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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


On Sunday I saw a concert of The Digital Primitives, with Cooper-Moore, Assif Tsahar and Chad Taylor, a remarkable trio full of the force of life, full of positive energy. A treat.

That same night my computer crashed, including many CDs and new material that I received digitally from labels and musicians in the past months. I hope the computer shop will be able to retrieve it all. Luckily I have back-ups till end January.

So, in the meantime, this special treat : the Cooper-Moore retrospective 1990- 2010 available for free download.

Here is the link.
Many of the music on this retrospective is hard to believe, shedding a different light on the artist, varying between musicals and madness, but in the usual Cooper-Moore tradition, full of creativity, without restraints of musical concepts and other straightjackets. Some of it are just snippets of theater performances, some are full songs.

It is not jazz though, let alone free jazz.

For you to enjoy.

© stef

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jeff Platz Quartet - Panoramic (Skycap Records, 2010) ****

On a previous review, I shared my appreciation's for Boston guitarist Jeff Platz's use of gentle openness, his free approach to familiarity. Now he continues in the same vein, still with Kit Demos on acoustic bass and John Mclellan on drums, but now with Daniel Carter on reeds and trumpet. The music is more abstract, more free-form, but that adds to its quality of his compositions, which hesitate between the intense ("Trinket") and the ethereal ("Dance Of The Minotaurs"), with an often boppish rhythmic basis, but going well beyond conventions to increase the expressivity of his band. And that must be said, the quartet is a wonderful example of cohesive playing, with all musicians focused on the total sound, rather than on their individual solo moments, together building an overall sketchy impression, with jagged lines, raw interfaces, powerful strokes, lots of blank space, yet full of lyricism, fragility and intimacy. To their credit, they maintain this rather unusual and paradoxical approach despite the broad, yes panoramic, span of the compositions. Recommended.

Listen and download from CDBaby or iTunes.

© stef

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Adam Pierończyk Quartet - El Buscador (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) ****

Polish saxophonist Adam Pierończyk writes compositions which come often very close to those of French bassist Henri Texier, with long themes, a great rhythmic base, mixing jazz with African and other, more local influences, full of joy, and emotional warmth, and with a high quality delivery. This quartet further consists of Australian trombonist Adrian Mears (also on didgeridoo), bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Krzysztof Dziedzic.

Together, they take us on a musical trip around the world. El Buscador means "the seeker", "the adventurer", and his search is our trip, which starts in "Ivolginskij Dacan", a buddhist monastery in Siberia, close to the Mongolian border, a joyful tune, followed by the long and equally danceable "The Bushido Code", with a spectacular rhythm section forming the basis for the melodious improvisations, moving to Spain for "Andalusian Garden Bel Canto" and ending in Morocco with "The Storks Of Marrakesh".

In between, there is the more meditative "Tranquil Prestidigitator", a duet between didgeridoo and sax, and "If I Ever Saw The Seashore, I Believe I'd Die Of Joy", a slow melancholy piece.

Once more Pierończyk keeps up with his reputation : he is creative and inventive composer, full of warmth and lyricism, who can show different aspects to music without moving too far away from structure and tradition, leaving lots of space for improvisation. The four musicians are at their best on this album : everything they do seems to come so naturally, without forcing themselves, very cohesive in terms of overall sound and so absolutely right.

Watch a clip on Youtube (bad sound quality though)

© stef

Saturday, March 27, 2010

1,000 CD reviews on free jazz blog

Starting in January 2007, a little of three years ago, I have now reached my 1,000th CD review, actually three days ago already.You can view the full list here.

This is certainly a feat, quite obsessional maybe, but certainly passionate. Actually, I have no idea what other reviewers do, but it does sound like an impressive figure.

My passion is for the music. My motivation is to get this great music known to more people. To get it out of the shadows, to drag it a little higher above the waterline, to make sure it gets noticed, to make sure it gets appreciated.

Fantastic musicians such as William Parker, Joe McPhee, Roy Campbell, Andrea Centazzo, Gianni Mimmo, Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Dixon, Mats Gustafsson, Marcin & Brat Oles, Hamid Drake, Satoko Fujii, Dans Les Arbres, Frode Gjerstad, Paul Dunmall, Lotte Anker, Tony Malaby, Sten Sandell, Joëlle Léandre, and many, many more, .... never or rarely get reviewed in newspapers or magazines. They bring the real music. Real and unadultered by other interests. Pure and authentic.

These musicians are not stars : they are artists.  They don't seem to care about promotional activities, or branding. More often than not the names of their bands change with each record, which are hard to find, on labels with unclear life expectancies. These musicians and labels all share the same characteristics : they give themselves fully: dedicated to their art, without compromise. That by itself deserves appreciation and recognition.

Why is this music so passionating?

In a few words : free jazz and avant-garde jazz try to create new listening experiences, creating new sounds and sound possibilities in a world without boundaries : anything is possible. The process is often a risky undertaking, both for the musicians and the listeners alike. You take your chances. You don't know where you will end.

If successful, the end result is one of absolute artistic integrity and authenticity, reaching deep into emotional expressivity through new form : playing with timbre, shifting between harmony and dissonance, attraction and repulsion, familiarity and the unknown, but always creating tension full of paradoxes and contradictions, full of intensity, no holds barred ... free. Free. Free.

This is not possible without great technical skills and musical vision ... and a deep sense of humanity.

For the listener the experience is all or nothing: there is no escape : you have to surrender to the sounds, the noise sometimes, the extreme innovation, the never-heard-before, but you also get the incredible reward and joy  of hearing something so true and beautiful, so real and deep, breaking through the boundaries of the known, out of the mediocritiy and shallowness of mainstream music, out there in the open : the ultimate listening experience. You participate in a musical adventure, a journey, together with the musicians. Open ears require open minds. No preconceptions, no expectations. Just listen.

Over the years my taste has evolved. I can listen to things that I could not understand and appreciate five years ago. Listening a lot does that to you. So if an album does seem a little disconcerting at a first listen, sometimes (not always), it's worthwhile to keep listening, get into the music, let go of the voice in your head.

By coincidence, this 1000th CD review coincides almost with the 500,000th visitor to this blog, and luckily still in an ascending trend, with a steady and also increasing 25,000 visitors a month, which is not bad for the kind of music under review.

I want to thank all my regular readers and "commentators", with anonymous being the most regular one, but also Joe, Bill, Luke, Guy, and many others: thanks for the comments, reactions, corrections and suggestions.

My only ambition is to get the music known. There is no other reason. I have been asked to participate in networks, to put advertisements on my blog, to participate in commercial deals. I have not been really inclined to join these offers. Keep it simple, keep it pure.  I joined forces with Instantjazz in order to get access to new material (thanks, Tony!), also as a means to direct you, the reader, to a place where you can actually buy the music.

Today, most of the CDs are sent to me by the labels, or by the musicians themselves, or once in a while even by a fan! But I still buy CDs, especially downloads from eMusic or iTunes (I just downloaded Jeff Platz & Daniel Carter).

So thank you all for sending me material. I apologize to all of you whose music I have not managed to review, but I have to be selective too. At any given time, I have a pile of thirty to fifty CDs waiting for review.  At this moment, this pile contains seventy-four CDs - all waiting patiently to be listened to, to be reviewed.

How do I go about writing the reviews? 

I spend at least two hours a day in my car, listening to new stuff. In the evening, between 10pm and 1am, I listen and write. My reviews are often characterized by their shortness, with the occasional mistake, typo and other consequences of speedy delivery, and with the limited vocabulary of a non-native English speaker. I try to capture the music in a few phrases. That's by definition impossible, but worth a try.

Why am I always so positive in my evaluations?

Hard to believe maybe, but I listen to more records than I review. Some get dumped after a few minutes of listening : not fitting the profile of the blog, or just not good, or not to my taste. I just want to review what I like. It's easier to recommend than to be negative.

Do I have a life? 

Sure thing. I am not sure my wife and children always appreciate what I listen to, but yes, sometimes they do. What they don't appreciate are the car trips : get in the car, all quiet and peaceful, then dad switches on the car ignition, and the sudden blast at maximum volume of a Brötzmann tentet coming out of the speakers catapults them back on the street. A great listening experience.

Anyway, I thank them for their patience.

And I thank you, reader and music fan, for your interest.

Keep reading, keep listening! 


© stef

Friday, March 26, 2010

Atomic - Theater Tilters, Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2010)¨****½

Every new "Atomic" album is something to look out for. All of their albums are at the same high level of composition, interplay, instrumental skills and musical vision. That vision is a free form of bop, very rhythmic and full of emotional drive, while still being structured with themes and all, yet varying constantly: "fun and freedom" seems to be the motto. Atomic is Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophones, and clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Håvard Wiik on piano, or Scandinavia's best.

The first piece, "Green Mill Tilter" starts full of power and drive, then quite rapidly calms down yet the drums' high speed rhythm keeps pounding on, with the intensity increasing with the trumpet and sax going crazy introducing the piano, smoothening the theme again, yet rhythmic mayhem continues, slowing down, when suddenly out of a bass solo a strong unison theme arises, solid and full of boppish delight, even if drums and bass keep a more rockish style.

"Andersonville", the second track is slower, gradually building up a theme out of pieces of sound, and once that's firmly established, it's deconstructed into total free territory, with all instruments shouting in chaotic dissonance, only to calm down again in subtle gentleness, shifting into a nice and joyful mid-tempo free bopper with a stellar trumpet solo by Magnus Broo.

The third piece, "Fissures", is incredibly intense in the beginning, then slows down to play the theme, offering great solo moments for Ljungkvist and Håker Flaten, then moving back into the tempestuous wildness of the beginning of the tune. "Murmansk" is a wayward piece with the lead instruments playing the theme as a kind of delayed echo to each other : strange and attractive. The last track is a wild rambunctious, full of joyful exuberance and wildness, with a theme that could have come from Ayler or Coleman.

Applause! Enthusiasm! Joy!

Looking forward to Vol. 2?

You bet!

© stef

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The two faces of Natsuki Tamura

Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is a person with many aspects, including the two faces of two of his new albums. He can be very sweet, harmonic and gentle, as on with his Gato Libre band, but he can also be the wild adventurer, who dives deep into sounds and noise that was rarely heard before.

First Meeting - Cut The Rope (Libra, 2010) ****

First Meeting was created for this performance, although the band had a concept before they started playing. As Tamura writes in the liner notes : "We are definitely about noise, so there is plenty of BUSHAA, GUSHAA, GIGIGI, and GOBOGOBO for some time. But there are also a variety of beats, and even the occasional lovely harmony or melody". To avoid misunderstanding : the words in capitals are not samurai techniques, but sound imitations. The band consists of Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Satoko Fujii on piano, Kelly Churko on guitar and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums. Thte title track is wild and unrelenting noise, evolving from utter chaos towards an increasing intensity of such a level that it becomes strangely compelling. The second piece starts very minimalistic, with zen-like little sounds breaking the silence, evolving into a chatter of abrasive and scratching sounds, like some kind of rusty industrial machinery that has not been used for decades let alone oiled, coming back to live (by itself) and going totally haywire, but then it is calmed down by soothing tones of both piano and guitar. And indeed, this duality between attraction and repulsion, between familiarity and utterly new sonic experience works well, also on the other tracks, of which some even have melodic and also rhythmic moments.

Weird, strange things happen here, but they are worth listening to.This is the kind of music that I would have found horrible five years ago, but either my senses have become dull because of listening too much, or to the contrary more discerning. Anyway, it is great stuff for people with very open ears. Keep listening! It does not reach the level of his "Hada Hada" (I keep mentioning this album, I should review it once), but I love it.

Gato Libre - Shiro (Libra, 2010) ****½

Gato Libre is Tamura's incredibly powerful fusion between Spanish, Middle Eastern and European folk with jazz. In contrast to First Meeting, this is all about melody, harmony and traditional instrumental expressivity. With several unbelievable strengths : all the original compositions are of a sensitive, sweet and aesthetic beauty, and the delivery is absolutely stellar. Natsuki Tamura's trumpet is rich and expressive, full of melancholy and yearning, Satoko Fujii's accordion gives the right tonal background and precise touches, Kazuhiko Tsumura's acoustic guitar adds the sad and vigorous Spanish flavor and rhythm, and it is the perfect companion for trumpet and bass for the long unison phrases. Norikatsu Koreyasu's bass is always quite functional effective, yet more often than not adds the depth and warmth this music requires. Despite the more traditional approach, the warmth and cuddly factor, some of the pieces have sharp claws and long fangs. It is no surprise that the band is called Gato Libre, the "free cat".

This is world jazz at its best. It is not boundary breaking, but in its naive simplicity and traditional beauty, it is without a doubt the absolute best in the genre. The themes will keep playing in your head long after you've stopped listening to the album, and when you listen to it, again and again, you can only marvel at the precision and power of the performance.

And a kind of musical blend that you would not expect from a Japanese band, but then again, the world is our place, belonging to all of us.

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo - Zakopane (Libra, 2010) 

If there is one contemporary musician that I hold in extremely high esteem, it's Japanese composer and pianist Satoko Fujii. As the uncivilised person that I am, I once told her that I did not really like her big band performances, while I forgot to mention that I do not like big band at all, with a few exceptions. My apologies for that.

For that reason I will not review this album, but I can recommend it to lovers of big band.

Satoko Fujii is the best!

© stef

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fight The Big Bull - All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (Clean Feed, 2010) ***½

I am not a fan of big bands, even small big bands, yet there are some exceptions. Some of Charlie Haden's albums for instance, or Carla Bley's. And this one : Fight The Big Bull. The Band started with an excellent, but all too short "Dying Will Be Easy", also on Clean Feed, two years ago. For their second album, Fight The Big Bull, led by guitarist Matt White, is a little more expanded. The band consists of Jason Scott, JC Kuhl and John Lilley on reeds, Bob Millier on trumpet, Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten on trombone, Cameron Ralston on bass, Brian Jones and Pinson Chanselle on percussion. Eddie Prendergast joins on electric bass on one track. The featured guest star, composer and arranger is trumpeter Steven Bernstein, known from his work on Tzadik, the Sex Mob, MOT.

On the upside, Bernstein is a great slide trumpeter and arranger.

On the downside, it gives the album the same distant veneer of all Bernstein's work : great exercises in style and genre, with lots of attention to the entertainment factor and a demonstration of prowess that basically drowns feeling and authenticity.

The first album lacked some of the complexity of this one, but it was so heart-rending, authentic and majestic, full of dark drama, tragedy and deep-felt anger, whereas here, the element of distant playfulness is introduced, and it reduces the listening experience to something more middle-of-the-road. The band is still great, the playing good, but the end result is less compelling. I wish they had continued their original concept.

© stef

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Andrea Centazzo & Joe Giardullo - The Way - Live In Woodstock

A born American and a naturalized American, both with Italian roots and a very personal approach to creative music, both have played music for over fourty years. Yet they never met, until this memorable evening in November of 2009, at the Sertso Studio in Woodstock. A big contrast is their musical output. Centazzo's run in the hundreds of records, Giardullo a little more than a dozen. That they met, is a gift from heaven, because these two albums are absolutely fantastic. The first one is a little better than the second one, but that's a very subjective evaluation.

One of Centazzo's greatest achievements in the past decade, is that he opened his musical universe into something quite unique and recognizable. It is not jazz, it is open-minded modern music, with an incredibly expansive feeling, something to be played in empty cathedrals or high up on a cliff near the sea at sunset, but then in a very adventurous and inventive manner (and not even close to new age or other cheap sentimentalists).

As a basically self-taught soprano saxophonist, Giardullo's sound is sometimes comparable to Steve Lacy, but he has learned rhythms and microtonal approaches in India, which shines through once in a while. His tone is warm and lyrical, with a kind of  in-built vulnerability which creates an immediate emotional depth, and if you listen to him here, the absolutely perfect companion to Centazzo's percussion.

The Way - Live In Woodstock One (Ictus, 2010) *****

The first album consists of eight pieces, each between four and seven minutes, all improvised. The common language both artists find is pretty impressive. Centazzo's minimal rhythms, and both men's use of silence and open space, allow them to play their notes and phrases with precision, without a hurry, yet accurate to generate the desired impact. The latter fits with Centazzo's theatrical, often dramatic approach, seeking the effect, making his bells and small percussion ring and rattle, or banging hard on his big drum, shaping contrast and perspective. Giardullo in the meantime remains quite restraint, never shouting, always singing, coloring his sounds, taking wild flights at time, yet never excessive.

The Way - Live In Woodstock Two(Ictus, 2010)****

Again, maybe this is just an impression I have, but the second CD is a little more gentle, less explicit in its delivery, less dramatic too, a little more meditative, with stretched notes, more space, moving higher up, into thin air, with a little less tension, yet remaining at the same high aesthetic level.

Both albums are worth having, and it's a little surprising that they weren't released as a double CD. It was one performance after all.

© stef

William Parker - At Somewhere There (Barnyard, 2010) ****½

This is certainly not William Parker's first solo album, he already released "Lifting The Sanctions", "Testimony" and "Painter's Autumn", but this is the first one on which he doesn't play pizzicato, using his bow for the first and lengthy track, called "Cathedral Wisdom Light", on which he demonstrates the unbelievable riches that are hidden in his instrument : from the cry of whales to those of birds, over the pulsing or a heart, or just bone-chilling shrieks. He goes deep here, moving into real avant-garde territory, uncompromising, full of intensity and energy, often playing on several strings at the same time in the higher tonal ranges of his instrument, giving the impression of a wild string orchestra that is playing trance-inducing improvisations. Some of it is absolutely staggering, not only technically, but especially because of its emotional power. But he is sufficiently creative to add variations and new approaches, and to be frank, I've rarely heard him play in this manner, and I have dozens of his albums.

The two other pieces are not really pieces for bass. On the second "For Don Cherry", he plays one of the late trumpeter's side instruments, the dousn'gouni, an African guitar, accompanied by his singing, showing his spiritual side and love for the world. On the last piece, "For Ella Parker", he plays double flute. Both shorter tracks are fun, but they lack the depth and power of his magnificent almost 50-minute long first track, a piece which is by-the-way perfectly expressed by the artwork of the album. 

That track alone obviously makes this a very recommended album.

© stef

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Inhabitants - A Vacant Lot (Drip Audio, 2010) ****

This is the third album of this young Canadian band, a very rich and very welcoming one. Working on the boundaries of post-jazz and post-rock, the four musicians create instrumental music with lots of electronics and loops, while maintaining a strong rhythmic and melodic base. All the rest is improvisation, floating over the solid background, creating sonic textures and interactions. The band consists of Skye Brooks on drums and JP Carter on trumpet - both playing together in Fond Of Tigers, Pete Schmitt on bass and Dave Sikula on guitar. Rhythmically and harmonically, the music is closer to rock than to jazz, with a great emphasis on the total sound, rather than on the soloist's expressivity. That creates some emotional distance, but it makes the music not less inviting. The instrumental approach and the line-up is of course closer to jazz. The band finds a right balance between uptempo and slower, more meditative pieces, between composed elements, improvisations and creative inventions of the moment, between raw abrasiveness and subtle gentleness, developing a quite coherent and unique musical vision. Recommended to all but the hard-core free jazz fanatics.

I attach this Youtube clip for reference of the kind of music they play, but the quality is not by a long stretch comparable to the album (luckily!).

© stef

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Piano trios galore

Piano trios being one of the most popular line-ups in jazz, it is hard to keep up with all the new releases coming out, let alone give them the attention they deserve. I have not listened in-depth to all the albums below, but I ranked them in order of preference, which is also and indicator of their sense of adventure.

Sten Sandell Trio - Face Of Tokyo (PNL, 2010) ****½

Released on drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's own PNL label, the trio further consists of Sten Sandell on piano and Johan Berthling on bass. Recorded live in Japan in 2008, the album consists of two tracks: "Face Up", and "Face Down", for twice more than half an hour of quite intense musical explorations. The first track is a high energy work-out, the second starts with counter-rhythmic percussion, full of explosive power and creativity, Berthling joins on bass, first plucked, and when Sandell joins he moves to arco, while the pianist plays some eery chords, gradually driving up the tempo and energy level for again a dense improvisation, that suddenly collapses for some minimalist interaction, with all three musicians exploring the more uncommon aspects of their instruments. In stark contrast to some of the other albums below, the album demonstrates that technical mastery and musical vision make it possible to bring depth and emotional drive even with the most common of all jazz line-ups.

Dawn Of Midi - First (Accretions, 2010) ****½

"Dawn Of Midi" is something else. The trio, consisting of Qasim Naqvi from Pakistan on percussion, Aakaash Israni from India on bass, and Amino Belyamani from Morocco on piano, form, despite their different nationalities a really strong unit, playing minimalist open-ended improvisations, quite sensitive and/or intense, often eery, with unusual tempo changes and punctuation, very hypnotic, like waves lapping at the shore, retreating and coming back. Their stubborn focus on their quite special musical concept gives this album a fantastic coherence, something you listen to in one go, with all pieces fitting fitting perfectly into the whole. Wonderful free lyricism and suspense at the same time. The question is whether this will prove to be sufficient to go on this mode without becoming overly repetitive, but at least for one album, it's a sheer delight from beginning to end.

Listen from eMusic and Accretions.

Correction - Two Nights In April (Ayler, 2010)****

Moving from Norway to Sweden, here is trio with Sebastian Bergström on piano, Joachim Nyberg on bass, and Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. The eleven tracks were recorded live on two sessions in April 2009, hence the not-so-creative title. The music is creative by contrast, but uses all the jazz ingredients, from bop to more free and minimalist influences, mixing it all together in a great stew full of unexpected flavors and texture. As Mats Gustafsson keeps repeating in the liner notes : these guys listen to each other, which allows them to shift and change things in a whim, understand where the other ones are going, and join telepathically. The musicians keep the pieces relatively short, which is a good idea, because the compactness leads to focus leads to intensity leads to a story to tell. In this way they don't overplay their hand, and demonstrate through the quantity of the pieces what they have in store. And that's a lot.

 Listen and buy from Ayler Records.

Curtis Clark Trio - Táági (NoBusiness, 2010) ***½

Pianist Curtis Clark teams up with the González brothers, Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums.On each piece Clark sets the tone, by long solo introductions on the piano, often quite bluesy in approach, then opening the improvisation for the two brothers, who join full of enthusiasm. Clark's compositions are lyrical and gentle, meditative almost, and are actually in stark contrast to the brothers' usual approach, which is more creative and boundary-breaking, whether in Yells At Eels or the punk bands they've played in. That being said, they acquit themselves well in this new environment, sometimes even pushing Clark into more adventurous territory, when "Water Colors" evolves into "New York City Wildlife". It is nice, post-boppish, but not essential.
    Eri Yamamoto - In Each Day, Something Good (Aum Fidelity, 2009) ***

     Moving away from the improvisations above, the excellent pianist Eri Yamamoto with her long-time collaborators David Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums. The music is the accompaniment for a silent movie "I Was Born, But ...", made in 1932 by Yasujiro Ozu, one of Japan's best movie directors. That being said, the music does not ressemble the period of the movie, and it can just stand on its own as nice post-bop, sometimes bluesy, but always very lyrical and performed with subtlety.

    Listen from eMusic.

    Frank Kimbrough - Rumors (Palmetto, 2010) ***

    Also not entirely my preferred genre, but incredibly good within a more mainstream genre, is the new Frank Kimbrough trio, with the leader on piano, Masa Kamaguchi on bass, and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. The skills and the mature inventiveness drip from every note, in the style of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett in the seventies. So nothing innovating or new, just laid-back quality.

    Listen and download from Palmetto.

    Espen Eriksen Trio: You Had Me At Goodbye (Rune Grammofon, 2010) 
    Back to Norway for the last CD, with the debut album of the Espen Eriksen trio, with Eriksen on piano, Lars Tormod Jenset on bass, and Andreas Bye on drums. A worthwhile first album, but a little too mellow for my taste, with a little too explicit themes and approaches. These guys seem too young to play such unadventurous music. But I leave the appreciation to you.

    Listen and download from eMusic.

    © stef

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Peter Van Huffel Quartet - Like The Rusted Key (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2009) ****

    I saw this young quartet perform in less than optimal circumstances, in a pub with over two hundred students totally uninterested in the band performing, probably considering them nothing more than background noise to their chats. The four musicians are Berlin-based Canadian altoist Peter Van Huffel, pianist Jesse Stacken, bassist Miles Perkin and drummer Samuel Rohrer, and all four extremely rich in their skills and versatility. They feel as easily at home in pieces with composed themes as they are on total improvisations. "Drift" starts hesitatingly but evolves into a nice theme and strong improvisations, "Tangent" has a great rhythmic drive, a strong unison theme, allowing for great staccato accentuations, then stopping abruptly for an alto solo intermezzo that tears the piece to pieces, and even if the band re-joins, it does seem to get off the ground again, but of course the great theme builds up momentum again to come to its finale. "Enghavevej" is more joyful, "Excerpt Two" is more minimalist, "Backward Momentum" another beauty of composed interplay, "Melancholic" is driven by the slowest piano chord progression ever heard, making it fun and sensitive at the same time, "Beast II" is dark and menacing. The compositions are strong, the voices rich, the sound pallette broad and deep. This music goes well beyond mainstream because of its sometimes raw delivery, wild improvisations, deconstructionist attitude, but the careful attention to themes, structures and arrangement keep the music relatively accessible. This is clever and intense music.

    Watch "Excerpt Two"

    © stef

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Sei Miguel - Esfingico (Clean Feed, 2010) ****½

    The album's subtitle, "Suite For A Jazz Combo", is somewhat misleading in the sense that the word "jazz" is too limitative for the music you can hear on the album, nor is the word "combo" the right one either, since you rarely hear all musicians play together. The band consists of Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, Fala Mariam on alto trombone, Rafael Toral on modulated resonance feedback circuit, Pedro Laurenço on bass guitar, Cesár Burago on timbales and small percussion.

    The music is minimalist, soft (as the opposite of loud), consisting of a very open canvas of precise coloring with sparse notes, slowly revealing structures and rhythms as they move along. There is forward movement, the result of agreed structures and possibly compositional elements. It took me a while and many listens to get into the music, but the end result is very rewarding. If present, the rhythm changes are varied, unusual yet compelling, Miguel's clarity of tone is a pleasure to hear, and so is Mariam's trombone. Laurenço's bass-playing is also more sonic than rhythmic, adding textural depth and emphasis. The electronics are restrained and functional, driving the music forward, feeding it back, without being too intrusive. A weird but very enjoyable sonic environment is the end result, carefully crafted, full of emotional tension and opening new directions for music in a clever and creative way. Enjoy!

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Dennis González Band Of Sorcerers - Live In Washington D.C. (Daagnim, 2009) ****

    Dalles trumpeter Dennis González describes in the liner notes how a cassette tape of this unique performance that took place in Washington on 7 October 1989, suddenly turned up, and, even if the sound quality is "rough and raw", and even "though the music is cut off in the middle of bassist Carter Mitchell's solo", it was still worth releasing in honor of the late tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe. González was at that time trying to set up his American "Sorcerers" quartet, in analogy with his European band. Reggie Nicholson plays drums, and Wilber Morris would have been the bass player on this gig, but he fell ill and had to be replaced by Mitchell at the last minute. Anyhow, this is free bop in the best tradition: rhythmic, fierce, expansive, spiritual, lyrical, more in the Coltrane than in the Coleman tradition, but indeed, I can only agree with González: this is a great find. Lowe is excellent, but so are González, Mitchell and Nicholson. Nice!

    © stef

    Blastula - Scarnoduo (Amirani, 2010) ****

    As you know, I am not a fan of vocals in jazz, but once in a while a record pops up that proves me wrong. This is an example in case (and a strong one), with Cristiano Calcagnile on drums and percussion, and Monica Demuru on voice, and occasionally also mouth harmonica and glockenspiel. The duo goes deep, very deep, intense in the interaction, physically giving themselves fully, but their reach is wide too: from childlike singing to avant-garde grotesque, with poetry, folk, world and everything in between. Knowing my aversion of the genre, I can tell you that it is absolutely stunning at times, with the following highlights : "Nanneddu Meu", a powerful and highly rhythmic dialogue, "La Porta, Marnie!", a serene and meditative breeze, "Mangia La Tua Paura", a children's song evolving into nightmare and back, "Sa Calarina E Mosche Sugli Occhi", an almost classical piece turning into avant-garde and farm animals sounds, a kind of reverse evolution. The pieces are interspersed with short fun melodies. You could argue that all the different angles of attack diminish the album's coherence, you could also argue that the music reflects life itself, in all its contradictory approaches, full of drama and opposing sentiments.

    The album comes with art work of the same high level, little cards with the Italian poetry or lyrics. Knowledge of the language may help to fully appreciate the performance, but it's not a necessity to enjoy it.

    A must for fans of the genre. Recommended to everyone else.

    You can buy and download the music and artwork here for just 6€.

    © stef

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Matthew Shipp - Nu Bop Live (RAI, 2009) ****½

    The quality of an authentic artist is the relentless search for new forms of expression, something that will say more, or different things, and which cannot be said with the current tools of the trade. This includes taking risks, risks of alienating audiences, but also the opportunity to open new horizons for musicians and listeners alike.

    Matthew Shipp is such an authentic artist, even as a solo performer on piano, but even more so with his various bands, with traditional and less traditional line-ups. His "Nu Bop" band is somewhere in the middle, merging free jazz with electronics, lyricism with dissonance, composition with free improvisation. The band is one of the best around, with Daniel Carter on sax, William Parker on bass, and Guillermo E. Brown on drums and electronics. Three of the six tracks on this live album also appeared on the studio version dating from 2004: "Nu Bop", "Rocket Shipp", and "Nu Abstract", with the latter taking up half the performance, but the compositions get a totally different approach and delivery, more direct and less "manipulated" than the studio album.

    The album starts with "Nu Bop",with an expressionist piano intro. When Carter joins, he seems to be playing in a different piece, against the rhythm and the composition's feel, slow and detached against the powerful drive of the rhythm section. But then he almost literally gets sucked up in their maelstrom, blowing fully integrated and in sync, just to detach himself again later. "From The Otherside Of Anywhere" is an eight minute long drum improvisation by Brown, and although I'm not a fan of drum solos, this one is worth listening to attentively.

    The pièce-de-résistance is of course "Nu Abstract", which gives Shipp himself ample space to improvise and show his talent on the piano. It starts eery and impressionistic, only supported by Brown's percussion and electronics. Parker joins on arco, to add shade and depth, and after a while Carter enters too, but still on the background, increasing the intensity, equally abstract and without form, until Shipp takes the band with some low pounding chords into the same momentum, driving them forward hard, then releasing the tension until only fragile vulnerability remains. This shift between power and sensitivity, between density and lightness of texture repeats itself a few times, varying in delivery between harmonic and dissonant, with Carter absolutely stunning toward the end of the piece.

    The last piece, "Virgin Complex", earlier to be heard on "Harmony & Abyss", again shows Shipp's lyricism at his best: a hypnotic theme forms the basis for an arco improvisation by Parker, over which Carter weaves a beautiful solo, functionally supported by Brown, together slowing down and phasing out. 

    An excellent album.

    Listen to an excerpt from Virgin Complex

    © stef

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Two nights with Sabir Mateen

    Saxophonist Sabir Mateen is one of those musicians who have been playing free jazz since the seventies, playing with all the icons of the genre such as Cecil Taylor, William Parker, Daniel Carter, Steve Swell and Frode Gjerstad, to name just a few. With the latter two he recorded a new album on Not Two, and a solo album on RogueArt. He is a frequent player in the free jazz mini big bands, like the Little Huey Orchestra, Gjerstad's Circulasione Totale, and Earth People.

    Sabir Mateen & Frode Gjerstad - Sound Gathering (Not Two, 2010) ***

    On this album, Sabire Mateen is co-leader with Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, and with Steve Swell on trombone, Clif Jackson on bass and David Gould on drums. On the long first track, Swell's trombone is one of the strongest voice, both in volume and presence, wailing in all emotional registers, from distress to sadness, with the two saxes adding appropriate background support, but the piece becomes strongest when the saxes do their solo-thing. Otherwise there are lots of dialogues and trialogues, and as the title of the album indicates, this is more about sound that about lyricism. That changes with the second piece, when Mateen picks up his flute for a hesitant, almost fragile slowly moving forward tune. With the third piece we're back in high intensity territory, a kind of jubilant blowing fest. You get the gist: wild interaction reigns, lots of dense interplay, but in my opinion a little lacking in focus and real musical vision.

    Sabir Mateen - URDLA XXX (RogueArt, 2010) ****

    Recorded live on October 11, 2008 at URDLA in Vileurbanne, France, Mateen brings this wonderful solo album. To my knowledge this is his first, but I may be wrong. After listening to "Sound Gathering", this album is absolutely refreshing : it is sober, calm, yet captivating. He begins with some African (?) chants, entering from the dark depths of the stage, approaching the mikes, an incantation that sets the scene for two alto clarinet pieces. "Music is Sound" is a hard to understand poem, accompanied by rattling bells, but the key message is "life is music, music is life, everything is music, music is nothing but sound", a call to action for the alto saxophone, urgent, full of distress and squeezed notes. "One For The Road" is a bluesy piece, in contrast to the previous "Sekasso Blues". "More Than A Hammer" is quite melodic and rhythmic, and increasingly so the last piece "Blessing To You". A nice and welcome solo album, showing a different side of the musician, but one of equal value.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    Watch nice video with Sabir Mateen

    © stef

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Sax and electronics?

    Jean-Marc Foussat & Sylvain Guérineau - Aliquid (Leo, 2010) ***½

    Most albums with electronics have the tendency to work on my nerves more than anything else. So does this albums at moments, but you (I) need some courage to go beyond these first prejudices and to keep listening, because it leads to some rewarding moments.Yes, I was irritated at times by the a-musical sound of the analog synthesizer, by its industrial hardness, or its cheap 70s sci-fi television series imitation. But once you go beyond this layer, the end result is often quite powerful, and to a large extent the result of Guérineau's creativity and emotional power on tenor, driven forward by the electronics and forced to go beyond its natural language. So do the live electronics, building on the sax sounds, replaying them, altered, in loops, darkened, lowered, distorted, .... creating sonic nightmares, often in the background, sometimes agonizingly piercing its way to the forefront. It is weird stuff, not always easy to categorise, not easy to fathom either, but nonetheless, adventurous in a world I would not naturally go myself. Thanks for bringing me out there. It was worth the journey.

    Tasos Stamou & Ilan Manouach (Absurd Records, 2009) ****

    In a more minimalistic setting, Greek musicians Tasos Stamou on a variety of objects and electronics, and Ilan Manouach on soprano and sopranino sax, bring music of a weird beauty. The sounds of the objects create a repetitive pattern as the slow and almost inobtrusive background, over which the sax blows sound ripples, repetitive and moving outward. The whole thing becomes quite hypnotic, drone-like, but it has an inherent musicality that is usually lacking in the genre. The soprano does come across quite discernably, and it sings beautifully, often as a shining light in a dark electronic universe. At other times it conjures up images of endless agony from which there is no escape possible. Either way, it won't leave you indifferent ... and the album ends with some shamanistic flute-playing. Intriguing.

    © stef

    Monday, March 8, 2010

    Barre Phillips - Portraits (Kadima, 2010) ****

    For his 75th birthday, Barre Phillips revisits his own concept of the solo bass album, which started in 1968 with Journal Violone. The album brings five disciplined, controlled and careful improvisations. Phillips is not noisy, he is not atonal, he does not use extended techniques, he is not about muscularity. He is all about tonal timbre, about focused freedom, about discovery and expansion of ideas in new forms, yet developed within a coherent set of possibilities.On the second piece, "The Dream", his powerful bowed intro is subtle and restrained, evolving into a hypnotic rhythmic pattern of bowed and plucked strings, but it's on "Up And Out", that the lyricism becomes more explicit, combining light-footedness in combination with the instrument's deep sense of drama, and his skills are such that he can do that simultaneously : impressive. The last, and the most accessible piece, is full of warmth and soul, full of gentleness and optimism, an adequate ending of a heartfelt performance.

    The concert was recorded in 2001 in Graz, Austria, in front of an enthusiastic and listening audience.

    Listen and buy from CDBaby

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Fred Anderson Trio - A Night At The Velvet Lounge/Live In Chicago 2007 (Estrada Poznańska, 2009) ****

    I know it's my fourth Fred Anderson review in a couple of months time, but his 80th birthday resulted in some additional releases. So for the completists and the fans: here is another excellent Fred Anderson album, recorded live on Nov. 17, 2007 in Poznań, Poland, at the Made In Chicago festival, and just released on the Polish label Estrada Poznańska, and we can only thank them for that. Anderson is accompanied by Harrison Bankhead on bass, and Dushun Mosley on drums. There are no real surprises, apart from the fact that the album brings no less than seven tracks, ranging between nine to sixteen minutes long, so you get a lot of music, played in his typical free bop style full of rhythmical and lyrical soloing, once in a while interspersed with some slower spiritual moments. You can not but admire the man. His love of music is truly contagious. Impossible to listen to this without enjoying it too!

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Scott Fields Ensemble - Fugu ( Clean Feed, 2010) ****½

     Guitarist Scott Fields fits in his own musical category, trying to reconcile new music with jazz elements, inventive with musical structures and patterns, yet with an end result that is often very (too) cerebral and abstract. This album uses the same complexities, with odd meters and changing time signatures, and somehow it all seems to fit and work perfectly well. It was originally written for the dance ensemble of Li Chiao-Ping, and already released in 1995. From what I understand from the somewhat tiring liner notes is that the piece was never performed, and you can understand why, when listening to it.

    That being said, the music is beautiful. Scott Fields plays nylon-string guitar, Matt Turner cello, Geoff Brady percussion, John Padden double bass and Robert Stright vibraphone. The shifting meters and the chamber-like ensemble perform with precision and clarity, keeping the music open-textured and thematically relatively free, despite the structure, that, implicit though it is to the listener, creates a sense of release when the puzzle pieces falls into place.The improvisations are excellent, and it's a pleasure to hear Fields playing guitar in a relatively straight-forward way, especially on "The Plagiarist", a very nervous and uptempo piece. The rest of the band is absolutely great, with the sound combination between the cello and the vibes working extremely well. On the long "A Carrott Is Not A Carrott", the interaction between Turner's cello and Fields' guitar is full of sad melancholy, the interplay between cello and walking bass on "Fugu" a pleasure, as is the careful precision play between vibes and percussion.

    A real treat, and an excellent idea to make this music available again.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Enterout Trio - Pink Ivory (Multikulti, 2010) ****

    When the Cracow Klezmer Band stopped playing, I was sad, because I liked their combination of traditional music with jazz and classical, of the dark menace behind the joyful themes, the combination of melancholy and aesthetic beauty, combining entertainment with virtuosity. Now, the Enterout Trio, equally Polish, is here with the same ingredients, but making a different stew out of it, more jazz, rawer, more adventurous. No klezmer this time, but rhythmic, melodic and lyrical improvisations full of gloom and foreboding.

    Piotr Mełech plays clarinet and bass clarinet, Adam Wróblewski plays cello, and Sebastian Grzesiak drums. With just the three of them, they alternate composed with fully improvised pieces. The first track, "Terminus", combines it all: a somewhat abstract intro evolves into a forward driven rhythm, with the cello's supportive drone setting the ideal backdrop for the clarinet's joyful theme followed by free improvisation, and when the rhythm slows down again, the drums goes and the clarinet and bowed cello converse in a modern classical way, then the cello goes forth on its own, full of vulnerable hesitancy and clear of tone, tearing the composition out of its pattern and pushing it deep into uncharted territory, yet without losing its inherent lyricism, and when the clarinet and drums return, they rejoin the - now mournful - theme. The improvised pieces vary between free improv and melodious creativity. The longest piece, "Księżycowy" ("Lunar"), is a gem, but then one of terror and madness, with a dark unison theme that develops into nightmarish improvisations and volumes of sound you wouldn't expect from a trio. A great album: excellent musicians and the coherence of their creative vision is even more impressive if you know that this is only their debut.

    There are some clips to be found on Youtube, but the sound quality is so bad, that I don't share it.

    © stef

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Paul Dunmall and friends

    Saxophonist and bagpipe player Paul Dunmall is quite prolific. A rough calculation brings me to 160 records, which is quite a feat. On the other hand, Dunmall is this great live performer and improvisor, so his art is his unique performance on that place with these specific other musicians, nothing more and nothing less. His records are just the meagre testimony of his gigs, his real art and work. It is hence no surprise that quite a substantial part of his CDs are recorded live.

    Paul Dunmall & Chris Corsano - Identical Sunsets (ESP, 2010) ***½

    The first in the row is excellent, with American Chris Corsano on drums, best known from his recordings with that other bearded sax-player, Paul Flaherty. Dunmall starts the performance on "border pipe", a kind of bagpipe, and although I can appreciate Dunmall's use of this instrument in a free improv environment, it is not the sound I like most. But the track lasts only five minutes. The rest of the album, with Dunmall on sax is more to my liking. Both musicians play extremely strong, not necessarily powerful, but strong: using their skills, using varying levels of intensity to give the limited line-up loads of perspective and change, from highly voluminous percussive moments to slow and close to silent meditations, as on "Living Proof". Corsano is at his best in the more energetic parts, as on "Better Get Another Lighthouse", which starts with a long drum solo, after which Dunmall picks up the energy and literally plays up the storm. The last piece, "Out Of Sight", is less jazzy, more free improv, with unusual tones coming from both the drums and the sax, conjuring up strange sound imagery, but when the speed and power pick up again, Dunmall returns to longer phrasing, increasing the accessibility and the enthusiasm of the attentive audience.

    Paul Dunmall & Miles Levin - Miles Above (Duns, 2009) ***½

    On this sax-percussion duet, the drummer is of a different style. Miles Levin, son of Tony Levin, has a softer and more subtle approach to his instrument than Corsano, which leads Dunmall to be a little more gentle himself. The album was also recorded live, at TL's Jazz Club in Birmingham, during three concerts between October '08 and April '09, with each track clocking at a little over twenty-two minutes. On the second piece, Dunmall switches to soprano.The music is strong and expressive,quite enjoyable throughout, but for those who already have lots of Dunmall records, it will not add much.

    Paul Dunmall & Paul Rogers - Repercussions (FMR, 2009) ****

    Probably the best in the series is Dunmall's duo with Paul Rogers on bass, and this for various reasons. Dunmall is more challenged into lyricism and melodic variation because of Rogers' creative changes, both on arco and plucked, but certainly also because of the great interaction between the two soloists. Dunmall surpasses himself at various moments on the album, be it on bagpipe, soprano or clarinet. This is about as intense as it gets, both light-footed and dark, spritually uplifting and desperate, meditative and powerful, moaning and singing, hypnotic and serene, in short the kind of musicial contradictions that create tension and hence the joy of listening. The performance was recorded on 24 February 2009 at Unitarian Chapel, Warwick.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    You Had Me At Hello

    "You Had Me At Hello" is a phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire, with Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger, it is also a new sax trio with Alexandra Grimal on tenor sax, Adrian Myhr on bass and Christian Skjødt on drums. This French-Norwegian-Danish trio met at the Banff Centre of Arts in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and they connected musically on the spot, sold to each other from the first "hello". Their first recordings are out now, on two 7" vinyl singles, released in 500 copies only, a pretty unique concept.

    I must say, Alexandra Grimal is a saxophonist to follow, whether with her own trio, or with this band, she comes up with new ideas and powerful playing.

    You Had Me At Hello - Meet Oliver Lake (Tonometer, 2010) ****

    The first single brings You Had Me At Hello with alto saxophonist Oliver Lake. Grimal comes in strongly from the very early notes, immediately followed by the rhythm section, in a strong free jazz vein, without apparent structure but soulful and intense, preparing the ground for Lake's floating and fluent alto phrases, a little bit in the distance but powerful.The other side is more melodic and lyrical, less powerful but more hypnotic, with Lake playing a more dominant role.

    Listen to "Mountain Emergency"

    You Had Me At Hello - Meet Ab Baars & Michael Moore (Tonometer, 2010) ****

    The second single has Dutch clarinetist Ab Baars and American (but in the meantime half-Dutch) Michael Moore also on clarinet and alto sax. The music is equally open in its possibilities, but somewhat more abstract and eery. The fact that the sax and the two clarinets float and dance around each other makes it also an interesting play with layers of sound.

    Both singles are easy to recommend, but possibly harder to get, and even less easy to play: who is still used to change the sides of a single after a couple of minutes?

    Buy from Tonometer.

    © stef

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    David S. Ware - Saturnian (AUM Fidelity, 2010) ****

    No need to introduce David S. Ware, nor to re-emphasize my appreciation for his music and his skills. Recovered from a kidney transplant, this solo recording is part of his "thank you" to the people who made this possible, and an ode to life. "There's a voice inside each saxophone, expressing different orders of Being. When you listen, learn to open your third ear. Listen for the voice inside the music. It will expand who you think you are.", is what Ware tells us in the liner notes. The saxophones are saxello, on "Methone", stritch , on "Pallene", and tenor, on "Anthe": three instruments for three lengthy improvisations between twelve to fourteen minutes, evolving from the shrill high tones of the saxello down the tenor's lower register. Despite their length and abstract form, the three pieces remain quite focused, also rhythmically, each with its own sound quality and color. On "Methone", the saxello adds a sentiment of nervous intensity and urgency, especially toward the end of the piece. "Pallene" is full of implicit rhythm and drive, more bluesy and melodious. But it's on tenor that Ware gets his full power: "Anthe" is full of soul, full of warm depth and distressed wailing, with shades and contrasts that demonstrate the instruments incredible range and timbral possibilities, at least in the hands of a master.

    The album does not reach the same high levels as some of his recent band recordings, but fans of Ware will be thrilled by this live performance. It comes with the subtitle "solo saxphones, volume 1", so I assume we can expect more to come ... and we look forward to it.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef