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Monday, January 31, 2011

Jin Hi-Kim & Gerry Hemingway - Pulses (Auricle Records, 2010) ****

By Stef

Good music really knows no boundaries, neither of style or tradition or geographically. With two instruments, in this case a komungo, played by Jin Hi-Kim, and percussion, played by Gerry Hemingway, a whole world of sound is created : strange, unfamiliar, beautiful and deeply resonating.

Korean artist Jin Hi-Kim clearly leads the dance, with Hemingway adding accents, emphasis or counter-rhythms to her unusual instrument, which she had also made in an electric version. The nature of the string instrument is percussive : the strings are hit with a bamboo stick, and the left hand changes the pitch, but the other strings continue to resonate openly. The result is a quite hypnotic repetitive and addictive mode of music, built around a single tonal center on each piece, but it remains open-ended, fully improvised. Hemingway is the ideal dance-partner, with incredible listening skills and a master at becoming one with the music, to the level of being uncanny.

Yes, the instruments have their limitations, and even after many, many listens, it is impossible to differentiate between the various pieces - at least for the unaccustomed listener that I am - but that does not spoil the fun and the mystery, quite to the contrary, it emphasises and shifts and brings back and diverges and returns in a great mystical wheel of sound, whirring around a pole that is rooted deep in the ground yet facing upward. Anything is possible, but without straying to far. Difficult to get more coherent.

Watch a short performance that will give you an idea of what to expect.

© stef

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, Peter Evans - Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear, 2011) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

What makes this excursion into improvised mayhem so compelling? There is no reason that I can rationally put forth to explain how and why "Mangosteen 3000 A.D." should be listened to at all. It's not neatly defined as jazz, rock, post-rock, pre-jazz or rife with beautiful melodies and dazzling harmonies. Rather, Evan's trumpet bifurcates into spittle and inspiration, Halvorson's guitar slips and shimmies, and Walter's free ranging percussion somehow keeps it all together. Clean toned runs crash into thick distorted chords, lines shatter into dazzling arrays of tiny shiny notes, this recording can dupe the senses with its spiraling helixes of sound.

Electric Fruit is a celebration, a joyous racket, a jumble of adjectives and superlatives running roughshod on the expected. The songs are ever shifting and building explorations of texture, tonality and expression. There are moments of beauty too, with the guitar providing delicate backdrops for muted melodies. From the cover art of an orange contraption, presumably electrified, to a phantasmagorical arrangement of verbiage for song titles ('The Stench of Cyber-Durian', 'The Pseudo-carp Walks Among Us'), to the free spirited music within, it would seem that such a potent brew could go so wrong, yet it could not be better.

Halvorson continues to reinvent the guitar, playing with an instantly identifiable voice that eschews cliché or formula. Evans coaxes all sorts of sounds that are not usually found in the trumpet and Walters provides accents and beats in places perfectly unexpected. For example, 'Yantok Salak Kapok', finds Evans inventing an extended melody over assorted scattered pulsing percussion, while Halvorson bends tones, shoots out tonal clusters and smears chords around the sonic canvass. Halfway through this dynamic epic, the musicians individual voices begin coalescing into, well, I suppose a giant orange outfitted with pipes, wires and a thirst for adventure.

This is an album that is well worth the experience.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Listen to some samples:

or on their website.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grey Ghost - Broad Oration (Self-published, 2010) ****

By Joe Higham

If you enjoy Faust, Can, 23 Skidoo and the likes, then here's one for you!

Grey Ghost (Aram Shelton sax/max/msp and drummer Johnathan Crawford) play music that has (at the same time) blissfully peaceful minimalist grooves, linked into hypnotic soundscapes and add to that some wild screeching sax solos, in fact something for all the family! Is this possible? Well yes, the music on this CD is constantly challenging whilst remaining accessible, in fact I found myself sitting hypnotised by the mix of percussion and live and manipulated sounds. As I mentioned already this could be something from the 70's Kraut rock experimental stable, but with the use of max/msp the music is certainly straight from the '00s.

And the music? Well, you're taken on a trip around a universe of grooves and sounds. From the opening dark drum rhythms of 'Circle' that add electro-acoustic elements like snowflakes of manipulated sound, or the heavy drum groove and sonic sax (attack), on 'Sustained Room of Sun', the music constantly weaves in and out of expected places, sometimes free jazz and at others minimalist music. Examples such as 'Anthem for the Fox' , 'Wage Irony' could come straight from the world of Pierre Schaeffer or the group Faust as the music rocks and sways almost like a vinyl spiral groove(*). Other tracks such as 'The Phoenix', 'Brief' and 'Fever' involve mixtures of hypnotic manipulated sounds mixed with free jazz sax playing.

Tags for this excellent album could be : 23 Skidoo, Faust, Pierre Schaeffer, John Lurie's Men with Sticks, Holgay Czukay, Roedelius, Ornette, Mantana Roberts, 21st century. What can you say to that?

Only for "Free Jazz Blog" readers : available for free.

(*) For all those who never had the chance to own an LP (or Vinyl), a spiral groove is the 'groove' placed at the end of a record - side 1 and 2. When the music finished the needle continued into the spiral groove. If you didn't have an automatic stop system your pick-up (or needle) turned in this groove until stopped manually, creating a sort of hypnotic swirl and clicking sound.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Medeski, Martin and Wood - The Stone: Issue Four (Tzadik, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

Is it once a decade that we listeners are entitled to an entirely acoustic Medeski, Martin and Wood album? At the start of the 90's their debut "Notes from the Underground" set a high bar. 2000's "Tonic", a live album titled after the now defunct New York City performance space, came out after several organ and keyboard oriented recordings. And now this album, generous with woody timbers, big grooves and inspired improvisations.

The combination of Wood's deep pocketed bass lines, Martin's precise but unpredictable beats and Medeski's unrelentingly perfect note choice is captured on this ebullient release. Recorded at a recent tour date in Japan and released by Tzadik, the release goes to support a current downtown New York City performance space, The Stone.

"Tutrasa'i", kicks things off with a quiet but insistent groove by Martin and Wood with Medeski tossing some glittering notes into the mix. It builds a little intensity and then the piano lays on a hip angular melody that the audience picks up on immediately. The extended middle eastern theme gives way to more lush, but still slightly off-kilter, piano chords and finally into a extended jam that interpolates a bluesy feel within the harmonic minor theme. Clever use of dynamics brings the song to a hushed, almost mysterious, conclusion leading us to the smokey beginning of "Riffin' Ed - Luz Marina." This 23 minute tour-de-force starts with the rhythm section laying down a thick groove and then the piano responds -- there are moments that follow where I fully expect that Medeski was up on the piano jumping up and down on keyboard. All members come to the front during 'Buster Rides Again/Doppler', trading solos and working off each other. The excitement is palpable in each performance, and whether the group is going for the jugular or tentatively exploring the fringes, the audience reciprocates throughout.

This album is a really enjoyable mix of everything (except the electronics) that has made MMW such an enduring group. The spare instrumentation allows the group to really explore time, space and melody, all of which are in abundance. The thick soulful grooves makes the album a palatable listen from the moment the needle drops and the musicianship makes repeated listenings a must. The only part that knocks it back a half star for me is the use of the melodica during the concluding theme "We're All Connected". There are some moments in this breezy tune, that while certainly crowd pleasing, are perhaps more enjoyable in person than on record. Minor quibble really, this a nice gift from MMW, and one whose proceeds benefit an important anti-establishment establishment.

Available through Tzadik.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tommaso Cappellato - Open (Elefante Rosso, 2009) ***

By Bryan McAllister

Michael Blake – Sax
Giovanni Guidi – Piano
Joe Rehmer – Bass
Tommaso Cappellato – Drums

“Open” begins with “Nowhere, Now Here,” which starts with an intriguing saxophone line and evolves along a route that embodies the album title. Like with nearly every album, there are high and low points, but luckily even the low points are pretty good. At best, like on tracks “World Traveller” and “The Knight,” the group sounds explorative and inspired: a tight piano trio with soaring saxophone lines and passionate solos.

Unfortunately “Episode 29” and a few other small parts of the album came across as a nice effort, but did nothing for me as a listener. However, the highlights of the album more than made up for any failed attempts. I would recommend picking up the album, or at least “World Traveller,” “The Knight,” as well as the title track.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lisa Ullén & Nina de Heney - Carve (LJ Records, 2009) ****½

 By Stef

The advantage of writing fewer reviews is that I can listen a lot more to the same album, and I have listened dozens of times to this double CD in the past few weeks, first hesitantly, then becoming mesmerised by the beauty of it, then wanting nothing more than to listen to it again, and again.

The musicians are Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén and bassist Nina de Heney, both as skilled as adventurous, treating us to eighteen improvisations of three to five minutes, ranging from voiced instruments, as on "Luminal Sung" to extended techniques only. The result are sound sculptures, as the album's title suggests, with tonal creations carved out of raw sound material, sometimes familiar, often quite new to the ear, yet each full of wonder, full of surprise and fragile beauty.

I am rarely touched by descriptions in liner notes, but this one is quite accurate : "Carving is an ancient hand craft ; whether done in ice, wood, stone or bone, it’s process takes time. Carving could be seen as the the art of surrendering to the element by the understanding of the element. When achieved, it can last for centuries, or melt within a day".

Some pieces are reminiscent of nature, with organic sounds arising out of nowhere, from the soft occasional drip of water, the buzzing of bees or the raw tearing of tectonal plates against one another. Other pieces are more tribal, going back to the origins of organised sounds, percussive repetition, enchanting, spiritual. Yet without a real message, nor is there even an attempt to evoke existing sounds: their true work is the new sound itself, with all its possibilities of expansion and juxtaposition, to create new sonic possibilities.

And even if the music is serious, they are not afraid of little jokes and fun, adding a great human touch to it all, full of empathy with the sounds created. 

It is minimal, unobtrusive, cautious, precise. Avant-garde music is often denounced as noise. This is the absolute opposite of noise, even if that noise, the primary sound, offers the building blocks for a captivating musical creation.

If you have open ears, you shouldn't miss this one.

© stef

Monday, January 24, 2011

Afterfall (Clean Feed, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

We are waking up slowly, somewhere unexpected. Small sounds are creeping into our consciousness, clicks, moans -- slightly spooky -- suggesting a less than desirable near future. We begin to focus and clicks become tones, sounds begin to connect, we realize that we are being spoken to, but in a strange dialect. Soon we realize that this language, that while somewhat familiar, is actually comprised of those clicks and sudden accents -- a wail or moan is not unintended. It's all a part of the drama unfolding around us. The pacing quickens and the harmonies thicken.

Afterfall is an international collaboration on Clean Feed records with Luís Lopes on electric guitar, Sei Miguel on pocket trumpet, Joe Giardullo on soprano and tenor saxophones, Benjamin Duboc on double bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Lopes, from Portugal, is the group leader, but you may not know it, as he takes a back seat to his other Portuguese, American and French colleagues. In fact, it's Giardullo whose voice seems to be most prominent.

At first, there is a feeling restraint, like the musicians have colluded in not revealing exactly what they mean. However, things begin to loosen up slowly towards the middle of the album. 'Cancoa Branco' builds slowly over eight and a half minutes and only in the last minute of the tune does Lopes' distorted guitar rise out of the mix along with Giardullo's sax. But then the communication barrier has been broken open and the music pours forth on 'American Open Road with a Frog.' Then it starts making sense, this album is a suite, each piece building up into longer sonic segments and becoming increasingly melodic. Giardullo takes a full throttled free blowing solo, finally saying everything that was being held back for so long. 'Open Road' has broken free and how good it feels -- it's almost swinging!

The last two songs find us retreating back into a murkier atmosphere. 'Triptych' begins with upright bass bowing a dark chord and plucking choice notes white Lopes' guitar sprinkles tiny melodies atop. It laboriously builds, adding trumpet, then percussion and finally sax, leading to a fierce collective improv. The last tune, 'Return of the Shut Up Goddess' brings us full circle (the first tune is called 'The Shut Up Goddess'), with small snippets of melody and scratching rhythms. However, this time we are fully awake and ready.

This arching song cycle is illuminating. Lopes' use of the guitar as a colorist and percussionist (at times) is as non-conventional as you can get. All the sounds and dynamics of the sax and trumpet are explored. The album has some darker undertones, but they function by making us work harder to understand, and I'm fairly certain that we are, by this point, starting to get it.

Download and listen at eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Axel Dörner & Diego Chamy - Super Axel Dörner (Absinth Records, 2010) ****½

By Stanley Zappa

To quote Nate Doward in the December 2002 issue of Cadence magazine:

"...his abilities as a trumpeter have dwindled to almost nothing. His entire sonic palette is now little more than flatulent releases of air, fed through a reverb device which is kept in the “on” position for the entire performance. At best the results are innocuously atmospheric – rather like the echoey sounds one might hear in a documentary on’s hard not to find the trumpeter’s playing solipsistic, even weirdly infantile, in its regression to the sounds of gurgling, breathing and farting, its indifference to line, shape or direction, and its inability to enter into meaningful dialogue."

Though talking about Bill Dixon, Doward may as well be talking about the state of the trumpet in Improvised music/Art music. In talking about Dixon, particularly Dixon's abilities as a “trumpeter” Doward forever gives us a litmus test with which to place improvised music created on the trumpet. Super Axel Dörner by Axel Dörner and Diego Chamy passes (or fails, depending on how you see things) for the simple reason that without Bill Dixon, there would be no Axel Dörner. Indeed, without Bill Dixon, there would be no “modern” trumpet as we understand it today. Without Dixon, not only would there be no Axel Dorner, but there would be no Franz Hautzinger, no Nate Wooley, no Rob Mazurek, no Stephen Haynes, no Taylor Ho Bynum, no Birgit Ulher nor any of the future generations of trumpet players influenced by the above mentioned. Excessive? Then how about none of the above mentioned—or the trumpet as we know it—would be the same. That Dörner, like all of the above mentioned, has taken Dixon's developments with the instrument and incorporated them into a compelling sonic strategy all his own is only to say that Dörner has good taste; in the words of Kierkegaard "He who is willing to work gives birth to his own father".

If I had to guess those "flatulent releases of air" will simply come to be known as "the way the trumpet is played" while the carressed, thoughtful birthings of perfect little sine waves will enjoy the same relevance the flintlock musket enjoys today. That is the inescapable feeling when Dörner juxtaposes the one against the other—Dörner's fluency with the “weirdly infantile...gurgling breathing and farting” spectrum of the trumpet is that convincing.

As for “flatulent releases of air, fed through a reverb device which is kept in the “on” position for the entire performance” unless he is circular breathing, Dörner employs electronics towards the ends of super human durations of sound. At no point does this come off as gimmick, so no need to call the Guinness book of World Records. Dörner's use of electronics is thoughtful, deepening and prolonging occasions for tonal introspection; deepened without succumbing to garish 16th note cookie-cutter “sophistication,” prolonged without look-at-me-I'm-circular-breathing-repeated triplets.

Diego Chamy can be heard on “vocals” and “percussion.” Imagine Diana Krall and Dave Weckl. Then imagine the exact opposite and rejoice in Super Axel Dörner's “indifference to line, shape or direction,” delight in the absence of so-called “meaningful dialogue” in their interaction. Everybody knows indifference to line shape and form x absence of meaning = infinite creative possibilities (Art, if you will)—just as everybody knows that “caring” about line shape and engaging in “meaningful dialog” is where glittery puffs of Grammy award winning commodity twaddle come from.

In the future, corporate boppers will reference Super Axel Dörner when looking for clues on how to value add their latest release with a track or two of outre-exotica. Why not treat yourself to the real thing?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Foton Quartet - Zomo Hall (Not Two, 2010) *****

By Stef

There is nothing like pure and free musicality, flowing notes moving slowly forward, embracing one another in a common one-directional stream, yet totally unpredictable like the water sliding between rocks in a mountain river. So is this music.

The band is Gerard Lebik on tenor sax and contra alto clarinet, Artur Majewski on trumpet, Jakub Cywinski on bass, and Wojciech Romanowski on drums. And yes, you're right: yet again another stellar band from Poland. Both horn-players were recently reviewed in separate duo settings, but hearing them together is a pure joy.

The music reminds of "Other Dimensions In Music" because of its small band coherence and freedom, or more recently "Nuts", or "Les Fées Du Rhin", and the "Collective 4tet", bands that combine great musical adventure with fragile sensitivity, and albums that received top-ratings.

The most stunning aspect of the music is its great natural and organic sound, as if every note grows out of the previous one, without the need to demonstrate skill or use special effects or to be different in form. And the end result is skillful, and special, and different ... as the result of talent and creative vision.

Extremely beautiful! The year has only just begun, and this is to me already a strong contender for the best of the year lists.

© stef

Friday, January 21, 2011

Peter Brotzmann

Peter Brötzmann, Massimo Pupillo, Paal Nilssen-Love - Roma (Self-published, 2009)

Hairy Bones - Live At Fresnes (Self-published, 2010)

By Tony Medici

A cold night in Baltimore, Maryland; the opening act was done. Next was Brötzmann. Dressed in tough canvas and corduroy, suitable for the Gdansk shipyards or a logging foray into the Black Forest, Brötzmann worked through his collection of reeds, from clarinet to tenor to alto to soprano. He played with vigor and imagination, strength and craft. On occasion, he referenced Albert Ayler, and reminded us what a potent influence Ayler has been for post-war German jazz. As he probed ever deeper into the music, amassing tremendous physical and spiritual force, he was Wotan: mind and body, war and battle and death, but also creation, poetry and vision. If Bach refracted the currents of the Reformation, and Beethoven the forces of classicism and Romanticism, so too has Brötzmann refracted the tortured German legacy of world war and Holocaust, and the turbulent currents of the 1960s in which his music was catalyzed. Make no mistake: Brötzmann is in the deepest tradition of German music, a successor to Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Strauss. Think that is an exaggeration? Consider his revolutionary importance to post-war jazz and improvised music and I think a very good case can certainly be made; as he approaches his seventieth year, it is a case that ought to be made.

The two disks at hand capture Brötzmann once again on the road in live performance: December 2008 in Rome and October 2009 at Fresnes-en-Woevre, France. The discs share some common traits: both are self-produced; come in extremely simple brown cardboard pockets, with red stamping; contain the barest performance information; and are designed for sale at concerts (although some record outlets have offered them for sale). Whether intentionally or by happenstance, they look amusingly like bootlegs. The 2008 performance consists of Brötzmann on alto and tenor saxophone, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love (or PNL as he is often known) on drums. The 2009 performance presents the same line-up but with the critical addition of frequent Brotzmann collaborator Toshinori Kondo on electric trumpet.

The Fresnes concert starts with a sledgehammer blast of sound that could well serve as the opening chords for Armageddon. Pupillo's big, fat, bass sound provides a deep, dark, propulsive foundation for the music, while Kondo's keening electric trumpet could have done duty at the Walls of Jericho. PNL seems to be channeling Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and Max Roach simultaneously. And then above all, there is Brötzmann, relentlessly driving the music forward, captain and commander of this frenzy, alive in his chosen element. Listen carefully and you can hear strains of the blues, of popular music, and of old folk songs distilled in Brötzmann's playing. This is loud music, power music, meant to be played loud. The long stretches of furious attack are broken by interludes that seem to suggest a Wagnerian twilight of the gods. By the end of this 55 minute performance, there can be nothing left to give; it has all been given.

The Rome performance is a bit tamer affair than the Fresnes performance. Although the line-up of Brötzmann, Pupillo and PNL parallels that of another Brötzmann group, Full Blast, with Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums, the Rome group does not come close to the enormous energy generated by Full Blast. Pupillo's presence is much less pronounced, which allows PNL's drumming to come more to the fore. Are there many better drummers on the free jazz scene today than PNL? Once again Brötzmann carries the music forward on alto and tenor. By this stage of his 40-plus year career, it is seems rather beside the point to critique Brötzmann's playing. It's rather like critiquing the storm that blew through town last week. It is elemental, nearly a force of nature (although make no mistake, it is the product of years of craft). As he approaches his 70th birthday, Brötzmann shows no signs of slowing down, and certainly, thankfully, no signs of mellowing.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Modo Trio with Wayne Horvitz - Dog Leg (death defying records, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

I must admit that is has taken me a little while for me to get into this album. I liked the Edmonton, Canada based trio's first recording, "Uninvited" with keyboardist Jamie Saft and had been looking forward to hearing their work with Wayne Horvitz. The core of this somewhat unusual combo is made up of Craig Brenan on trombone, Jeff Johnson on acoustic and electric bass and Bill George on drums, with Wayne Horvitz appearing on both piano and keyboards. I listened several times, each time developing a stronger taste for the songs.

Dog Leg starts out with what I think can be best described as a towering dirge, "Homemade Paneer" slowly builds in urgency and menace at an unhurried pace. Horvitz is front and center on keyboards on this one, adding atmosphere and choice melodic fragments. The introduction is majestic, and next up, "Dog Leg", introduces an electronically affected trombone playing a frantic melody. Once again the sound is big, and when Horvitz enters with a distrorted keyboard tone, it begins to feel like early Weather Report emerging from a dank swamp. With the octave dividing effect on the horn and the strong rhythmic lock between the bass and drums, this faster paced excursion is an excellent example of the the band's tight interplay.

By the time we reach "Kingdom", we are introduced to a more atmospheric and dreamier state of the trio/quartet. At times, it feels like you are being ferried through a damp shadowy cavern, the trombone soaring, Horvitz adding splashes of color and nuance, while the rhythm section provides gravitas and groove. "Improv 6" shows the groups free jazz instincts. Brenan's frenetic melody on trombone is energetically answered by Horvitz while the bass and percussion provide a solid, yet quirky, foundation. Johnson's bass takes center stage on the uptempo groove "Xenophobe", while Brenan provides another charged improvisation. "Perpetuity" is a ballad with bluesy undertones, the trombone forlorn and rhythm appropriately laid back.

I find myself latching onto different aspects during the first half of the album during each listen; the energy is dark, the tones are earthy and deep, and Horvitz's keyboards add some real metallic energy. Fans of Horvitz, as well as fans of groove based improvisors like Medeski, Martin & Wood, could certainly enjoy this outing. However, by the second half of the album, while the tunes are still as interesting and organic, I find my ears getting a bit tired. I do not think that is bad either -- there is an enjoyable, somewhat oxymoronic, lugubriousness to "Dog Leg" that could perhaps be best compared to a piece of rich and moist dessert, so sumptuous and satisfying with each bite that you need to ingest slowly.

Listen and download from eMusic.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Zero Centigrade – I’m Not Like You (Twilight Luggage, 2010) ***½

By Ananth Krishnan

Popping in a CD that you have never ever heard about is a fairly adventurous deal. Especially when the afore said CD purportedly belongs the free jazz genre it is almost a feeling of exhilaration – one might either end running with their hands over their ears or be swept off their feet. My experience with Zero Centigrade was rather mixed – I definitely did not run but my brows were twitched in both incredulity and perplexity.

Featuring Tonino Taiuti playing (or should I say wrenching, twisting, creaking or in short man-handling) the guitar and Vincenzo Del Luce doing similar things to a trumpet, I’m Not Like You, in my opinion, resides on the fringes of free jazz. Forty minutes of a wild ride is what is in store for all those daring ones who sit down to take a listen. For instance, I could barely make out the trumpet for the sounds that Del Luce manages to get out are, to say the least, so ‘out-there’. The guitar though is fairly on the easier-to-decrypt side but mind you, this is no melodic acoustic guitar on display here – it squeals and twitches and wails. The album does feature (rarely) some parts where the instruments are retained to provide their natural timbre (in the longest and stand-out track, In the Field) but these parts quickly disintegrate into the usual plunking and clunking escapades. What struck me as most riveting are the moods that these players manage to evoke – there are moments of tension when both the players are barely playing to periods of total atonality and improvisation – it is almost an eldritch feeling one gets while plying through the record (the opener, Swimming in Black Water, sets the stage perfectly for what is to come).

The sounds reminded me of a live DVD that I had seen of Fred Firth where the guitar was practically reintroduced in a new avatar but Taiuti stretches even these limits. At the end of it, it is quite difficult to put a finger on where this album stands for me – I, for one, at the end, did feel rewarded yet teased and taunted. I have to recommend this with caution to the general free jazz listeners but with excitement to the more adventurous of the free jazz aficionados – after all isn’t that the purpose of this whole genre?!

Download free at Twilight Luggage


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wanja Slavin 5tet - Scirocco (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) ****

By Joe Higham

Here's something to get excited about, and you don't often say that when picking CDs out of a hat blindfolded! This CD came to me as a complete unknown title and group leader - to me at least - and what a great surprise!

There's a lot of fine playing on here just check out the musicians below. You have, along with an excellent rhythm section, combinations/possibilities of sax, clarinets, trumpet, voice, cello, 2 guitars - Wanja Slavin and Karsten Hoschapfel double on sax/clarinet and cello/guitar respectively. This makes for some imaginative orchestrations, combining with the improvised sections and their possibilities also. Wanja Slavin plays burning alto and soprano sax, and some lovely alto clarinet (fans of Sebastian Texier pay attention). Mederic Collignon does his usual vocal theatrics sometimes combining it in the written sections or just as a solo vehicle, and some excellent (pocket) trumpet work as always. Karsten Hochapfel hops between cello and guitar. Add to this the burning rhythm section of Graupe, Landfermann, and Lillinger and you have quite a dynamic band.

The compositions are very creative and well written, or to give a rough image ... Dave Holland and Steve Coleman meet the AACM, mixed with a European individuality. Since various members of the group compose there's a diversity of melodies and yet there's a strong cohesion in the groups playing. The excellent sound of two guitars and the very funky nature of much of this music make - even in the freer moments - for some very enjoyable listening. Crossing many barriers between (almost) rock (tk 2 - Nina Toscane), impro (tk 3 - Bossa), straight ahead swing (tk 7- Bebop), 20th century classical (tk 4 - Tango F), for just a few examples, and of course plenty of jazz!

The album is always interesting and exciting to listen to, covers many bases, and has music on it that you'll want to come back and listen to over and over again. An excellent CD for all those who love their music sophisticated, coming from all directions, and full of joy.

See this video documentary of the group :

Wanja Slavin (Sax, Klarinette), Mederic Collignon (Trp, Voc), Karsten Hochapfel (Cello, Gitarre), Ronny Graupe (Gitarre), Robert Landfermann (Bass), Christian Lillinger (Drums)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frank Gratkowski & Jacob Anderskov - Ardent Grass (Red Toucan, 2010)

By Tony Medici

There is the kind of mad, passionate attraction that fuels one-night stands and Las Vegas marriages, that mad desire that sweeps you away at first glance; wonderful, perhaps, but typically short-lived, and often leaving deep disappointment in its wake. Of course, there is its equal but opposite passion: instant antipathy. Somewhere between these poles of feeling is the sort of relationship that grows over time, built by affection, respect, and a mature appreciation of the other. Such relationships tend to deepen and endure. Frank Gratkowski is the type of musician who engenders this kind of relationship with his listeners. He is unlikely to bowl you over or to leave you fuming on first hearing. His appeal is more subtle; his virtues, while manifest, are of a mature variety that take root and grow with repeated listening.

Gratkowski is a good saxophonist, a fine clarinetist, and a superb bass clarinetist; these instruments form his usual musical arsenal. But it is Gratkowski's musical intelligence, his superb compositional sense, and his ability to develop compelling narrative lines that are perhaps his greatest strengths. Many of these virtues are on display in Ardent Grass, Gratkowski's new duo recording with pianist Jacob Anderskov. The title puts me in mind of Walt Whitman's epic poem, Leaves of Grass, which is nothing if not ardent. Gratkowski has played with a number of fine pianists, including Misha Mengelberg, Fred Van Hove, Simon Nabatov, and frequent collaborator Georg Graewe; however, Gratkowski has only released a couple of duo albums with pianists (one with Graewe, one with Mengelberg). Neither of the preceding reeds-piano duo albums, I think, has been an unqualified success, and one has to say, the album at hand follows this pattern.

Anderskov has an impressive resume and is undoubtedly a fine pianist. On Ardent Grass he is all that one might ask for in an accompanist; sensitive, a good listener, and technically capable. This is perhaps part of the problem, for the album calls for something more than an accompanist. It asks for, indeed requires, a partner, someone who can push Gratkowski rather than merely support him. Say what you will about Mengelberg, he is not afraid to strike out in his own fashion and force his partner to react. I prefer waywardness to absolute correctness. For Graewe's part, he has the confidence of many avant-garde improvisational experiences to guide his playing, and can engage in the sort of push-pull that one would welcome more of here. Gratkowski's usual forum is the trio and quartet, often with piano, and I think in these larger group settings, Gratkowski's numerous talents shine more brightly. He seems to thrive on the more complex interplay among the musicians. For example, check out Gratkowski's trio album, Quicksand, with Graewe and percussionist Paul Lovens to see how vibrantly Gratkowski can play off Graewe's piano in alliance with Lovens' sparkling percussion.

Still, I would not want to give a wrong impression of the overall accomplishment of the album. There are many fine moments here. The nearly-11 minute opening track, "Narrative," is all that its title implies, and Gratkowski spins out the sort of narrative line that is both lovely and strong. The title track, the most powerful piece on the album, itself seems to oscillate between poles of powerful feeling. The remaining six tracks are of a high standard, if not quite deserving of the appellation "compelling." I listened to the album several times over and it did not pale on me. Like other Gratkowski albums, I think it will reward repeated listening; indeed, like most mature pleasures, its deeper attractions are likely to reveal themselves only in the course of time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jeff Davis - We Sleep Outside (Loyallabel, 2010) ****

By Joe Higham

I remember reading (on this blog) the review of Kris Davis's Rye Eclipse, it immediately struck me as an album that was a must to hear. And so when seeing that her husband and drummer Jeff Davis was bringing out his own album I was immediately fascinated to hear the results. Jeff Davis is involved with so many interesting projects and groups such as Matthew Bourne, Michael Bates Outside Sources, Jon Irabagon's Outright, Eivind Opsvik's Overseas ...... and the list goes on! Here it seems Jeff Davis has brought all these experiences together into his compositions and group concept. We find frantic free playing, Bitches Brew styled grooves, tight ensemble work and great melodies. The opening track Bruce and Brunost Suite immediately jumps out of the speakers with all of the above qualities, Kris Davies playing a fender rhodes (through pedals) and the ever inventive Jon Goldberger on guitar provide amazing soundscapes for the various solos to evolve, eventually becoming something of a post Bitches Brew ambience of brooding menace.

Tracks such as Talk to Me develop from small but beautiful ideas (trumpet and piano) into full blown free scrummage(*) whilst Black Beard, another hard hitter, starts with a subtle drum solo moving into a tight ensemble melody over a hypnotic bass ostinato, Jon Goldberger's guitar sound and distorted solo add to the whole and saxophonist Tony Barba plays like there's no tomorrow. There are gentler moments such as Waltz , Fred Ullman and the strange closer We Sleep Outside, however much of the album bubbles with energy such as Slipper Hero with it's trumpet/sax battle section and ominous rubato melody line.

In fact there is so much inventive playing and writing on this album that it's difficult to believe at first, and yet the album manages to keep up the quality and consistency throughout whereas many such records end up being a variety of musical approaches that end up loosing their listener. This is a record for all those who enjoy their music left of centre, inside and out, swinging and grooving.

Personnel: Jeff Davis: drums, percussion; Eivind Opsvik: upright bass; Jon Goldberger: guitar; Kris Davis: piano, Fender Rhodes piano; Tony Barba: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet.

(*) A Scrum for anyone interested is the word used in rugby for the pack of players fighting over the ball.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sounds Of Liberation - New Horizons (Porter, 2010)

If you want to hear the sound of the seventies, don't miss this one : it is a great mixture of free playing on a solid rhythmic and often funky base.

I have listened to it for a couple of days and the music is absolutely hypnotic, trance-inducing and mesmerizing. Byard Lancaster leads the band on alto, accompanied by Khan Jamal on vibes, Monnette Sudler on guitar, Billy Mills on electric bass, Rashid Salim on conga, Omar Hill on percussion and Dwight James on drums.

The music is as much indebted to John Coltrane's soaring expansiveness as to the Santana band of that period, with endless percussion driven exuberance, with the horn soloing the whole time, full of lyricism, emotional outbursts and spritual power, and with the same collective enthusiasm as the Human Arts Ensemble at that time : the world and the mind were opening up, needed opening up, and the music wanted to be part of that.

Highly danceable, highly psychedelic, highly recommended. No doubt the best re-issue of 2010.

© stef

Creatures in black and white and music ....

Dom Minasi Quintet  - The Bird, the Girl and the Donkey - (Re:Konstrukt, 2010)

 Joe Morris & Luther Gray - Creatures - (Not Two, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

A black and white cartoon panel series with their conversation bubbles empty graces The Girl, the Bird and the Donkey, while Creatures presents a black and white pattern of birds in flight. Both of these covers represent well the sounds within, musical explorations taking flight with the musicians collectively making up stories that are never told the same way twice.

Dom Minasi's The Bird, the Girl and the Donkey begins with a swirl of tenor and alto sax, the guitar fluttering below, a little deeper in the mix, and the percussion providing a rhythmic net. Soon the bass becomes more prominent, lending a new voice to the proceedings. The interplay never lets up, group improv leading to a single voice rising above the others, only to be subsumed back into the melodic stream below. On this album New York guitarist Minasi teams up with Blaise Siwula on alto sax, Ras Moshe on tenor, Albey Balgochian on bass and Jay Rosen on the drums. This ensemble's interplay is intensely enjoyable to follow, inviting you to jump in almost at any point to be treated to fiery sax lines or Minasi's own imaginative improvisations. In fact, the session leader often takes a backseat to the dominant voices of Siwula and Moshe. The drums keep the group together, giving and taking enough energy and volume to keep each collective ideas happening.

Guitarist Joe Morris and drummer Luther Grey's Creatures, a stripped down ensemble of just guitar and drums, kicks off with the guitar spinning a melody in the lower register, the drums providing subdued accompaniment. As the stream of consciousness of the tune unfolds, the interplay between the two instruments becomes more and more complex. These songs, more like conversations, reveal an impressive rapport between the two musicians -- they are fraught with tension and tacit understanding. It is a treat to listen as the songs evolve from meandering melodies to knotty thickets of ideas.

While the instrumentation has some similarities - both have percussion that serve the conversation and a clean toned guitar unafraid to produce some heady melodies - there is something else that connects these two recent releases. Perhaps it is that though they both are entirely improvised, neither recording is overindulgent or uninviting. Also, there seems to be an underlying logical progression to the music as it expands, builds and releases at the right times. On improvisational recordings like these, where the music that is made is made but once, and structure is of the moment, I find hard to comment on the songs individually, rather I would recommend blocking out a solid chunk of time to approach each album as a singular experience.

These two albums are performed by masters of their craft. The spontaneous creations of these tunes expose a raw beauty, regardless of the number of musicians involved.  Morris and Gray's duo outing cover a lot of sonic ground and Minasi's larger ensemble makes compelling collective music with each individual voice distinct and integral. Both of these albums are well worth a good deep listen.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Hyperactive Kid - Mit Dir Sind Wir 4 (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010)

By Tony Medici

I first made the acquaintance of the trio, Hyperactive Kid, at the Jazzwerkstatt Berlin-New York Festival, which took place over the Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-28, 2010, in New York City. The idea behind the festival, sponsored by the Jazzwerkstatt record label, was to bring the Berlin free jazz - creative improvisation scene to New York, which one might think is something like bringing coals to Newcastle. Be that as it may, I found the idea of the festival interesting enough to lure me away from turkey leftovers (okay, that was not too hard to do) and drive from Washington, DC to Brooklyn, to catch three days and four sets of the festival at the Irondale Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York. Before I talk about Hyperactive Kid (I will get there), I'll say a few words about the festival itself.

Having never been to Berlin, a deficiency I'd like to rectify someday soon, I can't say for sure that the festival brought the totality, or even the core, of the Berlin scene to the Big Apple, but I think it's safe to say that the musical line-up undoubtedly gave a very good representation of that scene. The inclusion of such veterans of the scene as Gunter Baby Sommer, Rolf Kuhn, and Ulrich Gumpert, was certainly welcome. More importantly, though, from a cultural and musical bridge-building perspective, it was a great opportunity to hear the rising generation of musicians, German or otherwise, who have made Berlin their primary scene: trombonists Gerhard Schlossl and Christof Thewes; bassists Jan Roder, Johannes Fink, and Jonas Westergaard; saxophonists Michael Thieke and Henrik Walsdorff; drummer Michael Griener, and, the members of Hyperactive Kid, tenor saxophonist Philipp Gropper, guitarist Ronny Graupe, and drummer Christian Lillinger.

Ulli Blobel, owner and impresario of Jazzwerkstatt, is to be commended for undertaking this no doubt challenging project. (I can only imagine what it would take to get the Downtown New York scene to Berlin for a holiday weekend. Someone should try it). The musical results more than justified the effort. Permit me a few quick observations. In this day and age of instant global communications (Internet, Twitter, Skype, My Space, Facebook, etc), not to mention globe-trotting musicians, it is almost surprising that that there can still be such a thing as an identifiable "local" scene (at least aside from New York).

Such a scene, like that of Berlin's, is shaped by the cultural and historical context of the country and city in which it takes place, the heritage of musical predecessors, as well as the individual talents and inclinations of the musicians performing in close quarters on a frequent basis. Thus, for instance, this rising generation of German musicians pays homage to older forms of German folk and popular music, even if at times to slyly poke fun at them. The festival musicians also showed a greater respect for form; free jazz rave-ups were mostly held in check. Such current trends of the New York scene as micro tonality and extended techniques seem not to have gained much traction with the Berliners; rather, they carry forward the robust sound and forceful styles of such forebears as Brotzmann and Mangelsdorff. There was undeniable energy and collegiality among the Berliners, but perhaps also a touch of insularity; that, of course, is a danger of a local scene. One would like to see its members take a greater part in the international stage. Finally, some individual performances stood out. Rolf Kuhn played with admirable intelligence and craft; even though his partners, Graupe and Lillinger, seemed not totally simpatico with Kuhn's objectives. And saxophonist Walsdorff summoned memories of a young Peter Brotzmann, as he tore though several pieces with compelling passion.

From Blobel's comments, it can be inferred that Hyperactive Kid is the pride of the Jazzwerkstatt stable. It is easy to see why: three young, attractive, and dynamic performers, with a potent group identity. Ronny Graupe, on 7-string guitar, with his rock-inflected, powerful, technique-to-spare posturing had me thinking of no less a musical godfather than Jimmy Page, although he doesn't go in for those trademark Page extended solos. But it seems like he could at any moment, if he so chose. One is also grateful to find a guitarist who does not sound like a Derek Bailey clone. Drummer Christian Lillinger might be a star in the making.

One rarely gets to describe anyone in the free jazz community as "glam," but it fits Lillinger, whose stage persona, at least, evokes comparisons to James Dean or Chet Baker. It's not just looks either; his intense and inventive drumming is in the Bennink tradition. He played more than well in a variety of settings aside from Hyperactive Kid. Saxophonist Gropper is a bit more of an undefined quality to me, although there is no doubt of his ability. In the festival performance, he tended to be overshadowed by Lillinger and Graupe, often serving as a mediator between his two more stylized colleagues. The balance is remedied on the CD, Mit Dir Sind Wir 4, which a German-speaking relative translates as "we are with you."

Here, equipoise is achieved among the members of Hyperactive Kid. Gropper shines more brightly, suggesting something of a young Mats Gustafsson. Indeed, the group has some similarities to The Thing, although the instrumentation of course differs a bit. More than The Thing, this group reminds me of Big Satan, Tim Berne's trio with Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey. The album contains seven tracks; four by Graupe, two by Gropper, and the remaining track by Lillinger. Three of the tracks are more than 10 minutes each, which allows some complex thematic and musical interplay; two other tracks near the ten-minute mark. No ballads here, although there are a few ruminative moments ("Neuron" and bits of "Csobanc"). The hallmarks of this album are speed, power, and agility. The music advances in stutter steps, nervous bursts of energy that seem to pulse rather than flow. The interplay is tight and bright. These guys are listening to each other all the time and playing off each other as if it was a game of three-player basketball.

The title is more than a lark; it seems to describe the basic posture of the group and the album. Like a jumpy kid confined to his bedroom, the music is energized yet also seems to be bouncing off the walls, which is to say, that, like the other Berliners, there is in the end, a respect for form or structure. There is a feeling of energy constrained; there is hardly a relaxed moment. This is not necessarily bad; listeners tend to get caught up in this energy field. Again like their Berlin compatriots, there is little in the way of extended techniques, which would be disappointing only to those who look for such things. The priorities are on edgy playing and the conveyance of energy. While the album is not essential, it is nevertheless very enjoyable. These are three musicians to watch.

The album is available from Amazon UK or eMusic:

© stef

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ballister – Bastard String (Self-released, 2010) ***½

Buy Guy Peters

Let’s hope that those who were at the Hideout in Chicago on June 16th of last year have sufficiently recovered in the meantime, because based on this live recording, they must at least have had their eyebrows scorched off. Ballister is a trio featuring Dave Rempis (reeds), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). A line-up that has the potential of setting the place on fire, which is exactly what they do on ‘Bastard String’. With a title like that, what else did you expect?

You get more than enough proof of Rempis’ explosive prowess on the alto, tenor and baritone saxophone. While he’s mainly known because of his alto playing in the Vandermark 5 and his own Percussion Quartet, he’s definitely as proficient on the other two (as evidenced on his strong duo album with Frank Rosaly as well), switching from his trademark searing notes on alto to low growls and vein-popping intensity. With Nilssen-Love, one of the most ferocious percussionists around, he succeeds in laying down this forward thrust (I’d call it a groove if it weren’t so goddamn violent half the time) that feels like sheer excitement.

“Belt And Claw” starts with a snare beat and then the trio comes crashing out of the gate like a pack of wolves on the loose. It takes them about a minute to reach the boiling point and they keep this going for quite a while. Especially interesting is Lonberg-Holm’s diverse and fierce attack. He was already more prominent on the last Vandermark 5-release, but on this one he’s even more aggressive, pushing the distortion into pure, white-hot noise. The track of course has its quieter moments, with more introspective hints and jabs, but the feeling that will stick with you is that of undiluted fierceness.

The title track is, perhaps surprisingly, the least energetic, and a more open piece, with conventionally bowed cello and subtle percussion by Nilssen-Love. It was nothing more than a break though, as it’s followed by ‘Cocking Lugs’, another half hour muscle-flexing workout. The track starts with a long soundtrack-like introduction by Lonberg-Holm, soon joined by a sleekly contributing Rempis, who helps him pave the way for another sparring session featuring the drummer’s maniacal rumbling.

An awkward moment occurs when Lonberg-Holm’s creaking manipulations slowly dissolve into silence (around the 24-minute mark) after which it remains completely silent for half a minute. But then Nilssen-Love reappears, is joined by Rempis on burly baritone and the trio head for another torrid climax. ‘Bastard String’ may not be the subtlest of records, but as for excitement, stuff like this is hard to beat. At more than seventy minutes, it’s quite a challenge, and it has a few moments where the listener’s attention might get lost (this being your couch or comfortable chair and not a sweaty club), but in the end, it’ll have you panting as if you’ve just knocked down Mike Tyson yourself, and that can only be a good thing. Right?

‘Bastard String’ appeared in a limited edition of 300 copies and can be ordered directly from Dave Rempis.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mario Pavone - Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape, 2010) ***

By Stanley Zappa

Calling Mario Pavone's Double Orange Tenor arc suite t/pi t/po commodity jazz is hardly meant to be an insult (unless you're offended by he notion of such a cleve) because as far as commodity jazz concerned, this is as good as it comes. Yet clever arrangements with latin sections, well crafted solos with themes, variations and other well loved compositional elements have an ability to asphyxiate in our post-Coltrane day, despite the level of craft and dedication required in their realization. Excellence now a days brings with it an anonymity that the leaves one wanting for some imprecision or reckless asymmetry to re-connect the music with the human experience.

That is my predjudice, anyway. For everyone else, lovers of Tony Malaby's work on the many other releases where he can be heard have every reason to continue loving him on Double Orange Tenor. Juxtaposed against Malaby is Jimmy Green (also on tenor saxophone). Green, like Malaby (and Jerry Bergonzi and Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin and Bill Evans the late Michael Brecker and the late Bob Berg and all the many many others I have neglected to mention) can, at times, give one the feeling that in exchange for total control over tonal harmony (as commonly understood in the jazz commodity market) a harmonic addiction has developed. I'm not talking about screeching noises either; Double Orange Tenor is simply steeped, rooted and unashamed of its relationship to consonance and voice leading. The deeply embattled tradition is safe here.

Dave Ballou plays with invention and elasticity. His solo on West of Crash stands out both in invention and (particularly) when juxtaposed against here-comes-the-choo-choo-train onomatopoetics of the tune largely realized by the consistently solid and yet surprisingly stayed team of Peter Madsen on piano and Gerald Clever on drums.

Pavone plays perfectly well, and does so with a beautiful tone. Certainly you've all heard Pavone's work with Dixon and know that quality of bass sonority was a constant concern in Dixon's work. Pavone's playing on Dixon's Son of Sisyphus etches his name in the Book of Bass for all of time. That side of Pavone's aesthetic is given brief expression on Half Dome (for Bill Dixon) and Dome—the two non “chang changa chang” numbers on the CD. Their marked difference from the rest of the pieces makes them seem like jagged stones of onyx and jet set against a ring of colorful machine cut rhinestones. Not that there's anything wrong with rhinestones—and really, if you can listen to the entire recording in one sitting, the effect is remarkable. If that was the intent, a clearer celebration of Dixon the sui generis has yet to emerge. That said, my guess is more people are going to wonder why Pavone ruined an otherwise perfectly good (and occasionally inspiring) “jazz” recording than wonder why two pieces of interest were set amidst such familiar predictability.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Monday, January 10, 2011

Growing readership

A quick statistical update on this blog's reader numbers, which is still on the increase, with no less than 75% among the "Returning Visitor" category, reaching a solid 124,000 regular readers last year, with more than 500,000 page loads.

Such growth figures are the marketeer's wet dream, and let's hope it also results in the music getting wider audiences and better understanding.

Thank you all for the interest, and to the new contributors for moving this initiative furter.


© stef

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Marc Ribot - Silent Movies (Pi Recordings, 2010)

By Paul Acquaro

This quiet brooding recording with its gentle pulse of solo guitar is underscored with just a trace of foreboding, as if there were something lurking unseen just beyond its edges. With the spare instrumentation there is an absence that is more felt than heard. I write this not to scare you off, but rather to pique your interests. This is a beautifully recorded album -- where the guitarists faint breathing almost serves as accompaniment -- that asks the listener to use their imagination to fill in what is not there.

Silent Movies is quite different than some of the previous solo guitar efforts by Brooklyn based guitarist Marc Ribot. Whereas Exercises in Futility (2008) was a mind boggling array of acoustic bursts and Saints (2001) was eclectic and exploring, the songs here primarily feature a classical acoustic guitar with some instances of electronic soundscapes and loops by Keefus Ciancia. The songs are a rather ruminative blend of classical and folk styles, often employing repetitive rhythmic motifs in the lower register, with a layer of simple, spacious and effective melodies above. In fact, the opening tune uses even less; Variation 1 is a starkly played long form melody with some unexpected intervals, whispering electronics and reserved harmonic shadings. Ribot’s classical roots start peeking through on Delancey Waltz in which the haunting melody rides over a rich syncopated bass pattern inviting the listeners to add their own images to the soundtrack.

Natalia in E-Flat Major introduces the only use of an electric guitar on the album. Utilizing a buzzing, sharp tone, Ribot creates a lullaby fit for a metal eating bird, then effortlessly segues into a plaintive melody. Most songs have a deliberate pacing, though Fat Man Blues, a mid-tempo bluesy-romp, serves to lighten things up a bit towards the albums middle. A version of Batteau starts sparsely but soon builds climatically with a spirited improvisation.

The austerity of the album is its strength but it also can make it a bit daunting. While this is not challenging album to listen to, it is one that challenges you to listen deeply. These tunes, with their insistent chord patterns and simple spare melodies, will pull you in with their siren call. Recommended.

Listen and download from iTunes.

On You Tube:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mats Gustafsson – Needs! (Dancing Wayang, 2010) ***

 By Guy Peters

I’m convinced that we, free jazz/improv fanatics, often underestimate the alienating impact much of our beloved music has on those surrounding us: parents, kids, husbands & wives, kindred spirits. Not to forget our friends with the huge frequency range: dogs. Especially the European school of free improvisation, with its preference for extended techniques, its dismissal of standard linearity and absence of traditional jazz/pop elements, often remains a tough nut to crack. We’ve all had the experience of a relative or neighbour asking why the hell we were vacuuming or drilling at 10PM, while we were in fact listening to the latest John Butcher or Peter Brötzmann addition to our record collection.

Even though he’s often working in more conventional (as in: not as perplexing) contexts, Swedish reed eater Mats Gustafsson is a perfect example of an artist who’s extracting the most diverse and dividing reactions from his listeners. While playing the ‘Needs!’ LP, I even heard someone asking whether everything was still okay with my record player and speakers. And for a moment, I wasn’t entirely sure. It’s THAT kind of record. Because when Gustafsson is in his DESTRUCTION-mode, he’s the Jason Statham of free improvisation: anything can happen, and more often than not the results are as fierce and explosive as the nastiest punk rock, capable of giving you a toothache or making your brain halves switch places (even though his creative and technical prowess as a musician is nearly unparalleled as well, meaning he’s also in command of the subtler possibilities of his art).

‘Needs!’ is a radical solo album. Not in the way the wonderful ‘The Vilnius Implosion’ (2008) was, but with an electro-acoustic twist to it. Gustafsson has increasingly immersed himself in knob fiddling, and this record offers the results of this merger of “live-electronics and big treatments & related activities of baritone and slide saxophones”. The two album halves each contain five songs, and all ten pieces bear dedications (much in the way in which Ken Vandermark pays tribute to influences and colleagues on his albums). The album halves also follow a similar pattern for a while: both sides start with a puzzling short piece, which is followed by longer and more confrontational piece, which in its turns is succeeded by three more short ones.

As a power player, Gustafsson is the king of bleats and squeaks, of growls and groans, but in this case it’s about the ‘little’ sounds: the tongue slapping, the hissing, the breathing and moaning, which are accompanied and/or treated by electronics to such a degree that it’s often hard to figure out where the man-made sounds end and the machine-manipulated ones begin. The pieces that start off both sides almost feel like signals from above, transmissions from outer space that are only picked up in interrupted spurts. Only near the end can you hear the slapping of the tongue beneath the murky creaking. The long tracks are even much more provocative, with buzzing and droning sound waves, as if a machine of an unknown origin suddenly starts farting. And keeps it up for a few minutes.

The shorter tracks that end each half are a mixed bunch: some are less buried below layers of electronic bricolage, pushing the wheezing air travel to the foreground, while others seem to remain at the mercy of the machines. You get the gist: ‘Needs!’ delves into the electro-acoustic experiment without looking back even once. It’s another treat for fans of Gustafsson’s excursions into the avant-garde and those who have a fondness for this kind of messing around. All the others should approach with caution.

‘Needs!’ appeared in a limited & numbered edition of 500 copies.

Buy from Instantjazz.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Triangulation II (Kadima Collective #30 - 2010)

By Joe Higham

This is what my children are calling 'Ghost Music', which is a great description for such a music as this. And when I say that my children gave it this title it's a big compliment, after all I notice that children (mine at least) often hear music in another way, giving names to sounds or melodies with no prejudices about what they mean or might infer. So here we have it Triangulation II (#30) in the catalogue of Kadima Collective, a label run by Jean - Claude Jones.

The music here suits the ghost images very well as these improvisations are all based on atmosphere that could be described as cinematic - i.e. they would not be out of place on a film soundtrack. The reason for this, to my ears at least, is the interesting use of bass flute, bass saxophone and a few other 'extreme' register instruments by Vinny Golia. Due to imaginative use of wind instruments - clarinet, bass sax, flute, bass flute and others probably, the (un)usual trombone sounds of George Lewis combine with the bass playing of Bert Turetzky, much of the music builds on atmosphere and rarely melodies, except for the last piece. Commenting on individual pieces is difficult and rarely do the titles of the tracks define the music - which is where Anthony Braxton's number system for titles springs to mind as a useful way of categorizing tunes/tracks without influencing the listener as to what they might hear.

However, if one had to describe the music at all I would say that almost all the pieces are ballads in feeling. Never is there any aggressive screeching and it's almost as if the musicians hoped to keep a calm reflective sound in the music, almost serene. Of course there are aggressive moments such as "Diversion Ta Tre" which use Lewis's singing harmonics combining later with the bass. The end section of "A Low Frequency Colloquy" also uses the bass saxophone to great effect. But the general direction of the music is towards a calm contemplative sound and much of that is due to the unusual choice and use of such instruments as the bass flute and bass sax. As already mentioned the last piece "Up Is Down" has a quite amazing opening with flute, trombone and bowed bass creating an oriental atmosphere. The music gradually moves into much darker sounds only to return to the original motive at the end .... planned maybe?

All in all this is an album that reveals many details with listening. Whilst writing this review I would constantly hear sections passing which were beyond description when using words. George Lewis' unusual use of trombone sounds often become unidentifiable as such, and when combining with either the double bass of Turetzky and the wind instruments of Golia, create textures of real delicacy. A real success, and one that grows with listening. What more can one ask?

Musicians : Bert Turetsky : Double Bass - George Lewis : Trombone - Vinny Golia : Woodwinds.

Buy from Instantjazz.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

David Binney - Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2011)

By Bryan McAllister

Teaming up with some of the jazz world’s finest musicians, David Binney has recorded another fantastic album. “Graylen Epicenter,” features Chris Potter, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gretchen Parlato, Wayne Krantz, Craig Taborn, Eivind Opsvik, Brian Blade, Dan Weiss, Kenny Wollesen, and Rogerio Boccato and it is clear that this group was chosen for a reason.

The blend in the horns is beautiful, often with Gretchen Parlato doubling horn lines or adding another layer of harmony. What I really like about the pace to this album is the horn arrangements. In so many albums, the horn arrangements are too similar and remain unchanged from start to finish. Dave Binney is well-known as a talented producer, and it is more obvious than ever on this album.

Wayne Krantz’ solo on the title track is one of my favorites on the album. Lyrical and thoughtful, the dense tune suddenly opens up at the start of the solo and moves forward from there. Track eight, “Home,” features Gretchen Parlato singing a tune that Binney has recorded twice previous, but this breathy, heart-wrenching vocal version is absolutely my favorite.

This album is a fantastic marriage of cerebral contemporary jazz with raw emotion and beauty. I have never been a die-hard fan of David Binney’s music, but this album may have changed my mind.

Line-up :

David Binney (Alto, Soprano Saxophones,Vocal);
Gretchen Parlato (Vocal);
Wayne Krantz (guitars);
Ambrose Akinmusire (Trumpet);
Chris Potter (Tenor Saxophone);
Craig Taborn (Piano);
Eivind Opsvik (Bass);
Brian Blade (Drums tracks 1,2,3,4,6,8,9,10);
Dan Weiss (Drums tracks 1,5,6,9,10);
Kenny Wollesen (Percussion,Vibes);
Rogerio Boccato(Percussion)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys – Betweenwhile (AUM Fidelity, 2010) ****

By Guy Peters

To pin down Mike Pride on his excursions into doom jazz (with Jamie Saft), exhausting marathon sessions (with Jon Irabagon) or outsider music (on his own) wouldn’t do him justice, as the composing drummer is also capable of providing a subtle foundation in more traditional contexts. With Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore trio, he establishes himself as an emphatic colleague, and also on “Betweenwhile”, his second album with the From Bacteria To Boys quartet, the finesse is much more dominant than the power play.

On these ten compositions, Peter Bitenc (bass), Alexis Marcelo (piano), Pride (who wrote nine of the compositions) and Darius Jones (alto saxophone) manage to touch upon classic jazz without diluting their remarkable approach. This is is an album of subversion, albeit subtler than you might have anticipated. Opener “Kancamagus” suggests you’re listening to a traditional piano trio, just as “Rose” and “Inbetweenwhile” have hardbop written all over them. However, for each of these seemingly conventional tracks, there’s one that’s equally puzzling, or even unsettling in its refusal to play by the rules.

“Reese Witherspoon”, like many other tracks, is supposed to be influenced by R&B star R. Kelly’s legacy, which is reflected in an original rhythmic approach and misleading conception of structure. The repetitions of “It Doesn’t Stop” are arresting in their stubbornness, but soon make way for a muscular drive full of stumbling bursts and fascinating interplay. It’s also interesting to hear Jones in a completely different role than on his solo album. This isn’t about roots and wailing with gospel-fueled fervor, but about a sleek and angular approach and slithering solos. The album’s centerpiece “Bole: The Mouth of What?” was inspired by the songs of the carnies at a fair Pride visited a few years ago. Starting with an ominous piano section, the song soon develops a remarkable tension between familiarity and alienation.

The album maintains this merger of tradition and experiment until the end. “Betweenwhile” is perhaps less raw than many might have expected, but Pride’s grasp of rhythmical dynamics and challenging interplay is at least as interesting. This record has creativity and vision on full display, and that might take Pride in any direction he wishes to veer into.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Pride’s self-made video for “Bole: The Mouth of What?”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lol Coxhill & Roger Turner - Success With Your Dog (Emanem, 2010)

By Tony Medici

Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill has been on the British music scene for more than 50 years, playing in straight-ahead jazz, blues, prog rock, and, for the last several decades, free jazz groups. His solo and duo performances have been particularly noteworthy. Yet it is probably fair to say that he is often overshadowed by such fellow British musicians as Evan Parker, with his massive technical (and often pyrotechnical) abilities, and John Butcher, with his powerfully analytical approach to performance. Not that Coxhill is devoid of his own arsenal of technical and analytical tools, but what distinguishes his playing is a distinctly humane approach to the music, with performances that are filled with feeling, wit, humor, and vulnerability.

Coxhill's case also has not been helped much by a back catalog that is often as much out of print as it is in. Thus, this new release from Emanem is most welcome. The performances, with Coxhill on soprano, of course, and Roger Turner on the drum set and percussion, are from two concert appearances. The first three tracks are from a performance at the Cabaret Vauban, in Brest, on May 8, 2003, during the 5th Edition of the Festival Luisances Sonores; the fourth and final track is from a performance at St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, London, on August 12, 2010.

I have no idea from whence comes the album's title. I suspect it might derive from one of those characteristic British dog training shows (Barbara Wodehouse, or, more lately, Victoria Stilwell, for example); a sly protest, perhaps, at the desire for power, control, obedience. Or it might just be a bit of sheer whimsical humor (quite in keeping with Lol's general approach to things). The four tracks follow the doggy theme of the title. "Paying Through the Nose," is the first and longest track, at nearly 25 minutes. The last track, "Groomed for the Job" clocks in at 17:30 minutes. The two middle tracks, "A Collar Counts" and "Tails That Wag," average about 8 minutes each.

If I had to pick one keyword to describe these performances, it would be "intimate." I had the impression of listening to two old friends talk over events of the past that were particularly meaningful to them. The interplay between the two musicians is seemingly effortless, without ever being either facile or flashy. Turner is wholly adept at the drum kit, yet, make no mistake, the emotional and musical weight of these performances rests with Coxhill. He ranges widely through the capabilities of the soprano sax, wringing from it an array of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. And humor. I could swear that, in the first few minutes of the opening track, Lol employs the soprano to generate the sort of whines, whimpers, barks and growls that a hungry or impatient dog is known to employ to get its master's attention.

The sound quality is excellent. For those who are used to Emanem's typically stout and no-nonsense packaging, this digipak will perhaps come as something of a surprise, with its whimsical (that word again) graphics and lettering. The album is available directly from Emanem, as well as other outlets. If you want to listen to an album that does more than impress, more than knocks you around with its energy, that touches the listener in a personal way, you should give this a try.

Available from Emanem.