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Monday, May 31, 2010

Daniel Humair, Tony Malaby, Bruno Chevillon - Pas De Dense (Zig Zag Territoires, 2010) ****½

Two years ago, Swiss drummer Daniel Humair released "Full Contact" with Tony Malaby on sax and Joachim Kühn on piano for a whirling series of intense improvisations. Now, two years later, the piano is replaced by French bassist Bruno Chevillon.

The playing is no less intense, and spread over 12 "séquences", that move quite organically one into the other. Although fully improvised, the pieces are quite boppish and Malaby's natural lyricism make this a quite accessible album.  Humair's drumming is like on the previous album : powerful and subtle at the same time, a fine quality which also defines the overall nature of the music. Malaby is never less than sensitive, whether in the weak squeals of "Séquence HCM 4", or in his full-voiced Latin phrasing of "Séquence HCM 3". Fans of Malaby will recognize some of his signature phrasings on several pieces, yet that does not really bother, quite to the contrary, since there is again such a wealth of ideas that there is no risk of repetition from previous albums.

Whether swinging or abstract avant-gardism, the three musicians feel equally at ease in every environment, and have sufficient stories to tell, playing with tone, timbre, silence, phrasing, rhythm, interaction, density, volume, pulse in a way that can only be admired from beginning to end. The relative shortness of the pieces forces the musicians to create with a rare immediacy: you have to listen and be in the improvisation on the moment to make it work : there is no time to listen and absorb the other's ideas. And that's possibly the unusual power of this album: even if the improvisation is only two minutes long, or even one minute, the trio moves the initial notes or rhythm into a tiny story, with its own characteristics, development and ending, an improvised capsule of intimate conversation. So there is no real soloing, the trio creates the sound together, as one dense mass, yet full of shifting flavors. The last piece, because of its length, shows a different, more expansive side of the trio's possibilities, with room for soloing, and it is a great ending for the album.

Even if the music is less expressive than on "Tamarindo" or "Voladores", possibly because of the compactness of the pieces which does not allow for long developments, the end result is an absolute joy.

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth - Deluxe (Clean Feed, 2010) ***

Fans of Malaby can also find him on this recent album by bassist Chris Lightcap. The rest of the band is of equal level : Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby play tenor saxophone, Craig Taborn plays piano and Wurlitzer electric piano, and Gerald Cleaver is on drums. Andrew D'Angelo on alto joins on three tracks. The music is nice and cruising, yet despite its great band of musicians it is a little lacking in tension. Cool and relaxed. A matter of personal taste.

Listen from iTunes, and buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Inside Out In The Open (ESP, 2001)

I finally got to see a copy of "Inside Out In The Open", a documentary by Alan Roth. You can read more about it here, on the ESP website. The DVD consist of interviews with the old and the young generations of free jazz musicians, including Roswell Rudd, Burton Gree, Alan Silva, Joseph Jarman, Johnny Tchicai, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Baikida Carroll. In between the interviews, you get some very short extracts from music by Sun Ra, Other Dimensions In Music, Glen Spearman, etc.

It's too short, too short, too short, both with regard to the interviews as with the performances.

© stef

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swedish Azz - Jazz På Svenska (Not Two, 2010) ****

The album has the look and feel of a jazz album of the fifties : a vinyl production, the size of a 78 rpm disk (but played at 33 rpm), including the great stylish artwork and back cover reminiscent of the period. The music is a celebration of the Swedish jazz masters of the 50s, who were quite influenced by the cool West Coast jazz. The album contains three compositions, one by pianist Lars Werner and two by baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin.

Their music is played first reverently, with full melody and rhythm, but then the band shifts the whole thing into a modern package, including live electronics.

The band is Mats Gustafsson on alto, baritone saxes and live electronics, Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone, dieb13 on turntables, Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba and cimbasso, and Erik Carlsson on drums and selected percussion.

The first piece, "Drottningholm Ballad" starts like a slow ballroom dance, with repetitive melody, all sweet and nice, then it turns into a kind of nightmarish noise context. The second piece, "Danny's Dream" has the opposite structure : out of noise and unrelated sounds, the melody arises, followed by the rhythm, then the whole thing fizzles away at the end.

"Silhouette", the last piece, again starts with weird sounds, piercing sometimes, out of which the beautiful and sweet melody emerges, played by Gustafsson and Nordeson, wonderfully capturing the sound of the times, albeit hesitant and with a question mark, including the gimmicky repetition as if the needle got stuck somewhere in the middle of the piece, before the electronics take over completely, dark and gloomy, yet it ends again with sax and vibes playing the theme, all soft and sweet.

I am not an electronics fan, but it works in this context : the open and free interpretation of the music, together with the noise element creates a great contrast and tension with the original material, which is by definition part of the fifties' vision of the unencumbered, optimistic and worriless lifestyle of affluence and personal enjoyment. The more critical, more pessimistic and world-conscious attitude of today's musicians works as great counterweight to the original attitude. Yet the great thing is that they do not destroy the original, quite to the contrary, they lift it to a higher, contemporary level.

Watch the band at Alchemia (Poland) in February of this year.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

New festivals

Here is a festival in France this week. A little late to announce, I know ...

For those of you who live there, it really looks worth checking out.


© stef

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Piano ....

Usually, I listen to jazz albums as a whole, never as a collection of songs, like you can have with rock albums. So, in order to have rewarding albums, the music needs a strong unity of vision, with all pieces fitting into a coherent whole. And that is tough: either not all pieces are of the same level, or when there is too much variation, the stylistic unity is broken.

With piano albums, the challenge is even stronger than with other instruments. Many pianists fall back on the Bill Evans and Paul Bley kind of improvisations, beautiful by themselves, yet not always of the same listening impact as horns could have. Technically the skills are usually there, but it lacks creativity and raw power, falling back on the romantic impressionism of their role models.

Here are some examples of some musicians who are still in the process of defining their own musical voice, and some who have already achieved it. But the playing is good, with all of them. 

Jesse Stacken - Magnolia (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2010) ***½

Jesse Stacken is an upcoming pianist, who recently released "Mocking Bird", a trumpet duo with Kirk Knuffke, and on Peter Van Huffel's "Like The Rusted Key". He is accompanied here by Eivind Opsvik on bass and Jeff Davis on drums. Stacken's playing starts quite minimalistic, but when the bass and drums join, the intensity increases. The second piece is a little more abstract, with a jumpy theme, lightfooted and fun, with some heavy chords to create contrast with the subtle right hand. "Aquatic House" is intimate and meditative, with great arco playing by Opsvik. "The Whip" is more rooted in the ragtime jazz tradition, and somewhat at odds with the calm contemplative nature of the three following pieces of which "Time Canvas" is without a doubt the most intense, because Stacken creates a subdued atmosphere around silence, without the need to play too many notes, as on the development of "Crow Leaf Frog". The playing is good, but more unity in the styles of the compositions would have generated more power.

John Hébert Trio - Spiritual Lovers (Clean Feed, 2010) ***½

Bassist John Hébert is a great composer. His approach is quite accessible and warm, with musical subtleties that bring it a little beyond the regular mainstream, without being too risk-taking. The trio further consists of the stellar Benoît Delbecq on piano, clavinet and synth, and the equally stellar Gerald Cleaver on drums. Most of the pieces are quite relaxed and downtempo, with the exception of Guacamolo that starts too sweet and slow and then moves into a higher tempo, with the synth completely destroying the piece, a thing which also happens on the last track (sorry guys, I don't like the sound of it). Albums need variation, but this one was looked for in the wrong place. But not too negative, the rest of the album is good, with crisp playing by the three musicians.

Bernardo Sassetti Trio - Motion (Clean Feed, 2010) ***½

As the title suggests, "Motion" consists of pieces written for a variety of movies. The trio is Bernardo Sassetti  on piano, Carlos Barretto on bass, and Alexandre Frazao on drums. The fourteen mostly short pieces shift between jazzy impressionism, classical music, and then some totally out of place tracks like "MW 104.5 Bicubic", and "Bird & Beyond", which are full of power and adventure. Depending on your mood, this is a nice and accessible album. 

Sophia Domancich & Raphaël Marc - Lilienmund (Sans Bruit, 2010) ***½

With "Lilienmund", French pianist Sophia Domancich creates, together with Raphaël Marc on samplers, a quite ambitious work. The suite is inspired by the music of Schumann's song cycle "A Poet's Love", and contains extracts from a classical piece by the Chinese composer Qigang Chen (on "Part 3", and not on "Part 1", as the liner notes claim). She ventures far away from "Washed Away", her recent trio with William Parker and Hamid Drake. You can call this modern classical music at some moments ("Part 1", for instance), or jazz in others ("Part 2", for instance). Her playing is quite accessible with Marc's sampling adding the right level of drama and contrast, but which is more often than not irritating. And that's a shame, because the album has really strong moments.

Carolyn Hume & Paul May - Come To Nothing (Leo Records, 2010) ****

With "Come To Nothing", pianist Carolyn Hume, pushes the boundaries of her recent "Gravity and Grace". The minimalist romanticism is still omnipresent, but May's percussive power gives the music depth, or adding an environment that is menacing and dark. May limits himself to make screeching sounds on his cymbals, or give sparse hits on his drums, or create some rumbling effects, but with great impact. All improvisations are in the same vein, with the downside that not all pieces manage to get their own identity, but otherwise the album has a fantastic atmospheric unity. Whether it's jazz is of course another, and possibly irrelevant question.

Aki Takase - A Week Went By (PSI, 2010) ****

This album is the most free and avant-garde, with Aki Takase on piano, John Edwards on double bass, Tony Levin on drums. Takase is a very versatile pianist, at home in many genres and subgenres, but here she shows her wilder side, creating voluminous pieces, full of power : an environment in which Edwards and Levin feel quite comfortable. To her credit, she varies a lot, softening her playing, yet without relinquishing the overall tone and direction of the improvisation, as on the title track. John Tchicai joins her in a duet on alto saxophone for one piece, and though it's a little odd to suddenly hear a sax, it does not really disturb the overall sound. The strongest album in this series of reviews.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, May 28, 2010

Angles - Epileptical West/Live In Coimbra (Clean Feed, 2010) *****

Last year regular reader Wojtek asked me why I didn't give the previous album by Angles, "Every Woman Is A Tree" a five star rating. And I reacted saying that I really had considered it, yet did not at the last moment. I will make up for this and give the band's new release the maximum rating, because every track on the album is equally strong and compelling, while the music is powerfully expressive, the playing exuberant and full of emotional depth.

The band is the brainchild of Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen, and further consists of Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Mats Älekint on trombone, Kjell Nordeson on drums and Johan Bertling on double bass.

Like its predecessor, the music is one long wail of protest and anger against the madness of today's world. In order to do that, the band falls back on African rhythms, grand themes, and tremendous playing. The wonderful first track could be coming from Bengt Berger's "Bitter Funeral Beer", (one of my all-time favorites) with its polyrhythmic drive, strong theme and wild interactions, yet which all fit into one whole.

The second piece, "Today Is Better Than Tomorrow", starts with slow vibes, and rumbling drums, as a gradual build-up for the glorious theme, introduced by Küchen, with the other horns echoing it, and driving it forward. It is of a hair-raising sadness.

The title track starts full of disorientation and madness over a strong rhythmic backbone, with Broo's trumpet leading the tune, then changing gear into a strong African rhythm, half-funky over which a compelling theme is woven, a solid base for the individual soloists to express their anger, and joy, then shifting back into chaotic madness, with the bass driving up the tempo to give Nordeson the chance to hammer away. "En Svensk Brownie", is again a funky rhythmic delight, evolving into middle piece with the arco bass and percussion reminiscent of Hemphill's Dogon A.D.

To my great joy, they also play the title song of their previous album, an absolutely stunning, stirring, rousing composition, again a gloriously expansive piece, that is both sad and joyful, angry and inviting, full of powerful soloing. The long last track is quieter, subdued, with Küchen's soloing beautifully soulful and bluesy, giving a great sense of compassion and hope at the same time.The piece becomes excited, then is crystalised around a sensitive arco bass solo by Bertling in the middle, then moving back to the main theme and related distress.

And it is a live album, with an audience that shouts full of enthusiasm, not only after the tracks, but also when the band unexpectedly change gear, or fall back into a steady groove. Great!

As you may read, I am excited. And more than just a little. This music gets you whole: soul, mind, heart and body.

If you buy only one album this year, buy this one!

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Originalljudet (Kalligrammofon, 2010) ****

In a week of personal loss, the music of Swedish band Orginalljudet has been comforting and uplifting for me at the same time. Their name means "original sound" or "odd sound". This duality is well reflected in the music. The basis is old, rooted in tradition : waltzes, polkas, marching band music ... easily recognisable, yet the band's approach is quite new, full of late night atmosphere, most of the time quite slow, unhurried, with everything covered under a blanket of warm sound.

The band consists of Egil Sandström on bass, Jens Peterson Berger on drums, brainwave and sough machine, Hans Jörg Ehammer on accordion, Rosali Grankull on alt saxophone and piano, Aron Junker on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet. Sandström and Berger made the compositions and arrangements.

This is not about soloing, or about personal expressivity, it is even quite beyond the usual music range of this blog. Nothing is complex, nothing is made difficult.  This is real mood music, with great themes and great arrangements, clever in its approach, rich in sensitivity, and absolutely stellar in creating a unique sound throughout.

If you like Tin Hat Trio and the Cracow Klezmer Band, you will surely enjoy this band.

Listen and buy from their website.

© stef

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mark Charig with Keith Tippett and Ann Winter - Pipedream (Ogun, 1977/2010) ****½

An album that I hesitated to add in my recent overview of new vocal avant jazz albums, but that I kept for a later occasion for several reasons : it requires special attention, and it is not new. The trio is Mark Charig on cornet and tenor horn, Keith Tippett on organ, zither, piano, voice and bells, and Ann Winter on voice and bells. The album is a re-issue of the 1977 Ogun LP, now remastered and with an additional track.

The album is absolutely exceptional. The seven tracks are improvisations, performed in St. Stephen's Church in Bristol on some cold January days in 1977. The resonance of the church provides the ideal context for this music, that is solemn, full of drama, especially when the organ is the harmonic instrument, as on the opening track and on "Pavanne". On the other tracks, when Winter sings, Tippett plays the zither, giving the music an oriental zen-like openness. Ann Winter's singing is absolutely phenomenal. Sure, she improvises, without words, but the way she integrates with the music is stunning. On the second track "Ghostly Chances", I had to re-listen several times to discern her sustained high tones from Charig's trumpet. The fourth piece, "Ode To The Ghost Of An Improvised Past", is my favorite, with Tippett joining Winter's singing: notes are sparse, but space is everywhere, soothing and destabilising at the same time, leading to an inviting sense of disorientation.

Charig is great, filling the church with his warm and clear tones, full of wonderment and surprise, giving it the spiritual context of the church setting, which not only offers the acoustics, but also the atmosphere. The same holds true for Tippett's organ, which he keeps away from the powerful bombast you may fear from the instrument. On the title track, "Pipedream", he manages to subdue the instrument to a long sonoric backdrop for Charig's bluesy soloing.

The bonus track is called "The Trio Gets Lost In The Magic Forest", and that's exactly how it sounds, but luckily they don't get lost musically: it sounds experimental and weird, with dark and eery background tones, over which Winter uses vocal tones like shards of glass piercing the black surroundings.

Apparently, the original LP sounded terrible, and was recorded with a tape recorder, and edited "with scissors and sticky tape'", as Charig describes in the liner notes. We can only be happy that technology managed to rescue the music.

This is by any measure a powerful piece of music. It's more than thirty years old, yet today it sounds like part of today's musical environment. It's a testimony to the vision of these three musicians that even after three decades this album still sounds so relevant and powerful.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Piano and reeds

The duet is a pure format for joint improvisation, especially with two melodic instruments, and even more with a harmonic and solo instrument, like here, the piano and clarinet or soprano: sound and melody become a thing to play with, to jointly create, to nurture and make grow together, drive it in one direction, or back, or sideways. Possibilities for the next note are infinite, yet shaping it together coherently requires tremendous listening and instrumental skills, of the Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron level. It also requires this element of intimacy : you need to open yourself for the other, with your vulnerabilities on a silver plate, and that's possibly the hardest part. Here are some great recent examples.

Marilyn Crispell & David Rothenberg - One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM, 2010) ****

Pianist Marilyn Crispell has played duets before with reedists, such as Tim Berne, Stefano Maltese. The approach on this album is a little different, primarily because of the nature of David Rothenberg's playing. His recent work, playing and evoking the sound of nature (whales, birds, ...) might give him a certain "new-agey" quality, yet my fear seems to be largely unfounded when I hear him play on this album. Crispell is relatively quiet, sparse, sensitive, romantic, moving into Rothenberg's style of playing, giving him ample space to improvise, and he does so with lots of skills, without falling back on patterns or cheap sentiment, with my personal preference going to his use of the bass clarinet. Sure, the music is romantic in essence, as so often on ECM, but then of the kind that is genuine in its emotional delivery, not there to please the audience. The end result is quite accessible, light and fresh, influenced by nature, and the pieces have this spontaneous and organic quality of development you can expect from evoking a pristine habitat. The album also shows another side of two excellent musicians.

Gianni Lenoci & Gianni Mimmo - Reciprocal Uncles (Amirani, 2010) ****

The two Italians, the two Giannis are an almost perfect match for each other: sensitive, lyrical and abstract, a rare combination. Their music is one of story-telling, with themes that come up and change, evolve, sometimes light-footed, as on "Consideration", sometimes dark and foreboding, as on "One Or More", and listen how Mimmo's soprano lifts Lenoci out of his deep rumbling sounds, injects hope into despair, making the pianist even sing at the end, single-toned and pure. They can leave the beaten track and explore just sound, as on the long "What The Truth Is Made For", fragile and vulnerable, creating a glass monument out of shattered pieces.
Jazzy playfulness in "Steppin' Elements", and modern classical permeate all pieces. It is not easy listening, yet very rewarding.

Niko Meinhold & Noel Taylor - Border Patrol (Self Published, 2010) ****

Noel Taylor is the clarinetist of the recently reviewed "Splatter" CD, here forming a duet with German pianist Niko Meinhold. The intro of the first piece already gives a great sense of direction: this duo can create suspense : sparse clarinet tones, and the use of extended techniques on the piano strings, make you want to know what is coming next, how these otherworldly sounds will evolve, merge, bounce back. Without working with themes or even recognisable patterns, the two musicians master and integrate the legacy of their training : from classical music, jazz, blues to more modern aspects of new music and avant-garde, nicely navigating between romantic lyricism and abstract tension and discovery, this is music with character and vision. Both are also great at using silence and pace in the development of their improvisations. Their lack of urgency gives most pieces a very careful, even cautious feeling, with the quality of the notes getting preference over their quantity or even of the complexity of the interaction.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

Watch a visual artist's impression of "Invocation" by Crispell and Rothenberg (possibly the most romantic piece on the album)

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Maciej Obara Special Quartet - Four (Ars Cameralis Records, 2010) ****

Another easy album to recommend. Upcoming Polish alto saxophonist Maciej Obara, meets some great jazz musicians of the moment in New York earlier this year: Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Mark Helias on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. The result is this fantastic album. Even if the pieces are composed, yet barely, the focus is on the open improvisations, the respectful and measured interplay, full of lyricism and melodic expansion. Obara has released two albums so far, and is best known for his collaborations with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Even if the music is relatively calm, it has its bouts of intensity. Influences abound, from the boppish last track, to Ornette Colemane-style unision themes, to more open and free interplay. The latter, no surprise, gets my preference and it also represents the band's best moments. Enjoy!

Maciej Obara - I Can Do It (Self-published, 2009)***

 On this album, the aloist is joined by Maciej Garbowski on bass and Krzysztof Gradziuk on drums.The trio travels across jazz history, which leads to a somewhat too strong variation in styles and levels of intensity, but the playing is good.

You can order directly from the musicians

Watch the trio on Youtube

© stef

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bill Dixon, Aaron Siegel, Ben Hall - Weight/Counterweight (Brokenresearch, 2009) *****

Trumpeter Bill Dixon is an unrelenting seeker of new sound, yet not in the experimental fashion: it is the musical effect that he is after : mood, spirit, soul. Even in his most abstract moments, humanity shines through his music.

Take this fantastic double vinyl LP for instance. Dixon is joined by Aaron Siegel and Ben Hall, both on percussion, although that's much said, they use percussion instruments to create ring tones, bells, scraping sounds or regular percussive actions. Dixon's trumpet is modified with delay, but always with voice.

The album, with its thick cardboard sleeves, and heavy 220 gram vinyl, is a pleasure to keep in your hands, and it's actually the only weight of the album. The music itself, is light as a breeze in its form, with sounds that sometimes barely create ripples in the silence, with zen-like punctuation and formless precision, yet full of substance and power.

That is the absolute mastership of this album: like a Japanese ink drawing, a few brush strokes are sufficient to evoke everything that needs to be said, a world by itself, creating an incredible memory imprint and listening experience, going well beyond just an aesthetic exercise: Dixon has never been non-committal, and that's how he sounds, he goes deep with every note, because every note matters. Nothing is gratuitous. Because that would be disrespectful to music. Some of his sounds are sweet, some sad, some full of spiritual expansivenes, but some create hair-raising horror, as in the last piece of the LP. You never know, and despite the minimalism, there are a wealth of unexpected things to hear, keeping your ears chained to each sound, as it evolves into a new one, with the tension between the two almost tangible.

And kudos to Siegel and Hall: their restraint and refined creation of context is absolutely fabulous.

Highly recommended!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman - Dual Identity (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

A double alto sax front line is quite exceptional, and even more so when both musicians are known for their compositional intricacy and technical mastership ... and find each other organically despite their quite different angle of approach to music.The two altos are Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose Indian background is omnipresent in his compositions and improvisations, and Steve Lehman, whose skills can be an asset, but are sometimes also a burden, and quite well illustrated by his two latest albums.

This is not Lehman's first exposure to more Indian influence, actually, his work with pianist Vijay Iyer in Fieldwork, quite well mirrored the many albums that Mahanthappa and Iyer released together. Now both saxes have found each other in the great company of three musicians of equal skills : Liberty Ellman on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damion Reid on drums.

The composition of the pieces is almost evenly divided among the two saxophonists, with one by Ellman, and it's interesting to hear how they move towards each other, despite the easy recognition of the Mahanthappa tracks.

In any case, the tunes are lively, complex but not too much, keeping their human directness and warmth, with great soloing from all musicians. Although I wish they could have been more explosive and daring at times, the delivery is full of soul and emotional depth.

The album is was recorded live at the Braga Jazz Festival, Portugal in 2009. The live audience gives the music even more depth, although for some tracks the applause is mixed out (why? why? have you ever heard a mute audience?).

And these five guys have skills you can only dream of. Brewer and Reid are possibly the less known members of the band, but what a rhythm section! Recommended.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nobu Stowe - Confusion Bleue (Soulnote, 2010) *****

Some years ago, I showed my admiration for Nobu Stowe's "Hommage to Klaus Kinski", a kind of combination of post-bop, and free improvisation, yet very lyrical but full of freedom. The same concept is used here, for their new album, and you can easily add "Bitches' Brew" and early seventies free jazz as additional influences. The band is slightly altered, with Nobu Stowe on acoustic grand piano (Yamaha G-III), Wurlitzer electric piano, glockenspiel, “Nanbu-Tetsu” bell, Ross Bonadonna on guitars and alto saxophone, Tyler Goodwin on 5-string double-bass, Ray Sage on drums. Lee Pembleton as sound wizard needs to be explicitly mentioned.

 With the exception of Bill Evans' "Blue In Green", all nine pieces are fully improvised, yet they sound as if they were played by a band with a common vision, attentive to structural changes in the music, like mood, rhythm, harmonic shifts, density and intensity. This is not a free-for-all, but gradually built-up joint compositions, growing organically from the initial steps, out of which a story emerges, that unfolds, with plot twists and new characters entering and leaving.

The album is set up quite suite-like, with pieces moving into one another, interspersed with shorter, usually calmer tracks, with more obvious electronic effects. "Premier Mouvement" is built around acoustic piano lyricism, quite melodic, almost impressionistic, full of drama, gradually getting denser and denser, more and more intense, and the quality of the band can be judged by the almost telepathic finale, when the full storm subsides into a gentle breeze.  "Deuxième Mouvement" has clear influences from the electric Miles, with pounding drums, sparse, almost percussive guitar sounds, manic electric piano, yet it all flows, it all sounds warm and welcome.

"Troisième Mouvement" is darker, gloomy, eery too, especially because of the pounding piano, drums and bass, chased by weird background electronics, like you've entered the realm of the unknown and the unexpected. Without shifting the mood, and maintaining the intensity of the previous piece, "Intermède 3" offers gentle piano playing with arco bass, and subtle percussive effects. Bandonna picks up his sax for the "Quatrième Mouvement", adding expressive power to the dense sound waves that are created by the rest of the band. The "Epilogue" is built around a shifting repetitive piano phrase, almost classical, but with rhythmic interruptions, with electronic counterpoint and with the other musicians seeming to come from another space, evolving into almost boogie, then bop, yet at a higher level, subtle, compelling, then crashing completely into electronic white noise. It is absolutely hypnotic.

It is hard to describe, but you get more musical ideas and influences in one album here, than in a dozen other, combined to organically forge a musical universe that is coherent, full of drama and cinematic evolution and story-telling. It is not about the expression of the individual supported by fellow musicians, although you get that too, but a real collective and powerful sound sculpture. It is quite ambitious in its concept, but the end result is stunning. Don't miss it.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Little Women - Throat (AUM Fidelity, 2010) ****

Little Women is back with "Throat", an album that continues the direction set three years ago with their debut EP, "Teeth", with an interesting mix of hard guitars, interesting sound explorations on sax, and updating the jazz tradition by driving it headfirst into rock and noise. The label describes the music as a "brutally precise sonic assault and ascendant melodies, attacking written and improvised material with equal ferocity", which says it pretty well. Little Women is Travis Laplante on tenor sax, Darius Jones on alto, Andrew Smiley on guitar, and Jason Nazary on drums.

From the very first notes, you are pulled into high tempo power play, with blaring saxes, shrill guitar chords and shifting rhythms, with no real room for soloing. The third piece is even more violent and noisy, with Smiley's guitar screeching relentlessly, with the saxes keeping up the same high note throughout, and Nazary banging away, but then you get a clever mood shift towards the end, kind of introducing the more Ayleresque "Throat IV", revolving around a beautiful gospel-like melody, played by the two saxes, with one shifting from unison to dissonance and back, getting a full rock backing when guitar and drums join, driving the piece to an even higher level of exaltation, but when that's achieved, the piece is deconstructed into more dissonant and rebellious territory, before picking up again.

You get the picture: raw delivery, with subtlety present the whole time, even in the roughest parts, with a quite good balance between noise and gentleness, between anger and sensitivity, between rock and jazz.

The album ends like their debut album, without instruments, but with shouts by the four band members, crazy, mad, ferocious, animal-like, orgasmic (?), painful, whatever you hear into it, but listen carefully, and you will identify rhythm and structure.

Watch a recent YouTube clip, playing "Throat V".

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vocal acrobatics

Sometimes it is said that the human voice is the most beautiful musical instrument, a statement that I can adhere to, although often not in a jazz context, especially not the male voice, but that's a question of subjective appreciation. In avant-garde jazz, vocal acrobatics tend to be way "out there", bordering on the ridiculous or the silly, interesting endeavors to use the voice differently, but often not going beyond some stylistic exercises, as one might get as a classroom task, rather than using the voice as the instrument to share heart-felt emotions.

That being said, if new vocal albums are released, I still want to share this information with you, who may be interested. Leo Records has in any case made it one of its key focuses lately. So here are the most worthwhile to look out for. 

Veronique Dubois / François Carrier - Being With (Leo Records, 2010)

Regular readers know my appreciation for Canadian saxophonist François Carrier, who manages to remain quite lyrical even in his most adventurous journeys. Here he is joined by Véronique Dubois, Canadian avant-garde singer. The whole album is a wonderful dance of two voices, interacting, responding, merging, pushing each other forward into new regions of sound. It has something bird-like at times, singing high in the trees, in a language you can't really fathom but because of the interplay you assume it has meaning, and even if it doesn't, it sounds like two voices singing out their joy, and sharing emotional content. Dubois' voice is very avant, ranging for grunts and shouts to high-pierced vocalisations, Carrier is versatile enough to find the same voice on his instruments. 

Triangulation - Whirligigs (Leo Records, 2010)

The most unusual and my favorite in this list is "Whirligigs", and then in the vocal region I usually like the least : the male voice. The vocals are Bruno Amstad's, a German singer and vocal performer. The rest of the band is Christy Doran on guitars, Patrice Heral on percussion, and John Wolf Brennan piano and harmonium. It's hard to call this music jazz, and it's hard to call it anything but stunning. You can call it tribal, ethnic, trance-music, it is a rhythmic fest with hypnotic percussive and vocal overdubs, with eery guitar and piano chords and subtle emphasis adding great depth. It is dramatic, theatrical, bombastic, a weird sonic universe, which defies categorisation. An unbelievable listening experience.

Sainkho Namchylak / Nick Sudnick - Not Quite Songs (Leo Records, 2010)

Tuvan singer Sainkho Namchylak is accompanied by Nick Sudnick, a Russian musician who only plays on self-built instruments. Namchylak's acrobatics are possibly the most expansive of all vocalists on this list, from low grunts to child-like lullabies to the typical Tuvan overtone singing. An acquired taste. Sudnick's instruments sound fantastic, whatever they are.

Kihnoua - Unauthorized Caprices (NotTwo Records, 2010)

On this great album by the band Kihnoua, the vocal part is performed by Dohee Lee, a Korean dancer and singer. The rest of the band consists of Larry Ochs on sopranino and tenor saxophones, Scott Amendola on drums and electronics, Liz Allbee on trumpet and electronics, Joan Jeanrenaud on cello, and Fred Frith on guitar (on one track). Lee's singing is something special, quite Asian in its scales and articulation, bordering between singing and reciting for No theater. Like on the Dubois/Carrier album, we also get a duet between sax and voice. On "Weightless", Amendola joins on drums. Lee's most beautiful singing can be heard on the last track "Less Than A Wind". I wish she would have sung like this on the whole album.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vandermark & friends ....

The guy's prolific, open to playing with musicians from very diverse backgrounds. That being said, I have the impression that Vandermark is little influenced by the musicians he plays with. He does his thing, and the others try to add some spice.

Artifact: iTi Live In St. Johann (Okka Disk, 2010) **½

This album starts abstract and wild, with Johannes Bauer's trombone and Vandemark's sax locking horns, supported by Paal Nilssen-Love's explosive power-drumming, and totally thrown off-balance by the absolutely irritating screeching and scratching of Thomas Lehn's synthesizer. At moments inspired, but unfortunately not always, the music evolves without too much sense of direction. The quiet second piece offers a break in the otherwise mad chaos.

Lean Left - The Ex Guitars meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1 (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2010) ***½

On this album, released in two parts, with Volume 1 already available and Volume 2 to be released later this year, Vandermark and Nilssen-Love meet Andy Moor and Terrie Ex, the guitarists of the Dutch punk band "The Ex". On the major part of the album, you have duets between the saxophonist and the drummer, and that is the best thing about this album. The added value of Moor and Ex is at best in support of the two leaders, adding power and rawness to the proceedings, but otherwise they seem completely lost about what to do, if not for adding some noise on the lengthy "Right Lung". Their limited skills force Vandermark and Nilssen-Love to keep their approach quite simple, the usual power play with repetitive and unmistakeable Vandermark phrasing. When the powerplay subsides, more sensitive moments arise, in which the guitars contribute little, while luckily remaining relatively unobtrusive.

Volume 2 starts as a kind of mirror to Volume 1, with the two guitars taking the lead on the first piece for some minimalist noise-making, with Vandermark only faintly joining after ten minutes or so. The second piece is on the contrary all fire and explosion, with all four members contributing quite powerfully, also in the more quiet moments.

Tim Daisy / Ken Vandermark Duo - Light On The Wall (Laurence Family Records, 2010) ****

This double vinyl is the most welcome album of the series, with Vandermark playing duets with Tim Daisy on drums on the first disk. The performance was recorded exactly two years ago in Poznań, Poland.

The album starts with "Autostrada", slowly picking up speed with Vandermark on clarinet, then Daisy pushes up a kind of tribal rhythm, bringing the clarinet to full intensity, then slowing down for a nice melodious moment. "The Empty Chair" is the ideal Vandermark + percussion duet, full of funky power, deep rhythmic grooves, offering the drummer all the opportunities to demonstrate what can be done if the rhythm is already so inherently present in the solo instrument, and that's what Daisy does, grasping the opportunity to play slow, or double-time, or play around the beat, all cleverness and subtlety, driving the reverse situation to an extreme in the last minutes. Man, this is great fun!

The B-side starts with "Turnabout", a quiet and sensitive piece, lyrical and sweet, and is followed "Landing", in which the rhythm picks up again for some great funky improv, not unlike what we've heard before, yet always nice to hear again, with "Decollage" being more abstract free improv without clear patterns.

On the second disk, Tim Daisy plays seven pieces for solo percussion, and on the D-side, Vandermark brings four 'études for Jimmy Giuffre' on clarinet. Both solo sides are quite interesting to listen to, and a nice addition to complete the album, yet are not really essential.

Watch a clip of Vandermark + Daisy, recorded on May 15, 2008, so exactly two years ago.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Young bands ... modern jazz

The reviewer's dilemma is the many CDs that are worthwhile to mention, but never get at the top of the pile for real deep and repeated listening. Very often the playing and the concepts, are full of character and sometimes even unique angles of approach, yet without offering the immediate surprise or gripping emotional delivery that will grab your servant by the throat (or the heart).

Yet not mentioning them would be a shame. After all, this reviewing of music is all really subjective stuff.

Pete Robbins’ “siLENT Z Live” (Hate Laugh Music, 2010) 

Pete Robbins on alto, Jesse Neuman on cornet and effects, Mike Gamble on guitar and effects, Thomas Morgan on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and special guest pianist Cory Smythe. Great playing, great modern jazz, with some unexpected twists and rhythms, some rock and fusion angles.

Tommy Babin's Benzene - Your Body Is Your Prison (Drip Audio, 2010)

Tommy Babin on bass, Chad Makela on baritone saxophone, Chad MacQuarrie on guitar, Skye Brooks on drums. A true bassist's album, full of great rhythms, melodic too, with a great modern sound, quite subtle. Possibly the one I feel the worst about not actually reviewing it.

Walter Beltrami - Timoka (Re:Think-Art, 2009)

An equally interesting band from Italy, with Walter Beltrami on guitar, Francesco Bearzatti on sax and clarinet,
Roberto Bordiga on bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums. Clever, subtle and creative. Dedicated to film director Ingmar Bergman.

But rather than describing it, just watch this unusually qualitative Youtube clip of the band (well filmed, several cameras, great sound).

© stef

Friday, May 14, 2010

A few days off ....

... and I visited Paris, including Jim Morrison's grave at Père Lachaise cemetery. Hard to find and not well-kept.

CD reviews will start again shortly.

© stef

Monday, May 10, 2010

Empty Cage Quartet & Soletti/Besnard - Take Care Of Floating (Rude Awakening, 2010) ****

The Empty Cage Quartet is one of those bands that I've been following with interest from their early stages, and one that has clearly evolved into more structured, often complex compositions, yet quite lyrical and full of freedom, without falling back on traditional jazz structures. Most of their albums are easy to recommend. They have also evolved from quite open-textured and long improvisations to more compact and dense music, in which the musicians build layers of sound rather than expanding in long soloing.

Adding two musicians to the band, French clarinetist Aurélien Besnard and guitarist Patrice Soletti, you would expect the density to increase into mini big band territory, yet quite the opposite is true. The music has a higher level of accessibility than the recent "Gravity" on Clean Feed, offering a light and open feel, even on dark compositions such as "Ele(jg)y" or "Only As Evidence".

The band is Kris Tiner on trumpet, Jason Mears on alto sax and clarinet, Aurélien Besnard on clarinet, Patrice Soletti on guitar, Ivan Johnson on bass, and Paul Kikuchi on drums. One of the most amazing elements is that the band rehearsed two days with the French guest musicians, and they play as if they've been part of the quartet for many years. The band's approach to composition leads to pieces that evolve suite-like, with unexpected twists and turns, change of moods and rhythms, which makes it not always easy to follow what is going on, but it increases the joy of listening in the process. You do not end up where you started. And what more do you want?

Buy from, from CDBaby or iTunes.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Carlos Barretto - Labirintos (Clean Feed, 2010) ***½

The 11th review of the more than 1,000 CD reviews that I have written so far, was Carlos Barretto's Lokomotiv Trio's second album on Clean Feed, also with Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums. So many years later, the trio is still together, and manage to play captivating and creative modern jazz without the need of a French reed player to enrich the sound (François Corneloup or Louis Sclavis).

The music brought here is very rhythmic, sometimes rock-influenced, sometimes boppish, carefully measured yet often coloring a little outside the lines, though not too much. Even if all three musicians are excellent, it is Delgado's guitar that offers the lead voice, with the occasional opportunity for the bass and drums to solo. In that sense the trio also fits well within the bop tradition.

As a special treat, here are two Youtube clips, one with an interview of the band earlier this year on Portuguese television, and one with a very romantic photographic composition of "Salada 2", the opening track of their new album. This will tell you more than all my scriblings.

Both clips give a good view on the various faces of "Lokomotiv".

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Food - Quiet Inlet (ECM, 2010) ****

British saxophonist Iain Ballamy has had a quite remarkable and visionary approach to music that he stuck to for many years. Apart from being a busy sideman in the fusion bands of Bill Bruford, or the more mainstream and modern jazz outfits with Ian Shaw and Billy Jenkins, his own band "Food" that he co-founded with Norwegian drummer and electronics wizzard Thomas Strønen, has been at the forefront of nujazz, combining instruments and harmonic subtlety of jazz with rock beats, electronics and processing.

"Quiet Inlet" is their first on ECM, and is somewhat better than their previous "Molecular Gastronomy". On this album, Nils Petter Molvaer plays trumpet, replacing Arve Henriksen who was the trumpeter since the beginning, and Austrian guitarist Christian Fennesz, well-known in the world of electronic music. Remarkably, on this album Molvaer and Fennesz don't meet each other, with the former playing on four tracks and the latter on the three other tracks.

The music is as you can expect, with beautiful improvised sax and trumpet lines, full of melancholy, soaring high over a backdrop of electronic waves and alternating subtle and pumping rhythms. It does fit within the ECM catalogue because of its romantic expansiveness and the required pure quality of the recording.

My only regret is for the great art work and boxes of the former Feral releases.  

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Quality and quantity and art

Someone once told me that creativity is also the result of quantity. You need many, many ideas before one will stick, you need many many many efforts for little results. Of all the efforts, you, the creator, have to be absolutely merciless in killing your own efforts, and keeping only - out of the vast quantity of stuff - only those that are worthwhile to share.

Of the thousands of artists, only a few will be able to get recognition. For every Van Gogh, there are hundreds of thousands of painters who lived in total obscurity.

Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dalí made dozens of drawings, trying different angles and compositions before they even started on their paintings. Many possible ideas and approaches. Van Gogh even over-painted at least one third of all his own paintings because he wasn't satisfied.

All that is well, but even after a careful selection of the quality things that were not discarded, you end up with stuff that no one is interested in?  Van Gogh made over two thousand paintings and sold only one during his lifetime : "The Red Vineyard of Arles", depicted here.

Sometimes I have the impression that the same holds true for avant-garde music.

The painting that was sold for the highest price so far is Jackson Pollock's  "Number 5", for a meagre $140 mio in 2006.

It reflects so strongly the power and freedom and expressivity of free jazz, that it's encouraging.

 Why do people come to accept with their eyes what they can't with their ears? I'm not sure Pollock's paintings are as widely appreciated as Van Gogh's by the general public, but at least he gets the recognition he deserves.

By the way, the original art work on Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" album has the painting "White Light" by Jackson Pollock. Coleman himself was of the opinion that "out of chaos, intuition and freedom, beauty will emerge". And I couldn't agree more!

On a more negative point, here are some statistics from literature and the world of books, as written by Michael Allen in "On the Survival Of Rats In The Slush Pile" (Allen himself could not find a publisher and so he became one himself)

"It is generally reckoned that, however carefully or otherwise the slush pile is read, it is rare to find anything in it which is worth even the most cursory consideration as a candidate for publication. The agent Pat Kavanagh, mentioned above, was asked how often she had found a book in the slush pile that was worth pursuing. ‘Never,’ she said. ‘I don’t believe it has ever happened to me.’ Barry Turner, in The Writer’s Handbook, once mentioned an agent who fared a little better than that, but not much. In 14 years of reading 25-30 manuscripts a month, the agent found 5 good ones. Another agent, at Curtis Brown, personally received 1,200 manuscripts in one year, and took on 2 of the authors as clients. One agent at perhaps the largest UK agency remarked recently that she was having to read 3,000 manuscripts in order to find 1 client. In 1989, The Times reported that the well-known British imprint Hutchinson was receiving about 1,000 manuscripts a year. One of these unsolicited manuscripts might be published every couple of years or so. Maybe. At Chatto and Windus the Times reporter was told that about 10 manuscripts arrived every day. Were they all read? Long pause. ‘Yes.’ Were any ever taken on? Long pause. ‘No.’ The largest publisher of romantic novels in the UK is Mills & Boon, or Harlequin Mills & Boon, to give the firm its full name. The Mills & Boon - editorial director has stated that the firm receives 6,000 manuscripts a year from hopeful and so-far unpublished writers. Out of these submissions, the company takes on, in a good year, about 10 new writers. In 1995, the owner of two small publishing firms in the USA reported in Publishers Weekly that he had received nearly 7,000 offers of books in the previous twelve months, and had decided to accept 12 of these submissions. A much larger and more prestigious American firm, Viking, agreed to publish only one unsolicited manuscript in 26 years; that was Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. The book went on to become
a bestseller as well as the basis for a successful film. Finally, the publisher Anthony Blond, writing in The Spectator, maintained that the acceptance rate of unsolicited manuscripts was 1 in 2,000, in both London and New York. And so on. Taleb rightly advises us against drawing general conclusions from insufficient data (the Baconian flaw), but it would be wearisome, and it is surely unnecessary, to go further. We can safely conclude, I suggest, that very few manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile – anyone’s slush pile, whether agent or publisher – with a view to being taken further. It follows therefore, as dogs follow a bitch in season, that a writer’s chances of achieving any kind of success are extraordinarily small. There is only the slimmest chance that a new and as yet unpublished writer will be taken on to an agent’s list of clients; even if taken on as a client, there is no guarantee of publication; and even if the writer is published, the chances of achieving any kind of critical or commercial success are also small."

It may be comforting that the other arts are subjected to the same publishing laws as music. 

© stef

Friday, May 7, 2010

Peter Epstein & Idée Fixe - Abstract Realism (Origin, 2010) ****½

As a leader, saxophonist Peter Epstein released three modern jazz CDs, one Portuguese CD, a solo sax record with some classical music and some improvisations, a fantastic world jazz album ("Lingua Franca"), and all this in a quite irregular time span, of which most ten years ago and not much lately.

He is a musician with broad technical skills, open to many genres, and that seems to have been his problem in creating a specific profile.

But now he's here with an absolutely stellar album. The band is Andy Barbera on guitar, Sam Minaie on bass, and Matt Mayhall on drums, with the leader on alto. Brian Walsh joins as a guest on bass clarinet, and Gavin Templeton on alto and soprano saxophones, for two reed trios, and joining on some other tracks.

Compositionally, this is without a doubt his best album. He's gone beyond the tune, beyond the rhyhthmic spielerei to create a wonderfully compelling and gripping album, on which instruments and sounds are of a rare expressive power. One of the album's major strengths is the paradoxical combination of relatively light textures with the overall gravitas and emotional depth of the music.On some tracks, his world music interests and scales seep into the improvisations, which gives the whole even more character.

Epstein's tone on alto is a joy, he can switch from a very pure sound to raw blasts, and high sensitive whimpers. But so is the playing by the rest of the band, and for the same reason : Barbera plays clean-toned and fluid, yet on the right moments the sounds gets harsh and powerful. Luckily, they've also gone beyond the demonstration of skills: it is all so functional to serve the quality of the final musical result. And that holds true for the use of electronics in the long title track.

Highly recommended.

© stef

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lawnmower - West (Clean Feed, 2010) ****½

When quickly listening to the new Clean Feed releases, this one struck me immediately as something special. Not only because of its unusual title and art work, but also because the line-up consists of two electric guitars, played by Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, the alto of Jim Hobbs (of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra), and the drums of Luther Gray. The latter is the band's leader and composer, and last but not least by the wonderful music you hear on this album.

The first track starts with dual guitar single chord repetitive background (with some changes), over which Hobbs' wailing sax gets more passionate as the music progresses, with rhythmless drumming by Gray to support this: the effect is rock-ish and trance-inducing at the same time.
"Lawnmower", you say? What's the link? It so happens that Gray spent hours (thousands!) mowing lawns while listening to music of all possible genres in his headphones. Good for the musical education, bad for the ears. His music integrates these various influences.

The second piece is calm but with an underlying tension and intensity that is almost creepy. Again, the guitars and the drumming are full of control and restraint, playing the least possible sounds to generate the most effect, while the alto is full of sad emotions alternating with resignation and pain, with one guitar adding drama with some high feedback tones.

"Prayer Of Death", starts with some Bill Frisell-like country guitar, too soft and too easy, with simple chord changes and basic drumming, making me almost turn off the music, but gradually the screaming sax puts everything luckily in a different perspective. On "Giant Squids", weird guitar sounds and frantic drumming conjure up images of unknown and unwanted experiences of the deep, with only the sax doing something what can be called normal. And then it gets weirder all the time, more minimalist, more fragile and sensitive than the previous tracks, with barely vibrating sounds creating a fantastic sound texture on "Dan", but then bizarrely, like in a David Lynch movie, you get to hear "I Love", a slow dance, with sax-playing reminiscent of the 50s, if it were not for the contrasting guitar noise in the background.

And the long last track takes you into lawnmower territory - industrial noise shifting color and shade, with Doppler-effects, drone-like but with a sax that sings on top of it, like the tune from the headphone barely making it over the noise of the machine.

A major achievement of creative composition, careful sound arrangement, controlled and powerful playing. Highly recommended.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Piano & bass ... reunions

So far, we did not have too many "piano & bass" labels on this blog's catalogue, and now we double the amount, thanks to three new releases. 

Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden - Jasmine (ECM, 2010)***

Possibly with the exception of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, there are few jazz musicians that I have listened to so extensively over the years as Keith Jarrett, ... and Charlie Haden, together or separately in various formations, as leaders and band members. I somehow lost my interest in Jarrett once he started becoming stuck in his standards trio. I remain a great fan of his American and European quartets of the eighties, and of (some of) his solo performances. Both Jarrett and Haden are romantics pur sang. And here they find each other back after 30 years of not having played together. No wonder it's all about emotions, yet luckily coupled with incredible instrumental skills. Here, they get a little bit stuck in sweet sentimentalism. It is the best album you can imagine to listen to at the fireplace on a lone winter evening, quite nice, but nothing more. Buy it as a present for your romantic niece, she'll love it.

Watch the promo clip for the album

Cecil Taylor & Dominic Duval - The Last Dance Vol. 1 & 2 (CJR, 2010) ****

Another reunion, but then after ten years, is this double album by Cecil Taylor and Dominic Duval. Taylor is his usual self, creating stories full of tension, plot changes, moments of intense action, then sudden melodic phrases, and back to pounding and surprise chords, yet it flows and evolves as if it was the easiest thing in the world, without hesitating, without halting, like a never ending cascade of ideas and thoughts that come up at the spur of the moment, get transformed and developed. And Duval in all this? He is unfortunately a little too silent in the final mix of the first CD, somewhat in the background, giving the impression that his input does not seem too vital for Taylor's stream of consciousness, Duval's support is rapid, functional and once in a while he manages to impact the pianist's playing too.That is especially the case in the slower middle part of the first CD.

The perfomance was recorded at the San Francisco Jazz Fest in 2003. Volume 1 brings over one hour of free-flowing music. Volume 2 is the rest of the program: 25 minutes in total, starting with Duval on arco, adding a more collaborative and balanced dimension, a situation which is maintained for the second piece, when Duval moves to pizzi again.

Watch "Bridge Works" from the concert.

Agusti Fernández & Barry Guy - Some Other Place (Maya, 2010) ****½

But music has moved on, beyond Jarrett, beyond Cecil Taylor, and this is possibly the most modern you can get: Fernández and Guy, two other masters of their instruments, both equally at home in jazz, classical music and new music. And they already demonstrate this from the very first piece "Annalisa", which evolves from a pastoral and impressionistic sphere to rhythmic jazzy unison lines and avant-garde sound explorations: it is creative and fun at the same time. Not everything is pleasant to the ears, though (like the short "Rosette"), but the power of the compositions/improvisations, the quality of the playing, both in the technical skills as in the emotional delivery is without a doubt among the best you can get at the moment. All the human emotions get a place on this album, from agony and distress to surprise to quiet contemplation to joy and fun, and frankly, also stuff you didn't know existed. And the cohesiveness, interplay and mutual power of bass and piano is absolutely fabulous. A great listening experience.

Watch a great visual evocation of the music by Fernández and Guy.

© stef