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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Albums Of The Year 2011

In the past four years, I made my own selection of the best albums, yet there is of course nothing as subjective as determining what is good music or not, hence you get the lists from the contributors to this blog. Again, for reasons of clarity - this is about the best albums (as in "most gripping, most memorable, most adventurous, most coherent, most authentic, most complete, etc".), not about the most innovative listening experiences, which can be found in the Happy New Ears Award lists. Still waiting for Paul's list, which will be added once I get them (if at all). 

Joe Higham's Top-10 of 2011
  1. The Engines - Brass and Wire
  2. Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts
  3. Twelves - The Adding Machine
  4. Red Trio + John Butcher - Empire
  5. Nate Wooley - Trumpet/Amplifier
  6. Peter Evans - Beyond Civilized and Primitive
  7. Russ Lossing Trio - Oracle
  8. Noel Taylor & Alberto Popolla - We All Fall Down
  9. Motif - Facienda
  10. Jeff Davis - We Sleep Outside

Stanley Zappa's Top-10 of 2011
  1. Other Dimensions in Music with Fay Victor - Kaiso Stories 
  2. Søren Kjærgaard, Ben Street, Andrew Cyrille - Femklang 
  3. Laurence Cook, Eric Zinman - Double Action 
  4. Ornette Coleman - Reunion 
  5. David S. Ware - Planetary Unknown 
  6. Augusti Fernandez, Barry Guy, Raymond Lopez - Morning Glory 
  7. William Parker - Conversations 
  8. Darius Jones & Matt Shipp - Cosmic Lieder
  9. Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet - Apparent Distances 
  10. Joe Morris - Wildlife

Guy Peeters' Top-10 of 2011
  1. Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts 
  2. Joseph Daley Earth Tones Ensemble - The Seven Deadly Sins 
  3. Ig Henneman Sextet - Cut A Caper 
  4. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter 1: Gens De Couleur Libres 
  5. Michiel Braam's Hybrid 10tet - On The Move 
  6. Mostly Other People Do The Killing - The Coimbra Concert 
  7. Darius Jones Trio - Big Gurl (Smell My Dream) 
  8. Bill Orcutt - How The Thing Sings 
  9. Ambrose Akinmusire - When The Heart Emerges Glistening 
  10. Other Dimensions In Music feat. Fay Victor - Kaiso Stories

Ananth Krishan's Top-5 of 2011
  1. Agustí Fernández, Barry Guy & Ramón López - Morning Glory
  2. Joe Hertenstein, Thomas Heberer, Joachim Badenhorst, Pascal Niggenkemper - Polylemma 
  3. Mark O’Leary / Peter Friis-Nielsen / Stefan Pasborg: Støj 
  4. Kaze - Rafale 
  5. Albatrosh – Yonkers

Stef's List 
  1. Bill Dixon - Envoi 
  2. William Parker & ICI Ensemble - Winter Sun Crying 
  3. Satoko Fujii & Min-Yoh - Watershed 
  4. Fire! with Jim O'Rourke - Unreleased 
  5. Daunik Lazro, Benjamin Duboc, Didier Lasserre - Pourtant Les Cimes Des Arbres 
  6. Kaze - Rafale 
  7. Rob Mazurek - Calma Gente 
  8. Benoît Delbecq & François Houle - Because She Hoped 
  9. Sei Miguel & Pedro Gomes - Turbina Anthem 
  10. Foton Quartet - Zomo Hall 

Tony Verstraete (from Instantjazz) also gave his favorites (or rather, I took them)
  1. Darius Jones Trio - 'Big Girl (Smell My Dream)' 
  2. Peter Evans Quintet - 'Ghosts '
  3. Julius Hemphill - 'Dogon A.D.' 
  4. Agusti Fernandez - 'El Laberint de la Memoria' 
  5. Rob Mazurek -  'Calma Gente' 
  6. Tarfala Trio  - 'Syzyguy' 
  7. Satoko Fujii & Min Yoh  - 'Watershed' 
  8. Hertenstein, Heberer, Niggenkamper, Badenhorst  - 'Polylemma' 
  9. André Vida -  'Brud Volumes I-III 1998-2011' 
  10. Ellery Eskelin  - 'Trio New York' 

 So, despite all the subjective feelings, there are some similarities. And my frustration is that I still have a pile of music here that requires some listening.

Friday, December 30, 2011


In the most fierce voting mobilisation campaign ever, Joe Hertenstein's band with Thomas Heberer, Pascal Niggenkemper and Joachim Badenhorst achieved with "Polylemma" the first place in the HAPPY NEW EARS AWARD 2011, in a daily changing neck-against-neck race against Scoolptures with "White Sickness" in a more than honorable second place.  More than 1629 votes were cast.

The top-5 is as follows :
  1. Joe Hertenstein - Polylemma  : 675 (41%) 
  2. Scoolptures - White Sickness : 579 (35%) 
  3. Duplant, Chagas &  Sait - Late Winter, Early Spring : 76 (4%) 
  4. Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts :  64 (3%) 
  5. Foton Quartet - Zomo Hall  : 46 (2%)
It must be clear that the after a couple of days, Scoolptures and Hertenstein were so much ahead of the other bands, that it became pointless to vote on the other bands.

Joe Hertenstein, Thomas Heberer, Joachim Badenhorst & Pascal Niggenkemper - Polylemma

A more than deserved second place goes to Scoolptures - White Sickness

We wish both bands, and all the other contenders, all the best and hope they will continue with offering us highly innovative listening experiences. Congratulations to all and hopefully it has helped and will help to get some wider attention new audiences.

The five winners also reflect the current international nature of modern music, with no less than Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Canada, and the US represented.

Congratulations to all!

© stef

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chicago Trio - Velvet Songs (RogueArt, 2011) ****

 By Stef

The Chicago Trio is Ernest Dawkins on sax, Harrison Bankhead on bass and cello, and Hamid Drake on drums and frame drum. The double CD presents a live gig performed a year before Fred Anderson passed away, yet even then, the performance was already a tribute to him. Both Bankhead and Drake played a lot with the legendary Chicagoan and owner of the Velvet Lounge, and although Dawkins and Anderson also performed together, to my knowledge none of that is available on record.

In any event, this album is really excellent: a deep dive into jazz history by one of the best sax trios you can find, with Drake offering all kinds of rhythmic playfulness, ranging from a funky "When The Saints Go Marchin' In" with Dawkins on two saxes, reggae on "Jah Music", to weird modern work-outs on "Galaxies Beyond". As I told Drake once, his playing sounds like dancing in paradise, and that's also the case on this album. Bankhead is phenomenal too, also on cello on what is possibly the best track of the album, the long "Moi Trè Gran Garçon". The precision of his tone, including bowed, is fantastic, as are his improvisations.

Dawkins is an ensemble man, and it must be said that he give the trio lots of space, yet he is a great front man, very lyrical and melodic, also in his improvisations, with jazz and blues tradition never far away, yet sufficiently free in his approach to make this album an easy one to recommend for readers of this blog, moving listeners from joy to sadness to spirituality to world empathy and back. The kind of free jazz Baba Fred Anderson would have enjoyed. A great tribute to a great musician.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Ernest Dawkins - Prairie Prophet (Delmark, 2011) *** 

Ernest Dawkins released another album this year with his New Horizons Ensemble, with Jeff Parker on guitar, Steve Berry on trombone, Shaun Johnson and Marquis Hill on trumpet, Junius Paul on bass, and Isaiah Spencer on drums. A nice boppish album, with good playing yet a little too laid-back to be memorable. His "Mean Ameen" album is highly recommended for those among you who do not know the band.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef


Happy New Ears - two days to go

With two more days to go for the Happy New Ears Award 2011, it becomes apparent that we have two contenders left for the title :
  • Scoolptures - White Sickness (35% of votes)
  • Joe Hertenstein, Thomas Heberer, Pascal Niggenkemper and Joachim Badenhorst - Polylemma (30% of votes)
Together, they collect two thirds of all votes. Needless to say both bands have and are mobilising fans and family and friends, but I guess that's part of the game.

Two more days to go ... 

© stef

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ikue Mori, Mark Nauseef, Evan Parker, Bill Laswell - Near Nadir (Tzadik, 2011) * * * *

 By Stanley Zappa

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was listening to and picking up on the earth/wood element aspects of Zlatko Kaučič drum sound.

Borrowing further from Wu Xing theory, today's examination of Evan Parker with Ikue Mori, Mark Nauseef, and Bill Laswell leans heavily toward the metal/water side of the cycle. Mori's electronica and Nauseef's employ of the Gamelan's sound palette are synergistic, creating a hospitable environment for Laswell's low end sensibilities.

The three together make a decidedly “new” compositional and sonic backdrop for Parker's unprocessed acoustic saxophone. Say hello to the future of the rhythm section. Here (again, as usual) is where Parker shines. What must have been dismissed at least once in his career as a gratuitously idiosyncratic, a-musical, national security risk approach to playing the saxophone was more than likely Parker remembering this very future when the buttery tones of Coleman Hawkins would no longer be an appropriate vehicle for that which needs expressing in the year of our Lord 2011.

Parker is on soprano for most if not all of this record (with only a low resolution scan of the cover, you can never be too sure). When Parker does play the horn “normally,” the effect is startling. Parker invokes more Wayne than 'Trane in those moments when he's invoking someone other than himself. At the risk of excommunication, not that Parker ever really gets “hysterical” on the instrument, there is a palpable amount of measurement and calm both in Parker's playing and the ensemble as whole.

To say 'Near Nadir' brings ceremony to mind is usually the sign of desperation in journalism and/or a misunderstanding of ceremony (I plead guilty on both counts.) Be that as it may, the recording's pacing, the relatively short length of the pieces as well as their asymmetry and harmonic tension earns 'Near Nadir' my vote for best musical Kōan, 2011.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Matana Roberts – Coin Coin, Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres (Constellation, 2011) *****

 By Guy Peters

Three seconds into opener ‘Rise’, and you know this is going to be special. The fierceness that runs throughout the album is not merely a characteristic, but a method, an indictment, exorcism and history lesson. That Roberts manages to unite a universal message and the intensely personal is one of the album’s most striking merits, while combining free jazz, swing, folk music (spirituals, lullabies, the blues), the Bible and the oral tradition to accomplish a musical equivalent of Toni Morrison’s stories.

The music has ties to the rough-edged fire music of the sixties – the Ayler- Shepp-Sanders-axis, in particular, but it’s also a collective triumph for saxophones, trumpets, violin, prepared guitar, bass, drums, singing saw and vocals, teetering from Mingus-styled grooves to dense and mysterious imaginary soundtracks and back. And it is a record of childish unpredictability and diversity, with a ‘compositional sound language’ that’s channeled by ways of a graphic notation system. Also striking, and something which might alienate or irritate you as much as it might cause the shivers to run up and down your spine, are the vocals, which are playful and soothing the first moment, and incredibly harsh and haunting the next.

When Roberts unleashes (and that’s the only appropriate verb) her demons in ‘Pov Piti’ and its emotionally charged counterpart ‘I Am’, you’re being maimed by oppressive expression in its purest form. It is the blues, it is a peek into unresolved emotional issues, complete with regret and pain seeping from those open sores. But “Coin Coin” is not all about agony.

It is a strikingly rich album, full of throbbing grooves (‘Song For Eulalie’, being a wonderful example), spoken word interludes and blues-drenched, carnivalesque climaxes, that ultimately ends on a hopeful, life-affirming note: “I know how precious our lives can be / dedicate this moment to you and me / let’s dance / celebrate life”.

A history chapter, a therapeutic session, a sonic novel bursting at the seams. This could’ve been an ambitious failure, but it became a full-fledged triumph. A demanding one, yes, but music shouldn’t refrain from asking the listener to make an effort. Or should it? The best news: this is supposed to be the first chapter in a twelve-part cycle. If she manages to keep this up, it’ll be a major achievement.

Musicians : Matana Roberts (vocals, clarinet, alto saxophone); Gitanjali Jain (vocals); Xarah Dion (prepared guitar); Josh Zubot, Marie Davidson (violin); Nicolas Caloia (cello); Fred Bazil (tenor saxophone); Jason Sharp (baritone saxophone); Ellwood Epps (trumpet); Brian Lipson (bass trumpet); David Ryshpan (piano, organ); David Payant (vibraphone, drums); Lisa Gamble (musical saw).

 Buy from Instantjazz

Saturday, December 24, 2011

John Zorn – A Dreamer’s Christmas (Tzadik, 2011)


John Zorn immediately brings to my mind Naked City; I just cannot seem to help it. Even after all these years that box set still seems novel and unfermented to my ears. Post Naked City, the prolific recorder John Zorn is, he has embarked on many an adventure with Masada (in its various incarnations like Electric Masada, Masada String Trio), Bar Kokhba, and his Book of Angels series immediately coming to mind. 

"A Dreamer's Christmas" is Zorn's 5th release of this year (!!!) and it is and ideal arrival to festoon the holiday spirit. The album plays house to a mind boggling array of talent - Cyro Baptista (Percussion), Joey Baron (Drums), Trevor Dunn (Acoustic And Electric Basses), Mike Patton (Vocal), Marc Ribot (Guitars), Jamie Saft (Keyboards), Kenny Wollesen (Vibes, Chimes, Glockenspiel) - an assemblage of names that is nothing short of jaw dropping promising one hell of a ride.

I have to admit right away that I am not familiar with most of the Christmas tunes present here ("Santa's Workshop" and "Magical Sleigh Ride" are the only original compositions in this album), so for me the entire album plays out as fresh material. There is the unmistakable presence of the warmth that was the hallmark of the Dreamers and O'o albums (volumes four and five of the Music Romance series sporting identical personnel). 

Kicking off things is "Winter Wonderland" that has Kenny Wollesen's vibes resounding pleasantly before the entire band just eases into the song developing it into a lilting melody that keeps humming in your mind - beautiful. "Snowfall" and "Christmas Time Is Here" follows in similar flair with the latter pushing Jamie Saft and Cyro Baptista onto the limelight for they indulge in some magical keyboards work and the most delicate percussion that I have heard. The next track is the first of Zorn's originals that ups the tempo just a notch and this song carries some of the most delicate Ribot solos - an absolute indulgence.

I can go on track by track but I think you get a picture of what is in store in this album - titillating guitar work, soaring keyboards and the calming vibes take centre stage throughout with a rhythm section that cannot have been more solid. The entire album floats and remains swimming around your head while it is busy trying to sort out the innumerable melodies that are taking control of your ears. "Let it Snow" is one of my favourite tracks that starts off with gentle Trevor Dunn bass lines laying the ground for Ribot and Saft to take over - the solos that these men churn out are just phenomenally sweet (yes, that's the best and most apt word I can come up with, you have to listen to enjoy the sugar in this song!!). 

The other one that my head refused to let go is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - starting in the most bizarre vein this album ever gets, Joey Baron finally gets a chance to remind us of his awesome presence in this one track where he lets rip and the bass work is incessant and quivering and don't even get me started on what Jamie Saft does in this track. Well, there I go - I just shot myself in the feet, I started decrypting track by track didn't I? I cannot seem to help it for I really don't have one or two favourites in this album - the entire album just has just taken root in my head and it is on continuous play. I will leave it to you guys to figure out what "Magical Sleigh Ride" and "The Christmas Song" do to your ears. One more thing, Mike Patton graces the last song - not a la PainKiller or Faith No More mode, this is Christmas spirit élan and he ends up doing total justice.

I really don't know what genre this fantastic album belongs to - one thing though there is adventure all over and I had a ball of a time with these songs unraveling one by one, I can almost imagine everyone smiling to themselves while making this album!! It is just so rich yet so light hearted and the music is so densely and beautifully layered making it a guarantee that there are innumerable nuances to be discovered upon each listen. The technicality of the music and the mixing is eclectic for there is a blend of so many styles here that there is no point listing them down.

While this is NO Naked City or scorching, complex or intricate jazz it still is enjoyable, to sum up - A Dreamer's Christmas - Avant Garde? No. Free Jazz? Barely. 

Fun? Oh Boy, YES! - a Merry Christmas Indeed.

Listen and download from Itunes


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Vinny Golia Octet - Low And Inside - Music For Baritone Saxophone (Nine Winds, 2011) ****

 By Stanley Zappa

In this 12th month game of catch-up-on-reviews, my initial strategy was to look at William Parker's "Conversations", Ken Vandermark's "Mark In the Water" and Vinnie Golia's "Music for Baritone Saxophone", thinking that it too was a solo recording. It isn't. It's an Octet. Or is it?

Despite the name of the group (The Vinnie Golia Octet) there are only seven musicians listed—and no mention of who plays the clarinet (so very well.) Another inconsistency, Golia is listed as playing baritone and contra-bass saxophone (something he and Anthony Braxton have in common) next to a picture of a bass saxophone. A Benedikt Eppelsheim bass saxophone, if I'm not mistaken. Regardless of brand, a bass (or contra-bass) saxophone makes even the lamest of musical projects sonically rewarding. They make exciting musical projects unbelievably so.

Like "Strade d'Aqua" and "Apparent Distances", "Music for Baritone Saxophone" also prominently features the electric guitar. On "Music for Baritone Saxophone", Alex Noyce, who is somewhere between Jeff Parker and Mary Halvorson—is liberal with the distortion pedal and not particularly indebted to “jazz” or the jazz concept of the guitar. There is something about Golia's writing and arrangements that support and work synergistically with Noyce whereas with "Strade d'Aqua" and "Apparent Distances" that might not be the case. Which is to say, with the utmost respect and enthusiasm for this recording, that there is an element of fusion to be found through out. (Note the use of the lower case of fusion.)

This is not The Rippingtons, but instead a modern, thoughtful marriage of disparate elements. In the case of Golia and Noyce, think splash of spicy fish sauce in the Pasta Vongole. Fusion, with a capital F, is rightfully assailed for making slickness the prevailing ethos in every aspect of the musical venture—instrumental tone, contour of lines, clothes, hair, album covers, post production, marketing and beyond. Even Milford Graves has conceded that it's OK to eat a little white rice every now and again, and so a little slickness on the instrument born out of extensive labor and refinement, might not be the end of the world.

The musicianship totally and completely solid. The command is so trenchant, the movements so smooth and sure (don't call it slick) to where the over all feeling when listening is one of security. That's quite a feeling to have given how the ensemble careens around poly-rhythms and complex lines. In listening to "The Return of the Post Marathon Man" I couldn't help but think of a record called Studio Tan, the instrumental portions of side two in particular, by another East coast born Italian American Southern Californian—but with more longer, free-er horn solos.

What's not to like? Like "Kaiso Stories" by Other Dimensions in Music, there is the potential for musical diplomacy. Music for Baritone Saxophone is a recording that in its conceptual thoroughness and technical command richly rewards any listener but warmly welcomes newbie musicians and listeners “interested in improvised music but not sure where to start.”

Vinny Golia (baritone sax, tubax), Gavin Templeton (alto sax), Daniel Rosenboom (trumpet), George McMullen (trombone), Brian Walsh (bass clarinet), Alex Noice (guitar), Ken Filiano (bass), Matt Mayhall (drums)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Peter Evans - Beyond Civilized and Primitive (Dancing Wayang 2011) ****½

By Joe Higham

The LP (the product) - Normally I wouldn't discuss album covers in a review but here it seems an important part of the 'whole', a beautifully produced LP from Dancing Wayang records. The LP is beautifully packaged, if only simply, with (see above) a wonderful screen printed cover which folds out. There's a lovely inlay card which has the details of the music on it, printed on high quality card (like a wedding invitation) with close attention given to layout, fonts, and all the rest. To add to that the first 100 LPs get a free mini CD.

The LP (the music) - Even though this is a trumpet record the music is probably very much influenced by the works European sax improvisers such as John Butcher or Evan Parker, I'm sure one could site such trumpet masters Leo Smith and Bakida Carroll as people who have also worked in the solo area producing very interesting and influential works like this one. One thing that connects us to the Euro sax tradition is Evans use of alternative techniques such as extreme registers, multiphonics or circular breathing that enables him to produces hypnotic lines that can continue ad infinitum. Of course, that's not the whole record, Peter Evans has produced a well balanced program of 6 pieces (three per side) using a multitude of techniques and ideas.

The titles are all taken from Ran Prieur's 'Beyond Civilized and Primitive' and read like titles from a Charles Mingus album. In what way Evans (and the music) connect with Prieur's ideology is unknown but the titles conjure up images questioning what we perceive as conventional. The first track 'complexity, change, stability, giving, freedom, and both the past and the future' is a very simple and peaceful statement which develops into longer lines. Evans use of re-shaped sound makes one think of a trumpet played backwards, a technique he's used on other records.

On 'History is Broken' (Tk 2) the trumpet may be used as we expect but Peter Evans use of circular breathing makes this piece into a hypnotic soundscape that is punctuated by the sound of air being drawn in as the line grows blurred as it becomes frantic. Once the (long) line - a sort of contemporary flight of the bumble bee (there are no breaks) - one wonders how it will end, an abrupt pause only ends up heightening the tension as draws to it's conclusion. 'What is possible?' the last piece on side one returns to a relaxed and meditative state, using over dubbing to produce a large organ like chord drone bringing us back to the first idea (Tk 1) of melody and re-shaped sound.

Side two brings new elements to the table and works mostly with re-shaping the sound of the trumpet. The long titled 'We like hot baths and sailing ships ......... we get eaten by roving gangs.' (there are 59 words all in all) being an experiment in multi tracking and re-shaped sound whilst the second track develops traditional trumpet playing by using anything but notes. The last piece of this excellent release 'our nature is not a location' reminds us of peaceful simplicity, yet anyone who knows Evans playing will know that extremes and the unexpected are never far as we a caught out at the closing notes.

The Mini-CD (if you bought one of the first 100 records) - 4 tracks make up this mini CD. Although it may be unintentional, it seems the mini-CD has a more abstract direction. The music on here takes (to my mind) a different direction to the accompanying LP, and in a way it's a perfect compliment, giving us a different style of music which is constantly probing and fascinating. Limited edition of 500 LPs.

By from the label.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Evan Parker & Zlatko Kaučič - Round About One O'clock (Not Two, 2011) ****

By Stanley Zappa

What if, in 2012, Evan Parker released 500 totally excellent recordings--each and every one of them a stirring exposition of the furthest reaches of improvisation and saxophone playing?

Could a super abundance of Parker's music result in a devaluation of it? Could someone of Parker's musicality become normalized and taken for granted the same way as John Phillip Sousa? What if in 2012 Parker released 0 albums, but instead began working on one to be released in 2019. Would that make Parker's music any more valuable than it is now?

Listening to Round About One O'clock by Evan Parker and Zlatko Kaučič makes me wonder if Parker has fallen into a rut of totally predictable excellence and invention. Parker is a full fledged, heir to Coltrane's aesthetic line, as much as Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Charles Gayle or Michael Brecker for that matter. Can Parker do anything but kick ass? Can we record him then? It's hard to imagine an uninspired sound or a dull phrase coming from Parker's horn.

With Parker's eminently high functionality as a constant, his collaborators become the focus. On the one hand, why Kaučič? Of all the drummers in the world, why him? On the other hand, at this point in Parker's discography, why not? Kaučič keeps pace, playing what the facebook page calls “ground drums.” Kaučič kit has a warm, “organic” sound (for wont of a better term), tonally to similar to Milford Graves. It is in those moments where Kaučič approach owes more rather than less to Graves when Kaučič is at his most exciting and compelling.

Once all the compelling excitement is over, however, we are still left wishing the Parker/Graves performance in 2009 at the Stone in NYC (what little there was of it) was also part of either Parker's or Graves' recorded output. Graves has a way of putting horn players pull up their socks unlike anyone else. (Paul Lovens is no slouch either.)

Of all the horn players ready for significant musical demands, Parker is at the top of the list. If Parker isn't going to make any horrible recordings, then only the remarkably super human (like a duet with Graves) can add counterpoint to the vast bulk of Parker's output, which has flat lined at merely fantastic, Round About One O'clock included.

Buy from Instantjazz

Listen and download from eMusic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ingrid Laubrock's Sleepthief - The Madness of Crowds (Intakt, 2011) ****

 By Paul Acquaro

It took me a couple spins to warm up to Ingrid Laubrock's Sleeptheif's latest offering "The Madness of Crowds". At first the minimalist grooves on the opening "Extraordinary Popular Delusions" didn't quite click. However, I think it was because I was trying too hard. I was listening and trying to make up words about the music, I was not letting the music just speak for itself. So, I'm glad I finally relaxed and listened.

The album does start quietly, prepared piano's arpeggiated riffs ricochet off percussive clatters. Laubrock's sax comes in at opportune times, leaving a trail of notes and scattered phrases. By the second tune the phrases are longer and more cohesive and the group's sound begins to coalesce. It is still quiet, with the pianist often stroking the strings inside the piano and the drums applying accents and textures.

At some point, the sounds becomes denser, with the piano playing more lush chords below the saxophones thick melodies. The sonic density increases as the songs progress, Laubrocks' rich tone intertwines with Liam Noble's piano, while Tom Rainey's drums prod and punctuate. By the tunes "Does Your Mother Know You're Out?" and "Tulipmania" things are in full swing and it's a clattering affair, awash with energy.

Luckily for those of us with downloaded versions, Harry Lachner's liner notes for the album are generously provided by Intakt Records (I really wish all the labels did this). Here is where I learned that the song titles as well as the album's title are drawn from the book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds." From a review on Amazon we get a little insight into the material: "Charles Mackay's highly recommended 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds' was first published in 1841 and studies the psychology of crowds and mass mania throughout history. Mackay included accounts of classic scams, grand-scale madness, and deceptions. Some of these include the Mississippi scheme that swept France in 1720, the South Sea bubble that ruined thousands in England at the same time, and the tulip mania of Holland when fortunes were made and lost on single tulip bulbs."

Seems like pretty intriguing material and perhaps a helpful guide to our own interesting times. Laubrock's previous Sleepthief album received an review on the site a few years ago, and I think that this new album certainly corroborates the enthusiasm that was expressed then. This excellent group's interplay is intriguing and interesting. I'm glad I took the time to really listen.

© Paul Acquaro


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ames Room - Bird Dies (Clean Feed, 2011) ****

 By Stef

"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."

This is how I described the band's album "In" released last year. I cannot add much more for this album : it is as ferocious, energetic and relentless, even further pushed to the limit because the album contains one single fourty-eight minute track, as recorded live in Lille, France in March 2010. Both Thomas and Guthrie have the approach of a rock band, bringing them closer to The Thing than to Brötzmann, while Guionnet keeps on hitting the same mid-range sonic attack with a limited choice of notes, no lyricism to speak of, but all repetitive assault of the senses, hypnotic, mad, as if something's got to give way, like an endless cry ...

For those of you who like to spice up their meals with dynamite, don't hesitate to buy this one.

The entire album can be downloaded from eMusic for just 0.49 euro, because it's only one single track, lasting 48 minutes.

Hard copies can be obtained from Instantjazz.

 No more words needed, listen to an excerpt :

© stef

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet - Apparent Distance (Firehouse 12 Records, 2011) ****

 By Stanley Zappa

Not to pit one with the other, but I couldn't help but notice that like Vandermark's "Strade d'Aqua", Apparent Distance by the Taylor Bynum Sextet is, well, also a sextet. Unlike, Strade d'Aqua, Apparent Distance is not music for a movie, but music for music. The difference is staggering. Where Strade d'Aqua is cautious, Apparent Distance flows furiously and freely. Strade d'Aqua's improvisations sound written, while Apparent Distance's written parts sound improvised.

Life is too long to spend it comparing one bands boom-chicka-boom with another's, especially when the joy of improvised music stems from the truth that boom-chicka-boom need never be revisited ever, ever again. That said, The Taylor Ho Bynum sextet has no problem grabbing the keys and taking the symmetrically rhythmic nostalgia mobile for a brisk joy ride. In so doing, it becomes obvious and official, Thomas Fujiwara is one motherfucker of a drummer.

Listening to Bynum on Apparent Distance it is readily apparent to whom the aesthetic debt is owed. That debt is never musically denied and, at the same time, is a solid reference point against which Bynum can leverage his own musical ideas. Little fanfare surrounds it, and it never gets in the way. With Vandermark, much is made by Vandermark of Vandermark crediting when credit is due, and yet there is nothing to suggest the loan did any good; after all is said and done, Vandermark sounds like Vandermark—whoever that is (think all the colors in the crayon box melted into a gray, tan hue).

If that's what they call Postmodernism, does anyone have any idea what comes after that, and when it's going to be here? Bynum sounds like Dixon and, also, plays phrases that Dixon wouldn't play in a million, billion years—and that is why there is no confusing Bynum for Dixon. While this likely sounds like judgment, no judgment is implied, but rather an accounting for Bynum's time with Dixon, who's influence as one of the great geniuses of both the trumpet and of music is substantial. There would be a problem if Bynum didn't, on occasion, sound like Dixon.

Jim Hobbs is a rudder of reality, bringing us back to the now when the groove gets a little to slick. Hobbs is pani cà meusa in an Olive Garden ™ world. Hobbs is a mighty force of propulsion, with lines that race through, between, on top of and around those moments of metric predictability. Hobbs is an asset. Like Jeb Bishop, Bill Lowe reminds us of the glory that is the trombone. Lowe favors the intricate and involved over Jeb Bishop's grand, sprawling gestures. Both are consummate musicians lending both their virtuosity as soloists as well as a solidity of sound to the ensemble.

Mary Halvorson is another standout, particularly her use of her “wiggly pedal” or “foot whammy bar” or what ever it's called. The ability to leave the tempered scale be it mechanically or electronically is the best thing that happened to the guitar since the Marshall Stack. Halvorson's use of this pitch changing device is signature and wildly effective. It's probably impertinent to say without said pitch shifter, Apparent Distance would have been an all too familiar sausage party of super jazz chops on the free jazz tip, but if that's what it takes to underscore the profundity of Halvorson's contributions then so be it.

Even if all else preceding is for naught, the whole listening experience is handsomely redeemed in the final minute of Layers, the final track on the recording.

Buy from Instantjazz.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Five Clarinets and Five Saxes ....

By Stef

In the incredible piles of music that are still waiting for review (and for first listens), I still felt miserable not to have had the time to review quite a number of them, including the ones reviewed today.

What today's review have in common, is that two existing reed quartets, one clarinet quartet from Poland, and one sax quartet from the US, both quite close in their adventurous approach to music, now invited a fifth musician, a like-minded spirit, although with a different background, to come and join them and challenge them, Joe McPhee and John Zorn respectively. The results are somewhat unusual, yet easy to recommend for the amateurs of new sounds.

Mikołaj Trzaska Clarinet Quintet - IRCHA - Lark Uprising (Multikulti, 2011) **** 

Polish clarinetist Mikołaj Trzaska created his fabulous clarinet quartet with some fellow countrymen and the great Joe McPhee. The band is Joe McPhee on alto clarinet, Mikołaj Trzaska on alto clarinet and bass clarinet, Paweł Szamburski on clarinet and bass clarinet, Wacław Zimpel on bass clarinet, clarinet, taragato, and Michał Górczyński on bass clarinet.

It's hard to say how their system works, whether the arrangements are discussed before or whether they arise while playing, but whatever it is, the result is baffling at moments. The five musicians manage to create rhythm, structure, harmonics, melody and improvisation with alternating roles about who takes the lead and who lays down the foundations. In that sense you can call it jazz in its purest form.

Yet they add more levels to this. First, there is the voice of the various musicians, raw with emotion, soaring with joy, twittering like birds, weeping in sadness.

Second, there is the adventurous approach of the concept itself, a kind of a common natural journey, an ode to music and life and it possibilities, including the escape from the unavoidable sorrow, equally present here. The line-up itself intensifies this myriad of possibilities because the similar sounds flow through each other with the impossibility to follow one instrument in its progress, they move as one, but with five voices, coming and going, and moving up, and down, intensifying and relaxing, coming forward, stepping back. Everything happens, but it is actually one voice.

Third, with the five musicians, they manage to create an intimate conversation, a warm meeting of wooden sounds, nothing expansive, just showing a different perspective to everyday life. 

ROVA : Zorn - The Receiving Surfaces (Metalanguage, 2011) **** 

On this limited edition LP, the ROVA saxophone quartet invites John Zorn for 37 minutes of a soothening shock treatment, that will set your nerves on edge, while possibly also resulting in mental peace.

The five saxes are Jon Raskin on baritone, Larry Ochs on tenor, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino, Bruce Ackley on soprano, and John Zorn on alto. The album captures a performance by the quintet at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in August, 2010.

As said in the opening lines, you get it all on this record : the absolute mayhem of five saxes doing different things at the same time, with Zorn's usual and exceptionally shrill sound piercing through the warmer tones of the Rova quartet, while at other moments, the hair-raising sounds fold beautifully into harmonious textures, on which the full breadth of low and high-toned horns lead to a feeling of aesthetic beauty, while remaining open-ended.

The end result is the feeling that you have survived something, that you have come through the storm unharmed, no, even stronger, it is because you have been subjected to the violence of the storm and feared the worst, that you can experience the calmer sounds at the end of the album in a totally different way. The contrast and the effect are almost purifying and cathartic.

© stef

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Thing w/Jim O'Rourke: Shinjuku Growl (Smalltown Superjazz, 2011) ****½

 By Paul Acquaro

"If not ecstatic, we replay." An interesting statement and quite a kick-off to the Shinjuku Growl, a recent offering by The Thing with guest guitarist Jim O'Rourke. There is no need for a replay, from humble rattling percussive sounds punctuated by choice blasts from the sax, to the noisy improv that wells up between O'Rourke and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, it all leads up to Mats Gustafsson's snarling, bleeding improv a third of the way into the 22 minute improvisation.

Bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten pushes and Nilssen-Love prods until there is almost nowhere left to go. It's a huge sound, it's not always a pretty sound, but it is ecstatic. With four minutes left to go, the energy and volume turns down - rather - the volume turns down - and the energy transform into tension and the restraint is nearly as fiery as the previous onslaught.

"Half A Dog Can't Even Take A Shit" is another powerful foray, however the textures are different this time as Gustafsson's sound is multiphonic and intense, but O'Rourke's guitar provides almost subtle counterpoint. I do need to qualify 'almost subtle', because it is still loud, abrasive and fantastic but it couples so tightly and supportive of the sax thats it almost seems like Gustafsson is playing both instruments.

What's interesting is that each improvisation have some sort of implicit structure, almost like they rise up, layer by layer. For example, the title track starts out with a classic free jazz feel, Gustafsson blowing with a clear tone and the rhythm section propelling it along. Then, coming in gently at first, the guitar's sandpaper smears begins egging on the sax and the sound and tension begins to build. The approach is like a digestive aid for the rich and tough music they are serving up.

Shinjuku Growl is a companion piece to the previously released Shinjuku Crawl with Otomo Yoshihide on guitar. Both were recorded live in 2008 in Japan. The Thing's discography is filled with uncompromising music and excellent collaborations. The addition of avant rock guitarist O'Rourke is a masterful addition to the list.

© Paul Acquaro

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lol Coxhill, Barre Phillips, JT Bates - The Rock On The Hill (Nato, 2011) ****

By Stef

In 1981, British soprano saxophonist released an album with a solo performance at Théâtre Dunois in Paris, France. Now, thirty years later, his peculiar tone is animating the same venue in a trio with Barre Phillips on bass and JT Bates on drums,

Coxhill's tone holds the middle between moaning, singing and speaking, warm and uncannily human, yet this is really a trio album, with all three musicians taking the stage and alternating ideas. The whole environment is calm and peaceful, with lots of attention to improvisational details and precise interactions, even more accentuated by the space they offer each other, with long moments of solo and duo playing.

The band's strength is the variation they bring in the seven improvisations, each piece having its own character, with "Rivers Bend", sensitive and lyrical, "Anything So Natural" with indeed a great natural pulse, "Scratch" being angular and abstract, "Ergo Somme" lyrical and sweet, "The World Is A Grain Of Sand" starting minimalist with little notes full of hesitant surprise and wonder and evolving into long arco bows, "Tarentelle For Nelly" a nervous staccato character impro driven by Bates, "Full Of Butterflies" finally is a moving sensitive lyrical finale, yet equally closing the circle.

Free improvisation in the European sense, but then light-textured, lyrical and very open-ended, played by three musicians who have nothing to prove, who do not need speed, or pyrotechnics, or shock, or volume. Just their instruments, and calm and accurate authenticity.

Great stuff!

© stef

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vandermark ...

By Stanley Zappa

Ken Vandermark - Mark in the Water (Not Two, 2011)  **½ 

Speaking of the parent culture, you gotta love Wikipedia. There, I found this: After several years of Vandermark 5 performances of his arrangements of works by Sonny Rollins, Joe McPhee, Cecil Taylor and others, Vandermark in 2005 announced, "Though I have learned a great deal by rearranging some of my favorite composers' work for the Vandermark 5, it's time to leave that process behind and focus more completely on my own ideas.”

A half truth, like most things on Wikipedia, as 2011 will be remembered for (among other things) Ken Vandermark rearranging some of his favorite composers' work for Ken Vandermark in the solo setting for release on the recording Mark In The Water—a CD length mish-mosh of post modern ancestor worship.

Simply by reading the roster of “dedications” and “portraits”, before note one was heard, there was memory of a record by none other than Kenneth “Thumbs” Carllile, in particular a tune called "Springfield Guitar Social." In this short song, Carllile imitates the guitarists of the day—Chet Atkins, Les Paul and the like. Each musician is imitated for a few measures, with the whole piece book-ended by (and contrasted with) Thumbs Carllile's own unique, developed, signature style. One comes away from that listening experience with a deep appreciation for Carllile's musicality. While his influences and antecedents are obvious and his ability to ape their styles uncanny—at no point does the listener forget they are listening to Carllile.

Similarly, at no point does the listener forget they are listening to Vandermark, despite the musical mime. Not that Vandermark is an incapable musician—even if the only time he touched the instrument was when recording and playing live, that's still more billable hours than most of us 9 to 5 schlubs combined. Through continued application, Vandermark's technique is polished to a high sheen, single reed excellence in abundance. That this is a live performance makes the high wire aspect of the recording all the more thrilling and Vandermark's stature as a reliable commodity producer that much more certain.

If you do get this recording, a fun game might be to put the CD into the player without looking at the track list and see if you can guess whose “portrait” is being musically painted, or for whom the piece is dedicated. I got the Evan Parker track right--that's one out of ten right...I guess that just goes to show how little I know. Ignore me.

Ken Vandermark Sextet - Strade d'Aqua/Roads Of Water (Multikulti, 2011) **½

Speaking of commodities, here again we find Vandermark's music fulfilling a mandate—this time music for film.

Wikipedia also told me that Vandermark's studies at McGill were in “Film and Communication.” As such, it's safe to say that Vandermark has at least given some thought to the roll and function of music in film (which is more than I can say, so ignore me twice.)

Unfortunately, I only got a download of the music, and not the images—which is a pity. It becomes apparent quite quickly that the images (regardless of what they are) were an equal member in the ensemble. Without the imagery, the music has a hollow, plodding quality which for all I know is exactly what Vandermark wanted and was perfect for the film.

There are certainly “film music” elements throughout—bring in the honestly and truly fabulous Jeb Bishop and his majestic tone to give the feeling of unity and triumph. Feeling spooky? Try Fred Lonberg-Holm bowing a harmonic or Nate McBride bowing a low E...that will spook 'em! And so on, somewhat crudely, for the duration of the recording. In and amongst, I can't remember where, Vandermark has a spirited tenor solo, and again, can there really be too much Jeb Bishop? Getting to those peaks, however, is a hard, austere slog.

© stef

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dave Douglas & Sō Percussion - Bad Mango (Greenleaf, 2011) ****

By Stef

Of all of today's musicians, Dave Douglas is one of the best promoters of his music, with up-to-date website, special offers, client databases, subscriber services and regular mailings. One of his brainchilds was the "digital only" releases of his Greenleaf Portable Series, destined of iTunes and other mobile devices. Quickly recorded albums in the traditional spirit of jazz, easy to consume maybe ... but the concept got traction and is now released in hard copy too ... the upside down world.

Anyway, the Greenleaf Portable Series has three albums, "Rare Metals" with an all-brass band, "Orange Afternoon", a more mainstream album also featuring Ravi Coltrane and Vijay Iyer, but the real treat in my ears is "Bad Mango", with Douglas on trumpet in great interaction with "Sō Percussion",consisting of the four master percussionists Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting and Eric Beach. The result is great. Very spontaneous, rhythmic (to be expected from a percussion quartet), yet also very melodious (to be expected from Douglas), ranging from melancholgy blues ("One Shot") to crazy adventures ("Time Leveler"), but the immediacy the fun and the explorative nature of the music make this so much more "jazz" than the other two, more polished albums. Great playing, real jazz!

 Listen and download from Greenleaf.

© stef

Monday, December 12, 2011

William Parker - Conversations (RogueArt, 2011) **** 1/2

 By Stanley Zappa

The concept is straight forward—recorded conversations (soliloquies, really) interspersed with William Parker on bass. Both the conversations and the bass interludes are short. Unfortunately, here at Freejazz-stef, we writers don't get the actual CD. In that instance, I don't know who all the conversations are with. I do know for certain, however, that one is with Onisegun Milford Graves. Graves: “The musicians job: we are receptors of vibration” That conversation is worth the price of the CD. Parker's bass playing is as luminescent as ever.

Perhaps you don't speak English and so aren't as interested in the spoken word parts? Hearing Parker crystallize his aesthetic into such short spans makes this a must hear for all bassists as well as those interested in one of the greatest bassists the instrument will ever know. It is also an occasion to become acquainted with Parker's antecedents and those who he cared enough to document himself. If I had to pick the theme of the narrative thread linking all the conversations together, I wouldn't pick a will to please the parent culture.

 PS from Stef : here is the list of interviewees :  
  • GEN GAN-RU  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Great Waitress - Lucid (Split Records, 2011) ****

By Stef

I coined the term "silenscapes" recently to describe the minimalist music when referring to the music of Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr, and this also describes German pianist Magda Mayas music quite well. I loved her "Heartland", which is louder and darker.

"Great Waitress" is a trio, with Mayas on piano, Monika Brooks on accordion and Laura Altman on clarinet, and their music is featherlike, with soft sounds cautiously weaving a calm but intense silenscape. The titles of the various tracks give an indication of this lightness : "Breath", "Drifting Needles", "Lucid", "Dusted Birds On Furnished Trees", "Grain". Yet it is not easy-listening, the music is edgy and direct, despite its low volume and apparent inobtrusiveness.

Fragile and solid at the same time. Like touching the wings of a butterfly, it is almost as risky and daring to listen to this music, as your personal volume and sound could harm what you hear.

Lucid by Mayas, Brooks, Altman

Magda Mayas & Anthea Caddy - Schatten (Dromos Records, 2011) ****

The first thing that strikes you with this album is the unusual artwork by Nádia Duvall, with all 250 covers being handmade of crepe paper and wax, a combination of different materials, light and heavy, light and dark, and somewhat unpredictable and fragile, all illustrating the nature of the music quite well.

Schatten brings the interplay between Mayas on piano and Anthea Caddy on cello, offering a similar minimalist approach, yet somewhat darker and ominous, with heavier sounds and more percussive effects, which creates a totally different dynamic to the music. The sonic textures are all about timbre and space and interaction, and even if at moments it is hard to identify what or who the source is of the sounds you hear, the result is quite captivating.

Madga Mayas & Anthea Caddy - Schatten (preview) by DromosRecords

© stef

Friday, December 9, 2011

Viktor Tóth – Popping Bopping (BMC Records, 2011) ****

By Ananth Krishnan

My initial foray into the world of Viktor Tóth started with Climbing With Mountains - a result of the review by Stef here and the generosity of the folks out at BMC records (who due to the non-availability of pay-pal sent me the CD as a gift item, a real treat!). I definitely enjoyed that release and I took to this one with a lot of interest and hope. The album has Viktor Tóth (alto saxophone) and Bart Maris (trumpet, effects) with the rhythm section being handled by Mátyás Szandai (double bass) and Robert Mehmet Ikiz (drums). There is also László Válik who is credited with mixing and live effects; he does the honors for recording this live concert at the Jazzforum Budapest.

Firstly - the musicians are all of a very high caliber, extremely accomplished in their respective departments with the performances being stellar. I would like to make a special mention about the rhythm section - it is top notch, throbbing and pulsating it proves to be a delightful and potent backdrop for the musical explorations that this group engages in. I always seem to have a special yardstick I apply for the rhythm section for I believe that it is such a critical component for such adventurous music - hence the special mention.

Not to forget Viktor who really revels in his role as the leader making his alto sing and swing. Here below is my listening experience which I hope gives an insight into what I felt about the music. First listen: The former part of the album was ablaze and riveting, makes you close your eyes and drench yourself in its offering. Second listen: Once again the former part of the album establishes itself firmly in my mind. The third track takes the "my favourite" spot - it is so filled with moods, playful at times but brooding at others - it was like a drama unfolding on stage except that there is no visual component, its an absolute peach of a track.

The title which I think is an oxy-moronic play on weather-temperature combinations gives an idea of the extremes this one song takes - sunny, humid and I think an array of other “climates” inhabit this 15 minute song. Another fact worth mentioning here - Mehmet is on fire in this track, for a minute I was left wondering if Neil Peart had entered the realm of jazz and was bringing his rock drumming over. Third listen: A Ballad for White Flowers - upon listening a little more closely to this track, I checked out the name of the song and I broke into a smile. For it is a befitting composition - an almost melancholic track that still ends up uplifting you, it is a fantastic composition.

Fourth listen: The first two tracks serves as a perfect vehicle for the instrumental exploits that these guys are capable of, they are strong cuts but they are probably not as adventurous as the tracks that follow. But even this time around, Hong Kong and Star' Stairs failed to hold my attention - I am still wondering why. Don't get me wrong, its not like they are dull - they still have a lot of energy and the playing is great but I guess the best way of putting it is that it pales in comparison to the rest of the album. Overall I found this outing fantastic - it is recommended solely for the extremely strong opening 4 tracks.

Even though the compositional artistry is missing in the latter half of the album, the instrumental prowess of this band is evident throughout and keeps you well engaged for the 50 minute ride. Popping Bopping - hopping, flopping, whooping, whopping treat indeed!

Listen and download from