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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hamid Drake's Bintu - Reggaelogy (RogueArt, 2010) ****

I have been dancing up and down all day on this new Hamid Drake album, which is a jazzy celebration of the rhythmic variations and possibilities of reggae music. Long after the album has ended, spontaneously the old Marley tunes of "Lively Up Yourself" or "Burnin' and Lootin'", came back to live in my head, although the album has no direct reference to the Jamaican or his music. Drake turns reggae into his own kind of music, adding hip hop vocals by Napoleon Maddox on vocals and beatbox, with Jeff Parker on guitar, Jeff Albert and Jeb Bishop on trombone, and with Josh Abrams on bass and guimbri. He also adds spoken word and singing, continuing the spiritual Hindu elements and the adoration of Kali, that he already worked with on "Blissful", his previous album.

The big difference here is the double trombone and bass line-up, with gives the band a warm powerful volume over Drake's brilliant polyrhythmics. Parker's guitar adds the right touches, predominantly rhythm guitar, with the occasional jazzy, rock-ish or reggae-ish solo escapade.

The other big difference is that the vocals are mostly sung or rapped, which fits better with reggae than with jazz (at least to me), but luckily the space they occupy is not very dominant. Despite the length of the compositions, it is very much a tight affair, with not many expansive time for soloing: the whole thing remains a group thing, but it's only when the two trombones interweave their solos as on "Togetherness", over the exciting rhythms, that the fun is total.

He also brings a new rendition of the hauntingly beautiful "Meeting and Parting", that was the highlight of his first Bindu album.

Sure, this is not jazz. But its exhilirating rhythms, the powerful rhythm and horn section, and Drake's unparalleled drumming make this album a real joy. Not everything works, but the drummer has created something quite unique and special.

Listen to extracts here from the RogueArt website.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Marinella Barigazzi

Marinella Barigazzi lives in Milan, Italy, and is an author and translator of children’s books and also writes poems and short stories.

She is daughter of renowned Italian accordionist and composer Barimar, so music was always part of her life.

She studied the piano as an adolescent and deeply loves jazz and classical music, attending many concerts throughout Europe with a special attention to those of pianist Brad Mehldau.

Marinella Barigazzi

Marinella Barigazzi lives in Milan, Italy, and is an author and translator of children’s books and also writes poems and short stories.

She is daughter of renowned Italian accordionist and composer Barimar, so music was always part of her life.

She studied the piano as an adolescent and deeply loves jazz and classical music, attending many concerts throughout Europe with a special attention to those of pianist Brad Mehldau.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky, Andrei Kondakov & Vladimir Volkov - In Search Of A Standard (Leo Records, 2009) ***½

The liner notes state: "The concept of the CD was to compose pieces with reference to jazz standards". Those pieces are called : "Don't Take The "B" Train", "Wintertime", "Caravanserai", "Unsophisticated Lady", to name just a few. The trio is Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky on trumpet, Andrei Kondakov on piano and percussion, and Vladimir Volkov on bass. The end result leaves me a little perplex. The technical mastery is high, and a pleasure to hear, and so is their knowledge of styles and genres. Their approach to music is more ambiguous: at times very serious, but interspersed with entertaining factors, even little musical jokes, which would lead you to expect that they do not take themselves or the music too seriously, but then the music is. It gave me the same feeling that I had when listening to Lester Bowie's The Great Pretender many years ago. Is it authentic artistic expression, or is it just plain entertainment? It is both.  It's the same with the style. Some pieces, like the sensitive "Wintertime", are quite mainstream, but then on other tracks, like "Caravanserai", or "Standard", they move into areas few mainstreamers would dare to venture, despite the melodious moments. It is all great, but somehow also so full of ambiguity and internal conflict that it is disturbing. At least to me.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, January 29, 2010

Percussion only ....

One could wonder whether the cultural capitals of the world have been moved to Cracow (Poland), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Lisbon (Portugal). Or let's say that at least of some of the best and daring music nowadays is performed and released out of those cities. Again, the small labels surprise with the least likely of commercial successes: solo percussion albums.Well, not quite solo. The first is accompanied by text, the second is a percussion duet, but the lack of melodic instruments does not mean lack of musicality, as is demonstrated here.

Vladimir Tarasov - Thinking Of Khlebnikov (No Business, 2009) ****

Russian master drummer Vladimir Tarasov is possibly best known to jazz audiences from the Ganelin Trio, but he already has eleven solo percussion records in his name, and many compositions for larger orchestra too. In all, more than a hundred albums.

This album is a reflection on a text on the Russion futurist Velimir Khlebnikov, which is joined on the CD as a pdf file. The text is in Russian.

Tarasov's playing is sparse, open, subtle, sometimes adding drama, but more often precise, cautious, gentle, barely disturbing silence, creating an organic harmony with a silent environment. No patterns, no repetition, just the infinite possibilities of sound, brought to such a level of abstraction that any sense of melodic evolution would be a vulgar disturbance of the purity he creates.

Lucas Niggli & Peter Conradin Zumthor - Profos (Not Two, 2010) ***½

The approach by Swiss drummers Lucas Niggli and Peter Conradin Zumthor is quite different. It is rhythmic, repetitive, with lots of bells and cymbal work, a feast of small percussion, yet there is a likeness with Tarasov in their willingness to work with open space rather than to fill it with empty sound. The second piece, "Where I End", for instance, is just the high-pitched tones resulting from the scraping of a stick on a cymbal. Most of the pieces are relatively short, with clear rhythmic compositions and structures. The last track is the opposite of percussion actually, but a half hour drone with shifting shades of color and intensity. Not what you would expect from a drums duet. 

Watch a clip from December 2009.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sarah “FLAKE” Grosser

Sarah “FLAKE” Grosser is an Australian born, German-based author, lyricist and vocal artist. Exploding onto the scene with her self-published DIY John Zorn fanzine “Days of Zorn”, Flake quickly established a name for herself as an enthusiastic up-and-comer in the world of avant-garde. Shortly thereafter she penned follow up zines: “Zappa Every Day”, “The Jazz Hater’s Manifesto” and “Jazz is for Wankers”.

Flake’s fetish for drummers with fantastic hair is public knowledge and she encourages any potential candidates to form an orderly queue.

Her unmistakable writing style challenges pretentiousness, and if you don’t like it you can suck a lemon.

Tin Hat - Foreign Legion (BAG, 2010) ****

Very much a musical category in its own, Tin Hat integrates jazz with folk with street music with traditional music from Europe, with tangos and waltzes, with some touches of blues and klezmer, and some cinematic ingredients, but then with such compositional creativity,  inventiveness and instrumental dexterity that it goes beyond the usual bland mixtures of styles you get in world music. This is as usual highly original and authentic music. And despite, or maybe because of its mix of influences, it is one hundred percent American. The band consists of Carla Kihlstedt on violin and trumpet violin, Mark Orton on guitar and dobro, Ben Goldberg on clarinet and contra alto clarinet, and Ara Anderson on trumpet, pump organ, piano, glockenspiel, percussion. Matthias Bossi joins on percussion on two tracks. So it's basically the same band as on their previous album, "The Sad Machinery Of Spring".

The album brings a selection of tracks from two live performances, one in Berkely in 2008, and one in Mallorca, Spain in 2005. Fans of the band will be happy to hear new versions of some of their best pieces, like "Helium", "Hotel Aurora", "The Last Cowboy", "Nickel Mountain", "Slip", "The Secret Fluid Of Dusk", and the title track. Many of those get a different approach because of the different line-up. And you also get some new tracks, sometimes with a joke included : "Anna Kournikova", (the Russian tennis player), is now replaced by "Ana Ivanovic", (the Serbian tennis player), for an equally melancholic tango.

A sweet delight.

Buy from Instantjazz. Album will be officially launched on March 9, but so you know it's coming.

Watch a quite disconcerting clip. 

© stef

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Magda Mayas - Heartland (Another Timbre, 2010) ****

Talking about listening experiences, this is an avant-garde experimental album that those of you with very open ears and strong hearts should listen to. It is one of the widest and deepest adventures into the sonic heart of the piano, including its entire cardiovascular system attached to it. It is a discovery of sound possibilities, that are utterly frightening while being soothing at the same time. Usually this stuff bores me to death after a while, but this one doesn't. It is so powerful that it's captivating.

Magda Mayas is a German pianist. She is clearly a musical visionary.

Listen to an excerpt.

© stef

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do - Desert Ship (Not Two, 2009) ****½

I'm not sure what the "desert ship" in the title refers to : is it an order? is it a reference to the camel? is it a reference to the legends of ships mysteriously ending up in the desert? I wouldn't know. No liner notes to explain it. It's an ambiguity and cleverness that characterizes the music of Satoko Fujii. She and her band are the perfect synthesis of modern music, going beyond jazz, integrating anything from classical over folk and traditional music, with jazz, free improvisation and avant-garde, but then pushing it all over the edge.

This enables her to explore composition/improvisation with a musical richness which is given to few.

The band is Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, Akira Horikoshi on drum, in short "Ma-Do", which already released the excellent "Heat Wave" in 2008. 

She is also a master of contrast, just to give a few examples : putting almost romantic piano musings over a drums going berserk, as on "Sunset In The Desert", or starting a composition with a repetitive piano phrase over which the bass improvises, as on "Ripple Mark", creating some kind of reverse world hegemony, in which things are topsy-turvy. The totally unpredictable compositions, with angular turns, changing rhythms, the juxtaposition of carefully composed and structured elements with wild even violent excursions, the stark contrast of Tamura's sweet trumpet sounds with his unparalleled screaming, it's all here, again, with unrelenting intensity. A wealth of ideas, mood changes, taking the listener by surprise by each listen. Using contrast is one thing, but making it match is another: lyricism blends with noise, harmony with dissonance, impressionism with expressionism, fire with water.

It's story-telling time: "While You Were Sleeping", gives an eery picture of awful or menacing things that could happen in the dark outside world, while you are dreaming in peace, or it could be the reverse : the stuff that nightmares are made of : the piano strings that sound like a uncanny gamelan, the trumpet first whispering like a choir of zombies, then howling like the wails of the insane.

There is some familiarity to be found, somewhere, buried under the heavy thunder of the chords, the powerful pulse of the bass, the no-holds-barred drumming, which are disconcerting, knocking the listener out of his/her comfort level into the zone of the real listening experience, in which there is no possibility not to listen, not to be part of it. You are part of it, whether you want to or not.

The last piece's title, "Vapor Trail" is a good descriptive of the music, which comes as a kind of soothing finale, when catharsis has been reached, a moment of acceptance, of resignation, of awe for the beauty that arises after the violence, the fire has died down, after the sun has set.


Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kelly Rossum & Phill Hey - Conflict! (612 Sides, 2009) ***½

In spirit closer to free jazz musicians Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, in attitude closer to the famous Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach duet, this duo with Kelly Rossum on trumpet and Phill Hey on drums is an event full of intense interplay. Starting with Don Cherry' "Brilliant Action", and also covering Monk's "Epistrophy", and Ornette Coleman's "The Sphinx", you cannot question the good taste nor their musical references. The playing is absolutely excellent, and captivating from beginning to end, but like the Gillespie-Roach duet, the entertainment factor prevails over the musical statement or the artistic creativity. The music is direct, at times sensitive, but mostly unrelenting, and quite intense. Lots of passion and great fun.

Listen and download from CDBaby.

Watch a performance of "Marse", one of their own compositions.

© stef

Monday, January 25, 2010

Polish trumpets ....

Following the great example of Tomasz Stanko, the trumpet is an instrument in full appreciation in Poland, and there is also Andrzej "Major" Przybielski, who is quite a phenomenon in Poland and insufficiently known outside the country. Recently, he played alongside Wojtek Jachna, a young Polish trumpeter in "Sing, Sing, Penelope", who just released a new duet with drummer Jacek Buhl. And then you have Kamil Szuszkiewicz, another young trumpeter who's played in quite a number of Polish bands. Some of his recent material is featured here.The great thing about the two musicians is that they develop their own style and voice, without making too many concessions to popular expectations.

Jachna Buhl - Pan Jabu (Monotype, 2009)***

On "Pan Jabu", Wojtek Jachna plays trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, and Jacek Buhl plays drums and percussion. Although Jachna is a guitarist and punk rocker "by education", his trumpet-playing is mainly self-taught and refined by studying with other players. Both musicians add rock and electronic elements in every track, resulting in an atmospheric meditations combined with a sometimes powerful drive. "Nu jazz" if you want. To it's credit, the album does not have the pretense of Nils Petter Molvaer (although his influence is obvious, yet without the Swede's power), nor does it fall into the abyss of commercial sentimentalism like some of the more recent work of Markus Stockhausen or Matthias Eick. It's a pleasant, sometimes even joyful and promising album, although one would have expected more power, anger and creative attack from two musicians who have been active in the alternative, punk and noise scene.

Kamil Szuszkiewicz & Hubert Zemler - Detrytus (Self published, 2009) ****

Another trumpet-drums duet comes from Kamil Szuszkiewicz on trumpet and Hubert Zemler on drums. It's just an EP, with only three tracks, but it's quite powerful in its simplicity. It is creative, fresh, joyful, intimate and pure. Even the somewhat darker second track demonstrates - despite its more avant-garde leanings - a total lack of artificiality, and even fun when the sound of sports shoes rubbing the floor is used as a rhythmic gimmick. And the last piece is a great open-ended meditative improvisation. It's just twenty minutes long. It's free, and I love it.

The EP can be downloaded for free from "Internet Archives".

 Kapacitron (Self Published, 2009)****

 So I looked further, and I found Szuszkiewicz and Zemler back in this quartet, with Wojtek Traczyk on double bass, and Wojtek Sobura also on drums and "objects". With two drummers, the rhythmic elements are much more prominent than on the duet, but the fun is as great. Again, no need for special effects, no need for elaborate compositions, just plain melodic improvisations over a great rhythmic foundation. It is light-footed, open, creative and crisp. Fun and deeply sensitive at the same time. It's again only an EP, a little over twenty minutes long, but again twenty minutes of pure musical listening joy!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

© stef

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Joel Grip, Niklas Barnö, Didier Lasserre - Snus (Ayler, 2009) ****

For ignorants (1) like me : snus is a Swedish kind of chewing tobacco. Unlike snuff, it is steam-cured rather than fire-cured, it is not fermented and contains no added sugar. Typically it does not result in the need for spitting, which offers huge social and practical advantages. The sale of snus is illegal in the European Union, but well, it's too popular for the Swedes to take that detail into account.

For ignorants (2) like me: snus is also the debut release of this great trio, with Niklas Barnö on trumpet, Joel Grip on bass and Didier Lasserre on drums. Swedish musicians Grip and Barnö have regularly played together before, but this is their first album with French master drummer. The fully improvised performance was recorded live at  l'Atelier Tampon-Ramier, Paris, France in June of last year. From the very beginning, the three musicians dive in head-first, with a rawness and directness that is absolutely appealing. No need for melody or rhythmic structure, just strings of sounds weaving through each other, full of energy, enthusiasm and intensity, using the range of their instruments to the full, and often going beyond. Even on the slower tracks, like "Water", the tension remains, because the three musicians listen quite well to each other and build the pieces really as a joint creation. Despite the lack of clear anchor points, and its level of abstraction, the performance has its warm components, some bluesy references, some sensitive moments, and that is the result of their musical approach, which is not an amalgamation of sounds, but a progressive evolution of phrases and moods. Just like the chewing tobacco it refers to: this music is "not fermented and has no added sugar", but it is tasteful, juicy and authentic.

The track titles read like the ingredient list of "snus", embedded between the additives "E1520", which is a tobacco humectant, and "E500" which is an acidity regulator. Reasons enough to enjoy!

Listen to samples : E1520, Aroma, and E500.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kian Banihashemi

Born to Iranian parents in Chicago, Kian is currently studying Microbiology at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with the eventual goal of becoming an epidemiologist. Raised in the diverse community of Irvine, California, Kian has always been seeking new and exciting music from all over the world. It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that he became interested in jazz music; this initial interest in jazz soon became a fulltime passion. Although interested in the historical aspect of jazz, he endeavors to remain up-to-date with the latest jazz artists, releases and movements. Besides reading and writing about jazz, Kian has always been interested in the arts, history, traveling and the study of biology. He spends a lot of time on his travels attending concerts, looking for and picking jazz records to add to his collection.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Myra Melford's Be Bread - The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12, 2010) ****½

Three years ago, when I started with this blog, Myra Melford's "Be Bread" band produced the wonderful "The Image Of Your Body", which brought a great mixtures of musical influences from around the world, not as veneer on top of her compositions, but really deeply entrenched in the compositions. With a slightly different band, she expands on the concept. Cuong Vu is still on trumpet, as is Brandon Ross on guitar, with Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar. Now we find Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Matt Wilson on drums. 

The band's approach has progressed, matured over the course of the years, become more coherent. Gone are the harmonium, gone are the electric guitar or the distorted trumpet sounds. It is all as acoustic as it gets. Gone too, are the explicit references to world music, although the music still has stylistic openness, yet moving more to jazz harmonies and rhythms, with also some deep blues. What also remains are the sensitivity, the compositional complexities, the lyricism and immediate accessibility, the wealth of ideas, the long unison lines. The arrangements vary between tight interplay and loose textures, with varying line-ups and no obligation for each musician to play on each track. Melford herself takes a more prominent role on the piano, and her playing is wonderful, as you can expect. The use of acoustic guitar and acoustic soprano guitar add some chamber music texture to the overall sound, although some of the pieces have an expansive urgency and percussive power that take it well beyond chamber music. It is also a delight to hear Cuong Vu's trumpet in an unadultered way: with a naked and clean sound. Maybe that characterizes the music best : it is of a vulnerable beauty and sensitivity, integrating styles and traditions, from blues over bop to avant-garde. Rich music!

Buy from Instantjazz.
© stef

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mark O'Leary - Live In Helsinki (Re:KonstruKt, 2009) ****

Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary has been featured quite substantially before on this blog, because he's not only a gifted guitarist, versatile in the jazz traditions, in fusion, electronics or noise, yet also restlessly searching for new sounds and new possibilities to express emotions and thoughts. He has played with some of the best modern jazz musicians, including Tomasz Stanko, Matthew Shipp, Sunny Murray, Steve Swallow, Uri Caine, to name but a few, but he's also been open enough to work with some unknown Turkish musicians. On these two new albums, he ventures much  further and deeper into the sonic territory that his great example Terje Rypdal set the first explorative steps for.

"Live In Helsinki" finds him in the company of Olavi Louhivuori on drums and percussion, and Teppo Hauta-Aho on bass. Louhivuori is the acclaimed drummer of the current Tomasz Stanko Quintet, and Hauta-Aho is one of the leading Finnish bassists, equally comfortable in classical settings as in the European free improv scene, including collaborations with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens. Although you would expect your regular jazz guitar trio, the music is not exactly that. The trio explores sound, and that includes endless stretching of notes, electronically altered, in dialogue with arco bass and a crackling percussive backdrop. Once in a while O'Leary plays his guitar in regular style, as in "Lost In Snow", first low-toned, then as the tension increases, with increasing distortion. O'Leary does not even hesitate to include some boppish elements even, as in "O", but the most beautiful piece is the slow opener "Vesala" dedicated to the Finnish drummer Edvard Vesala, on which the slow wailing guitar and the arco bass interact in a sad dance. Hauta-Aho's arco starts the equally haunting "Helsinki", quite reminiscent of some of the passages of "Rypdal, Vitous, DeJohnette", a stellar album on ECM. "Sibelius" is more avant-garde, with very nervous playing by O'Leary's clean low-toned sound, with bird-like background noises. "O" is raw and more violent, with distorted fusion sounds and irregular rhythms, while "Omega" brings us back to the beginning, closing the circle of stretched atmospheric sounds. A strong performance and strong record too.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Mark O'Leary, Passborg, Riis - Grønland (Aucourant Records, 2009)

 Even though still a part of Denmark, in 2009 Greenland received self-determination for judicial, police and natural resources. Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary creates a wonderful electronic opus for the country, together with Danish musicians Stefan Pasborg on drums and Jakob Riis on electronics. The end result is a terryfing soundscape of ethereal beauty, evocating temperatures you can only fear and endless ice plains that you would never dare venture into. Driven by Pasborg's drumming, both O'Leary and Friis weave a tapestry of sound that is both distant and attractive, without any melody, repetition or anchor points. This is not jazz at all, but still a musical feat that you can only listen to in admiration. Despite the quite slow horizontal development of the music, it is captivating and fascinating. The long last piece "Nuuk" is absolutely impressive.

Listen and download from iTunes and eMusic.

© stef

Connor Kurtz

At some point during high school, Connor Kurtz found great interest in the eccentric guitar work and experimental tendencies of Sonic Youth. A few years of exploration and listening later, he found himself critically analyzing static, sine waves and silence. Connor's lived all of his life in a South Ontario suburb where, for reasons still unclear to him, he studies IT instead of music. In addition to writing about music, he also writes experimental music and poetry and records his own music under the moniker of Important Hair.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thomas Heberer - Five By Five (Self Published, 2009) ****

Germany quarter-tone trumpeter Thomas Heberer is not only part of the ICP Orchestra or several other bands, he also creates his own material, although much remains unreleased. On "Five By Five", which is entirely available for download on his website, he plays five duets with Okkyung Lee on cello, with Harris Eisenstadt on percussion, Achil Kaufmann on piano, Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet, with the latter playing two compositions, which makes five pieces by five musicians.

The duo setting is ideal for intimate and intense dialogues, all quite left of center, but with sufficient discipline and maturity to make this a highly enjoyable and relatively accessible listen. Heberer's technique on the quarter-tone trumpet is nothing short of stunning. Listen for instance to his long circular breathing part on "345 Grand Street", with Okkyung Lee on cello, matching the continuous tone of the bowed instrument. The most extended techniques are used by Kaufmann on the beatiful first track. The duet with Eisenstadt is more fractured and power-driven with sudden changes of pitch, and with a clear blues-based tone, whereas his duets with the clarinet and the piano show a more lyrical side. On the last track, Heberer and Badenhorst exchange timbral explorations with playful interchange, while falling back on a quite solemn compositional backbone.

Enjoy! ... and download here.

© stef

Paige Johnson-Brown


Who is SHE?

Paige Johnson-Brown is SHE. SHE is Paige Johnson-Brown. SHE leads Irrevery. Irrevery is a country-punk-noise band and art collective. SHE is a composer, lyricist, producer, writer, and filmmaker. SHE was hatched beneath the Y of the Hollywood sign and made the migration, as is traditional with Paiges, to New York on the first Smiling Moon of HER 18th year. SHE just completed Irrevery Volume I, []a full-length record, a book of illustrated lyrics, and three films. SHE is now working on Irrevery Volume II

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey, 2010) ****½

The Chicago Underground Duo, with Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on percussion, vibes and keyboards, is one of the many incarnations of the Chicago Underground Collective, besides the Trio and Quartet. This is a duo album, but because of the overdubs you sometimes have more than two instruments playing together, sculpting sounds and themes that some would call "post jazz", because it borrows from so many styles and techniques that the term jazz is no longer descriptive. Hence the title "Boca Negra", which means “Black Mouth”, a term coined in the Tenerife Canary Islands evoking the idea of an endless intake of information and also harks to the mouth of the volcano Tiede. In any case, it is again a fantastic album. The two musicians do not shy away from complexity, including shifting time signatures, odd rhythms, and sound explorations, with clever use of electronics, although the entire albums is quite accessible and very rhythmic.It all sounds simple, but it isn't. The greatest effect is created on Ornette Coleman's "Broken Shadows", on which Taylor plays drums and vibes simultaneously, the theme of which I did not immediately recognize when I first listened to it, but then I came to realise that the men broke down the theme into different parts, with one musician stopping, and the other one taking over, creating the real effect of broken shadows. The compositions combine atmosphere with drive, with playfulness, with repetitive minimalism, with meditative moments, with avant-garde adventure, ... the whole thing full of creative inventiveness, but above all, Mazurek's excellent playing of the cornet and Chad Taylor's excellent drumming. And a great production by Matt Lux.Highly recommended.

Free download :  "Spy On The Floor", courtesy of Thrill Jockey.

Watch a performance by the Chicago Underground Duo in 2008 (playing some Don Cherry)

© stef

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jimi Hendrix

The first time I ever got goosebumps from music, was when I listened to Hendrix as a teenager. I wasn't even aware at first that the music triggered this physical effect. But then it happened again, and again. I still have this today.

This year the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death is commemorated. A new album, "Valleys Of Neptune" with unreleased tracks will become available in March.

Why was Hendrix such a great musician?

It was a coincidence, or maybe not, that in the sixties two musicians transformed their traditional music drastically, turning it inside out and upside down, turning tunes into art. The first was John Coltrane, the second Jimi Hendrix. (Hey, you say, what about Miles Davis, what about Ornette Coleman? Yes, I answer, sure, but they're different).

What they did was comparable: unleash deepfelt emotions, re-inventing what they knew, re-think the scales, deconstruct and recreate, pushing the boundaries. Music before that time did not have the same expressive quality it has now. What we take for granted today, was unheard of before these two geniuses. Compositions were tunes, with harmony and rhythm, there to please an audience and were designed to dance and entertain.

Hendrix sure still made some poppy songs, released on just four official albums, but his real environment was the stage, the place where his music received its full power. Voodoo Chile and Foxy Lady were compositions on which he could speak a language unheard before. That language knew no boundaries. Even if his instrument was the same, almost bankrupt, stratocaster that "The Shadows" used, he used electricity, amps, pedals and feedback, but not for the sake of it, but to create a sound that could express his innermost feelings of distress, turmoil, passion, sadness, anger, ... he could scream, yell, howl, weep, soar, wail, ... his guitar technique was self-taught, based on simple blues scales, and fairly limited at the basis, but the new elements he discovered, the new techniques he developed, and the resulting sound he managed to create, it all remains unparallelled in terms of technical skills and especially in its expressiveness. Many, many guitarists were and are better schooled than Hendrix, with a much broader range of styles in their fingers, but none managed to transform feeling into sound like he did. Not one of them. 

Hendrix was an explosion of exuberant and expansive expressivity.

What has Hendrix got to do with jazz? Well, nothing with jazz per se, but surely with free jazz. He could just let go of rhythm and harmony and just do his thing on stage, exploring the unlimited potential of sound and impact, while always falling back on his feet. Listen to some of his Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) versions, or to "Hear My Train Comin' (electric version)" on the Blues CD. Goosebumps guaranteed.

Many musicians have tried to copy Hendrix. Check the tribute albums that are around. There aren't many good ones. The musicians playing tribute deliver poor covers, maybe with the exception of Stevie Ray Vaughan, but then he sticks too close to the original, demonstrating skills but no vision.

Several jazz musicians tried to the same. And I must say, the end result is even poorer.

La Musica Di Jimi Hendrix Per Jazz Ensemble - If Six Was Nine (1992) (All brass)
Lonnie Smith - Purple Haze - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (1995)
Jean-Paul Bourelly - Tribute To Hendrix (1995)
Reed Robbins - Songs of Jimi Hendrix for Solo Jazz Piano (1995)
Christy Doran, Fredy Studer, Phil Minton, Django Bates, Amin Ali - Play Jimi Hendrix(1995)
Lonnie Smith - Foxy Lady - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (1996)
Gil Evans Plays Jimi Hendrix (1998)
Andreas Willers & Friends - Play Jimi Hendrix Experience (1995)
Ron E. Carter Trio - Play Hendrix (1999)
Nguyen Le Purple (2002)
Christy Doran, Fredy Studer, Erika Stucky, Kim Clarke - Jimi (2005)
Francis Lockwood - Jimi's Colors - Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (2008) (piano solo)
Hiram Bullock Jimi Hendrix Tribute (2009)

... but all these albums are often rather painful attempts to sell rather than genuine tribute albums. 

The only "jazz" performance that is fun to listen to, even if not worthy of the original, is to be found on this Youtube clip, with Charlie Hunter on guitar, Skerik on sax, Mike Dillon on percussion, and Stanton Moore on drums. Apart from Hunter's fabulous technical skills on his 8-string guitar, listen to Skerik's sax solo somewhere in the middle.

© stef

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dave Rempis & Frank Rosaly - Cyrillic (482 Records, 2010) ****

Member of the Vandermark 5 and the Territory Band, saxophonist Dave Rempis is creating his own name and fame through his Rempis Percussion Quartet and other initiatives, including the Ingebrigt Haker Flaten Quintet. In these various line-ups he has played substantially with drummers Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, who form the rhythmic backbone of his Percussion Quartet. A couple of years ago, Rempis released a great duo recording, "Back To The Circle", with Tim Daisy, now he's back with another duet recording with Frank Rosaly on drums. Just to keep the balance, I presume. The difference between both albums is great.
Whereas the former still has an endeavor of melody and lyricism, this album is an energetic powerhouse of rhythmic interaction, and more abstract. The long central track "How To Cross When Bridges Are Out" by itself is worth to get the album, for its unrelenting forward drive and rapidfire execution. The following slow track demonstrates the saxophonist's skills in timbral explorations, creating a very open-textured and sensitive interplay with the more subtle side of Rosaly, and moving closer to European free improv than real jazz. "Don't Trade Here", follows in the same vein. The other tracks are full of rhythmic dialogues, based on nervous bop tempo "In Plain Sight", or funky "Antiphony", with lots of counter-rhythms. To make the album even more varied, Rempis switches between alto, tenor and baritone. Sax-drums duos are boring? Well, think again!

Listen and download from eMusic.

Watch a clip from Youtube (the CD is better)

Frank Rosaly - Milkwork (Contraphonic, 2010) 

Frank Rosaly also released a solo percussion CD, almost simultaneously. Yes, it's percussion only, but Rosaly uses all the tricks possible to give his sound a much wider scope, with electronically amplified and altered sounds, using "contact microphones, oscillators, effects pedals and analog synthesizers ", giving the impression that it's actually a band playing. Most percussion only albums are pretty boring, but his inventiveness, both rhythmically and in terms of new sounds, make this a quite captivating listen for drummers and those of you with open ears. But the best parts are when he plays just plain acoustic drums, without any alterations or gimmicks, which he best compares himself on the two tracks "NY Prices", which is only drums, and "NY Prices!", which used every trick in the bag, and offers interesting sound explorations. His playing is astonishing at times and does not need the electronics. 

The album is available as a limited edition vinyl LP, or can be downloaded.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Andreas Schmidt, Samuel Rohrer, Thomas Heberer - Pieces For A Husky Puzzle (Jazzwerkstatt, 2009) *****

Moving seamlessly between compostion and improvisation, this German trio brings subdued and calm music, yet with an incredible depth and lyrical tension. Andreas Schmidt plays piano, Thomas Heberer quartertone trumpet and Samuel Rohrer drums. Playing mostly - but not always - full-toned and within the traditional sound spectrum of jazz or classical music, the music is quite adventurous and avant-garde, beyond any specific genre but borrowing from various traditions. So you can doubt the "husky" in the title: the music isn't hoarse or raw at all. It flows, yet in quite unexpected ways.

The three musicians carefully place notes in the unfolding compositions, that have no real themes, yet all pieces have their own distinct character and emotional quality. They play full of restraint, weaving their own aesthetic beauty, a form of careful minimalism, full of hesitation, averse of strong emotional outbursts, but the sensitivity is there: deep and true. No place here for sentimental shallowness : it borders on melancholy and sadness, but those emotional descriptives are too vulgar for the refinement you hear on this album. The same holds true for the compositions themselves: no patterns can be discerned, nor repetition, yet there is structure, with identiable anchor points in the pieces. There is no real soloing to speak of, but rather a common and simultaneous creation of sound lyricism through three instruments.

And these instruments are played in their full power. "Puzzle Piece N°6" is the only piece on which real extended techniques are used, with raw trumpet whispers and string plucking of the piano, but even on the more "regular" pieces, the quality of the playing is brilliant. Schmidt is lyrical throughout, Heberer's voice on the trumpet is of a staggering beauty at times, and Rohrer's rhythm-less accentuating full of creativity and finesse.

A rare combination of accessible, creative, austere yet emotional beauty. Highly recommended!

Listen and download from

© stef

Fred Anderson - 21st Century Chase (Delmark, 2009) ****

 I am a Fred Anderson fan.

And even if his approach hasn't changed much in the last decade, everything he does is an absolute pleasure to hear. Anderson is joined by Kidd Jordan on sax, and the younger rhythm section of Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums, or the crême-de-la-crême of Chicago AACM jazz. This is a "tenor battle" in the most traditional sense, and the liner notes refer to the original "Chase" by Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray from 1947, hence the title of this DVD and CD, which is a tribute for Anderson's 80th birthday.

Anderson and Jordan have played a lot together before, but I think that their "Two Days In April" (Eremite), released exactly ten years ago, was their only recorded performance. Parker, Bankhead and Taylor have appeared with Anderson on numerous records, and an even huger number of concerts. And you can hear that in the fine interplay that you get here, both in the fierce moments as in the slower ones, and especially in the transitions from one to the other. Anderson and Jordan are indeed a great front line, and they do not really "combat" as in the original chase concept, as much as create multilayered soloing. Anderson and Jordan are easy to distinguish (yes, also on the CD). The former has this typical rhythmic phrasing that he's been perfecting over the years, with a deep and warm tone, the latter has a great sense of lyricism and timbral sensitivity in the higher regions. Both have this unrelenting power, full of soul and passion, and empathy towards each other. And they find each other so easily during the solos, joining for some unison phrases, then playing in counterpoint, or with an octave interval, full of musical joy, real soulmates. And all the band members join in the fun and the music. Taylor is excellent throughout, Bankhead leads the dance with his arco on the slow second track, Parker gets the lead spot on the third track, dedicated to Alvin Fielder,  ... but regardless of how it starts, it always ends in a great free bop piece, to the great enjoyment of the audience. The DVD has a bonus track, starring Henry Grimes, who gets the piece's intro for another piece that vaguely ressembles some of the former, but really, who cares ....

The only thing I can add, is that Anderson's attitude to music, his relentless practicing, his absolute passion (including his courage to re-start his Velvet Lounge a few blocks away from his original bar), his fire and his humble nature all shine through in his music.

The man's got soul.

Watch the promo trailer for the DVD

Monday, January 11, 2010

Don Phipps

I am a jazz advocate and lover but still feel, after decades of listening to the music, there is so much more to uncover and explore. I've been convering jazz since 1978 when I was the Arts Editor for the Boston University Daily Free Press. I was first exposed to jazz in high school where I studied clarinet and saxophone. My love of music grew into dabbling with the piano and guitar as well. My listening strategy is to spin new music often, explore areas of the back catalog as time permits, respect and learn about past masters to inform my appreciation of new and current masters, and keep an open mind. Jazz is very much a "flow" music- -cerebral, emotional—but clearly a music of the moment. And the best jazz is in the moments where creative, improvisation, innovative and classical influences all come together to produce art at the highest level.

Those wishing to reach me can do so at jazzmanneobop [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ron Coulter

Ron Coulter is a percussionist, composer, improviser, and researcher. Interests in noise, performance art, and interdisciplinarity have led to curating many experimental sound series, Fluxconcerts, and co-founding numerous intermedia groups. As a composer, he has created more than 390 compositions for various media. His performance credits include solo and chamber percussion music, jazz, classical, pop, electronica, free improvisation, and various world musics (West African Djembe and Dunun, Shona Mbira, Cuban Folkloric drumming).

Nick Ostrum

Nick is a historian of modern Europe. More appropriate to this forum, he has been an avid fan of avant-garde music since his teenage years. Early exposure to Anthony Braxton through semiannual performances at Wesleyan University gave him the bug. He has not been able to shake it since.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein is an author, columnist, reviewer and broadcaster. She has hosted radio shows and covered for BBC Radio as well as internet stations. Sammy is a sought after writer and a well known free jazz advocate. She ran the London jazz Platform in June 2017 and her passion for the music is clear.

Irena Stevanovska

Irena is a recent philosophy graduate, and a long time avant-garde jazz enjoyer. She spends most of her time listening to and discovering new music, reading books and endlessly talking about seemingly unimportant philosophical ideas. Born and raised in a post-socialist country (North Macedonia), surrounded by coal power plants and brutalist buildings, she found solace in listening to melancholic but also chaotic music. Shortly after hearing Bill Laswell’s Sacred System, she started feeding her soul with avant-garde free jazz compositions, which sometimes she excitingly gets to play at an underground radio in Skopje. So, to this day, she experiences the music deeply and writes about the sublime feelings she gets from the albums.

Gary Chapin

Gary Chapin wrote a lot about this music back in the early '90s, when he was a frequent denizen at the original Knitting Factory, and then he stopped. Now he's doing it again. He lives currently in the Maine woods, while writing and advocating for ethical practices in education. He also plays traditional French music on accordion and has a blog about that ( He understands that in the Free Jazz Collective context that might seem weird (and he wondered if he should even mention it) but hey, it's a funny old world with all kinds of people in it.

Taylor McDowell

Like many avant-garde enthusiasts, Taylor's first major musical revelation was from listening to recordings of jazz musicians defying the pretenses of jazz itself (i.e. John Coltrane Quartet/Quintet circa 1965). There's been no looking back since. Taylor lives in a small town in the northern Rocky Mountains with his family, where he makes maps for a living. When not indulging in as much music as possible, he enjoys bird watching, hunting and fishing, and otherwise sharing outdoors experiences with his wife and children."

Matthew Banash

Matthew Banash
was born and raised in Pennsylvania and has lived in the Carolinas for the past twenty-five years. He writes poetry and short fiction, enjoys mountain biking and a lot of music. He believes Music can begin and end with McCoy Tyner's solo on "My FavoriteThings" but knows there's a lot in between. Someday he hopes to grow up.

Katherine Whatley

Katherine Whatley is a musician and writer. She grew up in Tokyo, and now makes her life between the US and Japan. She plays the koto (transverse Japanese harp) and writes about music, art and culture for a variety of publications. She originally became interested in jazz and improvised music at Barnard College, Columbia University where she worked as a DJ on the radio station WKCR and wrote her thesis about the jazz and improvised music scenes in New York and Tokyo. In addition, she has done extensive research on 60’s and 70’s jazz, including John and Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and the Loft Jazz scene, and Creative Music Studios. More generally, musical interests include: contemporary free jazz and improvised music, improvised music in the context of non-Western and folk music, and Japanese jazz. To get in contact, or to see current projects, visit her website:

Alexander Dubovoy

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Alexander Dubovoy is a pianist, composer, writer, and improviser. He graduated from Yale University in May 2016, where he wrote his thesis on the history of jazz in the Soviet Union. In university, founded a successful student initiative to start a jazz program and built connections to New Haven’s thriving creative music scene. After graduating, he moved to New York City to continue his performance career and soak up the sounds of the Downtown music scene. Since then, he was spent his time between the US, UK, and continental Europe seeking out adventurous music and musical adventures. He is also an amateur vegetarian cook and loves reading about Soviet bureaucracy and Zen Buddhism.

Eric Stern

After coming to New York City in 1983, Eric Stern has practiced law by day and followed the improv music scene by night. He presently coordinates the House of Improv which organizes monthly performances.

Daniel Böker

It was a long but interesting way from listening to a-ha as a young boy to Sonic Youth as a teenager. And it was a way that I wouldn't want to have missed a step of. Listening to the different things Sonic Youth did aside from their regular albums, I came across a collaboration with a guy I never had heard of. His name was (and still is) Mats Gustafsson, and the piece was called Hidros3. I was irritated and overpowered. And kept on listening. From that day on I started to seek music that could bring that kind of irritation or exitement.

Derek Stone

Derek Stone was born in the sunny state of Florida, but has since migrated to the “Land of the Morning Calm,” South Korea, where he teaches English. His first brush with free jazz was through Albert Ayler’s “Spiritual Unity,” an album which he initially hated but has since come to admire greatly. He spends his free time hanging out with his girlfriend and trying to get her to do her best “For Alto”-era Braxton impression (it’s really quite accurate). He’s currently a student of Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham (via distance learning) and is desperately trying not to go mad from the excessive work-load.

Sean McCarthy

Sean McCarthy is a Canadian saxophonist, improvisor, composer, and writer. He specializes in the soprano saxophone in all its facets from early jazz to the avant garde. He leads the 'Sean McCarthy Quartet' and freelances in both the Toronto and Montreal areas.

Nick Metzger

Aside from his family Nick’s passion in life is listening to, playing, and talking about music. He’s always leaned towards the avant-garde in his artistic tastes and plunged down the rabbit hole that is jazz upon listening to Bitches Brew in his early teens. Through his research into the genre he encountered an album called Spiritual Unity which opened the floodgates to what he felt he had been searching for all his life, free music, and he has been drinking heavily from the well ever since. He also enjoys reading, writing, cinema, and good food. He lives and works in central Indiana.

Nicola Negri

I’m a graphic and web designer based in Padova, Italy, and I’ve been involved in jazz and free improvisation for the last twenty years.

I’m a proud member of “Centro d’Arte degli studenti dell’Università di Padova”, a non-profit cultural association specialized in music promotion and concert organization.

Free improvisation and japanese free jazz, AACM and Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, Rob Mazurek, Derek Bailey, The Thing, these are a few of my favorite things.

Sometimes I play the trumpet.

I firmly believe that free music can make us free.

Peter Gough

Peter Gough was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. He spends his free time with his wife, three cats, and book and record collection. Peter is a proud supporter of his local creative improvised music culture, and is a member of Toronto's Music Gallery.

Wendy Eisenberg

Wendy Eisenberg is an improvising guitarist and banjo player who has toured internationally, both solo and with the critically acclaimed band "birthing hips." some of her additional critical writing can be found in John Zorn's Arcana VII: Musicians on Music.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bengt Berger - Beches Brew (Country & Eastern, 2009) ** or ****

Swedish drummer Bengt Berger made one masterpiece, "Bitter Funeral Beer", an astonishing world jazz album beyond category, that is as hypnotizing as it is guaranteed to move you to tears as well. Yet the rest of his musical output is of a quite doubtful level and unequal quality, often quite traditional, boppish, or plain silly.

On Beches Brew, he combines it all, great compositions, with great influences from Indian traditional music, alternated with more or less interesting Scandinavian folk, silly beer brawl songs and boppish pieces. To make matters worse, some of the sounds, and especially the guitar, but also the keyboard at times, appear to have skipped a few decades, as if there had been no evolution with the instrument since the early seventies.

The band consists of Thomas Gustafsson on soprano and tenor saxophones, Jonas Knutsson on soprano,  alto and baritone saxophones, Lindha Kallerdahl on voice, Max Schultz on guitar, banjo, bass and voice, Mats Öberg on keyboard, harmonica and voice, Bengt Berger on drums and percussion.

Some of the music is excellent. Some is awful. Even in the excellent pieces, you find some ugly sounds, or just lack of quality : Linda Kallerdahl has a great voice, but she doesn't master the Indian voice inflections, unfortunately, which leads to some painful moments. I wish a great producer like Manfred Eicher could have been involved in this. The material is here, the output unfortunately not. There is no unity, there is no coherence, it's a mixed bag. Studio pieces alternate with live pieces, sometimes even of the same compositions. In short, it's a mess, but one full of jewels.

So, here is my advice : just download the tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17 and 18 (a live version of 7). That's more than half the album. Forget about the rest. What remains is 45 minutes of great compositions, with splendid themes, African and Asian influences, both rhythmically and melodically, some reminiscent of "Bitter Funeral Beer", with great singing by Kallerdahl in Swedish, especially on the long "Dagar, Djur", some classical concepts, and excellent soloing by the band, and cleverly arranged on top. Organised in such a way, the music gets some unity and coherence.

World jazz fans shouldn't miss those tracks. 

PS - the reference to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in the title is only a play with words : Berger's nickname is Beche, yet there is no musical ressemblance whatsoever.

Listen and download from Country & Eastern or from eMusic.

© stef

Ian Lovdahl

Ian Lovdahl is a professional writer in the fields of investment management and data analysis, but his true passion is music. Graduating from Michigan State University, he wrote album reviews for the East Lansing radio station 88.9 The Impact, and most recently for the former blog Indy Metal Vault. Ian likes all kinds of music and credits a chance encounter with Miles Davis' Kind of Blue as his conduit into jazz. His favorite concert experience was SUNN O))). 

Friday, January 8, 2010

Splatter - Music For Misanthropes (Self Published, 2009) ****

Let's get rid of a couple of possible misunderstandings first.
  1. Splatter has no relation whatsoever with the American Splatter Trio, with Dave Barrett, Myles Boysen and Gino Robair, a rock-ish free jazz improv band that was active in the 90s.
  2. The back cover reads "Reach for the sick bag. This is music for dung beetles, execrable flotsam from the rotting underbelly that passes for everyday life. This lamentable babbling is like scratching an already pustulating sore - a festering stew that relishes its own putrefaction, cherishing each tiny scabrous canker that passes for creativity." and ending with the warning : "You'd have to be brain dead to listen to this". Which is a load of crap with equally no relationship to the music you can hear on the record ... and it almost made me put the record on the slush pile without even listening to it ....
The band is Anna Kaluza on alto, Noel Taylor on clarinet, Raúl Monsalve on electric bass and Pharoah S Russell on drums. And they're British. At least partly: Kaluza is German and Monsalve from Venezuela.

The music is sweet, gentle and accessible, free and quite mature, in contrast to the adolescent scribblings on the back cover. And entirely improvised. And I must say, well improvised. The lyricism and interplay on some pieces make it sound as if it's thoroughly rehearsed or at least pre-conceived, but apparently not. The bass guitar of Monsalve is one of the most distinguishable and defining factors of the music. He gives color, punch and rhythm, allowing for the double reed front line to interlock phrases and melodies, and giving the excellent drummer the opportunity to play on or around the beat at leasure. Both Kaluza and Taylor are really good and creative, not trying to imitate, but making their own sound. It all sounds young, crisp, fresh, modern, with rock-influences of course, and with vision and coherence. They give the Claudia Quintet as possible reference, and in terms of sound there are indeed analogies, but not conceptually. Chris Speed and Jim Black are somewhat better for comparison, albeit a little more free.

And misanthropes? Not at all. They have a sensitivity and emotional content that is too gentle.

A really strong and enjoyable debut.

Listen and download or buy from CDBaby or iTunes.

© stef

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Han Bennink & Frode Gjerstad - Han & Frode (CJR, 2009) ****½

 Dutch drummer Han Bennink is somewhat of a percussion genius, and a wild entertainer at the same time. Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad is a true icon of European free improv and free jazz. Together, they create absolute fireworks. Their range and level of inventiveness on their instruments is absolutely unlimited and together they even seem to encourage to take it a notch further. Whether powerful all-hell-breaks-loose interactions to the more subtle sounds of tiny-bird-meets-falling-chestnuts, it is absolute fun to hear. Bennink adds the occasional shout to release some concentrated intensity or just out of plain joy. There is no artistic pretense, just music, raw, authentic, immediate. And if anyone dare say that free improv or free jazz is high-brow stuff that cannot possibly be fun, this album is the absolute perfect counter-example. An absolute treat of creativity, musical passion and joy!

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch a clip from another performance

© stef

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jason Stein

Jason Stein is a bass clarinetist. He plays no other instrument. This gives him the opportunity to focus his skills, and with great success.

Jason Stein is a musician. He records to make music, not to demonstrate his technical skills.

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore - Three Less Than Between (Clean Feed, 2009)****

After "The Calcululs Of Loss", this is the second release by the trio, now with Jason Roebke on bass, and still with Mike Pride on drums. The album consists of eleven compositions by Stein, covering lots of ground, using the entire jazz catalogue to bring his music, that is free and exploratory in nature, yet swings, bops and sings at the same time.The switch of cello to bass gives the compositions a totally different color, with the bass a better complement to the bass clarinet because of their low sound companionship, and a better complement for the drums because of their comparative power and drive. Despite the lower sound registers, Stein is a master in seeking contrast too. He can play high sensitive notes, whether in overtones or straight, as he does on "Stevenesque", the second track, which is very airy and open-textured, as is the sensitive "Most Likely Illiterate". Other pieces, in contrast, such as "Izn't Your Paper Clip" bring quite dense, nervous agitation, propulsed forward by the excellent rhythm section. "Saved By A Straw", and the title track, are pure avant-garde sound exploration by the trio. But then you get some real boppish pieces like "Protection And Provocation", or "Amy Music" (see clip below), on which the legacy of Dolphy shines through. You get the picture, a rich, varied, warm and exploratory album.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Jason Stein - In Exchange For A Process (Leo, 2009) ****

Playing solo is the absolute art of creativity and inventiveness or the perfect recipe for absolute boredom. It is like the ultimate exercise any musician should try to accomplish, not only with his instrument or his own restraints and possibilities in mind, but also taking the listener into consideration. Pushing the envelope. Going beyond the borders of your own creative limitations. Jason Stein manages to be captivating while exploring his instrument and doing something meaninful musically. It is also a physical exercise. You can hear him breathe, squeeze out the last note of a phrase, get multiphonics out of his reed, play around with timbral explorations. All that's fine, but it also makes for a great listen: the sensitivity, the lyricism, the internal dialogues, the joy of playing, the sad quality of sounds, the distress, it is all here, .... just for you to enjoy.

Listen to an extract.

Here are some other solo bass clarinet albums

Rudi Mahall - Solo (Psi, 2006)
Louis Sclavis - Clarinettes (IDA, 1985)

And some with not exclusively bass clarinet

Evan Ziporyn - This Is Not A Clarinet (Cantaloupe, 2001)
Ned Rothenberg - The Lumina Recordings (Tzadik, 2006)

Other suggestions are welcome!

Which album would I recommend? Truth be told, I love the naked power and vulnerability of the solo album. The trio album is surely more accessible. Both are really good.

Watch Locksmith Isidore on Youtube

Both albums are available from Instantjazz.

© stef