federico Ughi on drums, and Daniel Carter on tenor sax, flute, clarinet and trumpet. Ughi and Carter need no introduction: soulful freedom is their natural habitat. Moss has the not so easy task of deciding when and when not to formalise rhythms, and usually he manages to color the music rather than play the beat. Putman does a really great thing on piano, which is possibly the hardest instrument to play in a totally free enviromnent without sounding chaotic or overpowering the soloists, yet he is at his best on the slow "Out Of The Ether". Yet Richardson himself is the star. I did not know him. But his tone is clear and bluesy, in the most traditional sense, yet what he does with it is the strong part: playing phrases heavy with soul and freedom, confident enough to use silence to create a feeling of openness and possibilities. And that defines the very nature of the music : gentle and free, unobtrusive yet full of character, open yet focused. Let it flow and float along ...

Buy from 577 Records.

© stef

John Hébert - Byzantine Monkey (Firehouse 12, 2009) ****

John Hébert is an excellent bass-player whose skillful playing has been at the service of some of the nicest modern jazz albums of the past years, and include collaborations with musicians as diverse as Andrew Hill, Uri Caine, Michael Adkins, Russ Lossing, Gebhard Ullmann and Michael Attias.

On this album Hébert is also accompanied by some of today's best modern jazz musicians, with Michael Attias on alto and baritone sax, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano, Nasheet Waits on drums, and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion, with Adam Kolker on flute and bass clarinet as a guest on several tracks. But playing with good musicians is not enough to have good music. You still need something to tell musically, and Hébert has it in spades. The intelligent and sensitive creativity of Andrew Hill can be a reference to describe his music, borrowing from the tradition, revering it even, yet using it to create a totally modern vision on composition and sound, not afraid to color outside the lines, or to deliberately use some wayward structures and rhythms, as in "Run For The Hills", or juxtaposing the melancholy theme of "Blind Pig", with some eery background screeching on the cymbals. Another great example is the dark horn intro of "Ciao Monkey", on which Malaby shines, but the rest of the band too, an intro that takes half the piece before rhyhtm emerges, dissolves and picks up again. Unpredictability is the motto here (what do you expect from a byzantine monkey?). So is the long "Fez", a that meanders between structure and free form. Hébert himself is possibly too modest a player and composer. His role is fully in dedication of the music he plays, as it should be, and with the exception of the last two tracks, he rarely brings his bass to the forefront. The highlight of the album is the second track "Acrid Landscape", a really beautiful compositions that has it all, instrumental skills, beautiful sweeping theme, compositional variation, rich in sound and emotional delivery. A strong debut album, it took long to materialise. Let's hope the next one comes sooner.

Listen and download from eMusic or from Firehouse12.

... or buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, June 29, 2009

Barry Guy & Mats Gustafsson - Sinners, Rather Than Saints (NoBusiness, 2009) *****

British bassist Barry Guy and Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson have played together numerous times and released albums ranging from duets ("Frogging"), trios (with Raymond strid), quartet (with Strid and Marilyn Crispell) and in Guy's big band. Although Guy clearly comes from a more classical oriented approach to new music and free improv, and Gustafsson has a jazz background, they meet in the common region where instrumental skills and artistic vision meet to create unheard sounds, not as just an experimental gimmick but to tell deep and true musical stories, full of agony, intimacy, distress and friendship. This wonderful vinyl LP, which covers a performance of both musicians at St. Catherine’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania in January of this year, is a brilliant testimony of how avant-garde can open new worlds of sound that evoke real deepfelt human emotions, that go back to primeval times while being entirely modern at the same time. The album starts with a short and soft, hesitating dialogue between sax and bass, then Gustafsson blows some of the most heart-piercing wails I've heard in a long time, crying his heart out, in full agony, only to calm down again to play some beautiful sweet tones as a wonderful contrast of different emotions all folded into one. The second track is a solo piece by Guy, a nice, almost bluesy improvisation, that unleashes all the inherent beauty that is the very nature of the bass's deep wooden tones, playing gliding chords, arpeggios and single string phrases while maintaining the focus of the tune's calm and resonating melody: sensitive and powerful. We're now eleven minutes further and these two tracks are already worth the purchase of the album. The third improvisation is a duo again, full of nervous tension and distress, with little notes fluttering about, eliciting some shouts of concentrated effort, raising the interaction to an almost physical dialogue. The B side has two ten-minute improvisations, one with Guy solo on bass, one again a duet with Gustafsson. The first starts with Guy's rapid alternating of arco and pizzi, scraping and plucking, getting so many different sounds out of his bass at any given time that you wonder how he does it. But again, the technique is by itself less relevant than the quality of the music, that switches from high intensity moments to more disciplined yet very dark and nervous sequences: an inhospitable universe he creates here, but one that is musically extremely attractive at the same time: raw, engulfing, overwhelming, pure. And Gustafsson joins this universe, fitting perfectly, with piercing screams alternated by deep brooding musings when Guy plays arco, moving to a close to silent intense dialogue in the middle part of the track, and when they turn up the intensity, both move as one, tearing your heart out in the process, figuratively and literally.

Some moments of this album will please instantly, other parts may need repeated listens before you come to appreciate it. There is no beauty without harshness, there is no sensitivity without brutality, now purity without rawness, no reality without sharp edges. And that contrast, or that truthfulness makes this a great album. And sinners have a story to tell, a little more than saints.

I have hesitated to give it a five star rate because it's the second vinyl from vilnius in a row to get this high appreciation, but they repeat what AUM Fidelity did last year: produce some stellar music.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Willie Oteri & Dave Laczko - WD 41 (CDBaby, 2009) ***

Guitar and trumpet duets being extremely rare, I thought this new album might interest some readers. Guitarist Willie Oteri and trumpeter Dave Laczko team up for eight improvised pieces that are processed through electronic loops and all sorts of sound altering technology. The end result is a kind of long ambient rock soundscape, with the electric guitar and the trumpet playing long sustained notes, weaving tonal textures with lots of delays, lots of repetitive loops and lots of reverb. Oteri is in essence a rock guitarist, and you can hear in his playing licks that come from David Gilmour, Hendrix and Fripp, with Laczko sounding like Toshinori Kondo when he gets his equipment out. It is not highly original in its approach or in its delivery, yet it has its nice moments, and it is very coherent. The album is available only in an mp3 version from CDBaby.

Listen and download from CDBaby.

© stef

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ernst Reijseger - Tell Me Everything (Winter & Winter, 2008) ****

More than ten years after his first solo recording, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger is back with an album of the same intensity, albeit with improvisations that are much more mature and balanced. The first piece is relatively free, with birds singing in the background, with the cello sounding equally natural on pizzi. The second piece starts a little avant, but then moves into some arco playing with phrases that refer to Bach's cello suites in spirit, with repetitive hypnotism of Glass, but played in much more raw and piercing way, sensitive and hard at the same time. The third piece consists of strumming of several strings at the same time, guitar-style, with a repetitive rhythm and barely yet continuously changing harmonics, yet breaking the slow progress with increased powerplay in the middle piece, then falling back into more subtle approach. The fourth piece, "Tristan's Tune", starts more joyful, with a nice dancing melody, alternating arco with pizzi touches, yet then evolves into the deeper and darker regions for some wonderful arco playing, then resurfacing near the end, reclaiming the folky tune, yet a little scarred and battered. The last track, "Tell Me Everything", revisits the Bach-like approach, but then extensively, poignantly, even more powerful. You get the gist: lots of skills, borrowing from the classical heritage to jazz and avant-garde, lots of variations - both musically and emotionally, lots of musical creativity and insights. As I'm sure I wrote earlier, there are very few things that are more emotionally gripping and vulnerable than just one artist playing his instrument, in total freedom and control. Very few manage to keep it captivating, but Reijseger certainly does. He is an artist with a stories to tell, in his own voice, full of passion and ideas ... and the birds, they keep singing ....

Listen to an excerpt from "Tell Me Everything"

© stef

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Phil Hargreaves, Lee Noyes & Bruno Duplant - Malachi (Insubordinations, 2009) ****½

This is a piece of modern jazz that I really like. A sax trio that improvises freely, without melody and rhythm, yet with a very controlled and sensitive approach to their music. It all sounds vulnerable and hesititating, which is surprising for musicians that have their background in experimental electronic music and punk, but who play purely acoustic here. The trio consists of Phil Hargreaves on sax, Lee Noyes on percussion and Bruno Duplant on bass. All pieces fall within the same mode of playing: soft, slow, with lots of open spaces and with the three instruments filling the open space with pointillistic phrases and sounds, but sufficiently extended to create a great sense of lyricism. Total free form often leads to a level of abstraction that makes listening difficult, but that is less the case here : the music flows organically, through very concentrated interaction, with lots of respect for each other and the fragile music they create. Yet it intense throughout, and that's possibly the greatest result of the music : the slow tension full of contradictions between freedom and form, between openness and density, between avant-garde and sometimes simple phrases. But it works. It works really well.

This album is available for free download on the internet, or in hard copy in limited edition. In my humble opinion, this again demonstrates the lack of knowledge of many labels. This trio deserves to be officially released. While the summer jazz festivals are crammed with commercial artists who are hard to classify as jazz, the real creative jazz artists are kept far away from the undiscerning multitudes. Too bad, too bad. How can we bring the new and creative jazz under a broader attention? It was the objective of this blog, but we're preaching to the converted...

Listen and download from Insubordinations.

© stef

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

David Binney - Third Occasion (Mythology, 2009) ****

David Binney is one of the rare modern musicians that promote themselves very well. His website is kept up-to-date, new gigs are announced, new albums promoted, with possibility for fans to download even more than what is released on CD. Dave Douglas falls in the same category. I wish other musicians would do the same, it's so much easier for fans and reviewers alike.

But that's of course not the object of this review. It's about his music. Binney is a great altoist, with a track record of albums that vary between rock-influenced, post-bop and electronic excursions. This album falls into the middle category, but with sufficient originality to make it captivating and attractive. His compositional style and playing are light-footed and open, but on this album, a horn section gives a somewhat darker or at least heavier contrast at moments, adding variation to the music. The core band further consists of Craig Taborn on piano, Scott Colley on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, three musicians who complement Binney well. Their sense of subtlety, attention to detail and precision in the playing is very much in the same high league. The brass section consists of Ambrose Akinmusire and Brad Mason on trumpet, and Corey King and Andy Hunter on trombone.

The title of the album is from a passage in Graham Greene's novel The Heart of the Matter (1948). "To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion." There is indeed no wild adventure here, or moments of extreme physical expressivity from joy or fear, but Binney's compositions and the lyricism with which the whole band performs and improvises are really nice to hear. Human beings indeed!

Listen, buy or download from David

© stef

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Rakalam Bob Moses - Father's Day B'hash (Sunnyside Records, 2009) ****

Today is father's day. More than appropriate to review this album by drummer Rakalam Bob Moses, who assembles a large ensemble of music students at the New England Conservatory, due to circumstances when his son, studying sound production, had to make a school project. The recording was mad on June 16, 2006, then Father's Day, which led Rakalam Bob Moses to make this album a tribute to his father, Shompa Lodro, while at the same time celebrating his father-son relationship. The band of students are Ommudra Thomas Arabia on tenor saxophone, Petr Cancura on tenor, soprano saxophones and wood flute, Andrei Matorin on violin, Justin Purtill on bass, Nicole Rampersaud on trumpet and flugelhorn, Luis Rosa on alto saxophone, Stan Strickland on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet, and vocals, Nick Videen on alto saxophone, and Rakalam Bob Moses himself on drums, piano, and percussion.

The pieces vary between wonderful compositions, especially the opening track "Exhalation 1 (Love)" is a pure beauty of spiritual free jazz, expansive and subdued. Other tracks, such as "Exhalation 3 (Fire Breath)" are built on polyrhythmic composition with lots of African influences, and the wildness and volume of big band. "Pollack Springs" has Rakalam on piano, with percussion and silence, with the band going totally free in the most chaotic chatter imaginable, but falling back into order near the end of the piece. "Father's Day Celebration" is more reverent, more subdued, calmer, and is followed by a drum solo by Rakalam in honor of his father. Other great moments are "Exhalation 2 (Peace)" and "A Pure And Simple Being", the closing track. With this album, the drummer not only created some great compositions but he also gave a number of young musicians the opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Not everything is of the same high level, but some pieces are truly great.

© stef

Friday, June 19, 2009

Miroslav Vitous Group - Remembering Weather Report (ECM, 2009) ****½

Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous co-founded Weather Report in the early 70s with Wayne Shorter as an acoustic band. They asked Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul to join, who after a while wanted the band to become more electric, with synths, and a little more funky, with repetitive bass phrases, something that was not to Vitous' liking, and he quit the band to be replaced by Alfonso Johnson. Vitous is a true virtuoso on the bass, classically schooled, his precision and clarity of tone when playing arco are absolutely awsome, as are his rhythmic and improvisational skills. I am not too sure what the title of this album refers to: about what Weather Report could have been without a piano? how Weather Report could have sounded in a purely acoustic setting? None of the tunes refer back to Weather Report compositions, except to the reference to Wayne Shorter in the title of the first track. In any case, in the liner notes he says it is not the intention to play the music of Weather Report but rather to work with the concept that he introduced in the band at its creation, that of direct conversation and equality between the instruments.

Whatever the ego thing, the music on this album is stellar. It starts with a powerful opener, with Gerald Cleaver's drumming kicking the thing of, and Vitous alternates pizzi and arco on bass, giving the impression of playing two instruments at the same time, then the trumpet of Franco Ambrosetti and the sax of Gary Campbell play some piercing unison phrases, referencing Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti". There aren't many bassists who are able to give their instrument so much voice, putting it on the same level as a horn. After the great opening track, it gets even better, with a cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", hesitatingly, moving, dark, gripping. But the real highlight is the long "Semina", a suite in three pieces, on which Vitous gives some gut-wrenching, heart-rending and terrifying arco sounds out of his bass, then later equalled by both Campbell and Ambrosetti. "Surfing with Michel" brings an exciting duet between the bassist and French saxophonist Michel Portal. The second pièce-de-résistance is the long "When Dvořák meets Miles", in reference to the great Czech composer and Miles Davis with whom Vitous played in the late 60s. The composition is abstract, dense and complex, moving with bursts of sound, and sounding possibly the most like what Weather Report could have been: very intense, building on the broad musical background of its musicians and hence not limited to style and genre, switching moods from joyful to sad, adding some traditional central European phrases in the mix, in full compatibility with the dark muted sounds of the trumpet, with Cleaver demonstrating his skills of playing around the beat, adding accents, texture and depth. The horns do not really play themes, but rather just a harmonic and rhythmic backdrop for the soloing. The album ends with "Blues Report", a paradoxically joyful sounding melody based on a blues basis.

If this what Vitous had in mind with Weather Report from the very beginning, it's clear that the match with Zawinul was a bad one. And nothing bad of the dead, but it's also clear that Vitous becomes musically better with the years, whereas Zawinul was stuck in his commercial dead-end streat. Don't miss this album. Four brilliant musicians, but especially Vitous' open compositions and free musical vision are fantastic, and you will hear possibly the best arco bass ever played. Let's hope he continues in this vein.

Listen to an excerpt from "Semina"

© stef

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back & Forth - Unavoidable Casualty (Thin Consolation, 2009) ****

Sampling and mixing jazz into trip hop and instrumental hip hop modes is not a new thing, but the quality of the work done here by my fellow countrymen of "Back & Forth" is worth mentioning, if only for the attention to detail for every aspect of the production, including the artwork and the more than unusual sleeve. The "band" consists of Aziz and Steph (no relation), who to my knowledge play no instruments, but just cut and paste music on music on music, and assisted on this album by electronics wizz Kadah Vresky and drummer David Arens. The end result, it must be said, is pretty strong. Slow and rhythmic, cinematic and dark, dramatic and stylish. It is cool and angst-ridden at the same time. Again an unusual combination. Their real strength is in their great ear for sound, selecting really powerful pieces and weaving them into a different context, creating something very coherent, really strong. Not real jazz, very much a further extension of what St. Germain and ELP did well before, and of equal quality. Nice work. Only 500 copies available.

Listen to an extract from "Killer Café".

For more information on the package and artwork, click here.

© stef

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ken Vandermark - Resonance (Not Two, 2008) ****½

Free jazz and big bands, even the smaller big ones like this tentet, do not usually quite match. It requires arrangements, pre-meditated structures and at least some compositional unity, otherwise it becomes a volcanic brew of chaotic notes flying in all directions. Chicago-based saxophonist and composer Ken Vandermark had tried before to work with larger ensembles, like his Territory Band, but they were really not my cup of tea, I enjoy him (and many others) more in the smaller ensembles, in which subtlety and intimacy rather than power and volume define the sound. Yet I do like them occasionally, and this one is truly excellent, an international band of top musicians from the US, Sweden, Ukrania and Poland, to know : Magnus Broo on trumpet, Tim Daisy on drums, Per-Âke Holmlander on tuba, Dave Rempis on tenor & alto saxes, Steve Swell on trombone, Mark Tokar on bass, Mikołaj Trzaska on alto sax & bass clarinet, Yuriy Yaremchuk on tenor, soprano & bass clarinet, and Michael Zerang on drums, with of course the leader on tenor and baritone.

This vinyl LP consists of two pieces, each on one side. "Off/Set", starts with an arranged intense frenzy to start with, a typical Vandermark theme, with the band being built up of several groups playing together and then in full counterpoint and counter-rhythm, with polyrhythmic percussion and alternating soloing, slowly decomposing the piece into several streaks of music, slowly loosing the tempo, unravelling the themes into their spare parts, until only a few wild voices are left, dialoguing without structure and concept, full of wonder and surprise, until only the percussion is left, close to silence, with lots of open space, until the mute and voiceless tones of the tuba bring the other voices back to life, like animals waking up in the early morning, screaming, shouting, until slowly, the different voices develop into a backdrop of unison sounds, to suddenly explode into a common theme again, more abstract with intervallic jumps, wild and powerful. The second piece "The Number 44" is sheer brilliance. It starts slowly with only cymbal sounds, then into a brass band kind of slow march, mostly unison, but with the saxes giving some intermittent wails, leading into a beautiful bluesy trumpet solo by Magnus Broo, but behind him the band picks up speed, slowly and powerfully like a train, with Steve Swell now soloing, then the rhythm changes, becoming boppish, leaving the trombone basically unperturbed in its course, even when the main theme comes back, then Trzaska (I think) gets a go on his alto, strongly, melodically, wildly, while the rest of the band retreats into the background except for the drums, only to come back in power, leaving space for the next solos, that shift the piece again in a quiet mode, with the horns deep in the background, of course all returning in full force for the grand finale. A wonderful piece with excellent musicianship. And Vandermark really organised his music in such a way that all ten musicians of the band can shine, play the things that suit them well while keeping a very strong control over the totality of the sound.

Buy from

© stef

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fred Anderson - Staying In The Game (ESP, 2009) ****

Still going strong at the age of 80. It's not given to many, and yet he keeps doing it, really going strong. Yes, he plays his signature style of warm, soulful free jazz, that still has the joy and rhythmic nervousness of bop somewhere in them, and he is a wonderful listener too, open to new sounds and approaches. His sound is excellent, his improvisations are emotional, spritual and focused. His companions are great too: Harrisson Bankhead on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. True, he is not breaking any boundaries anymore, but with his achievements and track record, any of his performances at this level are a joy to hear. So, relax, sit down and enjoy the music.

© stef

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sabir Mateen & Daniel Carter - Sound On A Sunday (RAI Trade, 2006) ****

In April 2004, the equivalent of the New York Vision Festival took place in Rome, Italy, with musicians such as William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake, Dave Burrell, Guillermo E. Brown, Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, Craig Taborn, Mark Dresser, Gerald Cleaver.

On the agenda were also Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, two of the leading figures of the free jazz scene of the last decade, playing one performance together. Although this is a duo recording, the list of instruments being played far exceeds what you would expect : both musicians play alto, tenor, piano, drums and flute, with Mateen adding clarinet and Carter trumpet, which of course leads to a myriad of combination possibilities. And despite the range of instruments, they start the performance with the first instrument : the human voice, for a number of shouts, wails, whispers and rhythmic vocalizations, setting the tone for what is to come : a wild mix of tribal, urban, spiritual, boundary-less adventurous and very physical music. When the voices die down, trumpet and clarinet play hesitating notes, like chicklings cracking through the shell of the egg, full of wonder and curiosity, further accentuated by the question mark-like inclination at the end of Mateen's clarinet phrases. In the meantime Carter has switched to piano, creating some busy tension, allowing for Mateen to pick up his sax, and join the free fun of the intense dialogue, and when the piano stops, he blows some of the highest piercing notes I've ever heard come out of a sax, sufficiently high to make Carter use his voice again, ending with a loud applause from the large audience, easily a couple of hundred people from the sound of it, a rare situation for this kind of music. The second piece consists of piano and alto, and I'm no longer sure who plays what, but it is raw, free and soulful, full of thundering chords and passionate screams (my guess : Mateen on alto, Carter on piano, but I may be wrong). On the third track Mateen starts reciting some uplifting poetic messages for world peace, while drumming in support of Carter's wild exploration of the keyboard. The pure physicality of the music and the fact that neither of these instruments is their first instrument, adds something to the overall feeling that their music is all about unleashing all internal forces into the outside world, and mixing them into a more powerful whole. Yet it's not all about power: the second track starts as a flute-drums duet, all subdued and calm, reverent and peaceful, melodic and rhythmic, leading to some shouting and singing, more like incantations or chants, ending with the two flutes playing, joyful and light-footed. No doubt the best track is the last one, with the two musicians playing their saxes, reacting, provoking, leading and challenging, swirling and soaring, going through moments of tension and calm, soft interplay and free interactions. It is clear that for these two musicians, music is the power of life, and the power of life is music. A great short album, quite short for a CD actually: a little over 37 minutes. It is also not a recent release, but I got hold of a copy only recently. Actually, I thought it was released this year, but I noticed only after reviewing it that it dates from 2006, but well, recent enough, and still worthwhile sharing the review, I hope.

Order from

© stef

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Zed-U - Night Time On the Middle Passage (Babel, 2009) ***

Zed-U is a young British band, with Shabaka Hutchings on clarinet and tenor, Neil Charles on bass and Tom Skinner on drums and keyboards. Fans of Jim Black's Alasnoaxis will surely like their music, as they use all the post-editing possibilities of the studio to double the sound of their instruments, alter it and make collages with the electronics. And the results on their debut album are quite good, with unobtrusive music, that gently flows over rock-ish rhythms, with the clear and soft tone of the sax or clarinet negotiating the nice themes. Yet as is often the case with first albums, the band wants to demonstrate the breadth of their skills, and that results in a pot-pourri of stylistic try-outs that unfortunately harm the overall coherence of the album. Up to the end of the third track, till about fifteen minutes into the album, I was stunned by their voice, and the quality of their musical concept. But then comes the Kraftwerk cover "Showroom Dummies", destroying my enthusiasm. Same thing with "Chief", with its heavy rock-beat, and although not bad in itself, musically it belongs to another record or another band. "Phone Tap" too, with its too explicit rhyhtm goes more into lounge jazz territory. That's the bad news. But all the other tracks, or about fifty minutes of the album, is truly excellent: and apart from the free blowfest on "Surman Part 2", it is subtle, soft and gentle, sensitive and rhythmic, light-footed and a little dark too, with a real urban atmosphere in it. If they can stick to that concept, and expand on it, this band surely is promising.

Listen to an excerpt from "Roki"

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, June 13, 2009

David S Ware Quartet - Live In Vilnius (No Business, 2009) *****

I'm sure you've experienced music that blows your socks off when you first hear it, and then you listen to it again and again, and it gets better all the time. This double vinyl album is like that.

David S Ware's compositions and playing have this unique magic that is only comparable to John Coltrane : expansive, expansive, expansive, like there's no gravity anymore holding you down from flying across the skies, the oceans, the mountains. It is powerful and all-encompassing, full of passion, full of drama, full of wild joy, full of unlimited and unrestrained love, like a prayer to the universe. Ware's tenor is accompanied by Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums, the kind of crew that will help you fly to outer space, and they do... they do so brilliantly.

The first track, "Ganesh Sound", comes for his recent album "Renunciation", but here it starts with a few minutes of dark intro by the band, before Ware enters and the tune's wonderful floating melody and rhythm grabs you by the heart and drags you in for the next 17 minutes of pure musical joy, hypnotic, mesmerizing, stunning, with Ware's powerful tenor reaching every corner of the universe. The second side starts with "Theme Of Ages", of his "Surrendered" CD, again strong from beginning to end, with a strong drum solo in the middle, and with Ware wailing his heart out. It is followed by "Mikuro's Blues", a mid-tempo piece that figures on several of his albums (Renunciation, Live In The World, Go See The World), with Parker in a leading role, driving on the halting rhythm in perfect interplay with Shipp's hammering piano chords. The C side is again one track, Sun Ra's "The Stargazers", a composition that the band has also played before. It starts very open-ended, with Shipp's avant-garde lyricism on piano supported by Parker's arco and pizzi playing, while Brown accentuates with small percussion, creating the kind of mystique that sets the scene, and when the rhythm picks up, Parker's bass vamp pulling along Brown, all percussive fluidity, and Shipp playing those broadly spaced rhythmic chords, and then after some 7 minutes Ware enters, lifting the musical heights even higher, giving himself fully, wailing, howling, but focused, disciplined, powerfully, while his rhythm section drives on, relentlessly, hypnotically, then we get the mirror effect, and Ware takes a step back, leaving his band, and especially Parker some space, who keeps the piece's momentum going till the very last note, yet the track continues on the D side of the LP, strangely enough, but that's a minor default, because Shipp comes pounding in again, light-footed and strong, leading to the climax for unaccompanied sax. "Lithuanian Whirl" is an improvised piece, starting with solo sax, in which Ware demonstrates his fabulous tonal skills, then Shipp takes over the lead, for some adventurous, but always lyrical, soloing. The album ends majestically with "Surrendered", grand, expansive again, propulsed forward into the skies by Parker's soulful bass, Brown's fluent playing, Shipp's rhythmic lyricism, and flying, soaring, above it all, high in the sky, David S. Ware.

Needless to say that I'm a fan of David S. Ware, and of his band-mates, but this is an absolutely stellar performance, with an absolutely excellent sound quality too. This album is without a doubt a strong contender for the end-of-the-year rankings and listings. At least it has everything this guy expects from music : it is beautiful, adventurous, lyrical and free, soulful and emotional, spiritual and with instrumental skills that are hard to equal

... at least not since Coltrane ...

Last month, David S. Ware was operated on, receiving the long-awaited kidney transplant. Apparently everything went well and he is now recovering. We wish him and his family all the best. And may he come back on stage quite soon.

© stef

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rob Brown Trio - Live At The Firehouse (Not Two, 2009) ****

Many years before I started this blog, I already had a kind of bookkeeping file of all my records, with pretty much the same evaluation system, also with a star notation. Of the seven albums that I have of alto saxophonist Rob Brown as a leader (and I know he released more than that), all of them have a four star rating, which demonstrates that, over the years, he not only managed to keep the same high quality of the performances itself, but also that he is sufficiently creative to keep things interesting and new to listeners. On this nice album, recorded live a the Firehouse in November of last year, Brown is accompanied by Daniel Levin on cello and Satoshi Takeishi on drums, the same band that released the great "Sounds" in 2007. Just like on that album, the music is very open, slow, disciplined and almost meditative at moments. The first piece "Quick Be Nimble" starts with an Ornette Coleman-like theme, and with the same stop-and-go kind of feeling, but then it shifts into a more impressionistic mode, letting go of all rhythm and melody, for some beautiful sound coloring, and a nice cello solo, then switching back to the theme, gentle and soft. The second composition is a real treat, with a plucked intro by Levin, the percussion slowly joining with nice bell-like sounds, and a beautiful melody by Brown, lightly dancing, joyful and sweet, but then the tune gets boppish in the middle, gathering tempo and volume, only to get slower again at the end. "On A Lark" is more in the free idiom, sounding totally improvised, but according to the liner notes it was composed. The last piece, "Stray(horn)", is a tribute to Billy Strayhorn (or what did you think?), played with possibly the slowest tempo possible, with alto phrasings by Brown that could fit the jazz of the fifties, but then never for long, because his true art lies of course in free expression and emotional expressivity, restrained yet intense, clear in tone yet powerful too, lamenting and singing at the same time. Brown is a great aloist, no doubt about it. He's a great composer too. And in Levin and Takeishi he found the perfect soulmates to deliver his delicate and free musical vision. The only thing lacking is the audience, where is it?

Listen to an excerpt from "Stray(horn)".

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fully Celebrated - Drunk On The Blood Of The Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity, 2009) ***

The Fully Celebrated dropped the "Orchestra" in its name, for reasons unknown, because the trio is still the same as they were in 1993, with Jim Hobbs on alto, Timo Shanko on bass and Django Carranza on drums, with some quartet line-ups in between on which Taylor Ho Bynum plays trumpet. The band has always managed to bring a great deal of fun and joy in their music, often highly rhythmic compositions, mixing the looseness of a jam band with the instrumental skills of the real professionals. One of their great successes is still the "Mackie Burnette", from "Lapis Exilis", without a doubt one of the funkiest jazz pieces ever (in the same league as Dave Douglas' "Mad Dog"). But when I listened to this album, I was a little disappointed. The fun that was characteristic of their music evolved into a kind of stylistic need to become funny, a world of difference which does not always fit well with music. Some of the pieces, such as the opener "Mooze & Grizzly Bear's Ville", or the Chinese sounding "Brothers Of Heliopolis", have silly themes. "Pearl's Blues" is a traditional blues, but on which the alto is trying to weep, but more in the style of Stanley Laurel than in real earnest. The last piece, "Dew Of May" is a slow ballad, with lots of reverb, ending the album in totally different stylistic tone, and one that is played much better by other musicians. But in between, there is some good stuff: "Reptoid Alliance" is a nice funky piece, the title track is slow, rhythmic and hypnotic, and "Conotocarius" adds total mayhem to the album, a welcome change. It seems the band has lost its direction a little bit, but their basic approach is still one to cherish.

But for those interested : watch these great clip with their "The Mackie Burnette"

Can U Do The Mackie Burnette?

© stef

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Double Double Bass

More than eleven years ago, French bassist Joëlle Léandre and American bassist William Parker released their first duo album, of two double basses in a duo format. An unusual combination, that Léandre tested out again later with bassist Barre Phillips. But the latter one was probably the first to have recorded a double double bass album, together with Dave Holland: "Music From Two Basses", in 1971.

Here are some more examples:

Joëlle Léandre & William Parker - Contrebasses
Joëlle Léandre & Barre Philips - A L'Improviste
Joëlle Léandre & William Parker - Live At Dunois
Joëlle Léandre & Tetsu Saitoh - Joëlle et Tetsu
Peter Kowald & Damon Smith - Mirrors - Broken, But No Dust
Peter Kowald & William Parker - The Victoriaville Tape
Peter Kowald - Bass Duets (with Barre Phillips, Barry Guy, Maarten Altena)
Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith - Thoughtbeetle
Barre Phillips & Peter Kowald - Die Jungen: Random Generators
Barry Guy & Barre Phillips - Arcus
Glen Moore & David Friesen - Returning
Alain Caron & Michel Donato - Base Contre Basse
Barre Phillips & Motoharu Yoshizawa - Uzu
Werner Dafelfdecker & Uli Fussenegger - Bogengange
Mark Dresser & Mark Helias - The Marks Brothers
Peter Kowald, William Parker & Peter Jacquemyn - Deep Music (two duets)
Michel donato & Guillaume Bouchard- 2 Contrebasses
Malachi Favors Maghostut & Tatsu Aoki - 2x4
Peter Ind & Rufus Reid - Alone Together

And there's the even more unusual bass quartet:
Barre Phillips/Joëlle Léandre/William Parker/Tetsu Saitoh - After You Gone (in memory of Peter Kowald)

Also worth mentioning is of course William Parker's "Requiem" for four basses, in memory of Peter Kowald and Wilber Morris, with Henry Grimes, Sirone and Alan Silva, and with Charles Gayle on sax.

And in 1971, on "For all it is" (JAPO 60003) Barry Guy, Barre Phillips, J.F.Jenny-Clark, Palle Danielson, play four basses, with Stu Martin on percussion.

Joëlle Léandre & William Parker - Live at Dunois (Leo, 2009) ****½

Just for the comparison, I put on their first collaboration too, and in fact the joy they created so many years ago, continues on this one. Free improvisation between two "support" instruments is not an easy task, but in the hands of these two masters, it turns into a play. A play of rhythm, percussive pluckings, subtle pizzi excursions, or mutual support of arco and pizzi. The music is gentle here, less dramatic than on their first release, sensitive and nuanced, rich, more mature, a little less daring and adventurous, and yes, even Léandre's singing is a little more restrained. Léandre's bow can screech and rip right through your chestbone, but it can also envelop you in a warm feeling, playing even melodic pieces, as on the second track, while Parker is surely the more rhythmic, more jazz-oriented, with his habitual very soulful approach. Without a doubt the highlight of the album is the long central track, with lots of arco playing by both of them, more adventurous than the rest of the album, more dramatic too, hypnotic because of its rhythmic propulsion in the lower tones, and which stops a little too abruptly to my taste (and it might have continued for a while!). On the fifth track inventiveness diminishes a little, but the last piece gets an almost shamanistic native American tribal feel, with Joëlle Léandre accompanying her repetitive bowed playing with almost ritual singing, with Parker adding slow warm deep rhythmic tones. Staggeringly beautiful.

If you know of other bass-bass duets, please let me know, and I'll complete the list above, for everyone's education.


© stef

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jon Irabagon & Mike Pride - I Hear Nothin' But The Blues (Loyal, 2009) ****

I already praised the saxophonist's skills on RIDD Quartet's Fiction Avalanche CD, and I was not a real fan of his "Outright" band, but really enjoyed the fun of Mostly Other People Do The Killing. Here is he is joined by Mike Pride on drums, whose wildly intense CD Scrambler I reviewed earlier. What the duo brings here is really worth listening to: a fourty-seven minute-long piece of earnest blowing and hitting, racing through jazz, funk, rock and blues rhythms, with slower moments and more uptempo ones, but without releasing the intensity at any moment, full of concentrated interaction, with often the drums leading the dance. Irabagon's playing is highly rhythmic, repeating the same blaring honk time and again (as a motif? as an automatism?), but in between he moves into a broad tonal spectrum of what you can do with a tenor, once in a while shifting into more melodic modes, weaving in recognizable traditional themes, but never for long, because the train they're on keeps rolling on, full speed forwards. This is far removed from Coltrane's Interstellar Space, and certainly not as daring or visionary, don't expect any real sensitive moments either, but the raw energy, the power and the intensity make this a quite captivating performance.

© stef

Ellery Eskelin, with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black - One Great Night ... Live (Hat Hut, 2009) ****½

The unusual line-up of sax, piano/organ and drums also characterises the unusual nature of the music they bring. Although all pieces are composed by saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, he has left more than ample room to manoeuvre for Andrea Parkins and Jim Black to add their own typical ingredients that have become the hallmark of their individual styles : creativity, unexpected twists and turns, going against the grain, while keeping the trio's approach quite coherent, not only on this album but throughout the many year that they've played together. I must say that I don't know all their albums, but this one is certainly a great one, and may beg for a deep dive in their discography, including their first one, called "One Great Day", dating back to 1997, and to which this one's title clearly refers to.

From what I know of their music, it has become stronger, more single-voiced. Sure, Eskelin clearly takes the lead, now very sensitive, then using short bursts of whispers, or playing long melodic phrases, alternated with solos that are really out there. But it is the total sound of this band that is intriguing and fresh : Parkins is not an accompanying pianist, quite to the contrary, she adds sounds, colors, interjections, support, contradictions, alternating between her various keyboards, and adding a real dramatic touch to the proceedings, while Jim Black does basically the same, playing in his usual rock-influenced fashion, hard-hitting, but keeping quiet too, listening and adding touches, giving a crisp yet powerful tone. Eskelin's compositions are excellent, not always easy to grasp at first, not always easy to follow, but clearly structured and it's sometimes suprising to hear the trio fall into a powerful unison melody after some long weird excursion. The compositions are great, as I said, and he varies between dramatic pieces, joyful tunes, sad moments and total despair, and it becomes intense at times and more often than not all these conflicting feelings are present in the same track, as are the various sub-styles and not yet sub-styles of jazz, with "I Should Have Known" as a nice example of this. The fact that these three players know each other quite well, is testified by the last piece, "Half A Chance", when upon first hearing, I would have bet money on it that it was a Jim Black composition, all sweet and melodic, but then with a sharp edge and a rock-ish rhythm. As if it was composed with Black and Parkins in mind. Lots of variation, lots of ideas, and still coherent. A strong feat.

Watch a YouTube clip from their DVD

© stef

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Günter "Baby" Sommer - Live In Jeruzalem (Kadima, 2009) ****

"But the feel of openness and tolerance that is the foundation of our music, is not always to be felt. I soon found myself exposed to an atomosphere of strain and tenseness, demarcation lines separating past, present, peoples. Where am I? Thrown back in time, into the former GDR?" are some of the honest, straight from the heart liner notes from German master drummer Günter "Baby" Sommer, about his stay in Jerusalem, and referring to the political situation. But he was there for the music, and welcomed in bassist JC Jones' Kadima Music Salon. He was also welcomed by the various saxes and bass clarinets played by Assif Tsahar, Steve Horenstein, Yoni Silver, Yonatan Kretzmer and the guitar of Yonatan Albalak, in various line-ups ranging from Sommer solo on drums over trios to quartets. With the exception of JC Jones and Assif Tsahar, the other musicians are unknown to me, although I heard Horenstein play on the recent Joëlle Léandre album, "Live In Israel", also on Kadima. Sommer is gigantic, driving these musicians on and on, onward and forward, "hypercussive nimbleness", as described by Yonatan Albalak, a real pleasure to hear him interact, and he is indeed the star of the album, but Tsahar is also quite strong. Listen to "Bast" a trio with drums and two saxes, or to "Sababa" a duet between Tsahar and Sommer. Most of the album is free jazz at a very high level, well recorded, with a very open and disciplined approach despite the freedom of the music itself. All musicians respect each other and give sufficient space to the other players to do their thing, and with excellent results. "Playing together means peaceful communication. Our discourse is a discourse in free speech. ... working on a new foundation for a better society - a human groove", writes Sommer. May peace be with you all, and enjoy the freedom of music.

Watch Sommer with another context to get a better understanding of his own highly intense special way of drumming.

Buy from

© stef

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette - America (Tzadik, 2009) *****

Wadada Leo Smith is without a doubt one of the best jazz trumpeters of the moment, and Jack DeJohnette is without a doubt the best jazz drummer of the last decades. These two top artists approached ECM with their project for a trumpet and drums duo album in 1979, but it never materialized then, despite both musicians', and especially DeJohnette's, ample releases on the German label. Now, thirty years later, the project is there, and what a shame we did not get this earlier, and what a joy to hear it now. If anything, Tzadik should be remembered for its efforts to give Wadada Leo Smith the voice and attention he deserves (including for the re-release of all his earlier work).

I like the concept per se (and see my incomplete list of trumpet-drums duets), because of the clear sound of the trumpet in combination with the rattling percussion. It has something basic, fundamental, essential that a piano-drums duet cannot bring, nor a sax-drums duet. It is pristine. Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell gave the first example of its power on the highly recommendable "Mu" in 1969. This album is not comparable, primarily because Cherry and Blackwell had totally different personalities. The joy of life, the childlike surprise of integrating new world music concepts in their jazz, the fun of interacting and playing music were essential for them. Smith and DeJohnette are not like that at all, and nor is their music. Both are serious types. Technical professionals of a very high level, enjoying the complexities and possibilities of their skills, and like Cherry and Blackwell they are very much into the spiritual side of their music, but then without a smile, more austere, but not less rewarding for the listener. It's like comparing the austere Bach with the more playful Mozart.

This is not Smith's first approach of the concept, and his two other releases "Compassion", with Adam Rudolph and "Wisdom In Time" with Günter Baby Sommer, both got a 5-star quotation from your humble servant. And well, this one too. It's hard to compare the three even if the limited line-up is the same, Smith's approach to the music is totally different. While "America" still has some of the more spiritual and meditative elements of the former CDs, it is expansive first and foremost, more accessible, more exuberant, more rhythmic, and that is to a large extent DeJohnette's doing. And the drummer is brilliant. Inventive, original, hard-driving, subtle, thundering, refined, silent, playing up a storm. The breadth of his ideas and the perfection in the execution are as usual astonishing. And he clearly likes the freedom he gets here, just like on his duo album with John Surman some years ago. And Wadada Leo Smith also opens all the registers of his skills: from bell-clear tones to murmurs and wails, rhythmic phrases or slow contemplative introvert tones. And then of course there is the interaction : the total is much greater than the sum of its parts. Great musicians, great interplay, great ideas, great expressivity, great creativity. Deep and panoramic.

An absolute "must have" for anyone interested in music. Full stop.

© stef

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ivo Perelman & Dominic Duval - Nowhere To Hide (Not Two, 2009) ****

Brazilian saxophonist and visual artist Ivo Perelman has a similar approach to both arts: refined energy and free expressionism in preferably limited settings. The rawness of his sound, just like his paintings come only to their full right if there is no backdrop or even color. It is immediate, introspective and extravert at the same time. Bassist Dominic Duval is possibly the right person for him to interact with musically. A free spirit too and a great listener. Both musicians have played lots of times together, and released quite some albums together before, twice in duo settings, more often in a trio format. Perelman's art used to be more muscular and physical than on this album, blowing hard almost the whole time, but not here. Sensitivity and contemplation are high on the musical agenda, in very long improvisations, one even clocking at a little over twenty-three minutes, but that's part of the fun, and throughout his improvisations, Perelman adds some melodic references to traditional jazz tunes, but then more like acquaintances he meets on a tonal journey and who happen to materialise on the road by sheer chance, totally unlike someone like that other Duval partner, Joe McPhee, who will actually go and look for traditional references on purpose just to meet them and have a chat. Perelman says hello and continues on his journey. Some pieces are quite jazzy, rhythmic even, but some of the other tracks go deep into uncharted tonal territories, with Duval on arco and Perelman exploring the higher regions of his tenor, as on "Eyes And Pearls". Some, like "Polish Poles" mix both, starting quite avant-garde, the tune starts gathering rhythmic momentum as it evolves and becomes jazzy. A nice album for those who like adventurous intimacy.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef