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Friday, April 30, 2010

Yuganaut - Sharks (Engine, 2010) ****

The music on this album is as hard to classify as its art work. The trio consists of Tom Abbs on violin, cello, didjeridoo and tuba, Geoff Mann on trumpet, drums and percussion, and Stephen Rush on trombone, Fender Rhodes piano, Moog synthesizer and toys. All three are not only multi-instrumentalists, they are also multidisciplinary, playing active roles in film making, theater and dance. This context almost naturally leads to a music in which sound and dramatic effect play key roles, pushing the instrumental prowess to the second position. Instruments exist to create sound effects, more so than express individual feelings. The emotional listening experience is hence more the result of the overall sound impression, rather than the expressive power of the individual soloists.

And like in many risky endeavors like this one, it works or it doesn't, Some pieces are fantastic (in the sense that I like them a lot): uncanny, dark, bizarre, attractive, scary, others are rather bland (in the sense  that I do not like them at all): and these are mostly the pieces in which electronics and synth play a leading role.

Luckily, the "fantastic pieces" ("Breakthrough/Zhu", "Fade to Frenzy", "Landfill/Sharks", "Lost in the Field", "Again, and Sweetly", "Local Motive") are in the majority, with the not so fantastic being the shortest and in the minority ("See Saw", "Vger","Wrenchwork"). But then you listen again, and again, and you come to realise you need it all to experience the music's real power.

Be ready to be thrown out off kilter : this is different, but strangely inviting, and fascinating throughout.

Listen and download from ESP disks.

Watch "Missing Limbs" - a piece from one of their previous album "This Musicianship".

© stef

Oliver Lake, Paul Smoker, Scott R. Looney, Lisle Ellis - Urban Ruminations (Metaphysical, 2010) ***½

These are four musicians from whom you could expect that improvising together would be a great match : all four are rooted in, but have gone beyond the free jazz idiom in their latest individual recordings, and together they move now into the more contemporary world of free improv or even free music, if those categories do apply. The musicians are Oliver Lake on sax, Paul Smoker on trumpet, Scott R. Looney on piano and prepared piano, and Lisle Ellis on bass.The absence of percussion increases the already abstract level of the improvisations.This leads to some intense interplay, but also moments of eery calm, like the wonderful duet between Looney and Smoker in "Pinnacles". The music was recorded in 2005, partly live and partly in the studio, with Smoker, Looney and Lake planning to perform, and with Lake who happened to be in town, joining the fun.

They switch between the raw, intense and chaotic, to calm, meditative and even sweet moments, moving from unclear possibilities, to moments when it all comes together neatly, is a nice thing to hear. Unfortunately the album ends with the recitation of poetry by Oliver Lake.

A nice album.

© stef

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Les Amants De Juliette & Majid Bekkas (Quoi De Neuf Docteur, 2010) ***½

"Les Amants de Juliette" is one of the most lightfooted and joyful small free jazz outfits coming from France, with Serge Adam on trumpet, Benoît Delbecq on piano, and Philippe Foch on tabla and percussion. The three musicians are excellent and have given me many hours of musical joy with their previous albums. Their music is open-textured, but very accessible and intimate. In November 2007, they invited Moroccan musician Majid Bekkas for this nice concert. Bekkas plays oud and percussion, and sings once in a while. This forces the band to move even more into world jazz territory, adapting scales and meeting Bekkas halfway without relinquishing their fresh approach.

The album is pleasant throughout (with the exception of "Shyness Is Beautiful", a spoken word piece, and we all know I don't like this), and although it is not really breaking new ground, the end result is again a nice piece of music, like a bowl of fresh salad.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cuong Vu and friends ...

Trumpeter Cuong Vu is a very demanded and active musician. He plays with Pat Metheny, he has his own quartet, and plays on the album of many other musicians (Myra Melford, Chris Speed). His last album, "Vu-Tet", already dates back from December 2007, but here we find him back on new albums by two young bands, adding more than just his trumpet-playing to shape their overall sound.

Speak (self-published, 2010) ***½

Speak is a young band from Seattle, Washington, with members coming from various musical backgrounds. Keyboardist Aaron Otheim has a classical background, bassist Luke Bergman and saxophonist Andrew Swanson hail from rock bands. Only drummer Chris Icasiano is a trained jazz drummer. The musicians are students of trumpeter Cuong Vu and he helped them shape the music on their first album, and joins on all tracks, and believe me, it is more than worth listening to.

 The music is composed from beginning to end, very much like the music of Jim Black or Chris Speed, two musicians well known to Cuong Vu and so his fit into this band is quite organic. They bring their rock-influenced modern jazz with lots of power and drive, leaving sufficient room for improvisation. This is genre-breaking and open-minded music. Clever and performed with lots of skills.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Mickey Finn with Cuong Vu - Gagarin!  (El Gallo Rojo Records, 2010) ***½

 Mickey Finn is actually the name of this Italian band (referring to the comic strip?), with Enrico Terragnoli on guitars, Giorgio Pacorig on Fender Rhodes and piano, Danilo Gallo on acoustic bass guitar, 12 string bass and double bass, Zeno di Rossi on drums. Carla Bozulich joins for vocals on one track. Again, the featured artist is Cuong Vu on trumpet and effects.

The nature of the music is totally different, though. Although equally entirely modern and genre-breaking, the approach is more light-footed, more open-textured, and with more variation, although that's not always a good thing: you get it all: lounge jazz ("The Lady Is A Trans"), wild pumping rock jazz with screaming trumpet ("Serpente", "Land Mine"), avant-garde excursions ("Again, again"), some sweet musings ("I Met Einstein In A Dream", "Amy"), and even a song ("I Can't Feel It Anymore", style Portishead), soundtrack ("Gian Maria Volonte", "Jean Gabin"). Each of these compositions is excellent, and somehow you wonder how they're related musically, if it were not by the all-persavive sensuality and emotional power.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Two bands that are promising, and to look out for. 

Watch Mickey Finn with Cuong Vu at Udinese Jazz Festival (skip the first minute!)

© stef

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rypdal and friends ...

Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal is a rocker converted to jazz, the master of the icy guitar with the deepest reverb you can imagine, making this his kind of signature sound, easily identifiable. His Oddisey album is easy to recommend. He got a little bit lost in the course of his career, stuck in the own idiom he created. His expansive playing, yet full of rock energy and drive is something that appealed to many younger guitarists. So here are some good things to hear.

Terje Rypdal & Bergen Big Band - Crime Scene (ECM, 2010) ****

The good news is : this is the best Rypdal album in many years, conceived as the soundtrack for an imaginary gangster movie (the mob kind of thing, with Italians running the show), with a big band in support of the action and the deep coloring of what is taking place, while the soloists create the action. Terje Rypdal plays guitar, Palle Mikkelborg trumpet, Ståle Storløkken Hammond B-3 organ, and Paolo Vinaccia drums and sampling. The Bergen Big Band is conducted by Olav Dale.

The whole thing is hence a little bit fun, with Robert De Niro's well-known phrase from Taxi Driver ("Are You Talking To Me?", thrown in with samples of The Godfather ("I have to go to the bathroom, is that OK?"), Mean Streets, and other movies, to create the right backdrop. You will also recognise some texts from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ("When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk"), but also The Last Tycoon ("This man has an influence on you, this man has a bad influence on all young people"), etc. A puzzle of quotes to keep the film fans busy for a while.

So much for the movies. The music itself is an incredible mix of big band, sampling, wild guitar playing, pumping rock rhythms, atmospheric muted trumpet, television series chase scenes: you name it. It is bombastic, it is ambitious, but then with the kind of humor that makes it palpable and captivating throughout. And curiously enough, Rypdal's guitar is one of the least heard solo instruments on the album. But when he's there, it's in full force, as in "Don Rypero".

And even though the end result is not the most authentic jazz expressivity you can imagine, you're taken along for one of the most entertaining pieces of music you will probably hear in the course of the year. Just like gangster movies and westerns, not always the most highly regarded kind of genre, but everyone seems to like them. So should this album be liked.

Eivind Aarset & The Codex Orchestra - Live Extracts (Jazzland, 2010) ***½

Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset is a real Rypdal acolyte, but to his credit, he has crafted out his own style in the genre-bending environment between jazz and rock. The Sonic Codex Orchestra consists of  Bjorn Charles Deyer on guitar and pedal steel, Audun Erlien on bass and Wetle Holte on drums, electronics, percussion. The band is further expanded on several trackes with Gunnar Halle on trumpet and synth, Erland Daheln on drums and percussion, Håkon Kornstad on saxophone, and Torstein Lofthus on drums.

At moments, and especially on the long "Electromagnetic", the voice of Rypdal comes through, because of the concept of the piece, a long and rhythmic floating composition, over which the guitars and the trumpet soar, full of power and drive.

The most beautiful composition is "Drøbak Saray", a theme which I remember from a Dhafer Youssef album (but couldn't find back which). Some of the other tracks are more rock in concept and nature, closer to Pink Floyd than to jazz, like "Still Changing" or "Sign Of Seven", others are avant-garde ("Murky Seven").

Not for die-hard jazz fans, but those of you who can appreciate instrumental rock, will certainly enjoy it. 

Mark O'Leary, Senol Küçükyildirim, Murat Çopur, Ömer Can Uygan - Live In Istanbul (Tibprod, 2010) ***½
Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary is another Rypdal fan, yet unlike his great example, he is also quite open to fast runs on his strings. He is also a world traveller, playing with many musicians in the countries where he performs, and recording as well, which explains his prolific output.

On this album, his guitar-playing is quite contained to broad, almost synth-like scene-setting, leaving the solo space to Ömer Can Uygan's trumpet. Murat Çopur plays bass guitar and Şenol Küçükyıldırım percussion.The EP was recorded in Istanbul in November 2008 with local musicians, and I must say that it works quite well. Like on O'Leary's excellent "On The Shore", the combination with trumpet works really well, whether it's on the atmospheric pieces like "Istanbul", the more fusion "The Black Sea, Part 1", or on the jazzy intro duet on "The Black Sea, Part 2".

A nice album.

Listen and download from eMusic.


Watch Eivind Aarset Live on Youtube.

© stef

Friday, April 23, 2010

Paul Dunmall - Moment To Moment (SLAM, 2009) ****½

Maybe a little later than my usual doing, here is another great album with Paul Dunmall on tenor saxophone, Matthew Bourne on piano and cello, Dave Kane on bass, and Steve Davis on drums. It's a little later because I just got it from eMusic, unaware of its existence. As you may expect from a Dunmall album, the music is improvised, yet in contrast to some of his other albums, despite the avant-garde leanings, it has a great sense of swing and the it sounds extremely focused and coherent. That is possibly the result of Bourne's piano playing, which offers a more solid backbone than the saxophonist's usual trio performances, and more space at the same time.

The music is incredibly nervous and intense, yet equally sensitive and full of a strange beauty, warm and welcoming despite the sometimes dissonant and harsh surroundings. Only listen to the evolution of the title track, starting with bowed bass and soft sax, some fine touches on a few piano keys, gentle cymbal hits (even the enemies of free improv will like this!), but gradually Kane and Bourne infuse the piece with dynamism, hypnotic and forward driving, with Davis using his full kit, increasing the intensity and power, making Dunmall soar and improvise like only he can do, and then slowly the piece quiets down, all sweet and sad, all beauty and warmth.

And the quality of the initial piece is kept up throughout the album, shifting between free improv and jazz, with the four musicians acting as one, with a coherence that is staggering. Highly recommended.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mike Nord & Georg Hoffmann - The Flow, Music For Improvised Dance (Leo Records, 2010) ****

Guitarist Mike Nord and percussionist Georg Hofmann had played before, for 25 years even, and already released earlier on Leo with a quartet. Here they improvise for over an hour in one go, recorded at a dance performance of Hideto Heshiki and Nurya Egger, and it all sounds very seamless, very calculated even at times, despite the total lack of preconceptions. The music is minimalist, but rhythmic, full of lyricism and quite accessible. Don't expect melodies or structures : as the title suggests, it all flows, the sounds of the guitar are sustained, full of deep reverb, loops and electronic live alterations, yet they are crystal clear at the same time.

As Nord describes in the liner notes: "Flow is a state where the outside world disappears behind the intense focus and commitment of the performance moment". The end result has a kind of primal feel, very expansive, with the guitar adding layers of sustained sound, accentuated with often hypnotic rhythms, like the creation of time itself.

A really strong performance, and despite the nature of the music, full of variation.

Watch their "Footprints" performance on Youtube

© stef

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Zorn ...

Prolific, the guy! Promises one album per month this year composed by him. Here are already a few to start with.

John Zorn : In Search Of The Miraculous (Tzadik, 2010) ***

A typical atmospheric piece of music, with quite repetitive piano phrases based on klezmer scales. Very lyrical and nice, sometimes with odd rhyhms as on "Magus", the central composition of the album. The band is excellent, with Rob Burger on piano and organ, Greg Cohen on acoustic and Shanir Blumenkranz on electric bass, Kenny Wollesen on vibes and Ben Perowsky on drums. Despite this stellar list of Tzadik musicians, the music itself has a kind of déjà-vu effect, even if some of the playing is more emphatic than on other albums.

The Dreamers : Ipos: The Book Of Angels vol. 14 (Tzadik, 2010) ****

Then I like this album a lot more, even though the recipe has also been used before. The Dreamers are Marc Ribot on guitar, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone, Trevor Dunn on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion, Joey Baron on drums. Ribot's guitar switches easily from klezmer over surf and blues and rock 'n' roll to Spanish influences, with a more violent attack than on some of the previous "Dreamers" albums. The compositions are fresh, the melodies easy in the ear, the playing crisp. Wollesen's vibes give the great antidote to the guitar, adding the jazzy light swing touch, and the rhythms, well, the rhythms ... are magnificent as usual, putting you in all kinds of moods and inclinations to dance, despite the dark undertones of the music.

John Zorn - Chimeras (Tzadik, 2010 - reissue) ***

Originally composed in 2001 (and released in 2003), the album has now been revised and reissued. "Chimeras" is adequately subtitled "a child’s adventures in the realms of the unreal", and it can be described as an absolute musical nightmare. It is dark, frightening, with light touches beaming through, like a lullaby arising out of violence, like a tiny light in the darkness giving you false hope of rescue, like friendly faces turning into gargoyles. Human warmth is present, but only as a delusion or deception. The reality appears cold, distant and hostile. Or is that "the unreal"?

The musicians are Jennifer Choi on violin, Tara O'Connor on piccolo, flute,alto flute and bass flute, Fred Sherry on cello, William Winant on percussion, Mike Lowenstern on clarinet and bass clarinet, Stephen Drury on piano, celesta and organ, Ilana Davidson and Elizabeth Farnum on vocals. The orchestra is conducted by Brad Lubman.

The music is as ambitious as it is pretentious, although it will not leave you indifferent.

© stef

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sorry for the few days of absence. I got stranded in New York because of the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, which enabled me to watch two great jazz performances this weekend, and to meet the respective artists:
- The Empty Cage Quartet, at The Stone, presenting their new CD, Gravity.
- The Jeff Platz Quartet featuring Daniel Carter, at DMG, presenting their new CD, Panoramic.

Now I'm back at my desk, after finding a place on a chartered flight yesterday to Lisbon, Portugal and a mad 21 hour drive from Lisbon to Brussels today in a rented van, luckily shared with some other drivers ...
... ready to resume reviews tomorrow, with a cartload of new CDs waiting to be heard.



© stef

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mikołaj Trzaska - Dom Zły/The Dark House (Kilogram Records, 2010) ***½

It is hard to assess the soundtrack for a movie without knowing the movie, and it rarely happens that the music is sufficiently entertaining to stand on its own. Despite its inherent qualities, the same holds true for this album by Polish saxophonist and composer Mikołaj Trzaska, whose achievements have been appreciated before on this blog.

The musicians are Mikołaj Trzaska on alto saxophone, bass clarinet, taragot, farfisa and other keyboards, Clementine Gasser on 5 string cello, Tomasz Szwelnik on piano, Clayton Thomas on double bass, and Michael Zerang on drums.

Trzaska has written scores for theater before, and he manages to find a good balance between strong genre-bending compositions, and a very expressive performance. The ten tracks are in the same vein : from the sad over the menacing and the agonizing.

Some pieces are stellar, like the weird and horrifying opening track, the sensitive dialogue between clarinet and cello on "After Explosion", the gloomy, fear-drenched and hair-raising title track. But obviously the music has to support the action in the movie too, also at the emotionally more neutral moments. Most pieces are mini-suites, with themes and moods evolving in often very short time spans, and clearly determined by another logic than can be understood without seeing the pictures.

Yet, in soundtrack terms, this is without a doubt one of the most avant-garde I've heard.

© stef

Friday, April 16, 2010

Undivided - The Passion (Multikulti, 2010) ****½

I am a week too late with this "Easter album", on which Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel evocates the story of pain, as crystalised in the passion of the gospel. In order to do so, he looked back on the great composers in history, up to the middle ages, who handled the same subject, and integrated them in his compositions, adding the power of improvisation to make the experience and expressivity even more direct and real. He is joined by Bobby Few on piano, Mark Tokar on bass, and Klaus Kugel on drums. Zimpel himself switches to bass clarinet and tarogato too.

The sequence of the album follows the chronology of the gospel : The Night, Getsemani, Judas Treason, Ridiculed King / The denial of St. Peter, Way of The Cross / Cruxifixion / Death, Despair, Resurrection. No surprise that the album sounds like a suite, with pieces moving seamlessly one into the other. It starts with the sound of a mechanical clock being charged, then percussion and piano join. The clarinet introduces the theme, full of introvert sorrow and sadness, evolving into post-boppish piano piece in the middle, becoming more abstract towards the end, erupting into full cries and shouts of all four instruments.

Zimpel did not want to make a religious record, but it is one about pain, and its musical expression. And his compositions do that with success, from the sad wailing to the agonizing outbursts, from serene almost classical sounds to bluesy and fierce avant-garde moments.

When I first heard the album, I thought this was an overambitious project, trying to do too many things at once, maybe trying too much to deliver something substantial, you know, like having the intention of delivering a masterpiece.

Now, my opinion has changed. This album is absolutely beautiful. It has more pretense than you would expect from free jazz, too controlled and constructed, but the end result is at moments phenomenal.

© stef

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last Seen Headed - Live At Sons D'Hiver (Ayler - 2010) ****

No doubt this is one of the most unusual and most fascinating clarinet trios you will hear, with Joëlle Léandre on bass, François Houle on clarinet, and Raymond Strid on percussion. Together, they weave sonic environments without recognizable anchor points, except in some deepfelt unconsciousness. The pieces evolve organically, out of the sound of one instrument, a few notes emerge, the rest adds to that, shaping it further, moving it further, yet cautiously, carefully, respectfully, full of empathy and sensitivity. The end result is fragile. A freshly budded leave. An animal awakening from hibernation. Vulnerable. Surprised. Alive. Listening how out abstract sound, Léandre's bass develops the simplest of forms : a repeated hypnotic pulse of a single note. Yet how precise in giving the music a heart.

On the third track intensity increases, mayhem arises, dissonance, distress and tension take over, evolving into soaring lyricism while keeping the intensity going in the following piece, introduced by Léandre's expressive arco work. Houle follows suit, mirroring her sounds with tongue clacking, while Strid adds minimalist touches, but then the pieces opens up completely, shifting from intimate to extravert.

This is very captivating, adventurous and very rewarding music. Minimalist and powerful.

© stef

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rova & Nels Cline Singers - Celestial Septet (New World Records, 2010) ****

The Rova Quartet are Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Bruce Ackley on soprano and tenor saxophones, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino saxophones, Jon Raskin on baritone, alto and sopranino saxophones. The Nels Cline Singers are Nels Cline on guitar, Devin Hoff on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. Apart, these two bands already bring genre-bending music. Together, under the name of "Celestial Septet", they push the limits even further.

The album starts with one of the most magnificent compositions I have heard in a while. The title, César Chávez, refers to the founder of the American United Farm Workers Union. The piece, composed by Amendola, is at the same time sad, dark, intimate, menacing, overwhelming and magnificent. It is slow, with one sax playing the lead theme, and the three others playing in different layers around it, with the drums, bass and guitar creating a dark and gloomy backdrop : stunning! The second piece is of a different nature, more abstract, with odd rhythm and arrangements, somewhat quirky and fun. In the ensuing improvisations, the musicians manage to see this bizarre concept through, not an easy feat. The longest and central piece, "Whose To Know", is a tribute to Albert Ayler (again!), with a wealth of influences and concepts seamlessly evolving one into the other : it is rock, it is jazz, it is modern music: raw, sensitive, deep and rich, with in the middle of the piece an unbelievable cataclysm of saxophones screaming, and gradually shifting into bass and guitar minimalism, only to end in the most Ayleresque of fashions. The following piece sounds like a marching band in which a berserk John McLaughlin got lost. The last track, "The Buried Quilt", is an experimental composition by Nels Cline, eery and disorienting, with quiet moments alternating with thunder storms, yet ending as magnificently as the album begins.

You get the idea : lots of variation, maybe a little too much, but played by artists who like the broad sweeps of new musical ideas, broad adventurous brush strokes on a new and open canvas. Recommended.

The Nels Cline Singers - Initiate (Cryptogrammophone, 2010) ****

It rarely happens that I write a review on the day that the album is released, but well, it so happened that I had already planned the review above. Have I listened to it? Yes, I did. Have I listened enough to make a good judgment? Possibly not. But who cares? You are the judge, I merely point out what's new and worthwhile.

First impression : the trio pushes their own boundaries again, and get better at each time. In addition to the line-up mentioned above, Cline uses electronics, Hoff as well and switches to electric bass at times, Amendola plays mbira too and effects.

Second impression : lots of variation, from electric Miles fusion ("Floored"), to weird sonic soundscapes, including unusual almost choral background at times (on the fantastic "Divining"), to intimistic moments of quiet meditation on acoustic instruments ("Grow Closer"), electronic and industrial experiments ("Scissor/Saw"), cinematic pieces ("King Queen" - holding the middle between King Crimson and Santana!), hypnotic repetitive power play ("Mercy"), pure sonic soundscapes ("Into It"), wild and fascinating high tension energy ("Fly Fly").

The first CD is recorded in the studio, the second CD is a live performance, offering the same range of musical variation, and ending with a wild, long almost funky fusion work-out, with pounding drums, pumping bass, and scorching wah-wah pedal. 


Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dave Liebman, Evan Parker, Tony Bianco - Relevance (Toucan, 2010) ****½

Saxophonist Dave Liebman is an absolute sax virtuoso, but his stylistic range is so wide, and his musical appetites so broad, that you never know what you get when you buy his albums : the music can be mellow and bland, new-agey superficial, yet equally creative or adventurous.

Dave Liebman, Evan Parker, Tony Bianco - Relevance (Red Toucan, 2010) ****½

Dave Liebman explains in the liner notes that he has a wish list of musicians he wants to perform with, and that Evan Parker was on top of that list. Drummer Tony Bianco managed to arrange a gig. The three met, and without further ado hit the stage for a fully improvised concert, resulting in this fantastic album. The first piece starts as a "tenor battle" in the best tradition, a real blow fest in which the two hornsmen meet and greet, challenge and respond, push forward and push forward, relentlessly supported by Bianco's nervous and thundering drumming, and when you think they will calm down a bit, the exact opposite happens: tension increases, energy levels are raised, with each one stepping back for a few minutes to let the other play solo a little, but then they lock horns again, and yes, they do calm down, giving Bianco some space, but that is of course only until the storm breaks loose again.

The second piece starts calm and meditatively, with the two saxes easily finding a common language and tone, but then halfway the piece Bianco seems tired of their musings and increases the tempo, and the intensity of the sax dialogue, which continues to evolve in the best traditions of the "Tenor Madness" album by Sonny Rollins with John Coltrane that Liebman refers to in the liner notes, with the only difference, that what Liebman and Parker get out of their saxes was not only inconceivable in 1957, but it surely must sound as real madness to the two jazz legends. The last track starts with drum rumbling and bamboo flute, then Parker takes over on sax, for some shamanistic yet sensitive playing.

Even if these two virtuosi have never played together, the ease with which they find common ground, in every respect, is stunning. So is the music. Fierce, energetic and surprisingly warm.

Evan Parker - Whitstable Solo (Psi, 2010) ****½

 Evan Parker solo is of course something else. From the very first piece, he takes a deep dive into intense multiphonics and endless circular breathing, filling the entire St. Peter's Church in Whitstable, and using its resonant power to the full, not only a technical but also a physical tour-de-force, keeping it up for close to ten minutes, trancelike, hypnotic, stunning. The second piece continues in the same vein, even pushing the envelope, giving the impression that at least three saxes are playing, one in the higher and one in the lower register, playing in counterpoint with the core phrase. On the third track, the hypnotic drive and effect make room for more measured abstract lyricism, and continued on the fourth piece, again with the magnificent sonic space of the church adding a dimension to Parker's performance. You get the gist. The last track is fifteen minutes long, and has a name, "Alpha And Omega", the beginning and the end, and it sounds like that. Giving it all, full of energy and sophisticated nuance, Evan Parker again demonstrates what a great artist he is, creating universes out of a brass tube.

Mateusz Kołakowski & Dave Liebman – Live at Jazz Standard (Fennomedia, 2009) ***½

Mateusz Kołakowski is a young Polish pianist, who played this nice series of duets with Dave Liebman, at the Jazz Standard in the US.The pieces vary between the impressionistic and the bluesy, with the latter style dominating, with a strong rhythmic pulse from the piano offering Liebman a great backbone to improvise. Both Kołakowski and Liebman deliver a nice performance, but without being adventurous. A very enjoyable album.

© stef

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Free and avant-garde jazz festivals

It is quite impossible to keep track of the jazz festivals around, although free and avant jazz festivals might be harder to find. Please help keep this list up-to-date with comments and suggestions below.

We will keep the links to the biggest festival websites throughout the years.

Last update: 4/2021



Concert Series: 

© stef

Friday, April 9, 2010

Jim Lewis, Andrew Downing, Jean Martin - On A Short Path From Memory To Forgotten (Barnyard, 2010) ****

Regular readers know I'm a fan of trumpet trios, always on the look-out for new things with this line-up, and here is again a great new album to add to the list, this time coming from Canada, with Jim Lewis on trumpet, Andrew Downing on bass, and Jean Martin on drums and trumophone.

Their playing is everything you can expect from a young trio with this line-up : the improvised pieces are open, relatively accessible, with the jazz tradition shining through the surface of the avant-garde. Some tracks have a strong rhythmic base, giving the pieces a nice sense of swing, but the band can be equally minimalistic, creating intimate soundscapes with sparse notes, sometimes moving from one to the other in the same piece. Lewis has a broad range, yet he is stellar when his playing is slow and bluesy, with some real deep emotional power, as on "Six". Downing is as confident on arco as he is on pizzi, providing the strong rhythmic backbone in the more uptempo moments. Martin's percussive power is eloquent and versatile (although his trumophone does not sound very convincing). The nice thing about the album is that the three musicians play these improvisations so very relaxed, with a great sense of pace, and no sense of urgency, despite the relatively short length of the tracks. No pretense, no needless artsy stuff, but adventure full of confidence. I like it a lot!

Listen to "Fourteen".

Buy from Barnyard Records.

Watch the band as the first performance on this clip - don't miss William Parker later on the video!

© stef

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Solo Piano

Solo piano albums, especially if they're abstract in nature, require real skills from the improvising artist to keep the listeners' ears glued to the music.It is not my favorite line-up, to be honest, yet if you listen to the following four releases, you can only admire the skills and the vision that lift this music far above the mediocre. Abstract music is rich, and can be emotionally compelling too. The demonstration is here.

Howard Riley - Solo In Vilnius (NoBusiness, 2010) ****

Howard Riley is relatively under-recorded as a solo artist, given that he has been playing avant-garde jazz since the early seventies, with names like Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Tony Oxley, Barry Guy, Trevor Watts, Elton Dean, Keith Tippett, to name but a few. On this double CD, recorded in the Saint Catherine's Church in Vilnius, Lithuania he plays his own compositions/improvisations, with additionally some covers of the standards "Round Midnight", "Misterioso" and "Yesterdays". Riley's playing is very openended, not spectacular or prone to dramatic effects, but is focused on careful development and further expansion of initial ideas. Even if open in spirit, his improvisations are quite controlled, never wild, never sweet or impressionistic, yet very lyrical and abstract. A rare combination.

Matthew Shipp - 4D (Thirsty Ear, 2010) ****

Those who have seen solo performances of Matthew Shipp will know that he likes to play standards once in a while, including "Frère Jacques", one of the most famous children's songs in the world. Though hard to believe, it took my wife a while to recognize the tune (actually I had to tell her what it was before she did recognize it), despite its obvious presence in Shipp's playing. The same goes with "Autumn Leaves", "Prelude To A Kiss", "What Is This Thing Called Love". He plays these pieces full of respect, but differently. He gets emotion and new musical elements, even little surprises out of these played-to-death-in-hotel-bars tunes, demonstrating that they are still full of life. The same holds true for his own compositions which start the album. He plays full of enthusiasm, full of ideas, full of lyricism, coming quite rapidly to the point, and all this with a playfulness that demonstrates both his pleasure in the music as in his instrument.

Geri Allen - Flying Toward The Sound (Motéma - 2010) ****

Another piano virtuoso is Geri Allen, who releases with "Flying Toward The Sound" one of her more abstract albums so far, dedicated to Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. As she comments on the liner notes : "These three pianists are foundational in terms of the modern piano. They informed my choices in abstract ways for this suite. It’s not like playing transcriptions; it’s more about refracting the admiration and love I have for them through my own muse, and letting the music reflect the ways they’ve influenced me through the years." But like Shipp, despite the abstract take at the music, she does not take herself so seriously. The joy and the jokes are still here, even if the music is very ambitious. Listen to her initial attack and sense of swing on "Dancing Mystic Poets@Twylight". And when the music is more expansive and meditative, it is rich with ideas and emotional depth.

Marc Hannaford - Polar (Extreme, 2009) ****

Probably least known of the pianists on this overview is Australian Marc Hannaford. I think he has received all the jazz awards possible down under, despite his young age, and he has already featured on this blog with the "Antripodean Collective". His first solo piano album shows us a guy with a vision : mixing rigidity with openness, sentiment with distance, the cerebral with emotion, playfulness with seriousness. He is not a jazz entertainer, he dives into the music itself and explores and expands from within. I don't think he cares about an audience per se, but that doesn't mean his music is not accessible: it is. But it is full of paradoxes and enigmas, avoiding the obvious, choosing for the austere and the beautiful, searching for the surprise in the lyricism, for the lightfootedness in the drama. Listen to his heavy left hand and his joyful right hand in "Genius And Emptiness". Most pieces are quite short, with the exception of the one mentioned and of "The Book Of Sand", possibly a reference to the Jose Luis Borges story with the same title. Like Borges, the music is self-contained, full of self-references. It is also beyond category : just improvised piano music. Yet very compelling. 

Watch Geri Allen on Youtube - for once a real good clip, actually part of the CD

Listen and watch Matthew Shipp solo on Youtube : another great quality clip.

© stef

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Claudia Quintet - Royal Toast (Cuneiform, 2010) ****½

The Claudia Quintet keeps exploring its own jazz subgenre, flirting with the cinematic, with prog rock, chamber music, classical influences and jazz, to make a great mixture of rhythmic, melodic and atmospheric delight, clever and subtle. The stellar band includes  leader John Hollenbeck on percussion, Ted Reichman on accordion, Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Matt Moran on vibes, Drew Gress on bass, and Gary Versace guest starring on piano. The latter's contribution to the overall sound is quite successful, adding his own nice touches as on the eery "Ideal Intro".

Every tune is a little compositional gem, full of unexpected twists and turns, strong forward motion, and long melodic lines, and tight arrangements. Interspersed among the composed pieces, there are four duels of musicians against themselves : "Ted versus Ted", "Drew with Drew", "Matt on Matt", and "Chris and Chris", short reactions on recorded improvisations, fun by themselves, and small fun interludes, but the real weight lies in the great gastronomical menu of tunes that Hollenbeck serves us : the food is fresh and rich, varied, with lots of ingredients, soft on the palate and easy to digest. Forget about the "toast" in the title. It all sounds simple, but it is not.

Even if the music is a little too controlled to my taste, it is of a rare level of sophistication, quality and class. Without a doubt the "quintet's" best so far.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love - Milwaukee Volume (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010) *****

The fifth duo album between Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love may well be their best one. The two musicians find each other blindly for these three lengthy pieces, that vary between rhythmic funky improvisations, slower, more meditative moments and adventurous searches of new sounds. And needless to say, all this in one piece, switching easily from one mood to the other, from one mode to the other, without losing a sense of focus and musical coherence.

The first piece, on tenor, is intense, joyful, full of swing and drive, full of power and subtletly.  The second track shows a darker and more experimental side of both musicians, yet the power picks up again on the third piece, with long circular breathing on baritone sax, with Vandermark's sound evolving in some of the strongest volumes that you can get out of it, filling the entire available space, then the thing collapses for some heartrending cries, propulsed into full agony by Nilssen-Love's rhythmic thunderstorm, worthy of the mighty Thor, the ancient Norwegian god, but of course after the storm everything becomes quiet again, yet equally full of tension, maybe because it is the calm before the next storm ... to be heard on the next album, for sure.

You hear two musicians full of confidence in themselves and each other, moving into every possible musical region together, in perfect symbiosis, with the pleasure of playing dripping from every note, from every beat.

Don't miss it.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Trombones ....

Paul Rutherford - Tetralogy (Emanem, 2009) ***½

Last year Emanem released new material by the late trombonist Paul Rutherford, an artist who had been instrumental in creating and shaping the European free improv scene. The album consists of four quite distinct performances. It starts with "Elesol", three tracks for solo trombone and electronics, a kind of experiment and not really successful in my opinion. This is followed by two pieces for horn quartet, with George Lewis on trombone, Martin Mayes on French horn, and Melvyn Poore on tuba. The four men make their improvisations vary between solemn lyricism and wild intensity, with the former being the dominant one.

The second CD starts with three lengthy pieces for solo trombone, and to me these are the highlight of the album, showing the trombonist's richness of voice and experimental power. The last three pieces are a trio performance with Paul Rogers on double bass and Nigel Morris on drums. An interesting album for fans of Rutherford. The non-electronic solo performance and the brass quartet alone would have made a great record. Now, it sounds more like a collection, rather than a unified listening experience.

The Astronomical Unit - Relativity (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) ****

Without a doubt a great fan of Rutherford, German trombonist Matthias Müller, in a cohesive trio format with Clayton Thomas on bass and Christian Marien on drums, takes the learnings of the great Brit into outer space. In four fully improvised pieces, the trio leads us on our interstellar journey, and it is quite an interesting one: it is one in which surprise and wonder reign. The notes are sparse and intense, the interaction telepathic and warm, moving quite well together, forward all the time.The sounds they create are minute, precise, full of new textures and shades of colors, unhurried, calm yet resolute. It does not have the raw energy of the duo albums of Müller and Marien, but the end result is even stronger. You will need open ears for this one, but you will not be disappointed. A truly powerful album.

Gail Brand & Mark Sanders - Instinct & The Body (Regardless, 2009) ***½

Equally adventurous, although much more direct and immediate in its expressivity is this CD by Gail Brand on trombone and Mark Sanders on drums. Both Brand and Sanders are well-known artists of the British free improv scene. Together they create this very intense, raw, violent, sensitive and subtle interplay of bouncing notes and crashing percussion, shifting between velvety and abrasive sounds. As the liner notes say : "ten years or more of laughing, crying, shouting, listening, uprooting, settling, coming and going, and improvising      it's all in the music". And that's an adequate description.

Watch Brand and Sanders on Youtube.

© stef

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nate Wooley & Paul Lytton - Creak Above 33 (Psi Recordings, 2010) ****

Three years after their debut on Broken Research, trumpeter Nate Wooley and percussionist Paul Lytton release a second album. This is the kind of "music" that puts all definitions of the term into question. The trumpet doesn't sound like a trumpet, the percussion doesn't sound like percussion. Both musicians, both artists try to find a common language, one that surpasses the limitations of their instruments. Hence the trumpet's voice dissappears into long whispering sounds, or short bursts, hence the percussion does not offer a beat or a rhythm, yet more often than not conjures up long screeching sounds, or even whispering sounds too, coming close to the trumpet. The dialogue is minute, very abstract, yet also incredibly intense. This is all about listening, and making sure that the dialogue becomes possible over and above the differences.

Music can be defined as "organised sound", but here you can even question the "organisation" part of it, since the dialogue evolves in a quite organic, open way, without any preconceptions.
It is only on the last piece that both instruments fall back on their more known voice, and the intensity only increases through it, what was implicit becomes explicit, what was happening under and around the silence, now breaks through it, but only for a while, the voices are muted again, the intensity maintained, the silence gaining in momentum and power.
Open ears are required for this intense adventure.

© stef

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Amir ElSaffar & Hafez Modirzadeh - Radif Suite (Pi Recordings, 2010) ****

Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi trumpeter, here joining forces with Iranian saxophonist Hafez Modirzadey, assisted by the great rhythm section of Mark Dresser on bass and Alex Cline on drums. In contrast to both ElSaffar's and Modirzadeh's previous albums, it would be hard to call this "world jazz". "Radif Suite" is jazz in every aspect of the music, while at the same time opening new melodic and rhythmic possibilities of the Arabic and Persian music, but it's not a fusion, or even a blending of genres, as on El Saffar's previous album "Two Rivers", or Modirzadeh's "People's Blues", two albums that are easy to recommend. The two real exceptions to that comment are ElSaffar's "Awj/Ancestral Memory", which is a partly sung in Arabic, full of spirituality, with the sax and trumpet taking over, with the same strong microtonal inflections, and the closing track "All Said And Done".

The album is built around two suites, the first, “Radif-e Kayhan” written by Modirzadeh, and the second, “Copper Suite”, by ElSaffar.

Especially in Modirzadeh's writing, you can hear Monk, Ornette Coleman, and the blues, all this with a quite open rhythmic structure, with once in a while maybe too strong emphases, or tracks leading to somewhat predictable (and not really relevant) themes. ElSaffar's compositions are even more open, more built around texture and sound than theme and structure, with the exception of the more boppish "Bird Of Prey". Both musicians are also excellent instrumentalists, demonstrating the power of pushing their horns beyond the traditional jazz sounds.

A great album by two composers who clearly deserve more attention.

Read more and listen to excerpts on Pi Recordings.

© stef