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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Elephant9 - Walk The Nile (Rune Grammofon, 2010) ****

Two years ago, the Norwegian tio Elephant9 released its first album, "Dodovoodoo", which was praised here for its forward thinking and energy level. On their sophomore album, Ståle Storløkken on fender rhodes, hammond organ, and synth, Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen on bass and electric guitar, and Torstein Lofthus on drums, keep the same recipe, but drive up the speed, the intensity and the complexity.  Whereas on the first album, the MMW references seemed appropriate, I think they go a lot beyond MMW now.

Think of an instrumental concoction of King Crimson's inventiveness with Deep Purple's Jon Lord bombast, and some avant-punk attitude ... and then a step further.

It is magnificent, but it isn't jazz.

The stuff of them you find on Youtube is pale compared to the music on this album, hence no clips. 

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Joe McPhee, Mikołaj Trzaska, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen - Magic (Not Two, 2010) ****½

After the excellent "Intimate Conversations", Joe McPhee and Mikołaj Trzaska release a new album together, again with Jay Rosen on drums, but now also with Dominic Duval on bass. You might say it's Trio X + Mikołaj Trzaska, and that's correct if you look at the names, but not when you listen to the music. This band does not even touch on the "traditional" Trio X repertoire. McPhee plays sax and pocket trumpet, Trzaska alto sax and bass clarinet.

The album starts with "The Magician", with tribal sounding tones from Trzaska, full of primitive incantations, slowly being joined by trumpet, bass and drums, and developing into a slow, smooth and warm open lyrical exploration. The fit between Trzaska and McPhee is almost perfect, since they have the same attitude to music, one of freedom, respect and authentic warmth. That doesn't mean they don't go wild at times, but the dominant element is careful and reverent. The first track immediately illustrates this range, from tribal over sensitive dialogues to more boppish uptempo steaming improvisations. The second piece is more free form in nature, with Duval playing arco, McPhee delving into the deeper regions of his tenor, Rosen accentuating, and Trzaska's alto adding layers of sensitivity on top. "Sex Toys" is more minimalist and subdued, with the musicians scarcely breaching through the silence, and I think rarely a track has received such an inappropriate name (there isn't even an orgasm of sound to conclude). The first CD ends with "I Remember Max", a luckily not too long drum solo by Jay Rosen, dedicated to Max Roach.

The second CD continues with the minimalist approach, with a long dialogue between the two saxes, interlocking and interweaving calm yet urgent phrases, with McPhee doing some quiet singing while blowing his sax, bursting open into a screaming duel, waking the sleeping dogs of drums and bass in the process. "Contra-ception" is a bass solo track by Duval, nohting wild, nothing too smooth either, and when he starts using his bow, some shouting brings back the sax for one of the most intense pieces of the album, that shifts mood a little over half-way when McPhee picks up his pocket trumpet: for almost spiritual gospell-like lyricism. One of the most beautiful tracks is the long and slow "Turtles Crossing", a tune that was already on McPhee's Jumala Quintet release with the same name. As the title suggests, there is no need to hurry (from the turtle's perspective of ignorance), but the deep tension of the menace of being crushed is omnipresent, and this horror of course gets articulated musically near the end of the track, but it ends happily.

Again, Trzaska is a perfect fit for this band, who deliver a strong, balanced and varied album of great instrumental power and coherent musical expression, full of emotional depth and moments of fun. Enjoy!

Recorded at Alchemia, Kraków, November 8, 2007

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, February 26, 2010

Superb piano trios

Piano trio albums are part of the more standard line-ups in "serious" jazz, in the tradition of Paul Bley and Bill Evans, bridging between jazz and classical impressionism and romanticism, and these two icons have been copied a zillion times, especially in the hotel lounge tradition. Luckily, the format is still open to innovation, to creative intensity and unexpected surprises. The two albums reviewed here are part of this realm of new possibilities. Both trios also fully act as trios with the three musicians improvising on equal footing, and all three creating something that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Sebastiano Meloni, Adriano Orrù & Tony Oxley - Improvised Music For Trio (Biground, 2010) ****½

Sebastiano Meloni on piano, Adriano Orrù on double bass, and Tony Oxley on drums. The latter is possibly best known for his work with Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Cecil Taylor and John McLaughlin. The Italian musicians received a classical and a jazz education, which explains their versatility and the unclassifiable nature of the album (under "Chamber Music" on eMusic, although they often make genre-errors). Anyway, the album consists of fourteen improvisations, and of a refreshing intensity and sonority. The three musicians do not have to get recourse to lots (yes some) extended techniques to have novelties in every track. Lyricism and stubborn dissonance go hand in hand, melody and atonal improvisation merge, emotional power is unleashed through free form. The music has an intensity which has nothing to do with chamber music: the sweetness and accessibility you would expect from the genre are hard to find, but instead you get a captivating focus and ever-changing inventiveness, coupled with incredible subtlety and authentic feelings. Really strong.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernani Faustino & Gabriel Ferrandini - Red Trio (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

The Portuguese RED Trio is Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums.The intensity is comparable to the previous album, the music not entirely: it is more avant-jazz, darker, much darker.

The album starts with nervous half-muted piano playing, agitated bass and drums, full of tension till the very end. The scene for the second piece, "Flat", is set by the heavy plucking on the bass, in the style of Paul Rogers, full of emotional power, with great attention the sound, less to the rhythm or melody, a scene which is dark and foreboding, accentuated by light percussive elements, and minimal piano touches. "Coda, Static", is light, open and again quite intense in its slow building around silence, using sparse notes and brush-strokes to create a whole world.

"Quick Sand" is an absolute horror of a piece, a sonic nightmare, but then one that is of such a high musical level, that it really makes you shiver: piano, bass and drums create a wall of unnatural sounds, now high volume and monstrous, then low volume and eery. "Timewise" is more uptempo, almost upbeat, but again with a sense of urgency and immediacy that is out of the common: they play as if every note, every single sound counts, and then with high relevance: they are heavily accentuated, placed with precision in the evolving soundscape. It is incredible what kind of emotional depth and sonic visions this trio creates, out of nowhere, out of nothing.

Listen at eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch a clip of RED Trio

© stef

The first jazz recording was made today ....

"The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who billed themselves "The Creators of Jazz", have long been been dismissed as the White guys who copied African-American music, and called it their own. There is a lot of truth to that statement, but on the other hand, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's recordings still hold their own unique charm, over 80 years after their initial release. However unfair and indicative of the racism of the era, the record "Livery Stable Blues", coupled with "Dixie Jass Band One Step" became the first Jazz record ever released on February 26, 1917 for the Victor Talking Machine Company. It was wildly successful. Its release signaled the beginning of the Jazz age and helped define the wild, exuberent era we call the "Roaring Twenties ... more ...

© stef

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Steve Raegele - Last Century (Songlines, 2010) ***½

Compared to some of the recent guitar trios that I reviewed, this album is the odd one out : it is not trying to impress, it is not trying to tear down, yet it is not mellow or mainstream either. Raegele is accompanied by Miles Perkin on bass and Thom Gossage on drums and kalimba. The music is creative, searching, open-textured, subtle and sensitive. Some pieces, like the title track, come close to a real soundscape architecture, with precise guitar notes floating over ethereal backgrounds, other tracks are more post-modern, with quite structured themes and harmonic development. The music is unobtrusive, yet quite creative at the same time: unexpected things happen along the way, and I like that. Raegele seems unsatisfied with known idioms and starts playing around with what he knows: jazz, rock, rhythm, melody and lyricism, and he cuts them all to pieces and re-assembles them again : accessible, sweet sometimes, but never boring, never following the beaten track, creating new openings into music. Listen to the rhythmic oddities on "Stop Short". His guitar sound is clear with a little notch of distortion, just sufficient to give it a little harshness. Perkin and Ghossage's contribution is never less than functional, but often being more than just the rhythmic support. A nice and carefully crafted album, which could do with a little more tension.

Listen and download from eMusic.

The Other Tet (Engine, 2009) ***½

In 2003, young Ghanese master drummer Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng released "Afrijazz", with Bill Lowe on bass trombone and Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet, a promising, if somewhat unbalanced album. Now they are back with Joe Morris on bass. The drumming is still great but has a less prominent role in the music, and rather than being a demonstration of percussion and rhythms from the African diaspora, the music itself gets the full focus. And you could say it's a free bop album in the best of traditions: rhythmic, open, mostly without apparent themes, but yet with very close and coherent interaction between the musicians, who weave their solos over and around each other, constructing a great flowing and dancing sonic play.This opening track is the highlight of the album, and its great promise is unfortunately not fully met by the other pieces.

"Naptown/Trenton" is a real bopper with a theme (yes), a walking bass and constant rhythm, although Ho Bynum's trumpet solo is more left of center than you would expect from the genre, with Lowe's bass trombone sticking closer to the theme. "Dreamsketch" is slow and bluesy, with arco bass, and great dark combination of the bass and the bass trombone, and slowly develops into free improvisation, full of tension and emotional power. "Cold Day Clip", stays in the slower bop regions, a slowness which is necessary to make Lowe's playing come to its full right. "Look Below", is a again free bop, with a solid theme, and a long bass solo by Joe Morris.

A very enjoyable album, straight from the heart. 

© stef

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Brötzmann ....

Sometimes you wish that German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann would do something else that what he's been doing for the last fourty years, namely to blow his lungs out in his horn, occupying musical space and then not let go of it for the rest of the performance.

Sometimes you wish that German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann would NOT do anything else than what he's been doing for the last fourty years, not only because that's what he does best, but because doing other stuff clearly brings him out of his comfort zone.

Peter Brötzmann & Paal Nilssen-Love - Woodcuts (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010) ****

This is without a doubt the best album of the lot: fierce and relentless power play between two masters. Paal Nilssen-Love has played many times with the saxophonist, including a duo recording, "SweetSweat". It works best because Brötzmann does not have to care about other sounds intermingling with his own, he just needs the percussive power to drive him forward, and whatever he does, can move and shout and scream without hitting the borders of other melodic musicans. The result is fireworks from beginning to end. True, there a few seconds that the avalanche of punches and kicks and jabs slows down a little, but these are far and few between. Even on the eighteen minute long fourth track the fire does not die down for one millisecond. And when you think he's reached his climax, he goes even harder and higher. Not for sentimentalists, but a delight for the fans.

Buy from "Robot"

Sonore - Call Before You Dig (Okkadisk, 2009) ****

Sonore is Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson and Peter Brötzmann, the three power players of current jazz for their third album in this configuration, now with a double CD, with 7 tracks on the first, and no less than 17 tracks on the second CD. The interesting concept is that, without the presence of a rhythm section, they move into a more melodious and lyrical mode, giving each other ample space at times, or adding a double backbone to the soloist. "Mountains Of Love" on the first CD is an absolute beauty, with sensitivity that will move you to tears and sudden blasts that will blow off your chair (at least it did to me). Next to sax, Brötzmann and Vandermark also play their bass clarinets, and Gustafsson his flutophone (a flute with a sax mouthpiece). In their trialogue they explore not only all the timbral possibilities of their instruments, but also the comfortable shifts in improvisation provided by this unique line-up: lengthy single tone developments offer solid background for improvisation, but trio is also duo + one, evolving into one + duo, merging into trio and dissociating again. A pleasure for improvisors. The album offers much : from subtlety to utter cacophony.

Peter Brötzmann, Mikołaj Trzaska & Johannes Bauer - Goosetalk (Kilogram Records, 2010)***
We find Brötzmann back with Mikołaj Trzaska, a Polish saxophonist who is in my eyes the antipode of the German, because of his sophisticated warm tone and melodious phrasing, and with Johannes Bauer on trombone to complete the trio. The album's title is quite well chosen, because that's exactly how it sounds on the title track: geese chatting full of excitement and enthusiasm. The long second track is more fluent, called "Ducks Call", and the contrast in physical power between the German and the Polish sax-player becomes all too apparent, although they do find each other in the content of what they're doing, mostly in short bursts of sounds, with the exception of the last track, an ode to Albert Ayler, that starts with a two minute solo intro by Brötzmann, full of raw power, and then listen how emotionally more subtle Trzaska joins, again the perfect complement for the German's tone, with Bauder's warm trombone lifting the whole piece up where it belongs, in the free sky, with Albert Ayler, the ducks and the geese.

Peter Brötzmann - A Night In Sana'a (ARM, 2010) **½

Interestingly enough, Brötzmann some years ago expressed his interest in playing with Arabic musicians, which he now finally does with this classical band from Sana'a, Yemen. The ban is Abdul-Aziz Mokrid on violin, Khalid Barkosch on cello, Achmed Al-Khalidy on kanun, Ali Saleh on ney, and Yasir Al-Absi on darbuka. The band is further completed with Michael Zerang on drums, who himself happens to be of Iraqi descent.

The first piece starts with the Yemenite band playing their classical Arabic music, accompanied by Zerang, with its typical sophisticated sad and spiritual tone, marked rhythmic unison lines, and long improvisations. When Brötzmann joins after six minutes, it sounds like the building is being invaded by godzilla in person, yet the terrified band keeps playing, and they are right, because godzilla apparently retreats so that they can bring their music to its expected finale.

To be honest : it just doesn't fit. Brötzmann lacks the skills to find common ground with the band from Yemen, nor do they seem particularly open to what the German does. Brötzmann's compositions are too bland, as compared to the opening and closing track. There are many other examples where traditional arabic music and jazz work very well, but not here. Brötzmann's endeavor to follow the melody on the second track is almost painful (as on the other pieces), yet it does work when he completely ignores the tune, and does his own thing just on top of it. Believe me : that works, and after a while there are even some great moments of powerful contrast.

© stef

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tatsuya Nakatani & Forbes Graham - Essences (BLAQ - 2010) ****½

Tatsuya Nakatani plays all kinds of percussion: bells, gongs, small drums, bowls, while Forbes Graham plays trumpet and piccolo trumpet, yet most of what you hear are sounds: floating, flowing, fleeting, scraping, scratching, screeching : balanced, in the sense of real equilibrium between different elements that are quite active and dynamic, balanced in the sense of authentic expression of feelings and thoughts, rather than showing off skills, balanced, in the sense of using regular playing in combination with extended techniques.

  If the first piece, "Cardamom", is quiet and menacing, the second track, "Vanilla", starts with a trumpet like you've rarely heard it, full of a howling desire to escape from something unspeakable, then gradually shifting to flutelike whistles over an almost endless single vibrating tone coming from the gong. "Lavender" is full of intense bustle and interaction, shadowboxing on a square meter.

"Mhyrr" is more expansive, with stretched sounds and the trumpet and drums identifiable for what they are, with Forbes stepping it up, with hypnotic circular breathing moments, supported by Nakatani's subtle touches around the beat, a great pivotal improvisation around which the rest of the album revolves. With "Basil", we're back in the realm of minimalism, with both musicians playing almost the same whistling sounds despite the quite different nature of their instruments, a harmony of diversity. "Sage" is the mirror part to "Lavender". The last track, "Sandalwood" evolves again from recognizable instruments to weird growls and grunts, shouts and scraping, full of intense energy. Intimate and powerful.

© stef

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stefan Keune, Hans Schneider, Achim Krämer - No Comment (FMP, 2009) ****

In the best European free improv tradition of in-the-moment intensity and dialogue, this trio with Stefan Keune on alto and baritone saxophones, Hans Schneider on bass, and Achim Krämer on drums, drive the concept on with maximum power and focus. All three musicians create together, quite egalitarian, on the spot. They investigate sound and timbre and how subtle nuances in pressure and interaction can change the color of the piece, add new dimensions. On the first track volume is of the essence, on the long second track this shifts to minimal squeeks, and plucks and plops, a careful and precise construction of musical dashes that create an interesting abstract canvas, evolving almost organically into the next piece, with the tempo increasing gradually, as does the volume. Over the eleven tracks, the same lightness and raw immediacy is upheld. Despite the lack of phrases, or melodious fluidity, the music still manages to create a linear movement with peaks and moments of increased intensity. This will not be for everyone's ears, but will please fans of Evan Parker and John Butcher.

© stef

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Joy Spirit (Quark, 2009) ****

On this solo album, French trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo brings hommage to musicians who left a lasting impression on him, either through several evenings of playing music together, or because of long friendships. The musicians are Bernard Prouteau, Frank Lowe, André Zemp, Paul Rutherford, Dizzy Gillespie, Jacky Barbier, Wallace Davenport, Alain Guérini, Mal Waldron, and Siegfried Kessler. His solo improvisations are made with those late musicians on his mind. The result is quite varied, in tone and in style, sometimes meditative, sometimes exuberant, often adventurous, but also bluesy, sometimes classical. Even if the musicians are deceased, his tribute to them is one of joy : for what they offered, for what they meant, for how they made you feel. This joy he expresses using all these different styles and techniques, with timbres that range from multiphonic screeches and growls to intonations of classical purity. On one piece, "Jacky Barbier", he even gives the impression to laugh in his horn, on "Mal Waldron" he alternates on his custom trumpet between muted and unmuted, giving the impression of overdub playing. As you hear, lots of variation, lots of ideas, and skills, but first of all, the joy of music.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Forty Fort (Hot Cup, 2009) ***½

I did not want to write about this band until I saw them, which was last night. It is fun, it is virtuoso fun, full of drive, full of wildness, full of discipline ... They build on themes reminiscent from early Dixieland swing and bop and everything in between, including blues, but then the whole thing collapses, or unravels into undiscernable layers of sound in the best free jazz sense just to shift back into the same theme, or another, in another tempo, another rhythm, as if there was nothing easier in the world to do. It is crazy, it is wild, it is exhilarating.

You all know the band in the meantime : Moppa Elliott on bass, Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on sax,  and Kevin Shea on drums. All strong players, with Evans being technically astonishing. The band's explicit mission is to bring "fun" back in jazz, and they succeed: it is a highly entertaining album. It was a highly entertaining concert. But that's also a little bit its downside : it's entertainment of the highest level, but only entertainment.

And when you hear some of their soloing in the wildest parts of their performance, you think : "why do these guys put themselves in this self-constructed cage?", you think "what if they let things loose?", you think "what if they just played what they truly felt instead of just performing an act to amuse the audience?", you think "they could be the Chicago Bulls, but they act like the Harlem Globetrotters", you think "it is show rather than art, but then performed by artists rather than showmen". Sure, this approach sells more. But equally sure, these four musicians have more in store.

Enoyable fun.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Nathan Hanson & Brian Roessler - Bellfounding (Community Pool, 2009) ***

Nathan Hanson on sax and Brian Roessler on bass are one half of the Fantastic Merlins quartet, a band that mixes jazz with chamber music and prog rock influences. Here, they are pure jazz, in a nice and sweet dialogue, never too brash, never too mellow. Most tracks are improvised duets, with the exception of Ayler's "Bells", a piece that inspired the title of the album. The musicians' original intension with a release on fifty copies was to restore the value of an album, in stark contrast to the zillions of mp3 formats that circulate and that nobody even ever listens to. This attitude also reflects their tone and style : unhurried, precise, calm, warm, intimate, tender. The downside of the approach is that, because they shy away from the extremes, the music lacks some character and personal voice.

And despite their intention, the album is now available for download in mp3 format. Whether you want to or not, you eventually get sucked up by the maelstrom out there.

Listen and download from CDBaby

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch on Youtube

 Fantastic Merlins - A Handful Of Earth (Fantastic Merlins, 2009)

On their second album, the Fantastic Merlins make a jump forward, as they say themselves, in my opinion moving away from just "mood" music, into a more composed environment that brings them closer to prog rock attitudes or in the zone that bands like the Penguin Café Orchestra explored. Jacqueline Ultan is still on cello and the drummer is now Peter Henning, replacing Federico Ughi, who went back to Italy to live in Rome. The music has lost a little bit of its free drive, becoming more groove-based and less exploratory. Despite the obvious quality of the compositions and the inventiveness in the arrangements, for me the lack of raw expression makes this album too gentle. Yes, it is a little menacing at times, yes, sometimes they resort to a powerful forward drive, yet it remains too measured and controlled to please me. But that was surely not their intention.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen at CDBaby.

© stef

Monday, February 15, 2010

Taylor Ho Bynum & Tomas Fujiwara - Stepwise (Not Two, 2010) ****½

The dialogue of a duet has a special and distinct musical quality that is not comparable to the introspective vulnerability of a solo performance, but does not quite reach the level of a band, a notion that starts with a trio, and which leads to a "group" creation of music. Duets are about dialogue, about intimacy and interaction, bouncing off ideas, contradicting and agreeing, like two good friends. And that's what these two musicians do, as a sequel to their previous album, "True Events". Taylor Ho Bynum plays cornet, Tomas Fujiwara drums. On ten tracks, varying between less than one minute to a little over ten, they sing, they swing, they shout, they murmur, they growl, they scream, they dance, they joke, they weep : they break boundaries and the remain cosy and comfortably within the tradition.

Some of the pieces, such as "Keys No Address", or "B.C." are clearly composed, others, like "Iris" and the long "Splits" are free improvisations that could evolve in any direction. And that's the great part of this album : you hear it all: the history of jazz in a nutshell (Gillespie/Roach, Don Cherry/Ed Blackwell to Dixon and beyond), technically broad, creative and inventive, and with loads of passion.

Listen to some tracks of a perfomance at WFMU which will give you a better idea of the music on this album.

(The live audio in this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States license.)

and some video material ....

© stef

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kirk Knuffke - Amnesia Brown (Clean Feed, 2010) *****

I already showed my appreciation for trumpeter Kirk Knuffke before (here, here, here, and here), and he keeps improving. His new album brings him in the company of Doug Wieselman on clarinet and guitar, and Kenny Wollesen on drums, both quite known from their work on Tzadik and other "downtown" bands. Knuffke's music is hard to name: it's composed, yet full of free improvisation. It is incredibly rhythmic, it is melodic, yet full of surprises and curious bends. It is sweet at moments, like the last track "Anne", which is full of sentiment and love, but abrasive at others, like the last-but-one piece "Please Help, Please Give". The switch between both extremes is often the result of which instrument Wieselman uses. His clarinet playing is full of lyricism, his guitar playing full of skronk. The alternation between both is a great idea, because it adds to the huge variation you get on the album. Wollesen's drumming is brilliant : his rhythmic inventiveness is an absolute pleasure to hear, and by itself already worth the purchase of the album.

Knuffke's tone is warm and subtle, full of emotional power, somewhat comparable to Dennis González, and his technical skills are excellent. He takes the most difficult parts with ease. The first track is a good example of that : "How It Goes", starts with a great long unison theme, after which his improvisation on the theme drives it higher with strong rhythmic pulse, wonderfully accompanied by Wollesen. The compositions are short, most clocking around three minutes, which forces the musicians to be compact and to-the-point in their improvisations. The pieces are fun, clever and full of emotional power, yet also headstrong and wayward, and with more ideas in one album than you sometimes get from other musicians' entire discography. Some of the themes, like the one for the title track, or of "Leadbelly", keep playing in your head long after you've stopped listening to the album, other pieces require repeated listens before you really get into them.

The album's greatest quality is its incredible power to say a lot in a few notes. It is very creative, and it swings from beginning to end. This is one of those albums that you want to keep listening to. What a joy!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, February 12, 2010

Jones Jones - We All Feel The Same Way (SoLyd records, 2009) ****

When three veterans of the avant-jazz scene meet for a fully improvised performance, you know that sparkles will fly, as they do on this album. The trio is Mark Dresser on bass, Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino, and Vladimir Tarasov on percussion. The album brings two sessions together : one at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and the other in St. Petersburg, Russia, both with a few days difference in June 2008.

The music is, as you can imagine, very much an open exploration of sounds and intensity, with long sequences of short bursts and meandering phrases, all at a level above repetitiveness, in the somewhat raw and abstract regions of music, but full of soul at the same time. There are moments on the album when the mind starts wandering, because at times the music all very much within an identical range of action (but then I'm also tired and that may be the reason), and yet, then you get this piercing bow from Dresser or this yearning tonal bend from Ochs, or a sharp rim-shot from Tarasov, and you're back in the game. And that game is playful, evolving, ever-changing in its color and emotional load. Listen for instance on the clip below, how the music changes from a vertical sense of agitated nervousness (the beginning), over distress (as of the fourth minute), to sensitive sadness (around the fifth minute), and ending in resignation. True, it is sound exploration, but more than that. For these three musicians it is all about exploring emotions first and foremost.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch them perform on Youtube

© stef

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Uncompromising guitars

You like uncompromising guitars? Hard-hitting drums and relentless bass? Here are some treats. Pump up the volume. Evacuate the neighborhood. Only the fearless can stay. 

Stephan Sieben, Adam Pultz Melbye, Håkon Berre - Angel (Ilk Music, 2009)

I don't know how you call this. Trash jazz? Noise jazz? Punk jazz? Metal jazz? In any case violence and destruction are surely the code words for this Danish trio, with Stephan Sieben on electric guitar, Adam Pultz Melbye on bass and Håkon Berre on drums. They do not compromise. It is all energy and noise. The guitar is maximally distorted. It is all about power and rawness. It is all about destruction and rage. Even the pieces like "Me", that start quietly, do not stay like that for long. Energy kicks in and off we go, full of dissonant chords and chord changes over endless pumping rhythms. But in truth, they try in some tracks to be creative with sound, as on "Chicks", and even become calm near the end with "Ate". What kind of jazz? Fire jazz! Guaranteed to scorch your ears and ignite your scalp.

Olaf Rupp, Marino Pliakas & Michael Wertmüller - Toomuchisnotenough (FMP, 2009)

Regular readers of this blog will already have come across bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller. Not so long ago they released "Black Hole" with Peter Brötzmann, music which has its sensitive moments, but is widely characterized by its power play, as you may expect from a band with the name "Full Blast". Now, the rhythm section accompanies the wild guitar of Olaf Rupp, who goes even a stretch further than Stephan Sieber.When you think you've heard it all, there is always a step which goes beyond expectations. This album comes without warnings for your health, and maybe it should. It is even hard to discern differences between chords because of the heavy distortion of the guitar and bass guitar. But in its mercilessness for the ears, it is a as iconoclastic as it gets, and that by itself deserves credits. Forget about what you know. Forget about genres too. And in the midst of this sonic hell, there are some surprising moments of creativity, yet you have to dig through the avalanche of noise to get to it. The best sonic clarity you get is from the drums, and I must say Wertmüller is a fantastic drummer. And I can appreciate Rupp's and Pliakas' unrelenting and uncompromising energy and attitude, but I do not think I will listen to this album very often.

© stef

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Icy warmth

While more snow is falling than most of us would want, the economic and social world is coming to a halt, icy chill is kept outside, night has fallen, and everything has turned to calm.

Then two albums are released, both almost simultaneously, miraculously similar, yet different. All ice and warmth, all vocals and percussion, both avant-garde folk. Unique, but apparently not.

Terje Isungset - Winter Songs (Icemusic, 2010)****

I have reviewed Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset's music before, and I must say that the "ice man" keeps delving deeper in his icy environment, turning it into a warm and welcoming place, where man and nature are in perfect harmony, despite the inhospitable conditions. The band consists of Nils Økland on fiddle, Sissel Walstad on harp, Espen Jørgensen on guitar, and Lena Nymark on vocals, with the boy choir of St. Hallvardguttene assisting. The percussion and the vocals are the most remarkable aspect of this music. Isungset carved out his own kind of approach, very traditional and based on folk music, but serene, beautiful and open-minded. True, musically he keeps repeating himself, but who cares? To have created such a very unique musical space, is just a dream for many musicians.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Evgeny Masloboev & Anastasia Masloboeva - Russian Folksongs In The Key Of Sadness (Leo Records, 2010)****

In the same vein, this new (soon to be released) and wonderful album by Evgeny Masloboev and his seventeen-year old daughter Anastasia bring an equally heart-warming, but then Siberian, album of voice and percussion. Evgeny plays drums, chang, santur, cymbals, piano, block-flutes, vibes, vargan, violin, acoustic bass, kitchen utensils, enamelled pots, marimba, industrial garbage, pieces of metal and an SPD-S Roland. All music is composed by Evgeny Masloboev, but based on traditional Siberian music. The overview of instruments he plays give you an idea of the uniqueness of the sounds you will hear, a weirdness that is equalled by the variety in rhythms and overdubs, yet as welcoming and inviting as the voice of Anastasia, whose singing remains pure and unperturbed by the clatter, ruckus and rebellious tension that is accompanying her at times. Like Isungset's, his music is tribal, yet pushed directly into an avant-garde context, full of countercurrents and unexpected turns, rich in instrumental try-outs and combinations, not afraid of a little mellowness and even bordering on kitsch at times, while still remaining accessible with regard to melody and harmony. In contrast to Isungset's music, Masloboev's compositions are anything but linear, starting somewhere, moving into different regions, rhythms and sonic textures as the piece evolves, and all this assembled in the studio with different pieces of recordings.

Jazz fans, bear with me: it is snowing outside, it is bone-chilling cold, all is calm, and yes, this is not jazz in the strictest sense, but at moments like this one, anything heartwarming is welcome.

© stef

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rob Brown & Oleś Brothers - Live At SJC (Fennomedia, 2009) ****

 The Oleś brothers are not only one of the finest rhythm sections in modern jazz, they always manage to play music that is clever, inventive and open, while still remaining fully locked in jazz. They have definitely found a likeminded artist in alto saxophonist Rob Brown, whose mastery of his instrument is phenomenal, a great match for the two brothers, while having the same openness to music. They find each other here for this excellent live performance, recorded with a great sound quality.

The album starts with the "Here & Now Suite",  a piece in three parts, very much in a free bop mode, with clear influences of Ornette Coleman's angular themes, and a stop and go rhythm, and lots of high energy playing. It is with the slower "Rebeaming", a composition by Marcin Oleś that the album starts getting really strong, possibly because the theme seems to fit Brown perfectly, and because of the increased openness, that his playing becomes more yearning. This quality is maintained for the following pieces, on the very boppish "Black Eagle", and is surpassed on "Ash Tree", the slowest and most open-textured piece. The album ends with "Monkey's Hour", a piece with changing rhythms and tempi, full of nervous joy and angular playing.

Even if it is not the album that will be remembered in ten years from now for its musical vision (as compared to the Oles Brothers "Duo" album of last year, or Rob Brown's own "Sounds" or "Breathe Rhyme"), it is a joy to hear.

 Listen and download from bandcamp (for a meager US$6).

© stef

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mural - Nectars Of Emergence (Sofa, 2010) *****

That minimalism is not always a recipe for boring music, is wonderfully demonstrated by this fantastic album by Australian Jim Denley on alto saxophone and flutes, and Norwegians Kim Myhr on acoustic guitars, and Ingar Zach on percussion. The music is very pure in its unobtrusiveness, but keeps away from the exalted states of new age. Despite its lightness of texture and open-ended improvisations, there is a dark undertone, a menacing tension that gives the music its incredible power. Less is more, and these three artists deliver the goods. It is not always clear which instrument makes which sound, but that is totally irrelevant. What counts is the sound itself, how it's folded around the silence, how it makes the environment vibrate, how it builds substance out of the almost non-existent. On the longest piece, "Flash Expansion", a rhythmically and slowly strummed guitar chord forms the backdrop for a slow evolution of increasingly agonizing and gloomy sounds, which in turn develops into squeezed-out sax sounds over a dark rumbling. You do not know what is going on, or even how to possibly interpret it, but it is a fascinating listening experience. Denley's saxophones and flute reduce music back to its pristine original nature of vibrating air, Zach's use of percussion has a precision which is unequalled in building a sonic scene (just listen to his dark and hypnotic bells on the first track), and I have rarely heard a guitarist like Myhr, with a sound so sparse, so contained, yet equally telling more with a few chords than many others cannot create out of a zillion notes. Needless to say, this is highly recommended.

Related albums are Panopticon and Dans Les Arbres, both with Ingar Zach.

 Listen and download from eMusic.

Jim Denley & Kim Myhr  - Systems Realignment (either/OAR, 2009)

The Australian flutist and the Norwegian guitarist released another album last year, which is more electro-acoustic in nature. It is a little more complex in its texture and rhythms, but also less powerful in its overall sonic result.

Listen and buy from either/OAR.

© stef

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jemeel Moondoc & Muntu (No Business, Reissues 2010) ****½

I will not say that I have all of alto saxophonist's Jemeel Moondoc's albums, but close enough, with the exception of his earlier albums, released on his own Muntu label. Now, these albums are available again in a great triple CD-box, and that's great news.The box comes with a great booklet of more than 100 pages, with a short overview of the "loft" scene in New York in the seventies, an essay by Jemeel Moondoc, a detailed overview of the music on the three albums, and a complete sessionography.

Despite its limited number of recordings, the band stayed together for quite a while, with different line-ups, but still with the same rhythm section of William Parker and Rachid Bakr. The band had also some later recordings (New York Live! (1980), The Intrepid Live In Poland (1981), The Athens Concert (1982)), with Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet. Moondoc kept playing with William Parker until now, in various line-ups and bands.

Although Moondoc clearly is the leader of the band, his main focus seems to be the coherence of the band's sound, rather than just him playing with a rhythm section. The music consists of multi-layered improvisations in which anything could happen,

Muntu Ensemble - First Feeding (1977)

"First Feeding" is possibly the most interesting discovery, with Arthur Williams on trumpet and Mark Hennen on piano, because these two other musicians do not show up in any of the later recordings. The three pieces are anchored in recognizable themes, but are otherwise long improvisational work-outs. Williams' tone on trumpet is warm and wild, Hennen's piano playing is pounding and extravagant, in the Cecil Taylor style. Moondoc gives lots of space to the other musicians in the three pieces, but especially on the long "Theme For Milford (Mr. Body & Soul)", and although is playing is excellent, I really would have wanted to hear him more. But the whole thing would fall to pieces if it wasn't so tightly held together by Parker and Bakr, who conserve the unity of the pieces, even if they let go of the rhythm and tempo once in a while. Both also get their own moment in the spotlight in the second part of the last track. The great thing about the album is its wonderful taste of the seventies: you sense the joy and the enthusiasm of the new musical possibilities that are being opened through free playing. It lacks some of the instrumental discipline we have come to know nowadays even in free playing, but it is so full of expansiveness and musical liberation that it is fun.

Listen to "Flight (From The Yellow Dog)"

Jemeel Moondoc & Muntu - The Evening Of The Blue Men (1979)

This line-up is possibly the best of the Muntu line-ups, with Moondoc on alto, Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet, William Parker on bass, and Rashid Bakr on drums. From the book you can learn that pianist Hennen and Moondoc drifted apart musically, that the alto saxophonist wanted more openness in his music. William Parker introduced Roy Campbell to the band, when Arthur Williams could no longer play and tour, like he had introduced Bakr to Moondoc many years before.

The sound quality of this live recording is a little less than on the first album, but the music is stellar. Starting with a long meandering theme, the pieces quickly folds into a free boppish mode, with Moondoc's playing full of confidence, and joy. The interaction with Campbell is fun. In Moondoc's own words about Campbell: "He's got these huge ears, he can hear shit, easily. He not only hears it right away, he can interpret it right away. He can put it right back at you. That was easy, so wonderful". And this chemistry is almost palpable on this album. Campbell goes deep in his ensuing solo, which is followed by a Bakr and a Parker solo, before re-uniting for the theme. The second piece, "Theme For Diane", is a slow and open-ended bluesy piece, which shows Moondoc's sensitive side, a great context for Campbell to let us hear his bell-clear moaning sounds in response: brilliant. Again, to Moondoc's credit, he gives ample space to the entire band, but he ends the piece is one of the saddest modes imagineable.

Listen to "Evening Of The Blue Men"

Muntu - Live At Ali's Alley (1975)

The third album brings a reduced line-up, with Moondoc on alto, Parker on bass, and Bakr on drums. The performance was recorded in Rashied Ali's loft : Ali's Alley, and was never released before. The great thing about the trio format is that we now get the chance to fully appreciate Moondoc's playing. Although free in spirit, you can hear his natural sense of melody and his boppish background. The most incredible thing is his sense of focus: the piece is thirty-six minutes long, but he can carry the entire improvisation without moving too far away from its original concept, which he keeps exploring with varying levels of intensity, sensitivity and power, without falling back on automatisms.

This is a lengthy review, but the CD box is worth it. The music itself is not always of the highest level, because Moondoc is not the great innovator in jazz nor the most incredible sax-player, but the nature of the music, the historical context, and the unbelievable quality and dedication with which No Business offered this music back to the world, make this already now one of the most recommended albums of the year.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch a recent performance of Muntu

© stef

Friday, February 5, 2010

Yuri Yaremchuk, Ilia Belorukov, Andrij Orel - Conditions (re:konstruKt, 2010) ****

Going beyond jazz, entering a gentle and improvised dialogue of sound and timbral explorations, this album shows the direction for many of new albums to come, from this band and others. The sounds are gentle, as described by the musicians themselves "careful and carefree", like a pointillist painting, with simple and soft colored dots creating a broad-sweeping yet intimate landscape, but here in a purely abstract context. There is no discernable melody nor rhythm, yet the whole album is relatively accessible. Yuri Yaremchuk plays tenor & soprano saxophones, and bass clarinet, Ilia Belorukov plays alto saxophone, and Andrij Orel plays "cheap acoustic guitar", and other objects. The music is inherently creative, and holds the middle between meditative pieces and free improv, very direct yet sensitive and surprising, with a strange aesthetic beauty. Despite its avant-garde and innovative approach, it is all very inviting.

Listen at and buy from re:konstruKt.
© stef

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Zu - The Way Of The Animal Powers (Public Guilt, 2010) ****½

If the genre of doomjazz exists, this album easily fits in it. The mad Italian trio pushes its own musical concept a notch further, into the darkest territories of the human pysche, full of slow heavy metal stalling rhyhms, and a mad bass, sax and cello to add the weirdest sound textures, agonizing, screaming, full of distress and derangement. The trio is Massimo Pupillo on bass, Jacopo Battaglia on drums, and Luca T Mai on saxophone, with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello for the occasion. Their gloomy worldview is clearly illustrated by the song titles, such as "Things Fall Apart", and "Farewell to The Species", or "Anatomy Of A Lost Battle". The music is not violent nor aggressive, but it has this weird slowly distructive power, full of unworldly sounds, totally unexpected and forceful. It is frightening and oppressive and mad and utterly creative. In its sub-genre, it is absolutely exceptional, albeit with a total of twenty-five minutes too shortn too short, too short.

Originally released in 2005 on CD via the now defunct Xeng label (Italy), this incredible album gets the deluxe 180 gram, gatefold vinyl treatment and it's the first release of this newly created US label. If you're open to new things (and if you're not really an optimist), you shouldn't miss this one.

Listen to "Tom Araya Is Our Elvis".

Buy from Public Guilt.

© stef

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Francis Wong Trio - Early Abstractions (Estrada Poznanska, 2009) ****

Although tenor saxophonist is based in San Francisco, and co-founder of the Asian Improv label, his musical style is very "Chicagoan", with a rhythmic phrasing that is at times reminiscent of Fred Anderson (in the rhythmic parts), sometimes of Joe McPhee (in the spiritual moments). On this trio he is also accompanied by two musicians from the windy city : Tatsu Aoki on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. The live performance was recorded in July 2008, at the1st International Animated Film Festival "Animator", in Poznan, Poland. Aoki, who is also a film-maker was member of the jury of the film festival and the trio was asked to musically accompany an movie by American avant-garde filmmaker and painter Harry Smith (who I had never heard of before).

The music on the album is a great trio outing, with  improvisations flowing freely and melodically over a very rhythmic backbone. Wong is very lyrical, warm and expressive on tenor, without going over the top, and rarely overblowing. Aoki is in absolute stellar form, and so is Taylor, both adding complexities to fun, entertainment to forward drive. On "Taylorism", the drummer gets the lead, and "Swing for Tatsu", is indeed what it says, with bluesy scales and with a powerful finger-snapping walking-bass line. Wong's Asian influences enter the improvisation from time to time, especially in the improvised theme in "Return To Alishan". The most beautiful piece is the long "The Animator Suite", which possibly because of its more open-ended nature offers more options to improvise on for all three musicians: Wong sensitive, Aoki heart-rending on arco, Taylor subtle and creative.

Not a ground-breaking album, but in every respect an accessible and great performance, and with an audience that is listening attentively and reacting appropriately.
© stef

Monday, February 1, 2010

Peter Brötzmann - Lost & Found (FMP, 2009) ****

Although I have never been a real fan of Peter Brötzmann, his new solo album is worthy of mention. He has released solo recordings before, and they have that additional quality of vulnerability that is often absent from his recordings with bands, in which his muscular and physical attitude to the saxophone dominates the music, expressing distress, anger, rage, violence and sometimes even a touch of madness in its uncompromising approach. This album has some of it, but it's also sensitive at times, not sweet, but an acceptance of smallness, of someone alone in empty space, the opposite of the unrelenting blowing with his bands that leaves no second of chance to silence. In the title track "Lost & Found", he is even melodious and lyrical, wailing full of sadness, then slowing down and reducing his volume as if in full resignation. For Brötzmann fans, the next piece "Universal Madness", finds him again in full steam for some seven minutes of power blowing, evolving over the whole register of his instrument, from the low to the very high, but never letting off steam, not until the very end of the piece, when his tone softens again. Deliberate or not, all pieces, despite the violence and the rage they express, end in a slow and sensitive and soft-tone voice, mirroring the album's title.

He can not only shout, he can weep too.

Brötzmann plays alto and tenor saxophone, b-flat clarinet and tarogato. The performance was recorded live on July 14th, 2006 a the Jazzgalerie in Nickelsdorf, Germany.

FMP celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, quite a feat for a label that is specialised in anything non-commercial. Brötzmann was with them from the very beginning in 1969. That's also an achievement.

© stef