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Sunday, June 27, 2010


Well, yes, here is some Braxton again. Prolific as ever, open-minded as ever, creative as ever, adventurous as ever, ranging from traditional quartet to pieces for his Ghost Trance Music (GTM), duets with vocals and sax, and a trio with sax and vocals.

Anthony Braxton - 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (Leo Records, 2010) ****

Only because of this album, "The Girl From Ipanema", has been playing in my head for weeks. It was a really long time since I had heard it, and this performance by the Braxton quartet takes the original Jobim tune from its lightfooted original melody into a ten minute long open-ended improvisation, with the rhythm becoming quite slow and implicit, the percussion limited to some bell-like sounds, the guitar strumming a few sparse arpeggios, the bass plucking a little now and then, Braxton's alto singing like a breeze, reducing the already vulnerable theme to its bare abstract essence and beauty, still recognizable if you know what the quartet is improvising on, unlikely if you haven't, full of sweet intimacy and warm empathy, and out of this fragile improv the theme comes back in its magnificent melody and compelling rhythm, the four musicians playing like they play this tune in night clubs every night, and yes, dance and weep.

The quartet is Anthony Braxton on saxophones, Kevin O'Neil on guitar, Kevin Norton on percussion, and Andy Eulau on bass. This great box brings you four CDs, the recording of a European concert in 2003, with gigs in Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and Portugal.

The "standards" they play, are wide in range, in terms of style and moment in jazz history : you get "Body and Soul", "Ruby My Dear", but also Miles Davis "Half Nelson" and Coltrane's "Mr. PC".

It's not free jazz, far from it, but the approach of the four musicians, though quite respectful for the original, usually includes some deconstruction and adventurous moves.

Anthony Braxton & Ann Rhodes - GTM (Syntax) 2003 (Leo Records, 2010) ****

If I hate something, then it's modern worldless singing. Especially if it's abstract and without melody. Yet I must confess that although I thought the initial minutes would confirm my taste, gradually as this album evolves, it develops its own aesthetic. Braxton is phenomenal, but that you already knew, and I think it is due to his playing and the weird electronic underscore that Ann Rhodes is pushed into areas of singing that bring her far from the initial minutes. Her singing is not always wordless, sometimes you hear her count, or spell letters from the alphabet, whether these are part of the score or the improvisation is not always easy to detect. Braxton uses his usual range of saxes, from the very high to the very deep-toned, and the latter add great gloom over the dark electronics, that occasionally are likely to pierce your tympanic membranes.

The second CD is more intimate, with unison delivery of a typical Braxton composition full of high intervallic jumps, not really the kind of theme that will stick in your memory. The atmosphere has now become lighter, more playful, yet Rhodes, especially at the end, falls back into the kind of singing this guy hates.

Anthony Braxton - GTM (Outpost) 2003 (Leo Records, 2010) ***

On "Outpost", Braxton is accompanied by Chris Jonas on sax on the first CD and singer Molly Sturges joins the duo on the second CD. The first CD starts with long and meandering unison lines, then the musicians go their own way, examining various approaches and emotions, from soft interacting to raw exchanges, to moments of near silence, only to pick up the original lines again as on clue, resulting in a quite hypnotic listening experience. The composition has a very strong rhythmic pulse, with each note carefully accentuated, as if they are all neatly arranged in a ascending and descending rows, rather than forming part of one continuum.

The second CD is again one long composition consisting of eleven pieces. The inclusion of Molly Sturges on voice works well on some parts, yet not always. This composition is without a doubt the most avant-garde of all the music reviewed in this article. It has its nice moments, yet I often wondered where it was going to. A little less captivating, or in the meantime a little too much of the same.

© stef

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fred Anderson dies at the age of 81

Fred Anderson, the father and the heart of Chicago's free jazz scene, died at the age of 81 from a heart attack.

Anderson is one of my favorite musicians, as regular readers will know. He was an avant-garde player, yet his playing was always full of deepfelt soul, full of blues, and funk at times, rhythmic in his phrasing, emotional and spiritual.

Fred Anderson was one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement Of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago.

He was one of the most important figures of the Chicago free jazz scene, with his own club, The Velvet Lounge, where he mostly played and recorded.

You can find his biography on allmusic.

Here is his discography
  • 1967 Joseph Jarman, Song For (Delmark Records DS-410); also on CD (Delmark Records DD-410).
  • 1968 Joseph Jarman, As If It Were the Seasons (Delmark Records DS-714); also on CD (Delmark Records DD-417).
  • 1977 Neighbours, Accents (EMI-Electrola 06632854).
  • 1978 Fred Anderson Quintet, Another Place (Moers Music 01058).
  • 1979 Fred Anderson Quartet, Dark Day (Message Records 0004).
  • 1984 Fred Anderson, The Missing Link (Nessa Records N-23); also on CD (Nessa Records NCD-23).
  • 1994 Fred Anderson and Steve McCall, Vintage Duets (Okka Disk OD12001).
  • 1995 Fred Anderson Quartet, Birdhouse (Okka Disk OD12007).
  • 1996 Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, and Hamid Drake, Destiny (Okka Disk OD12003).
  • 1997 Fred Anderson/DKV Trio, Fred Anderson/DKV Trio (Okka Disk OD12014).
  • 1997 Fred Anderson, Fred: Chicago Chamber Music (Southport Records S-SSD 0043).
  • 1999 Fred Anderson Trio, Live at the Velvet Lounge (Okka Disk OD12023).
  • 1999 Fred Anderson Quartet, Volume One (Asian Improv Records AIR 0049).
  • 2000 Fred Anderson Quartet, The Milwaukee Tapes Vol. 1 (Atavistic UMS/ALP 204CD).
  • 2000 Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, “Kidd” Jordan, and William Parker, 2 Days in April (Eremite Records MTE023/024).
  • 2000 Fred Anderson Quartet, Volume Two (Asian Improv Records AIR 0054).
  • 2001 Fred Anderson Quartet, Dark Day + Live in Verona (Atavistic UMS/ALP 218CD).
  • 2001 Robert Barry and Fred Anderson, Duets 2001 (Thrill Jockey THRILL 101)
  • 2001 Fred Anderson, On the Run: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark Records DG-534).
  • 2003 Fred Anderson, Back at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark Records DG-549).
  • 2004 Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey THRILL 139); with companion video CD.
  • 2005 Fred Anderson, Hamid Drake, and William Parker, Blue Winter (Eremite Records MTE047/048).
  • 2006 Fred Anderson, Harrison Bankhead, and Hamid Drake, Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark Records DE-568); also on DVD (Delmark DE-1568).
  • 2007 Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey THRILL 183).
  • 2007 Fred Anderson and Harrison Bankhead, The Great Vision Concert (Ayler Records aylCD-052).
  • 2007 Irene Schweizer, Fred Anderson, and Hamid Drake, Willisau & Taktlos (Intakt Records INTAKT CD 104).
  • 2007 Territory Band 6 with Fred Anderson, Collide (Okka Disk OD12090).
  • 2008 Fred Anderson Quartet, Volume Three (Asian Improv Records AIR 0074).
  • 2008 Matana Roberts, The Chicago Project (Central Control International 6).
  • 2009 Fred Anderson Trio, Birthday Live 2000 (Asian Improv Records AIR 0075).
  • 2009 Fred Anderson Trio, A Night at the Velvet Lounge: Made in Chicago 2007 (Estrada Poznańska MIC01).
  • 2009 Fred Anderson, Staying in the Game (Engine Studios e029).
  • 2009 Fred Anderson, 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash, Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark Records DE-589); also on DVD (Delmark DE-1589).
  • 2010 Fred Anderson, Black Horn Long Gone (Southport Records S-SSD 0128).
  • no date Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fred Anderson, Peace Be Unto You: Live in Seattle (AECO 0013LE).
He recorded a lot, and last year several albums and a DVD were released to celebrate his 80th birthday.

My favorite albums are "Blue Winter", with William Parker and Hamid Drake, and "The Milwaukee Tapes, Vol. 1", but most of his albums are easy to recommend. His style of playing is quite his own, very recognizable and often within the same stylistic range. The second video below gives a nice example of this. So deep, so real, so much him.

We will miss him and his music.

Thank you, Fred.

Watch a nice trio performance in Le Mans, with Jaribu Shahid and Hamid Drake.

© stef

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Commitment - The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (No Business, 2010) ****

I don't know how Lithuanian label No Business does it, but they have the knack to find back and re-issue amazing stuff. "Commitment" is the name of a band which released only one obscure album, in 1980, and which consists of William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Will Connell Jr on flute and alto and Takeshi Zen Matsuura on drums. An unusual line-up, with the unusual mix of Asian and African American musicians. At that time, William Parker was twenty-eight, and Jason Kao Hwang only twenty-three. The original album was released on Hwang's own Flying Panda label. In the label's good tradition, there is a lengthy booklet that gives all the necesseary background.

The first CD captures the five tracks of the original LP. The music is free-flowing, with slow themes setting the scene for lengthy improvisations and communal creation of sound. The first piece is typical, with a slow, somewhat solemn theme, which evolves in all four musicians improvising together, with Parker on arco, resulting in an intimate and light-footed interplay, slowly fading, leaving the original theme well behind them. The second piece is uptempo, with Parker's bass vamp quite recognizable, and Connell fierce on alto, and Matsuura gets ample time for a drums solo.

"Famine", is a staggering composition, with a very sparse discomforting sound environment created by Parker and Hwang working around the same tonal center, gradually increasing the intensity without creating variation, well illustrating and expressing the title of the piece.

The fourth track is again dark, slow and contemplative, with a slowly evolving unison theme. Again the sense of pace and tension is fantastic. Connell's soloing has a remarkable continuity in timbre and expressivity to Hwang's preceding soloing, with both Matsuura and Parker adding to the piece's minimalism in their solos.

"No Name", the last track of the original LP, is a longer work-out, based on a theme which could have come from Ornette Coleman.

As of track 6, the music was not released before, and is the recording of a performance of the band in 1983. The sound quality is a little less, at moments even doubtfull, yet the music is again a great gift to all of us. There is a little less unity in the performance, chaos reigns at times, voices from the audience sound louder than the band during quiet moments, etc, but despite all that, we should be grateful to have this music available for all to hear. The live performance has some stellar moments, like Connell's haunting flute-playing on "Ocean", a mid-tempo hypnotic piece with some middle-eastern influences.

The most remarkable aspect of the whole album is Hwang's violin playing. Like on many of his own albums as a leader, he is not a man of many notes - already then - but someone who so easily finds the right notes, he can stretch them and create his own unusual sound.

Three decades later, we can only be amazed that these young musicians already had some of the great musical personalities and vision that they expanded on during the years to follow, stubbornly sticking to what they learned during the haydays of the loft period in New York, yet adding character, power and expressiveness over the years. But it's all here, already then : the freedom, the spirituality, but also their typical approach to get more of their instruments than artists had done before.

It's not a masterpiece, far from it, but what a joy to hear, and have it back for us, fans of good music, and hopefully available for some more decades to come.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Ames Room - In (Monotype Records, 2010) ****

The Ames Room is French altoist Jean-Luc Guionnet with Austrialians Clayton Thomas on bass and Will Guthrie on drums. This album is without a doubt one of the most intense you will hear, with Guionnet setting up the pace and sound from the start and then not letting go at all, despite the numerous variations within the very strict boundaries in which their cry of freedom erupts. This album is indeed one long shout, all in the same spirit : voluminous, expansive, full of drive and energy, relentless and raw, with a take-no-prisoners approach. The accompanying press kit speaks of "terror jazz", and the descriptor is not too far fetched.

The vinyl LP consists of two long improvisations. Side one was performed in Niort, France and Side two in Poznan, Poland, with a year's difference. Despite the difference of one year between both performances, it's clear that their voice is the same and both pieces fit well on the same album. The first side has a strange kind of collapse in the middle, with the audience shouting and the drums keeping the attention going, with Guionnet distancing himself from the mikes, and playing somewhere in the background, but apparently the same happens with bass and drums. It was not dust accumulating under the needle of my record-player, yet for a moment I thought it was. Gradually the bass, and then the drums drag the trio back into sonic clarity. Whatever it is, it shows the non-terror minimalism these guys are also capable of, and this more cautious playing offers an interesting contrast . Or maybe it is just a gimmick to illustrate the band's title, which refers to the optical illusion created by a carefully crafted room.The second piece is more in once voice, with powerplay from beginning to end, and a somewhat better sound quality.

It is not unique, it is not even boundary-shifting, but so much raw energy is by itself a pleasure to listen to.

Listen and buy from MonotypeRecords.

The sound quality on this video is far from good, but it illustrates the energy of the playing quite well.

© stef

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grid Mesh - Coordinates (FMR, 2010) ****½

Musical quality is often the result of a focused common vision on the musical project by the artists involved. This trio manages to do exactly that to the extreme: even if their universe is unusual and full of adventurous soundscapes, the coherence of the music is phenomenal, in the same vein as "Dans Les Arbres", albeit less weird, yet only by a little notch. The trio is Frank Paul Schubert on alto and soprano saxophone, Andreas Willers on electric guitar, and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums and percussion.

The music switches mood quite often, from light, open music, full of surprise and wonder : like a kitten watching a butterfly fly by, or like a baby enjoying its shadow, to the other side of the spectrum : intense and dark, full of emotions of distress and anguish. To their credit, they bring lots of variation without going too far from their basic musical concept : it can be jazzy, noisy, sweet improv, even with skronk guitar or fusion-like soloing, the end result is pretty unique. Some pieces are absolutely staggering, like the soft opening track "Shiva Attempting To Board", or the agonizing and nightmarish central piece, "Wooden Space", or the minimalist "Watertown, Waiting", and if the other pieces are not of the same superb level, they are not far below.

Quite adventurous stuff and a great listening experience.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lol Coxhill & Enzo Rocco - Fine Tuning, The Gradisca Concert (Amirani, 2010) ****

It is a short album : one track of thirty-three minutes, with Lol Coxhill on soprano and Enzo Rocco on guitar, yet every minute is a pleasure. Both stellar musicians, each with his own distinctive sound, create in the moment improvisation, slowly, cautiously creating beautiful music, without hurry, yet full of emphasis and expressivity. Coxhill sings and moans, sometimes simultaneously, but to me Rocco is the real discovery. His touch on the strings is light, precise, full of unexpected phrases, with often a hypnotic circling around the same tone, gradually shifting, an easy focal point for the saxophonist to pick up the thread and expand on it. The end result is both intense and refreshing, with the duo a perfect match. Rocco's playing is intimate and pointillistic, as if he's sitting in the room next to you, without any reverb at all, with a low-toned and dry sound, while Coxhill's sax resonates, with his stretched phrases adding expansiveness and a sense of space. Great music is full of contrast. These guys know how to do it. A great album, only too short.

Below the larger part of the concert. Check out 4/5 for Rocco's muted guitar precision - it sounds so simple, yet it sounds so great.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Peter Evans Quartet - Live In Lisbon (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

Liner notes rarely describe the process used (and why should they?), yet on this album it is almost programmatic : "In addition to being an interesting way to connect improvisation with fixed materials the players are likely to already have under their fingers, it is also great fun to see what elements of surprise we can squeeze out of something that, on its surface, may seem very familiar".So writes trumpeter Peter Evans in the liner notes of this incredibly jazzy yet equally modern piece of music. The familiar material are harmonies and melody from "All The Things You Are", "Lush Life" and "Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love", to name but a few.

Evans is joined by Ricardo Gallo on piano, Tom Blancarte on bass and Kevin Shea on drums. The music is incredibly complex. Themes change, tempos change, rhythms change : and this several times within the same piece, and not at the same moment, but sometimes in overlaying structures, demanding incredible skills (and concentration!) from the musicians. The result is nice. Inventiveness abounds, the music changes itself the whole time, like a kind of sonic caleidoscope: you can't know what comes next, yet it follows logically and unpredictably from the previous notes, all in the same frame and structural context. The creative discipline and musicianship are stellar.

Yet in the end, it gives me a little bit the same feeling as the later albums by the Empty Cage Quartet, or some of Dave Douglas' music: the musical skills combined with intellectual play with structure create a more distant feel than the expressive and soulful straight from the heart jazz that gets my preference. It is musicians' music of a very high level.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trumpeter and music innovator Bill Dixon passed away

Yesterday night, trumpeter and music innovator Bill Dixon passed away in his sleep at the age of 84, leaving a wife and two children behind.

You can find more about him on other websites and blogs with substantially better archives than this one. I never saw him perform, and I came to know his music far too late, but caught up with this gap in my knowledge in the last years.

I can only say that I admire the man for his musical vision. Whatever he did, it was with a relentless dedication to his music, not for himself, not to get admiration, but just to get more soul, expressivity, emotional power out of this most ephemeral thing as sound.

Whether in small ensembles on in large orchestras, his music was unique, never the same, evolving over the years, searching, searching, searching ... he seemed never happy with the result, expecting more, deeper, better. Listen to the man's tone, his explorative power, his adventurous spirit, his sense for lyricism, for abstract authenticity... words fail me.

I can only say that all his four latest albums, reviewed on this blog, received five-star ratings :

... which is even by my generous ratings, quite astonishing.

I put him on my list of the top-3 musicians of the year 2008.

He is also one of the first musicians to have solo trumpet and trumpet-percussion duo albums, elaborating the sounds of his instruments and pushing the boundaries of playing and listening.

His musical legacy is huge, and will only be appreciated in some decades from now. He left us musical gems like few other musicians.

Our thoughts are with his family.

Below an obituary written by Ben Young, author of Dixonia: A Bio-Discography of Bill Dixon (Greenwood Press, 1998)

"Trumpeter and composer Bill Dixon died June 16th at his home in North Bennington, Vermont after a two-year illness. He was 84 years old.

Dixon was a revered and idiosyncratic figure in the avant-garde of Jazz music, and a creative force who strived at all times to place the music in ever more respectful circumstances. Dixon developed an often controversial profile as an outspoken and articulate defender of musicians’ rights as artists, and specifically the challenges to Black music as a contender in the culture and society of the United States. His music is known for a dark, poignant, pan-tonal abstraction that remains lyrical without relying on songs or the conventions of Jazz music=making. Through five decades as a recording artist, Dixon’s music has developed a loyal worldwide following.

As a musical stylist and educator, Dixon was the progenitor of an often reserved composition and playing approach that stood in contradistinction to the trends prevailing in the avant-garde in Jazz since the Sixties. He steered an influential through short-lived collective-bargaining movement in New York in 1964–65, the Jazz composers’ Guild. Under Dixon’s leadership, the Guild crafted a stance to preserve the artistic self-determination of Guild membership. Though he lived in Vermont for most of the last four decades, playing only occasionally in New York and in the US altogether, Dixon remained a leader and doyen for musicians of successive generations in a diaspora of alumni of his teaching and ensembles.

The legacy of Dixon’s progressive organizing activities in the music often overshadow the impact of his own music-making. Dixon emerged as a composer and bandleader in what can fairly be called a second wave of the New York avant-garde. Dixon’s legacy of ensemble records (1966, 2007, 2009) frames an unparalleled body of solo music for trumpet (1970 –76, mainly) and a subsequent series of small ensemble recordings (1980–1995) that stand apart in texture, instrumentation, personnel, and orientation from most of the numerous records of the period by Dixon’s contemporaries.

Born William Robert Dixon on October 5, 1925, he was the son of William L. Dixon and Louise Wade. His family transplanted to Harlem at the height of the depression from Nantucket, Massachusetts where Dixon was born. An early aptitude in realistic drawing led him to advanced studies in commercial art during and after high school, well before music became a serious interest. (He was also acclaimed in a group and solo shows of paintings prior to serious recognition of his music, and he was painting, drawing and creating lithographs to the end of his life). Dixon enlisted in the U.S. Army during WWII and served in Germany at the close of European theater.

Bill Dixon’s deliberate study of music began at the Hartnett Conservatory of music in the mid-1940s. His journeyman years as a Jazz trumpet player in the 50s involved activity as a sideman in an array of entertainment and rehearsal projects. Daytime employment as an international civil servant at the UN Secretariat, Dixon also turned to musical advantage. He founded the United Nations Jazz Society in 1959. He worked in the same period to establish the coffee houses of Greenwich Village as a formal and legitimate venue for presenting progressive music, an early manifestation of the spirit that fed the formation of the Jazz Composers’ Guild.

Bill Dixon will perhaps always be remembered for his organization of a concert series to present the new music, the October Revolution in Jazz of October1–4, 1964, at the Cellar Cafe on west 91st Street. Though literally digested by only a handful of eyewitnesses, the concert series focused significant critical attention on the undergrowth of otherwise unrecognized creative musicians, many of whom, including Dixon, shortly would show forth as the newest voices of the new music of the Sixties.

Starting in 1966, Dixon entered a fruitful collaborative partnership with the dancer/choreographer Judith Dunn, whose background lay in the Cunningham and Judson schools. The collaboration with Dunn led Dixon to join the faculty at Bennington College where she taught in the Dance department, and Dixon pushed for the creation of the Black Music Division, a phalanx of the school’s music teaching that had its own faculty, student body, and orientation. Active officially from 1975 until 1985, the program was a prototype of a kind of college-level music study that has flowered only haphazardly since, basing itself in the aesthetics and praxis of avant-garde music-making.

Dixon is remembered by many of his students as a powerful and charismatic teacher who adroitly factored student musicians at various levels of skill and development into classes and his own ensemble pieces. Within the first few years at Bennington, it became the norm for Dixon to design individual and group exercises artistically meaningful enough to become part of the compositions he developed through a term’s work.

Dixon retired from teaching in 1995 and continued to perform and record, chiefly in Europe. His last years saw a dramatic increase in the frequency of his U.S. appearances, and, since 2008, in U.S.-released recordings of his works for ensembles.

Dixon is survived by his longtime partner Sharon Vogel of North Bennington, a daughter Claudia Dixon of Phoenix, Arizona and a son William R. Dixon II of New York City. He also leaves two grandchildren.

A memorial celebration of Bill Dixon’s life and work will be held in New York City at a later date.

© stef

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Frode Gjerstad and friends

Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad is a fierce and prolific musician, who moves more and more into free improv territory with his small bands, getting away from the more jazz oriented approach he had some years ago. This results in blistering high energy music, with lots of unexpected turns. His own style has moved up tonally, with lots of little high notes often coming out organically, like agitated birds whistling, sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of joy, with a difference that is often hard to tell.

Frode Gjerstad, John Edwards & Mark Sanders - Bergen (FMR, 2009) ****

On this album, recorded in Bergen, Norway, last year, he is joined by John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums. As you can expect, the music is fierce with unexpected evolutions, very much in-the-moment blowing, bowing and hitting, yet quite expressive and focused, varying quite well between powerplay and more subdued dialogues. Raw and real, full of depth and intensity.

Frode Gjerstad & Paal Nilssen-Love - Gromka (Not Two, 2010) ****

This duo recording with fellow-countryman and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, was recorded a year ago at Klub Gromka in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Both musicians had already toured before this performance and that can be heard. the interaction is quite fun to listen to, rapid, telepathic even at moments, which is even clearer in an environment where everything is left to in-the-moment decisions. Gjerstad does fall back quite a lot on the higher registers, making music like excited birds in the trees, as said before. As Gjerstad describes it himself on his blog, about this performance : "Since we last played as a duo which was in August last year in the US where we played 13 gigs, I think the music has become more focused and freer. I have to admit that I think this has to do with the fact that I have been practising a bit more than before and therefor feel more relaxed when playing….".

Nice stuff!

Watch the duo perform in St. Petersburg

© stef

Monday, June 14, 2010

Paul Dunmall and friends (2)

As a follow-up on the first "Paul Dunmall and friends" topic, here are again two noteworthy albums by the British sax-player.

Philip Gibbs, Paul Dunmall, Tony Hymas, Paul Rogers, Neil Metcalfe, Tony Levin - Mumuksuta (Duns, 2010)****

"Mumuksuta" means being totally liberated, a concept high on the agenda of this blog, and also by this British free improv sextet consisting of Philip Gibbs on guitars, Paul Dunmall on tenor & soprano saxes & clarinets, Tony Hymas on piano, Neil Metcalfe on flute, Paul Rogers on 7-string bass and Tony Levin on drums. The music by this band really floats or hovers in the air - it has done away with anchor points or other aspects of gravity and recognition. On the four lengthy tracks, called "Yearning For Freedom", "Desire To Free Oneself", "One's True Nature", "From All Bondages", the six musicians move slowly forward, quite abstractly, adding tones to tones, in duos, trios or more, shifting as they move along between line-ups, quite nervously, agitatedly, then calming down again, like leaves being blown away in a storm wind, then settling down again on the ground, to be lightly touched and lifted up again. "One's True Nature", with its heavy drumming is possibly the most jazzy tune, although the words "jazz" and "tune" seem out of place in this context. The end result is mesmerising, eery at times, and yes, somehow liberating.

Paul Dunmall, Tony Bianco & Dave Kane (FMR, 2010) ****

The nature of the music on this album is equally free, but where the sextet album offers free floating, this one is more about free expression, and full of fierce energy too. This energy is largely the result of the powerplay of Tony Bianco on drums, whose unrelenting pounding is taken up quite well by Dave Kane's bass. Both form an incredibly strong backbone for Dunmall's quite jazzy playing, either on bass clarinet or tenor. The trio calms down a little for the third piece, "Sarasiwati", yet not for long. Three musicians in superb doing, yet they are so prolific and their approach is often quite similar, making this album hard to recommend over previous Dunmall albums, but fun it is.

© stef

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nobuyasu Furuya - Stunde Null (Chitei Records, 2010) ****

I was quite enthusiastic about Japanese reedist Nobuyasu Furuya's "Bendowa", released last year on Clean Feed. He confirms his skills with his second album as a leader, here with a trio and a quintet line-up, recorded earlier this year in Portugal.

The core of the band is Furuya on tenor saxophone, flute, and bass-clarinet, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. The trio kicks off with full power, Brötzmann-like, but relatively fast the tone of the piece shifts to more sensitive playing, with the volume toned down and the notes getting sparser, enveloping silence like a warm blanket, yet again not for long, raw blasts kick in, heavy pumping rhythms and gloomy rumbling, only to fall silent again, with Furuya switching to flute, and when the intensity keeps changing, so is the flute replaced by the bass clarinet.

On the second piece, the trio is enlarged with Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, and Eduardo Lala on trombone. Pinheiro sets the piece, with a long angular intro that shifts to post-bop mode, more expansive and Coltrane-esque, yet more modern inspirations pierce through the wall of sound like a dagger, and the piece collapses halfway into more dangerous uncharted waters, with rapid-speed interactions, slowed down by the trombone that enters like a breeze, calming the waters and the spirits, but as you might expect, this is just the calm  before the storm, which is again broad-sweeping and expansive.

When I usually see that an album has several line-ups, I am inclined to let my preconceived judgment kick in and think that unity will surely not be preserved, yet luckily these biases are more often than not shattered, as is the case with this album. True, there is a difference, yet it does not disrupt the overall sound and approach.

Excellent music by excellent musicians.

© stef

Jean-Luc Cappozzo & Edward Perraud - Suspension (Creative Sources, 2010) ****

The creativity of Jean-Luc Cappozzo and Edward Perraud knows no boundaries on this extended improvisation. From eery sounds over blues to classical trumpet, these guys manage the whole spectrum and use it too, devoid of themes and structure. Cappozzo's trumpet is ususally voiced, with not too much use of extended techniques, which does not mean that his playing is conventional. 

Like some of Wadada Leo Smith's trumpet-drums duets, this album also has its spiritual moments, when the notes slowly glide pass bell-like punctuation or dramatic drum rolls, then shift intensity for some bluesy wails of sadness.The duo setting allows for very intimate conversations, with crackling electricity in the air, giving energy to the other, yet without distance for the listener, as if you were part of the live audience that also seems to appreciate what's taking place in front of them.

The second piece is more pointillistic, with little notes and beats,  Herb Robertson style, great fun and tongue-in-cheek, yet gradually expanding into raw powerplay. On the third piece, Perraud's treatment of his cymbals and Cappozzo's use of electronics drive you into the territory of madness, yet both emerge full of control and confidence, when rhythm picks up, from a boppish waltz. The last piece is an exercise in touching silence with a minimum of notes leading to a maximum of intensity.

True, I like the format, very much even, but regardless of my personal preferences, this is a strong albums by two stellar musicians, whose focus is fully on the interaction and common vision. Great stuff!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gregg Daniel Miller

Gregg Daniel Miller is the author of Mimesis and Reason: Habermas's Political Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2011), and has taught political theory at various universities for many years. He began his one-way trip down creative/free music alley in around 1997 after hearing Matthew Shipp's Prism and Roscoe Mitchell's Sound Songs. Recently he has begun laying down his own saxophone impressions on under the name Miller-Hailey. He plays around Seattle, most often at the weekly improvisational feast called The Racer Sessions, Sunday nights at Cafe Racer in the U-District.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ivo Perelman and friends

Like in his paintings, saxophonist Ivo Perelman likes broad strokes, often colorful over empty or almost empty backdrops. Even if his improvisations are mostly abstract, the color of jazz tradition and his native Brazil shine through at moments. As I described him last year : a powerful lyricist.

By coincidence, three new CDs by him fell in my mailbox with two day's difference. Hence the combined review, and I must admit, the confusion in my memory as to what happened on which album.

Ivo Perelman & Brian Willson - The Stream Of Life (Leo Records, 2010) ****

On this sax-drums duo with Brian Willson, who already participated on Perelman's "Mind Games" of last year, equally on Leo Records, the saxophonist sticks to his core instrument: the tenor. This is by far the musician at his most comfortable, playing his open yet accessible style of free form in perfect interplay with Willson. Despite his often wild playing, his tone is warm and inviting, and his frequent use of recognizable phrases from tradition, as a kind of tongue in cheek playfulness, only increase the listener's joy.

Despite the limitation of the line-up, the two artists manage to give all pieces their specific nature and aspect, from boppish to more free form. He is certainly at this best when he combines uptempo rhythms with free blowing, as on "Vicarous Punishment", not really the most creative piece, but it sounds good as it is, so why look further. And so is the album : surely not his most discerning or memorable one, but quite good throughout.

Ivo Perelman & Gerry Hemingway - The Apple In The Dark (Leo Records, 2010) ****

Althouth Perelman played cello, piano and trombone in his youth, he mostly stuck to the sax during his recording career. Yet here he plays the piano too, and to my knowledge the first time ever on record, but I may be wrong of course. His sparring partner is Gerry Hemingway and with great success. The first attack on the first piece is immediately powerful and formidable, as is Hemingway's reaction to it - abstract violence, full of raw energy, but then he switches to piano, first solo, in a quite abstract romanticism, then in duo with Hemingway. The piano-playing, although nice by itself, does not offer Perelman the same power and nuance as he manages on tenor, yet it gives the album the necessary variation. Over the ten tracks, Perelman switches between piano and sax, changing intensity and levels of abstraction.

The album is a reference to Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, whose novel "The Apple In The Dark", gives an interior dialogue of a murderer. The novel is also modernistic in its attempt to demonstrate the limitations of language to convey this deep reality without words.

Perelman's and Hemingway's take at this is not bad at all. The album sounds fresh and lively, and despite its intellectual subject, they do not fall into the trap of evoking the novel itself. And I like his approach to piano.

Ivo Perelman, Daniel Levin & Torbjörn Zetterberg - Soulstorm (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

That even forward-thinking musicians need a challenge, is well illustrated by this album. Clean Feed's Pedro Costa wanted to record with Ivo Perelman and wanted a cello and a double-bass to interact with him. He proposed the names of Daniel Levin and Torbjörn Zetterberg. Neither of the three knew each other's music, let alone played together, yet they trusted Pedro Costa's good judgment. And they were right. All three musicians are knocked out of their comfort zone and forced to play this double CD of incredibly open music, very often driven by Levin's cello, who seems most at ease in the unpredictable proceedings, yet gradually Perelman and Zetterberg become part of the overall sound, rather than just participating.

"Footsteps", the second improvisation encapsulates it all : the music is fragile, but equally ominous and dark when both strings use their bow and Perelman plays the deepest tones possible, then shifting between free lyricism and tonal explorations, between evaporating patterns and unique abstract figures, yet Perelman is not an in-the-moment musician (he is not Dunmall or Gjerstad), he needs to develop, to add and to build on past notes and phrases, to expand to reach some emotional release from tension, to suddenly come with a jubilant phrase.

The three musicians largely remain within the natural speaking voice of their instruments, rarely using extended techniques, but the free form and organic development leads to some fantastic moments of deep interplay and emotional sensitivity.

The title of the album also comes from a Clarice Lispector book, this time one with short stories, called "Soulstorm", and the titles of the tracks all represent the titles of one of the stories.

The first CD is an afternoon rehearsal before the performance, the second CD gives the evening performance in front of an audience. For musicians who have never played together, the result is excellent, with all three keeping some of their own character and style, yet generously sharing it with the two others, borrowing and absorbing in the process, but then - and that's the magic of free interplay - moving, pushing each other into regions were none of them had ventured before.

Music can be great!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rainey, Laubrock, Davis and friends

Two years ago, I gave a five-star rating to pianist Kris Davis' "Rye Eclipse", a stunning album with great musical vision. Last year, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock's "Sleepthief" was almost as good, and with equal strong musical vision, even stronger when I saw her perform with Tom Rainey and Liam Noble. Tom Rainey is without a doubt one of the best drummers of the moment, and features on many albums reviewed on this blog. So, having these musicians release in various line-ups is a pleasure for the avant-garde jazz fan.

Tom Rainey Trio - Pool School (Clean Feed, 2010) ****

A couple of weeks after "Swedish Azz", here is another diving woman on the cover of an adventurous album.  A symbol of not being afraid to jump in the deep, not afraid of cold water? A symbol of style, practice, discipline and grace? A symbol of creating ripples on the as yet untouched surface? A metaphor of daring to take a deep dive below the surface of things?

In my humble opinion, it signifies all of them. Rainey has swum in many waters, and still does. Laubrock has evolved from mainstream and even Latin towards complete free form, with a strong emotional voice and musical vision. And Mary Halvorson on electric guitar is an acquired taste, raw and unpredictable, sometimes hesitant yet rarely less than adventurous, yes, raw and fragile is possibly the best description of her paradoxical attitude to the instrument.

On this album, the trio explores an open-ended musical universe in twelve improvisations each clocking around five minutes long. Each piece has its own character of intimate or energetic trialogue, built around each other's inventions and spur of the moment ideas, yet sufficiently focused around some central concepts to have a sense of unity. Most pieces are quite abstract, even if Laubrock uses a rare melodic phrase once in a while, as on "Crinkles", or sudden rhythmic developments that disappear as fast as they came, otherwise you get bouncing sounds, nervous reactions, sonic build-ups, often with a harsh delivery that is the result of both dissatisfaction with the present as with joy in creating something new. Creative destruction if you want. Forget about long phrases or stretched sounds, it is all about pointillistic dots, as if the guitar and the sax have turned into percussion instruments, splashing notes on the canvas.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock, Tyshawn Sorey - Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed, 2010) ****½

We find Ingrid Laubrock back on this other trio with Kris Davis on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, another unusual trio line-up, for an album of equal quality despite its different approach. All eight tracks contain elements of composition and structure, and they are almost equally distributed among the trio : three by Davis, three by Sorey, two by Laubrock. Yet composition and structure act as footholds on an adventurous journey, the rocks which help you cross the stream.

In contrast to the Tom Rainey trio, the general nature of the music is more welcoming, more gentle, more organic in its development. The intensity can change dramatically in one and the same piece, evolving from high energy towards calm moments, yet it is the open nature of the pieces that is its strongest characteristic. Sorey's "Slow Burn" is indeed slow, with the least number of notes necessary to create a great atmosphere full of tension. The tones are stretched, and remain open, waiting for silence to evaporate them or to be replaced with new ones, quietly, slowly. On "Canines", the open nature remains, with silence dominating, fractured by some bluesy chords and incredibly sensitive blowing by Laubrock, possibly one of her biggest strengths, yet slowly a theme emerges, the tempo increases, and the piece gets some harmonic development, like a story being told. A musical story. The whole album is like this, with linear story-telling, careful attention to detail and overall effect, without falling back on easy patterns.

The biggest effect comes from the slow tension-building silences that define the overall sound : there is no hurry, the pace is measured, each note ripens fully and almost individually. The density of the album shifts repeatedly, but regardless of the moment, it is always very lyrical and with three musicians working as one on the same concept. Really great.

For those interested in the album's title : the paradoxical frog is also called the shrinking frog, because the tadpole can have three to four times the size of the adult animal.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, June 4, 2010

Alexandra Grimal - Owls Talk (Hôte Marge, 2010) ****

What a delight for the young French saxophonist to be the leader of a quartet with Lee Konitz on alto sax, Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motian on drums. In contrast to her relatively wild previous album "Shape", or her more adventurous albums with "You Had Me At Hello", the playing here is quite accessible, but without being mainstream: without actual soloing, the two saxes are engaged in a continuous free dialogue of action and reaction, assent and dissent, with bass and drums feeling equally comfortable in the open musical environment. The music is extremely lyrical, very rhythmic, but without patterns or themes.

The sound quality of the recording is superb, easily illustrated by Peacock's bass on "Petit Matin", which is absolutely stunning in its sensitive subtlety, equalled by Grimaldi's soaring soprano.

Some of the more composed pieces have a more post-boppish character, and the album would have had more unity without them. That notwithstanding, and without really being adventurous, the album is a delight of intimate musical joy and interplay.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Alexandra Grimal - Seminare Vento (Free Lance, 2010) ***

The problem of young musicians is to find a specific voice and style. Here Grimal is joined by Giovanni Di Domenico on piano, Manolo Cabras on bass, and João Lobo on drums. The music is less daring, more into the mainstream, with some pieces of extreme, almost classical beauty, like "Sans Raison", or "Saudades Correspondidas". Grimal's tonal quality is absolutely superb, but the music meanders between the beaten track and a walk in the park. It is laidback and unfortunately not very adventurous. After some of her previous albums, I would have hoped for something less safe and more daring.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Ideal Bread - Vol. 2 Transmit (Cuneiform Records, 2010) ****

Two years ago, I was more than charmed by Ideal Bread's self-titled debut CD, and I'm more than happy to listen to the sequel now. The band was created by baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, who was a student of Steve Lacy, and for whom the music is a tribute. The name of the band refers to a quote by the soprano master : "Like a baker makes his bread, I make music...If I make the same bread tomorrow, that bores me...I have to remake it, I have to do better...I'm always looking for...the ideal bread." (Steve Lacy, April, 1976).

The other musicians are Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, Reuben Radding on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, a great cast of young musicians, who show their reverence for Lacy without becoming copy-cats. They bring their own take to his material, from the boppish to the more angular and abstract compositions. Because of the line-up, the musicians don't really stick to Lacy's material or style. Rather, they use it as a springboard to dive into modern jazz, free or arranged.

"The Dumps" is joyful and boppish, "Flakes" has this unusual quirky theme, evolving into a bluesy trumpet solo, "Longing" is a slower piece full of built-in tension, "Clichés" a rhythmic delight with more expansive development and solos, "The Breath" slower, open and more avant with great playing with sounds by the horns, and ending with "Papa's Midnite Hop", back into bop territory, yet gradually desintegrating into a dragging piece with unclear backbone, but the ending is happy, unison and in full control.

A highly enjoyable album by four excellent musicians.

© stef

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Burton Greene - Live At The Woodstock Playhouse 1965 (Porter Records, 2010) ****

It's not really a re-issue, but the tapes of this 1965 performance were dug up and released for the first time. It gives a kind of time capsule experience of the early free jazz movement. Burton Greene was, together with Cecil Taylor, possibly one of the first pianists to move into the areas of real musical freedom. He is accompanied here by Marion Brown on alto, Reggie Johnson on bass and Rashied Ali on drums.

At the beginning, the music sounds nice and sweet, somewhat simple in its theme - despite the underlying structural complexity - and timid in its development, and the interplay is at times real awkward when you listen to it with today's ears. It sounds more post-boppish than free. The second piece is more abstract and wild, hammering down conventions and increasing the energy levels, with pockets of more intimacy in between. When Brown joins after seven minutes, his blowing adds expressive power to the piece, and is really free, followed by a long bass solo by Johnson, both pizzi and arco, and this must have been quite another ear opener in those days.

The last track is a long fully improvised piece, and without a doubt the best part of the CD. Again Greene is the leader of the improvisation, playing quite freely but still with structure and technically within the limits of the times. The same holds true for Brown, whose great sax-playing rarely ever goes into overblowing mode or other of the sounds we are now so used to. Ali's drumming suffers from the same issue, the vision was there, the skills and techniques to deliver the vision were still in full development. What must have sounded like absolute chaos to listeners fourty-five years ago, sounds quite accessible today.

Even if the music lacks in some respects if you listen to it with today's ears, it is still a wonderful insight into the work done by the "jazz soldiers", as Greene describes it in the liner notes, breaking open boundaries, limits and other constraints to lift music up to full freedom, liberating it from the shackles of tradition and the establishment.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Frank Gratkowski & Hamid Drake (Valid, 2010) ****½

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering why I hadn't heard from Hamid Drake in a while. The wonderful drummer has been one of my favorites for a while, just because of the soul he puts into his playing. It is hard to describe, and possibly even harder to explain, but the guy's drumkit actually lives! Just to hear him play is an absolute joy, regardless in what context. But my thoughts about him were not yet stored in the archives of my habitual stupor, or here we find him back, with two of the German grand masters of the European free improv saxophone.

Frank Gratkowski & Hamid Drake (Valid, 2010) ****½

This album is absolutely exceptional. If you think that the limited line-up of sax and drums is the best recipe for boredom, think again. What you will hear on this album drags you through the musical universe of two musicians whose capabilities to interact in the moment are pretty spectacular. Gratkowski howls cries wails weeps screeches sings whistles vocalises. Drake uses his entire arsenal of polyrhythmic skills to respond, to move forward, to create together. Yet it does not stop there, Drake appears equally versatile, and how, in the more avant or free improv environment, where rhythm as such is less relevant than sound and texture, and he does so brilliantly, making rhythm omnipresent without actually playing it.

Gratkowski can be very abstract yet sensitive in his improvisations, like in the first piece, "Brother G's Walk", in which his intro is full of vocalised multiphonics, yet gradually the piece gains in intensity, with the drums shifting from accentuating cymbals to tribal drumming, pushing the sax into more fierce regions, full of agony, repeating the same phrase almost hypnotically, and Drake keeps changing rhythms, he just keeps changing the rhythm underneath Gratkowski's repetetive blowing, turning the piece into absolute funk, and the German moves along, without relinquishing his own concept, yet fully part of the fun and funk, then slowing down the volume and the number of notes, while keeping the pulse going, howling to the beat. Just staggering.

I will not even try to describe what I hear, but you get the gist : absolutely great stuff. I have the tendency to be swept away by what I hear, and I like the sax-drums format, but even then ... this is great stuff.

Although recorded live, the sound quality is excellent, as if you were sitting next to them.

Buy from Validrecords or listen and download from CDBaby.

Peter Brötzmann & Hamid Drake (Brö Records, 2010) ***

Brötzmann is another kind of musician than Gratkowski. He represents raw power and lung capacity, where the latter embodies technique and subtle creativity. On this album Brötzmann plays alto, tenor and tarogato. Brötzmann has released several sax-drums duets, with Han Bennink, with Paal Nilssen-Love, but his collaboration with Hamid Drake is possibly the longest, with their first duo album released in 1995, the famous "The Dried Rat-Dog".

On this album, the playing is relatively straight-forward, with Brötzmann setting the high energy scene from the start, then giving Drake quite some solo time, after which the German starts blowing his lungs out, ending in the higher regions of his sax.The sound quality is not always ideal, with the sax being quite distant at times. The second track is more spiritual, with slow tarogato sounds and Drake on frame drums, with at the end Brötzmann falling back on his repetitive powerplay.

The third track starts with a solo tenor for close to four minutes, then Drake joins, with rumbling sounds while Brötzmann keeps going at it, relentlessly, possibly not listening to the drummer, but then giving him some solo time again. The last track is more Ayleresque, with a kind of gospel tune or hymn going haywire, giving Brötzmann again some fierce moments, but ending in sweet softness. Drake does his best, but he is clearly pushed in a supporting role.

In sum, two totally different kind of sax-drums duos, with my obvious preference going to the first one, and with reason.

Watch a recent Brötzmann/Drake concert, quite well illustrating my point.

© stef