Click here to [close]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scott Fields, Matthias Schubert - Minaret Minuets (Clean Feed, 2111) ****

By Paul Acquaro

There is a great deal of space for electric guitarist Scott Fields and tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert to fill on this recent duo outing.

Clean Feed offers this description on their site:

"In the Minaret Minuets system there are two separate but equal branches: the electric guitar and the tenor saxophone. Composer slash instrumentalists — those roles smear — Scott Fields and Matthias Schubert find myriad methods to blend and contrast, to appear to be at one moment a larger ensemble and then to sound as just one."

I do not think I could have composed a better summation of the music within -- the tracks feel organically grown and composed by the spontaneous reactions between the musicians, running the gamut from tiny sounds produced by the acoustics surrounding the instruments to playing at their extremes. Without the grounding of bass or percussion and sans any traditional song structure, all emphasis is shifted to the musician's interplay and sonic atmosphere.

For example, there is a passage about halfway into the extended "Will's Billy Beer" where the guitar melody skitters over light saxophonic flatulence. So intimate, barely making a sound, the woodwind's breathiness provides just enough subtle support for the delicate melody. Soon, everything from key clicks to short snippets of melody from the sax begin interacting with string scratches and muted pickings. It's the textures of sound bouncing off each other that make such sparse moments so effective. Their approach seems to capture emotions and subconscious thoughts more than overt statements.

But all is not calm, while there are great expanses of ruminative rambling, there are also moments of rambunctious raucousness. The 7-minute "Multi Trill" begins exhilaratingly - all skronk und drang - but eventually settles into a more lyrical flow. "Santa on a Segway" has moments of sweetness and synergy where the rhythms and tones between the two players meld delightfully.

This is a long recording - clocking in around the 75 minutes mark and while it takes some determination to sit through the whole event, it takes its time to unfold and contains many interesting passages that make it worth the listen. At any one point the guitar may be laying down a rhythmic single note figure and then drop in some chords while the sax bounces melodic figured off the morphing structures, then the roles may shift or transform into other shapes and sounds.

This is a conversation that never ends - it's one held in music and while there may be lulls and heated moments, there is no time when the ideas dry up.

Available thru eMusic. 


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Piano, piano, piano

David Arner Trio - Porgy & Bess (CIMP, 2011) ****

A little over a year ago, I was quite excited about David Arner's piano trio with Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen, called "Out In The Open". The same trio released "Porgy/Bess, Act 1" and now "Porgy/Bess Act 2", also on CIMP. The trio's take on the Gershwin classic is everything you could expect from Arner's light and precise touch, combined with an adventurous and abstract spirit.

I must admit that I am not too familiar with the original music, but that's not a real handicap to enjoy the music on this album. The themes and harmonics pierce through the improvisations once in a while, and you can recognise the stylistic elements of the mid-30s jazz, yet in order to capture the drama and the emotional levels more fully, the "soul" of the opera if you want, the trio uses the more dynamic grammar of today's jazz, and then pushing even that a little further into more expressive territories.

Bisio and Rosen are the ideal partners for Arner's now thundering, then sensitive piano-playing, often quite functional, with some though not much solo time, but with Bisio coming more to the front on the last track, "Lament", a duet between arco bass and piano.

Reverent for the original, yet utterly modern.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Matthew Shipp - Creation Out Of Nothing (SoLyd Records, 2010) ***½

Matthew Shipp's solo album "Creation Out Of Nothing", is a little bit in the same sphere as Arner's, bringing solo improvisations in his own typical and creative way, but with standards popping up every so often, including "Summertime", "On Green Dolphin Street", "Yesterday's", in between his introspective and abstract musings, full of a strange angular lyricism, of the kind that does not flow like Jarrett's, but one that takes strange turns and even less expected returns to the core theme, but all in one movement, as if it was preconceived.

While he is playing, you hear his mind working with the chords and the progress, playing games with the structure and tackling his own ideas sometimes in the process (but I might be imagining this as I can't read the guy's mind, obviously). He is at his best when he does not seem to think (and again I may be mistaken), when his lyricism flows out of pure sentiment and heartfelt emotions.

Shipp is a great improviser, with incredible musicianship and command of his instrument, yet his improvisations on this album often lack the necessary tension to keep the listener's attention with the music. His best pieces are his own compositions : "Patmos", "Gammay Ray", "Module" and "Blue In Orion", four compositions that already figured on "One", and "Wholetone", a new composition that will also figure on his just to be released double-CD with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey. His own creations are a lot stronger and more powerful than his elaborations on the standards.

Listen and download from CDBaby

Alexey Lapin - Parallels (Leo Records, 2011) ***½

Russian pianist Alexey Lapin surprised me several times last years by his own playing and by the music of the various bands he played with : rich in scope, plenty of new musical ideas and with a willingness to explore with vision. Check him out via the search engine at the top right of this blog.

We find him now on a solo performance gig, playing fourteen pieces that range from the expressionist modern jazz to the avant-garde use of extended techniques. Even when he plays his piano in the conventional manner (using the keys unchanged), his improvisations are abstract, expansive and openended.

He surely deserves much more attention. A true artist.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Thollem McDonas - Gone Beyond Reason To Find One (Edgetone, 2011) ***½

Another one of these underrecognised piano greats is Thollem McDonas, equally uncompromising, equally visionary. This solo album consists of two long and one short piece, full of thundering and dense playing, alternated with moments of silence and sparse, barely audible notes puncturing the emptiness around him.

As a modern pianist, extended techniques are a must, always used functionally, as in the second half of the first piece, playing in counterpoint with his regular playing. If anything, he is a master of variation, tension, changes in intensity shifting from exuberant expressionism to more intimate finesse.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Michael Bisio - Travel Music (Self-published, 2011) ****

By Stef 

A cold rainey night, with small snow flakes falling hesitatingly from the sky, and the best remedy for warming you up is this intimate solo bass album by Michael Bisio. I have written plenty of reviews of music with the bassist as part of the band, or even as leader of the band, but to my knowledge this is his first solo album. 

It is intimate, remarkably so, yet even on the arco pieces, which tend to be a little bit more epic, the overall warmth of the sound prevails. And it is all about sound, the deep color of gut resonating through wood. Forget about rhythm, the bassist's usual primary role. Listen to Bisio's cover of Charlie Haden's "Human Being" and you will understand that Bisio is close to Haden in spirit, and possibly has been all along : an innovator with a soul as deep as his tones of his instrument. This is far away from the physical playing of Kowald, or the abstract precision of Barry Guy, or the expansive drive of William Parker, or the epic lyricism of Paul Rogers  ... 

Bisio is himself : adventurous, yet soulful, taking his time to explore, avoiding shock elements or cheap effects, while at the same time avoiding the beaten track. Cautious precision, building his music around the empty space, and going almost in a dialogue with it, avoiding density or fast runs, but giving the strings the time to resonate in the full time it takes for the warm sound to gradually subside, to be followed by its successor, building harmonic sequences and some tension, just enough to keep the attention going, but not too much so that warmth is preserved.

His "hit single"  - "Nitro, Don't Leave Home Without It" also figures on the album as a very long an intense arco piece, the summit of the album together with "Oil", a very deep and slow bowed improvisation. 

Even when playing solo, Bisio is self-effacing. His personality, his technique, his skills are all there, but fully in the service of the music, real music then, with a depth that transcends the physical aspect of sound : it is so full of deep "human-ness". An absolute joy to hear, in many respects. 

 Listen and buy from the artist's website.

© stef

Monday, February 21, 2011

Agustí Fernández, Barry Guy & Ramón López - Morning Glory (Maya, 2010) ****½

By Stanley Zappa

At its high points, Morning Glory is no less a musical achievement than the greatest of the great piano trios in our beloved music. Two that come to mind are the The Lowell Davidison Trio and Bill Evan's Sunday at the Village Vanguard. At their best Agusti Fernández, Barry Guy and Ramón López continue the larger, transcendent conversation begun by the players on those canonical recordings and could, for approximation reasons, be likened to a combination of the two.

Though few and far between, the low points on Morning Glory, most of which are on the live bonus CD, provoke the same shudder as the triumphant positivism of Bruce Hornsby. If you've ever come across a clump of brown sugar in your morning muffin that didn't get totally blended in, you know what I mean--hardly a disaster, but enough of an issue to keep Morning Glory from the full five stars. Such are the wages of tonality and song. Fernandez traffics in both.

Though fluent in a harmonic tartness that reminds me an awful lot of Lowell Davidson (compare Davidson's Ad Hoc with Aurora on Disc two) Fernández tends to disarm rather than agitate — that's where the comparison to Davidson falls short and Bill Evans comes in. A “Latin” rather than “jazz” feel is Fernández's gestalt, abounding with earnest, melodic sincerity that confounds much in the same way paintings by Titan or Raphael don't connect as much as they let you know what you don't know (cf. Oberg's accounting office).

In and of themselves, Fernández's themes and flourishes steer Morning Glory dangerously close to Windham Hill territory, let alone ECM. Fortunately, Fernandez is never given that chance with the ever vigilant Guy and completely capable López on the case.

As with all the Maya releases (and I have most of them) the embodied energy, care to detail and depth of musical statement is so evident, so resounding that I can't help but seize up when it comes to review them. Guy's contributions to music and the bass are so deep, it's hard not to sound like Fred Willard's character in Best in Show when talking about them.

Can Barry Guy make an ugly inappropriate sound on the bass or does audible genius squirt out every time he touches the instrument? Even if he has never once listened to Scott Lafaro's with Bill Evans (or Eddie Gomez's with Davidson), Guy continues to write the history of the bass in music in real time, in the same aesthetic trajectory and with the same remarkable fervor. We all know that with a lesser pianist Sunday at the Village Vanguard would universally be understood as a “bass record.” The same is true for Morning Glory.

There is every reason to believe that Guy's generation of bassists (I'm thinking particularly of Alan Silva and William Parker) not only brought the age of bassist-as-quarter note marker to an end, but also thoroughly exhausted their own conception of the bass. It's hard to think of a facet of the instrument that Guy himself hasn't explored, asymilated and made his own. (Add to that Silva and Parker and ask yourself what's left?)

In Guy's case, his musical dominion extends back to baroque music. Guy's bass solo at the beginning of Don Miguel draws liberally from a 400-year-old harmonic well, without sounding like the intro to Roundabout. And yet, for as inventive as his reading is of that tradition, it's Guy the improviser we salute and must unanimously acknowledge as a fully realized living master of the Bass. This recording is but one reason.

While López never eclipses Milford Graves' work on The Lowell Davidson trio, López never makes me cringe either—something drummers are predisposed to do. While Lopez never eclipses Guy or Fernández
either, we have to thank him for that, so let us shower him with ample points for the assists and support. Never once does he stumble or fall behind. His ease with quiet on An Anonymous Soul endeared me to
him for good. It's not like López is faceless in and amongst it all, he's just not writ quite as large.

Here's hoping there is at least as much economic as there is aesthetic incentive for this group to continue. If there is, we'll all be the richer.

Agustí Fernández, Baldo Martinez & Ramón López - Triez (Emarcy, 2010) ****

By Stef

No doubt Spain's number one piano player in jazz is Agustí Fernández, whose playing spans the history of music, from classical over traditional jazz to avant-garde. Just to show the pianist's breadth, I confront this very accessible and almost Bill Evanesque album with Trio Local, reviewed below, bringing music totally out of the comfort zone of every listener, yet equally coherent as a trio performance.

This album's title is a kind of joke, referring to the word "trio", but also the suffixes of the three musicians' names, ending with "ez", originally meaning "son of" in Spanish. At the same time, it also means that they are "sons of the trio".

What you get on this album is Bill Evans, some Paul Bley, not much of Cecil Taylor. But then again, it's the trio's music, with broad references to music outside jazz : Spanish music, African music, Indian music. 

And of course, you also get a great cover of "Lonely Woman", Ornette Coleman's musical gem and gift to humanity, and not Fernández's first try at it, but equally impressive.

The music is improvised around clear themes and structures, often with great unison moments, and it is all about the joy of making music (and there is lots of fun to be heard), but also of joint introspection and meditation. And the remarkable thing is that it all quite fits well together.

Trio Local - Vitralls (Agharta Music, 2010) ****

The more hermetic Vitralls brings us Agustí Fernández on piano, Joan Saura on electronics and Liba Villavecchia on soprano and tenor sax. The album brings one long piece of forty-eight minutes of sound textures built around silence, lots of silence, and dark as the cover suggests. The title means "stained glass", as the kind that you see in ancient cathedrals, with barely any light passing through the centuries of darkened glass, reinforcing the uncanny atmosphere of mysticism rather than enlightening the building's visitors. The three musicians create an incredible level of tension and interaction with a total lack of lyricism, but more expressive than if it had, but for the end of the long live improvisation, when the notes of the sax seem to find a level of continuity and flow, but the electronics drag this sign of hope down into the deeper and darker corners with no light has a chance to survive.

And Fernández in all this? He lets you hear the sounds of the piano that were rarely heard: as percussion instrument, as screeching background clatter, as thunder without lightning.

© stef

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Memorize The Sky - Creeks (Broken Research, 2010) ****

By Stef

I was quite thrilled by "In Former Times", the second album by "Memorize The Sky", for its uncompromising nature and their adventurous take on the sax trio, a journey they take totally over the edge in "Creeks". The band is Matt Bauder on reeds, Zach Wallace on bass and Aaron Siegel on percussion.

And they add some electronics. Strangely enough, the album reminds me of John Zorn's "O'o" because of its fresh jungle and bird sounds, with one big difference, what Zorn does with melody and rhythm and rich instrumentation, is done here with sonic explorations and timbre and instrumental minimalism. Forget about melody, forget about structure, it is all about sound, more often than not impossible to describe its origin, light, ever so light. You hear bells, and prolonged tones, and some beats, and a whistling sound, coming and going, built around empty space, reacting to one another, like birds, or not at all, like water dripping from leaves.

Very few people would call this music, yet these very few are right : despite its lack of melody and patterns, it is beautiful, pure and fragile : it is the kind of thing you can do with sound, weave textures light like a spider's web, full of glistening dew in the morning sun.

It sounds like the new beginning of music.

© stef

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore – Three Kinds Of Happiness (Not Two, 2010) ****1/2

By Guy Peters

I have a soft spot for the bass clarinet. The quirky look of the instrument certainly has something to do with that. Also the fact that it has rather few practitioners and the realisation that some of them (like Rudi Mahall and Louis Sclavis) do tremendous things with it. Of course, there’s also the peculiar, bleating sound, especially in the lower register. As it happens, the latter is almost absent on this third album by Jason Stein’s trio, on which the leader does so much more than stressing the instrument’s extremes.

Like its predecessor “Three Less Than Between” (Clean Feed, 2009), it marks quite a departure from the debut “A Calculus Of Loss” (2008), on which Stein and drummer Mike Pride were joined by cello player Kevin Davis. The album continues the more traditional approach of the second album (on which bass player Jason Roebke replaced Davis), while sounding even more ‘traditional’. There’s not much aggression, dissonance and bleating going on here, while Stein’s lighter approach stresses the melodic qualities of the songs. Several of these have a carefree, almost breezy quality that makes the album a joy to listen to, without ever succumbing to blandness or predictability. And Stein sounds, more than ever, like a regular clarinet player.

Opener “Crayons For Crammy” immediately makes its case, with a catchy melody and appropriately subtle backing by Roebke and Pride. It is music with an original yet natural flow, creativity in abundance and a good-natured atmosphere. The album also has its thornier moments, like “Arch And Shipp” (starting off with unpredictable probing by the rhythm section and a venture into free jazz) and “Man Or Ray” (sudden starts & stops and an almost cartoonish atmosphere). These pieces sometimes hint at more radical terrain (just like “Cash, Couch & Camper”), but usually end up finding a refreshing balance between the tradition and the experiment.

To prove that the trio is still capable of setting the house on fire, the album also includes a live version of “Miss Izzy” (from the previous album), which has a tougher, more muscular style that ends the album on a forceful note. Make no mistake: these guys have the chops to move into any direction they wish to explore, but the willingness to include a more conventional basis and turn it into something exciting and entirely refreshing, as they see fit, makes it a compelling delight from start to finish and an album that only benefits from repeated listenings. If it were vinyl, I’d need a second copy in the meantime. Jovial interplay, gentlemanly adventure, an embarrassment of riches!

* The trio is currently touring in Europe at this very moment. Check out Stein’s website for the dates. For the Belgians out there: this Saturday, the band will play at Kunstencentrum BELGIE (Hasselt), along with Cinc (Vandermark/Lytton/Wachsmann).

Buy from Instantjazz.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Joëlle Léandre Tentet - Can You Hear Me? & Trio (Leo Records, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Another treat from Joëlle Léandre, her 60th birthday gift to music lovers, two CDs in one set, with two totally different approaches, showing the various sides of the artist, and both equally compelling.

Both were also recorded live on two consecutive nights in Ulrichsberg, Austria.

The first one is a tentet recording, a piece which made Léandre quite nervous because she had not composed for a large ensemble for quite a while, being better known as a small ensemble improviser first and foremost. The fifty-three minute long piece is like a suite, with a string quartet consisting of Thomas Wally on violin, Elaine Koene on viola, Melissa Coleman-Zielasko on cello, and Léandre on bass, with a horn section of Sussana Gartmayer on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Boris Hauf on tenor saxophone and clarinet; Lorenz Raab on trumpet, Bert Mutter on trombone, and completed with Burkhard Stangl on electric guitar and Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion. But it is one band in truth when you hear them. The music evolves from modern classical to avant-garde with rock elements, free jazz moments, strange atmospheres with spoken words overlapping each other, dramatic tension, the intensity of free improvisation, with changing moods and modes, in a tribute to her masters and role models: Morton Feldman, John Cage. The central moments of the composition please me the most, with the arco bass evolving into a menacing classical chamber string quartet, almost Michael Nyman-like, leading to unison trumpet and sax, hesitatingly, vulnerable, abruptly encountering a walking bass and jazz drums, supported by a great string cadence, evolving in absolute free expression of the whole tentet, cautiously, respectfully, then arco bass, with Léandre adding her angry poetry, jazz power and silent whispers. In sum, the composition brings a huge wealth of ideas, a strange compilation of instrumentation and styles without actually merging them, with accuracy and extreme discipline to keep things light, without overdoing it, a lifetime celebration of music. 

And good as the tentet album may be, the trio improvisation is absolutely stunning, with Léandre on double bass, John Tilbury on piano, and Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion. The music is minimalist to say the least, weaving the lightest textures out of sparse sounds, creating an unreal, primeval atmosphere of incredible purity, where sounds are dissociated from form, yet combined they offer the organic lyricism of life itself, before it actually takes shape. This doesn't mean the music is naïve or friendly, no, it can be harsh and dramatic, but almost without consequence, just as sound, arising and evaporating, leaving an imprint as context for the next sound, equally beautiful by itself, equally powerful, ..... fragile beauty.

Léandre has sometimes referred to herself and her instrument as the farmer using her tractor, but this music is among the most sensitive she has created, surely as the result of hard work and lots of sweat, yet the album shows you the artist as she learned to be from the start:  "Be yourself! Do it and go!". She did exactly that. This is her music. This is her musical journey compressed into two CDs.

The second CD alone is worth the purchase. The first CD alone is worth the purchase.


© stef

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Donny McCaslin - Perpetual Motion (Greenleaf Music, 2011)

By Bryan McAllister

Known for his work in Dave Douglas Quintet and Maria Schneider Orchestra, Donny McCaslin’s ninth solo release, “Perpetual Motion,” is a funkafied, spacey, electronic rock-jazz masterpiece. McCaslin’s playing is virtuosic, and his tight rhythm section provides the canvas for explorative improvisation from every member of the band.

Adam Benjamin is a mad scientist. If you’re not hip to his playing in some of the best bands in modern jazz, go check out Kneebody and Dave Douglas’ Keystone group immediately. On this record, his Rhodes and piano work provides the harmonic and textural support for McCaslin’s solos as well as brings life to each composition.

Tim Lefebvre, Uri Caine, Antonio Sanchez and Mark Guiliana each have a unique quality to their playing, and McCaslin has employed their talents marvelously. Each track has something different to offer, while at the same time the whole album retains a specific musical message.

This album is a total homerun, and I would obviously recommend it to any fans of jazz and/or fusion. I’ve been playing this album very regularly for the last couple of weeks, and I will not be stopping any time soon.

Donny McCaslin – Tenor saxophone
Adam Benjamin – Fender Rhodes, piano
Uri Caine – Piano, Fender Rhodes
Tim Lefebvre – Electric bass
Antonio Sanchez – Drums
Mark Guiliana - Drums
David Binney – Alto saxophone, electronics

Listen and download from Greenleafmusic.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Emergency! - Live in Copenhagen (2010, JVTlandT) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Japan's Emergency! is a powerful jazz quartet whose dual guitar attack of Otomo Yoshihide and Ryoichi Saito is irreverent and irresistible. Rounding out the group is double bassist Hiroaki Mizutani and drummer Yasuhiro Yoshigaki. Apparently the group does not play outside of Japan all that often, which makes "Live in Copenhagen" on JVTlanDT even more of a treat for purveyors of cathartic rock inspired jazz.

The opening song, "Re-Baptizum", slowly unfolds from a seemingly unscripted start while the electric guitars pierce and puncture the undulating rhythmic ground work. When the drums pick up with a uptempo beat, the guitars push and prod each other deeper into the distorted landscape. Sonic images of deep fissures, burnt hills, twisted charred remains, and the grotesque beauty of smoldering ruins follow.

The start of "Sing Sing Sing" channels Powertools era Bill Frisell with its simple lines cloaked in feedback and dissonances. The melody is rendered faithfully and then it all slips into slashing and burning. After a liberating improv, the quartet brings back the melody, and by the end of this quarter hour conflagration, lands us on the head, to the appreciative applause of the audience. Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" is also freely interpreted. The original brooding bass melody breaks out into more experimental excursions, while the guitars play off each other, crashing chords and weaving around the instantly recognizable melody. Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Inflated Tear" closes out the album. It begins with the edgily played melancholic melody and slowly devolves into a long feedback laden free-improv soundscape. Eventually the group jumps back into the melody line, but that too rapidly decomposes into a manic noise jam.

This album, with its three of its four extended pieces covers, keeps the spirit of the original tunes but brings to them an updated sonic palette. There are moments reminiscent of Jerry Granelli's UFB, moments when I think of Joachim Kuhn's Let's Be Generous and moments when I find it's best not to think at all. The energy emitting from Emergency! is invigorating, original and spirited.

Listen/download from eMusic.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Some free jazz legacy music for freedom in Egypt. Jubilate!




Uwe Oberg & Evan Parker - Full Bloom (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) ***

By Stanley Zappa

On the left hand side of the screen, Stef shares with us his "quintuple A" internal rating system. One aspect of the critical experience that isn't addressed in the 5A system also happens to be one of the great Bill Dixonisms, namely “did the record really need to be made?” When the answer was no, Dixon would often begin his analytic evisceration with “now there's nothing wrong with this particular recording...”

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with Full Bloom by Uwe Oberg and Evan Parker and, at the same time, there is little to suggest that this record needed to be made, in the macro, Dixonian sense.

Dixon also often said “If you really dig an artist, everything they do is important and of interest.” Verily, I do dig the fully realized great god father of the saxophone Evan Parker and as such, Full Bloom is a legitimate part of the Evan Parker Hadith worth investigating. So how bad can it be? The answer I suppose depends upon to what it is being compared and what you (are) like. Full Bloom's temprament leans toward the phlegmatic--more yin than yang—and there's nothing wrong with that. Some people like Star Trek for the metaphor, others like it for the lazer beams. Those falling into the latter category may want to walk to your local record store to purchase (with cash) the legitimate release Night Work first.

Sadly, Uwe Oberg is faced with the dilemma of being a the kind of musician for whom the entire history of the piano is within his very capable reach. The danger there is the tyranny of pastiche: Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Boulez Piano sonatas, Conlan Nancarrow, and the perennial urge to play inside the piano without using the keys reveal themselves in a quilt (rather than a stew pot) of sound. When you add to that the menace of technical excellence and an advanced case of well proportioned sensibility, you're left with an Oberg who, like so much music today, is at once easy and difficult to relate to—like a comfortable, well appointed waiting room at the accountant's office. At least that's the feeling right now. It could very well be that Full Bloom, like a good Okanagan Cab Franc, will reveal itself more convincingly in the years to come.

Then again, it could also be that Full Bloom is a recording where the whole is less than the sum of the parts, destined to forever hover in and around the 3 star zone. That happens sometimes too you know.

Listen and download from eMusic.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tony Malaby's - Tamarindo Live (Clean Feed 2010) ****½

By Joe Higham

This is anthill music. Yes, that's what I said, anthill music, and you'd be right to ask what Tony Malaby's Tamarindo and anthills have in common. Well, have you ever spent a lovely afternoon lazing around having a picnic somewhere out in the countryside? And if so maybe you lounged around after eating, staring into the grass or field around you, and as time passes you notice you're sitting on (or near an anthill). Gradually you become engrossed and start to watch those ants running around (probably picking up your left-overs) in what seems utter chaos. Little by little as you watch you notice patterns forming, ants crossing paths without ever colliding, never an argument (as ants don't have road rage), so much happening, so busy. At times the ant rush hour slows only to build up again as other ants appear communicating something to their comrades which then renews the energetic bustle. They carry on their tasks in a way which become almost an art form, and what may seemed disorganised at first starts to take on form and order.

And that is why Tamarindo is anthill music. It's very much a music which buzzes with a frenetic pulse often building from nothing, each player seemingly takes his own direction and yet as the music advances you realise that everybody is following everyone else. It may sound like chaos to someone walking into the room, but when you're 'in' the music it's very exciting, full of energy, and yet with so much going on around you it's never crowded. In fact there's so much here to discover that you will certainly have to listen many times before really knowing the music.

It would be difficult (and maybe pointless) to single out different tracks as this album could be heard as a suite, and even if the tracks do have names and approximative themes that appear when needed (i.e. not always sax and trumpet, and not always as openings), they seem less important as it's more about capturing the moment. There are often quite moments of interplay such as on 'Death Rattle', 'Hibiscus' and in 'Jack the Hat', but much of this music boils away with fantastic interplay (as always) between these superb musicians - Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax), William Parker (bass), inspirational drummer Nasheet Waits and of course guest trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.

The only odd thing is that the CD fades on the last track, perhaps they couldn't stop, or was there just too much good music to fit onto this release?

Tags for this excellent release could be - Mujician, Ornette's Science Fiction, The Thing, Vandermark 5, Supersilent (an acoustic version .... of course).

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Award for Free Jazz Blog

By Stef

This may be one of those self-serving awards, created just for the organisers to get some wider - and free - exposure thanks to the recipients of the award, who are all too eager to let their sense of pride and ego do the promotion.

In any case : here is the context :

"In 2001, The College Entrance Examination Board found those students involved with music appreciation outscored their counterparts by 63 points on the verbal portion of the examination and 44 points higher on mathematics. These types of statistics should be kept in the mind while our nation’s legislative body decides whether or not to strengthen the arts education curriculum within our federal educational policy.

As music and arts education organizations, professionals and advocates rally to support their causes in education and elsewhere, we at eCollegeFinder want to support their causes by giving voice to the best on the Internet.

The Top 75 Music & Arts Enthusiasts award recognizes the websites that best represent the voice of music and arts in both culture and education"

In any case, we trust the value of the award and thank the organisers for it. Music and arts cannot be promoted enough, especially the most adventurous ones.


Jason Robinson - The Two Faces of Janus – (Cuneiform Records, 2010) ***

By Bryan McAllister

Jason Robinson is not a name I was familiar with before hearing this album, but with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Liberty Ellman and Drew Gress in the band, I knew I was in for a treat. Sure enough, “The Two Faces of Janus” takes the listener on a very spirited journey through twisting corridors of composition, with virtuosic solos and colorful horn lines, all backed by a lively rhythm section.

My favorite track is definitely “Return to Pacasmayo,” featuring raw and edgy solos by Liberty Ellman and Jason Robinson. Another favorite is “Persephone’s Scream,” on which the saxophone playing of Mahanthappa and Robinson is nothing short of masterful. Strap yourself in and check out this great album.

Jason Robinson – Tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute
Marty Ehlrich – Alto sax, bass clarinet
Rudresh Mahanthappa – Alto sax
Liberty Ellman – Guitar
Drew Gress – Bass
George Schuller – Drums

Monday, February 7, 2011

FMP - Im Rückblick / In Retrospekt (FMP, 2010)

 By Stef

While in Munich, Germany, ECM celebrates its 40th anniversary with the publication of a great catalogue in Japan, up in Berlin, in the north of the country, FMP (Free Music Produktion), equally celebrates its 40th anniversary with an impressive 3.5 kg 12 CD box and a 218 page book.

If ECM stands at the cradle of sophisticated post-bop, with impressionistic and often sentimental leanings, with music that often appeals to broader audiences, FMP stands for the other bifurcation in the jazz road, the one of free improvisation, often wild and harsh and uncompromising, delving deep into the expressive possibilities of sound, be it by solo musicians or improvising big bands such as the Globe Unity Orchestra, often more authentic, more revolutionary in nature than the colleagues of the south. If ECM innovates within our sonic comfort zone, FMP innovates outside of our sonic comfort zones. Of course, like every comparison, this one is also flawed, as many musicians appear on both labels: Dave Holland, Arild Andersen, Marion Brown, Jon Christensen, Marylin Crispell, ... and this is just the beginning of the alphabet.

But FMP will carve out its position in music history with musicians such as the great Germans Peter Brötzmann, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Rüdiger Carl, Urs Leimgruber, Ulrich Gumpert, Günter "Baby" Sommers, Peter Kowald, at that time already building bridges between East and West Berlin, through music, creating the European - German - side of jazz and free improvisation : a little less entertaining than American jazz, more cerebral, angrier, dissatisfied, but exploring and exploring for new sounds for a new world.

They built bridges to the other musicians in Europe and in the US, with names such as Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Micha Mengelberg, Fred Van Hove,  Steve Lacy, William Parker, Butch Morris, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, ... joining ideas, making them bounce and interact in new creative avenues.

The book describes it all : the history, an overview of all concerts and workshops, the entire catalogue with cover art, musicians and recording dates, ...  a real treasure trove for the fan.

The box comes with 12 CDs, of which most have been released before with the exception of CD1, CD 8, CD 9, CD 10, CD 11 and CD 12, and the entire collection gives a great idea of the span of the FMP catalogue.

I believe the number of boxes was limited to 1,000 copies, but all CDs can be purchased separately. And trust me, many - if not all - of these CDs are must-haves. The ones I enjoyed the most are Globe Unity Orchestra, Peter Kowald solo, Schlippenbach Quartet, Die Like A Dog, Steve Lacy solo.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tony Levin passed away

We are sad to announce that British drummer Tony Levin passed away at the age of 71. On this blog he was recently reviewed for his collaborations with Paul Dunmall and Aki Takase

I copy a first reaction by Simon Barber on "Interactivecultures". 

"We are hugely saddened to report the death of drummer Tony Levin, who passed away today at the age of 71. Tony was a highly regarded jazz drummer and one of our partners on the AHRC KTF project. Together we developed and produced academic research into building British jazz archives.

Tony was highly respected for his performances on several great British jazz albums and performed frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the 1960s with artists including Joe Harriott, Al Cohn, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Zoot Sims, and Toots Thielemans.

He was perhaps best known for his work as a member of Tubby Hayes’ Quartet (1965-9), including the seminal record Mexican Green, but also played with numerous groups and artists, including the Alan Skidmore quintet (1969), Humphrey Lyttelton band (1969), John Taylor (1970s), Ian Carr’s Nucleus (1970s), Stan Sulzmann quartet, Gordon Beck’s Gyroscope, European Jazz Ensemble, Third Eye (1979), Rob van den Broeck (1982), Philip Catherine’s trio and quartet (1990s), Sophia Domancich Trio (with Paul Rogers, double bass; 1991-2000) and Philippe Aerts trio and quartet (2000s).

From 1980, Levin worked extensively with saxophonist Paul Dunmall, including as a member of the free jazz quartet Mujician, also with Paul Rogers (double bass) and Keith Tippett (piano).

Tony ran his own monthly club in Birmingham called TL’s Jazz Club and operated his own label, Rare Music Recordings. He had recently completed a successful 70th birthday tour, organised by Birmingham Jazz."

Our thoughts are with his family. We thank him for his contribution to creative music.

© stef

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sonny Simmons And Delphine Latil - Symphony Of The Peacocks (Improvising Beings, 2011) ****

By Stef

Sometimes the mixtures of conflicting genres can lead to interesting and strange blends, as is the case with this excellent album by Sonny Simmons and Delphine Latil.

Latil plays harp, is classically trained at the "Conservatoire de Paris", and a chamber musician, mostly with a trio with her brother and sister on cello and violin respectively, she also demonstrates her ability to improvise on this album, and go beyond genres: she can play jazzy, bluesy, eastern and also "hard-to-define".

Sonny Simmons never achieved the status that he deserved, because he's possibly too much of a seeker for that, never content with the idiom he's developed, continuously looking for new forms that go beyond the known. As his website says : "He's a healer. His playing has a soothing quality akin to that of John Coltrane. Once again, it's beyond notes, chords, improvisation, free or not. Voodoo, eastern philosophy, the Church, the blues - he's a synthesis, his music, a succesful syncretism." As on his fabulous "Tales of the Ancient East", he plays his "cor anglais" or English horn, an instrument with an easily recognizable timbre, sounding ancient with a welcoming buttery taste, the ideal instrument for his spiritual lamentations.

The duo brings us to the essence of music, of pure lyricism, and deep feeling. Think of Wadada Leo Smith's "Kulture Jazz" if you want a reference, with Simmons bluesy singing at times coming close to the trumpeter's.It is in spirit also close to the recently reviewed "Pulses" by Jin Hi-Kim and Gerry Hemingway, although less rhythmic.

A fragile, sensitive and beautiful album.

Buy from Improvising Beings.

© stef

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Defekt - Pete's Game Machine (Eclipse Music, 2010) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

I stumbled upon this album by sheer chance late this past fall. I think it was a case of judging a record by it's cover -- the mish mash of 80's video game archetypes, pigs and a meat cleaver was intriguing. It turned out that this Scandanavian quartet of electric guitar, sax, acoustic bass, drums and various electronics made some pretty interesting music. The songs generally featured snaking melodies twisting and turning their way around, kind of like the little sprites on their album cover's maze.

While incorporating some electronics into their sound, the music skews in a modern jazz way. Adopting a somewhat linear approach to composition, the hummable melodies evolve over time into more and more knotty entities. Counter melodies and unison lines abound and the electronic treatments and sounds are used effectively to highlight passages or ramp up the energy. While there is a great deal of composition, there is also a spirit of freedom and improvisation, including moments of free playing.

Most of the tracks feature tight rhythms between the drum and bass. The guitar and sax provide passages of melodic interplay and inspired solos that mix just the right amount of rock abandon with technical know how. One track that sticks out is 'Magrathea', a solemn affair in a mix of tunes that are often upbeat and bright. The plodding rhythm supports a mournful electronically enhanced sax spinning a melody that, if I have my title reference right, could be a soundtrack to new designer worlds being constructed. This is a light, enjoyable album, easy to digest, but not without quirk and originality.

Available through eMusic or CDBaby.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ornette Coleman Quartet - Reunion 1990 (Domino Jazz, 2010) ****½

By Stanley Zappa

Just as Harold Bloom can enjoy Freud as “the central imagination of our age”, one doesn't have to be a musician to enjoy The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization by George Russell. The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization

Toward the end of the book, Russell spells “it” out metaphorically with The “River Trip” Explanation of Jazz Improvisational Styles:

Let's take a large river, like the Mississippi for example, and call it a tune. Now suppose the small towns along its shores are chords, and the larger towns are not only chords, but tonic stations as well. (Tonic stations are points in any chord-built composition to which two or more chords tend to resolve.)

Now let's say you're Coleman Hawkins and you're going to take a trip down he river on a steamer...this steamer is a local and will make stops at all the towns along the river....

Ornette Coleman also will make the trip down the river. His conveyance, Like Coltrane's, will be a rocket ship...Once his rocket ship jets off from St. Louis and soars into the chromatic sphere, it may not touch ground again until it has hit New Orleans”...He may remain aloft indefinitely, allowing his ideas to resolve themselves naturally.”

Now that Virgin Galactic is booking flights into space, Coleman doesn't sound so “space aged” any more. In fact, with Reunion 1990, The Ornette Coleman Quartet inherits the earth—and that was 21 years ago. Since 1990 Coleman released Tone Dialing and Sound Museum – Hidden Man and Three Women, two of my favorite recordings of all time by anyone, ever. The 90's were a good decade for Coleman and if you told me that the 90's was the future he began to remember on may 22nd, 1959 I'd believe you. The Shape of Jazz to Come. Coleman was right.

Reunion, as you may have read in Burning Ambulance (for one) isn't for the audiophile--just the listener. Of course everyone plays great--one long shimmering virtuoso cadenza of glimmering excellence from beginning to end. Haden is a real stand out. His solos are fully realized pieces unto themselves, employing the full sonic spectrum of the instrument to the point where he even whips out ol' John Hardy. Ornette, then 60 years old, sounds like a glorious ad-mixture of Fred “Curley” Neal  and Hakeem Olajuwon—elated and elastic yet strong and commanding. Same for Don Cherry and Billy Higgins who, on this outing, also fly at it full throttle, in a similar state of euphoria and grace. And why shouldn't they? They made it--in every sense of the term.

If you've ever cared about the music of Ornette Coleman (or Charley Haden, or Billy Higgins or Don Cherry) even a little, take out your credit card, buy this recording and pay that portion of your credit card bill. If you've never heard Ornette Coleman and you have come looking for a recommendation, you have found one. Start here and work backward.

Even with 11 months to go in the year, I hereby confidently place Reunion squarely within my 2011 top ten.