Click here to [close]

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scoolptures - White Sickness (Leo Records, 2011) ****½

By Stef

I have been listening to this album for the last couple of weeks, and there's rarely been a day when I did not put the album on. And that's a very good sign. And the reason is quite simple : this is weird, mesmerising music, a great sequel to "Materiale Umano", their debut album.

The Italian quartet are Nicola Negrini on bass, metallophone and live electronics, Achille Succi on bass clarinet and alto sax, Philippe "Pipon" Garcia on drums and live electronics, and Antonio Della Marina on sinewaves and live electronics.

The band's music is minimalist in the sense that sounds and sound textures are the critical building blocks of their creations, but then again that is not entirely true because Succi plays long and often moaning phrases, and sometimes sounds are repeated by the live electronics.

Like the novel "Blindness" by Jose Saramago, to which the album's title refers, the universe created here is inhospitable, floating in nature, with several stylistic elements that take out familiarity or discard with known reference points that could provide comfort, while at the same time being human in a very basic emotional way, taking out all the stuff that does not matter. And it is the latter that draws me in, time and time again.The sad sax or bass clarinet, the incredibly powerful and warm bass tones, the precise percussion and the overall uncanny electronics create a superb listening experience.

It is so sensitive that it hurts.

© stef

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Transit - Shifting Moods (Konnex, 2011) ****

By Stef

Swiss soprano and altoist Jürg Solothurnmann has not released many albums as a leader, and the previous release by his band "In Transit" already dates back to 2007. The band further consists of Michael Jefry Stevens on piano, Daniel Studer on bass and Dieter Ulrich on drums. Despite its lack of recordings, the band  is quite tight and coherent, with the saxophonist and pianist being incredibly like-minded inside-out players, staying real close to the jazz vocabulary and grammar, but then speaking a slightly different language with it. That language is full of pulse and lyrical flow, yes stays away from recognisable themes and structures. The pieces are, after all, fully improvised.

Their language can range quite widely. On the second piece, "Color Deep", Michael Jefry Stevens starts with a sweet, almost impressionistic piano piece, with Studer and Ulrich demonstrating their dexterity by adding minimalist accents to the overall sound. Solothurnmann then beautifully captures the same mood to continue where the piano left off, maintaining the subdued atmosphere till the end. A a matter of contrast, the next piece "Spices & Devices, Part 1", starts with a strange repetitive phrase on the piano, leading to lots of counter rhythms from drum and bass, and some distressed playing by the sax.

The strength of the band is its power to create together. Even if the four musicians are great, this is not about the soloing per se, not about the expressivity of the individuals, it's about the joint creation of really nice music, one that can best be described by gentle adventurousness. It doesn't have the spectacular tension of Alpine skiing, but rather the slowly evolving beauty of cross-country, if you want a weird analogy.

© stef

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nate Wooley - Trumpet/Amplifier (Smeraldina-Rima 2011) *****

By Joe Higham

This is one of the strangest records I've listened to in a while, and yet it's also an easy record to give 5 stars to simply because what you hear on this record defies any expectations of what a solo trumpet record, even with an amplifier, would or should sound like. It's this second element, the amplifier, which defines the outcome of Nate Wooley's sound explorations. I use the expression 'sound exploration' as what you hear on this record is anything but music in conventional terms, more an exploration of the sonic possibilities of a trumpet. Wooley investigates the various sounds produced (and not normally heard), brought to the fore via the amplifier, a kind of microscopic sound-view of a brass instrument. Others before have also found new directions on which to experiment such as Evan Parker, Joelle Leandre, Derek Bailey, or more recently trumpeter Alex Boney, and it seems that Nate Wooley is following in the same direction, looking to find new ways of using his instrument.

As for the LP itself. Side One has two tracks : 1) Trumpet A, 2) Trumpet B. Side Two, one track titled quite simply 'Amplifier'. I can imagine looking at this you wonder if it's possible to keep ones attention throughout, and if so are the tracks that different. The answer in both cases is 'yes, no problem'. The opening track takes you a short while to enter into and understand what you're actually listening to, but once you've 'caught on' the rest is just 'sit back and listen'. Even if the sounds are abstract to begin with, little by little you hear Nate Wooley's thinking process unfold as he uses both sound and rhythm in these improvisations which at times sound like early computer generated sound. In fact whilst watching a performance of this music I noticed he not only blows into the trumpet, but sometimes spits, blows at, talks, hits, and sings into his instrument, a more physical approach than the standard playing technique. The three tracks passed by as if in the blink of an eye and I ended up placing the needle back at the beginning as if to confirm what I'd heard, after all did I just hear a trumpet record where no actually brass (musical) note was sounded?

I can recommend this album to all who are interested by new sounds, techniques and their possibilities. Of course if you're into the sound experiments of the likes of Schaeffer, Stockhausen, or even certain moments of Supersilent etc, you'll be quite comfortable with this music, like old friends. I'd love to hear how Wooley and Paul Lytton combine these sonic possibilities in there duo CD reviewed elsewhere. One should note that this is a limited edition of 495 LPs, so if you're interested you better get your copy whilst it's available.

As Stef would say ..... highly recommended!

Buy from Instantjazz.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vyacheslav Gaivoronsky & Alexander Ragazanov Revelation (Bomba, 2011) ****½

By Stef

In one of my previous reviews on Russian master trumpeter Vyacheslav Gaivoronsky I made the unpleasant comment that he often combines serious music with silly moments, an unlikely combination that is luckily totally absent on this album. "Revelation" brings nine duets with drummer Alexander Ragazanov, and it is a revelation.

Regular readers will know - and hopefully appreciate - my preference for trumpet-percussion duos, because they reflect the pure essence of music : free lyricism and rhythm, close to nature, close to our own feelings, close to our own physical existence, and then especially so if there are no patterns, no structures, just free playing.

But I may be wrong about structure in this case : the whole album seems to evolve from pristine lightheartedness at the beginning, with flute even on the first track, playful melancholy on the second, but gradually becoming deeper, darker too, more earnest. If Ragazanov plays his trap in the conventional acoustic fashion - but how! - the trumpeter does not shy away from sound alterations.

With "Unexpected Companion", he shows his darkest sounds, vibrating wildly, but surfacing again with clear sound. "Step Aside" is a short rhythmic delight, a ray of sunshine beaming through the dark clouds which follow with "On The Brink Abyss", on which the trumpet sounds like you've never heard it before, deep, raw, full of agony and distress, played over tribal percussive polyrhythmics.

On the title track, the mad rhythms, hypnotic and mesmerizing, the uncanny vocals and soaring trumpet create a kind of primitive chant to placcate the gods to spare us all from some looming evil. And truth be told, it sounds unique, absolutely unique, and it is guaranteed to change the minds of even the most strongheaded gods.

The long last track brings the pièce-de-resistance of the album, adding musical drama and tension, shifting colors and textures with just the two of them, first slowly, then gradually increasing the tempo, relaxing for more slow drama, then up again and ending in clear unison.

Without a doubt, both musicians deserve much wider recognition. Among Gaivoronsky's best albums.

© stef

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Full Blast & Friends - Crumbling Brain (Okkadisk, 2011) ***

By Stef

Full Blast is Peter Brötzmann on saxes, clarinet and Tárogató, Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums, and with the three of them they already honor the band's title quite well, but here the band is expanded with Mars Williams on sax, Keiji Haino on electric guitar and Peter Evans on trumpet for this live performance at the Jazzfest Berlin in November 2008.

The band's simples recipe is as hard and as energetic as possible and please without breaks. The aptly named opener "Crumbling Brain" starts full force and just never releases the high speed mad power of the band. The second track starts suprirsingly slow, with Brötzmann playing a long solo, but luckily the band pushes him onward and forward into hurricane mood, ending with a great full stop resulting in the deserved appreciation of the enthusiastic crowd.

The short "Have Your Eyes", is a little more subtle for thirty seconds, until Wertmüller comes crashing and thundering down and Bro goes back into the stratosphere, to be joined by the friends at the end of the piece, led by a soaring trumpet blast by Evans. Total chaos ensues.

Side B (yes, this is vinyl) starts with drumming and crazy and maddening guitar sounds, which suddenly and unfortunately loses its momentum and falls into a kind of hesitating feedback with Wertmüller seemingly a bit at a loss of what to do. The next track is even less inspired, with weird shouts and chaotic interplay.

In the last piece, "Deathbop", the raw power-play gains control again with the saxes and trumpet in full blast.

In short, a tremendous first side, with uncompromosing raw focused violence, and with unfortunately a little less of this and more meandering developments when the "friends" join on the B side. But that's always the risk of course.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch the band in its best format, as on the A side of the album.

© stef

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Andrea Centazzo - Moon In Winter (Ictus, 2011) ****

By Stef

Italian percussionist Andrea Centazzo can be rightly called an innovator, someone who manages to create his own compositional voice, recognizable yet elusive at the same time, bringing a synthesis of many musical genres, ranging from classical, folk, to jazz, world music, new music and one could even say new age. The end result is often evocative, cinematic in its sweeping story-telling, its drama and expansiveness. Centazzo loves effects - unexpected rumblings, hard hits, gongs, sudden tonal or textural changes -  as much as he likes broad canvases and refined sensitivities. He abhors noise but also sweetness : anger and sentimentality seem to be alien to him.

On this excellent album, he is accompanied by Nobu Stowe, the Baltimore pianist who invited him for this performance, and by Dave Ballou on trumpet, Achille Succi on alto sax, clarinets and shakuhachi, Daniel Barbiero on bass. Yet this is not a the true sense: the musicians play the music in shifting line-ups: duos, trios, quartets, given the music a relatively low density and ephemeral feel with the exception of "Moon in Winter III", the fifth track in which the quintet plays jazz in full force, before you are taken by surprise again.

The ten pieces are composed with room for improvisation, and then mixed afterwards. On some tracks strings are heard, but not credited.

As can be expected, the band creates a welcoming yet unpredictable musical universe, a kind of dreamworld, where things happen that are beyond logic or linear evolution, where familiar things meet on unfamiliar grounds, where incompatible things match, without turning into a nightmare, but far away from reality too.

You will not be shocked, you will not weep. You will float in a land of wonder.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wadada Leo Smith's Organic - Heart's Reflections (Cuneiform, 2011) *****

Dialogue intérieur by Stef

Q : Stef, again a 5-star album, and again by Wadada Leo Smith .... Aren't you a little bit exaggerating?
A : I might, but then I mightn't. This is again fabulous music, very much in the vein of his previous album "Spiritual Dimensions".

Q : Is it similar then?
A : Yes, on this double album, the line-up is very similar with Wadada Leo Smith on trumpets, Brandon Ross, Michael Gregory, Lamar Smith, and Josh Gerowitz on guitar, Skuli Sverrisson and John Lindberg on bass, Angelica Sanchez on acoustic and electric piano, Stephanie Smith on violin, Casey Anderson on alto saxophone, Casey Butler on tenor saxophone, Mark Trayle and Charlie Burgin on laptops, and Pheeroan AkLaff on drums.

Q : Four guitars and two basses?
A : Yes.

Q : Does it add anything to the previous album?
A : Even if it does not add anything conceptually to the previous album, it is still of superb musical quality.

Q : I thought you were all about adventure and uncharted territories?
A : Yes, and they do in a way. They take the electric Miles Davis legacy and push it into today's world.

Q : Is it free jazz? Is it fusion?
A : No, no, no ...

Q : What is it then?
A : It is funky, hypnotic, tribal, spiritual, uplifting ... with pumping basses, soaring trumpets, shredding guitars, polypolyrhythmic drums.

Q : Sound like fusion?
A : No, definitely not. It's all about the music, not about the instrument skills.

Q : But there is some guitar shredding for sure?
A : Yes, there is. And even if I don't like it usually, I can appreciate it in this context.

Q : What is then so special about it?
A : The overall sound, the variation between slow spiritual moments and almost danceable uptempo pieces, the instrumental prowess, the interplay, the unbelievable feeling to be one with it all, because it resonates so deeply with everything that feels true and warm and human.

Q : Is it that good?
A : Once you're in it, you don't want it to stop.

Q : Doesn't it affect your credibility to always give a 5-star rating to a Wadada Leo Smith album?
A : I indeed gave five stars to "The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer", "Tabligh", "Compassion", "Spiritual Dimensions", "America", "Wisdom In Time", but I was less impressed by the two albums on Treader ... and I don't care about my credibility.

.... Can you now please stop asking all those questions and start enjoying this music?

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Guillaume Roy, Vincent Courtois, Claude Tchamitchian - Amarco (Emouvance, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Apart from the Masada String Trio, there aren't many trios of violin, cello and bass to be found in modern jazz, yet here is one from France, and one with equally seasoned virtuosi: Guillaume Roy on viola, Vincent Courtois on cello and Claude Tchamitchian on bass.

As can be expected from the line-up, this is chamber music, but one that goes far beyond the classical notion of the music, and far beyond the sweet melodies of the Masada songbook.

The music, the sounds, the approach are new and fully improvised. The music floats, is melancholy, or full of intensity, full of distress, or full of drama.

Listen to the first piece, listen how the tune is built up gradually, out of soft touches on strings, some pizzi cello, then gradually the bass takes over the core rhythm to the very end, for the viola to start adding bowed tension, just to have the cello switch magnicently and shortly to arco, piercing, profound.

The title piece is romantic classicism, with all three instruments bowing around a tonal center,with deep sadness and melancholy, moving slightly away from each other, which accentuates the sadness even more, then all three go into higher regions, before the bass bows the last incredibly deep tones. It is hard to believe that this is improvised, yet it is.

"'Champ Contre Champ" starts with a crazy rhythm on bass, and viola and cello kind of fight their way through the piece, duelling, circling around each other, while the bass keeps on plucking, then bowing the same rhythm hypnotically onwards.

This is serious and abstract music, with lots of gravity and a dark overall feeling, but the kind of music that is gripping in the way it's told, in the way it is created in front of your ears, 

It is also incredibly creative. The eleven relatively short pieces each tell their own story, invite you in a different context, but then without losing the overall coherence of the album.

But why am I ranting on .... this is remarkable music by three fantastic artists. Judge for yourself on the long clip below, that gives an entire performance by the trio.

© stef

On our way to 1,000,000 visitors

Today, this blog was visited by 900,000 unique visitors since its original creation some years ago, of which one third visited us repeatedly. The total page loads is 1,435,000.

These figures are of course quite relative, but I hope our global outreach did its work in promoting adventurous and authentic music.

Now up to 1,000,000!!

Please spread the word and promote this blog (based on work by music fans with no commercial interests).



Friday, May 20, 2011

Marcin Wasilewski Trio - Faithful, ECM 2011 ***½

By Paul Acquaro

When listening to the Marcin Wasilewski Trio's Faithful, I've begun developing a feeling that there is something that I'm not quite tuned in to. Having not heard this trio's music before but having read some laudatory write-ups online, I must I admit I was anticipating something, though what, I'm still not entirely sure.

Wasilewski's approach to piano is strikingly lush but at the same time employs a great economy. The phrasing is exquisite and the atmosphere, light and refreshing, is consistently applied. His trio is telepathic, and is a wonderful example of the interactions a group that has been working together for the better part of a decade can have. Their touch is impeccable and compliments the leader's piano perfectly.

The opening song, 'The Secret Marriage', is like an air cleansing rain. Slawomir Kurkiewicz's bass and Michal Miskiwicz's percussion lightly accents passages, but the song is pretty much features the piano and effectively bridges classical and jazz idioms. The next song, 'Night Train to You', features a more strident, yet still reserved, rhythm section. There are moments when the music is skating along, and employing open chordal voicings that remind me a little of the Pat Metheny Group circa Still Life Talking. Overall, it seems that the recording vacillates between these two styles, ethereal, almost solo piano and more rhythmic driving trio tunes.

This is a quiet recording with moments of both insistent rhythm and introspective melody. Its tone is positive and I appreciate the beauty of the melodies, but overall, I find myself trying hard to hear something more gripping. While I find the music to be a little too delicate, I do also have this feeling that when I return to listen at some point, I'll realize that I was indeed not getting it the first time.

See & hear Song For Świrek

(c) Paul Acquaro

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michel Pilz & Jean-Noël Cognard - Binôme (Bloc Thyristors, 2011) ****

By Stef

Recorded in 1984, this issue on vinyl of a performance by German bass clarinetist Michel Pilz and French drummer Jean-Noël Cognard is everything my heart needs today, bringing raw but lyrical improvisations on two short album sides (really too short).

Both musicians are absolutely great to hear. Pilz's tone on the bass clarinet is excellent, and so are his improvisations. He did not release much under his own name, but performed amonst others with the Globe Unity Orchestra, Peter Kowald and Manfred Schoof.

I couldn't find much information on Jean-Noëlle Cognard, apart from the fact that he released several vinyl albums, and performs regularly. His drumming is excellent too, and especially on the second side, he really gets the chance to show his skills, during a polyrhythmic and captivating solo. 

Easy to recommend, although possibly hard to find, since printed in only 200 copies, but not yet sold out. So grab your chance!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Scott Tinkler, Bae Il Dong, Simon Barker - Chiri (Kimnara, 2010) ****½

By Stef

Trumpeter Scott Tinkler and drummer Simon Barker are not only well-kept Australian secrets, both musicians have a kind of organic interplay that is quite exceptional. Their music is improvised, raw and straight from the heart. Listen also to "Lost Thoughts" for a duo performance.

On this interesting album, they team up with Korean pansori singer Bae Il Dong, whose singing will take many listeners by surprise, as it is quite unusual. He kind of sings and shouts at the same time, spitting out his lungs, his heart, his entire system, in a way that is quite difficult to fathom, yet resonates deeply. What does he sing? Is he singing incantations? Is he bemoaning a lost love? Is he angry? Is his singing spiritual? Possibly a combination of all those : blues and spiritual and tribal.

The idea for the music comes from drummer Simon Barker's fascination with South-Korean shamanistic drumming, a skill which he mastered over the years, and can be described as "powerfully relaxed". It my opinion, it is a sheer delight to hear him play.

Tinkler is an equally incredibly good trumpeter. His dialogues with Bae Il Dong are nothing short of unique, offering not only a great mirror of sounds to the singer, in counterpoint or just pushing the intensity, he can also set the rhyhtm with great staccato blasts, or falling back on intimate sounds.

The most unique element is the Korean's voice though, and the album's title, Chiri, refers to the mountain area where the singer spent many years in isolation singing at waterfalls in order to reveal "the voices". It may require transcending some preconceived notions about singing at first, and that's a good thing.

All comparisons are wrong by definition, but the album comes close in spirit to Norwegian's Jorgensen and Isungset on "Agbalagba Daada" : same instruments, equally shamanistic, equally improvised and free, other continent. 

Highly recommended!

Listen and download from iTunes.

Below you find a trailer for the documentary by Emma Franz "Intangible Asset Number 82" which shows the journey of Simon Barker to Korea to hear and learn from shaman master Kim Seok-Chul.

© stef

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thomas Heberer - Clarino (No Business, 2011) ****

By Stef

This double vinyl LP is a real treat for fans of small ensembles or chamber jazz. The first sides, called "Klippe", bring us the trio of Thomas Heberer on trumpet and quarter-tone trumpet, Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass-clarinet, and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass, three stellar musicians from respectively Germany, Belgium and France/Germany combined, but who all met in New York. The trio improvises based on Heberer's self-developed compositional development which gives clues to the players on pulse, density, pitch etc allowing also for spontaneous phrases to be repeated. The end result are quite intimate and abstract miniatures, quite gentle and full of mutual respect, no doubt the result of very attentive listening to each other. Sometimes the music itself has few references to jazz, but more linked to ethereal new music, but at other times, both trumpet, clarinet and bass play deeply emotional bluesy tones, giving the overall tone one of fragile sensitivity.

On the second LP, called "One", Heberer goes solo, demonstrating his incredible skills, especially when his circular breathing allows him to play an entire piece seemingly in one breath, or when he kind of shouts and creates multiphonics on his horn. Yet he is of course too good a musician to just demonstrate technique on his instrument, which is entirely in function of the music.  I must say that I prefer the austerity of the solo pieces above the trio. They give the fragility a different, deeper, more personal dimension, of the lone individual struggling, moaning, singing. Unlike other trumpeters like Peter Evans or Nate Wooley, Heberer keeps his tone voiced throughout, which makes this overall somewhat more accessible, although that is of course an extremely relative concept. Some pieces are absolutely astonishingly beautiful.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Motif - Facienda (Jazzland, 2011) ***½

By Stef

The Norwegian jazz scene is without a doubt one of the most vibrant in Europe, with musicians climbing to international recognition due to their combination of instrumental skills and creative voice. And the latter is no doubt the most important in art : you may like them or not, but Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Wesseltoft, Frode Gjerstad, Terje Isungset, Trygve Seim, Ståle Storløkken, Ingar Zach and many more, have all created quite different, yet very distinct sounds, and even new musical subgenres within the jazz tradition, but very often going beyond that, always with maturity and intelligence. And I emphasise the creative aspect : letting us hear new and innovative approaches, rather than destructive noise.

The Norwegian band Motif is part of this creative stream. They describe their own music as "a sound that echoes the acoustic outings of Miles Davis, the structures of Ligeti, and the electronic collage of Aphex Twin", which is not always easy to recognise on this triple album.

The band is led by Ole Morten Vågan on bass, Eivind Lønning on trumpet, Atle Nymo on saxophone, Håvard Wiik on piano, and Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums. On the second and third volumes, Petter Vågan joins on guitar and Ola Kvernberg on violin. The band's former trumpeter Mathias Eick joins on the third volume.

The music is composed, with discernible themes and structures, beautifully arranged, often slow to mid-tempo, and could mostly be categorised as mainstream jazz with exuberant soloing, but then you have pieces like "The Korean Barbecue Smokeout", which is crazy, or "Seksten" which is more explorative.

Without having the energy and power of their fellow countrymen of Atomic, Motif manages to bring a very strong album, and one that will appeal to a broader audience of jazz fans.

Listen to Apo Calypso

© stef

Dennis González & Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten - The Hymn Project (Daagnim, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Trumpeter Dennis González stole my heart many years ago, and this for several reasons : he has lots of warmth in his playing, a relative accessibility, spritualism and emotional power. He is also a great band leader, giving the other musicians lots of space, while maintaining a good focus on the overall sound.

With this band it is no different. He is joined by his sons Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums, and by Norwegian bass-player Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten, now also residing in Texas, and cellist Henna Chou, also from Austin.

This strong line-up also leads to strong music, very much in line with some of González's previous albums, with quite open and hypnotic structures, slow-flowing and reverent as the album's title might suggest. The themes repeat themselves freely over the improvisation, as on "Eg Feif I Himmerik Ei Borg", composed by Håker-Flaten, possibly the only piece with an easily discernible melody.

Even to atheists like myself, the spiritual dimension of the music will not be lost, because of its universal appeal of unity and expansiveness and transcending our day-to-day struggles and mediocrity. 

The two basses and the cello weave the solid and light foundation for the improvisations, with Dennis González' warm and soaring trumpet tones lifting you up, accentuated by Stefan González' precise punctuation and emphasis, very much in the tradition of Paul Motian. On the moments when the strings are bowed, Tomasz Stanko comes to mind.

A truly beautiful album, one that will not get you out of your comfort zone, but it is guaranteed to bring you into another dimension.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, May 13, 2011

Aram Shelton's Arrive- There Was... (Clean Feed, 2011) ****½

 By Paul Acquaro

Aram Shelton's 'This Was...', recorded with his group Arrive in 2008 is a serious affair that is quite a fun and demanding listen.

I was first struck by how cool this group was, cool in the sense of how the vibes, the upright acoustic bass, the commanding sax, and some very hip drumming, casts a spell. At the same time, I was impressed by how hot the band was, in the sense of, well, just tearing it up. Their intensity is impressive, but so is how neatly they color outside the lines. While on the surface the tunes may feel very composed and modern, a deeper listen reveals some fine and fierce free playing.

I think by the time I got to the tune, 'Lost', I found myself thoroughly engaged. Jason Adasiewicz's vibraphone and Jason Roebke's bass generate a palpable density that is buoyed by Tim Daisy's drums. On top, Shelton has a serious foundation for spinning fractured and dazzling solos. Adasiewicz shines throughout, using the vibes to set a dark, sometimes mysterious, atmosphere. His solos, like on the laid-back 'Frosted' are as tantalizing as Shelton's, reacting to the rhythm section, always servicing the aesthetic of the song but not pulling any punches.

Shelton's composing blends sophisticated syncopation and harmonies, and all the songs are distinctive. The suspended and slow building 'Golden' comes to mind as a highlight. All four instruments act as part of the melody, building up to a small peak before resolving into some free playing. Soon it becomes a duet between the vibes and bass, their conversation becomes more obscure, but captivating, only to soon be joined by the others and driving to a greater crescendo. Shelton solo is rather intense but always in control of the exuding passion.

The contrasting qualities of this album are what makes it so tantalizing. It's laid back, but aggressive, cool but passionate. Composed, arranged but free and unpretentious. There is not a dull or unimportant note or rest that is out of place on this edgy piece of modern jazz.

Buy from Instantjazz.

See a clip of Arrive playing 'Frosted'

(c) Paul Acquaro

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Louie Belogenis Trio - Tiresias (Porter, 2011) ****½

 By Stef

The opening track of this album is something to share, also with innocent free jazz sceptics. It starts with some frenetic bowing by Michael Bisio, a couple of cymbal touches by Sunny Murray,  and then ... out of incredible emotional depths comes this human sorrowful howl from Louie Belogenis' tenor, all feeling, all resonance, combining sadness with fear and anguish, so human, so human, interrupting the slow wailing with staccato outbursts while Murray's toms start emphasing more, hitting harder, with Bisio's bass coming back to frenzy.

This magnificent trio used Albert Ayler as their example for this album, not trying to copy him, but rather using his process-oriented composing as an example, resulting in an nice flow in the music, but one that remains focused.

So much for the rationalisation and the context. The music does the rest and does not need many words : it speaks for itself. Three stellar musicians playing well, really well, listening carefully, adding creative touches, all three with a "voice" of their own - Murray is unique, Bisio is excellent, and Belogenis' tone will make many sax-players jealous - offering a perfect match of deeply emotional and free music, and all this with an excellent sound quality on top. The highlight of the album is the long "Tiresias", but John Coltrane's "Alabama" also gets a rendition that is hard to equal in terms of sensitivity and sheer musicality.

What an incredible joy to hear this trio play. 

So what about subjecting free jazz sceptics to the album? I tried it with some of my friends : one of them laughed out loud out of sheer pleasure for the ferocity and uncompromising nature of some of the moments, the other friend smiled pityngly while shaking her head, saying "these guys make noise because they can't play their instruments". There is still work to be done ...

Listen to "Blind Prophecy"

© stef

Piano, piano, piano, ....

 By Stef

Totally stuck with far too much on my plate, professionally and privately, the great music that is coming my way does not get the attention it deserves. The albums are here on my left, piling up, screaming to be listened to, complaining when only listened to once, depressed when put on the "hold" pile (also on my left but less so). So I must change the approach, and tell you less about more albums.

Howard Riley - “The Complete Short Stories 1998-2010” (No Business, 2011) ****

When I bought Keith Jarrett's "Sun Bear Concerts" many years ago, I was completely lost by the sheer amount of music on the 6 album box with only solo piano. Some pieces were to my immediate liking, some took some time to absorb, but finding those pieces back was almost impossible unless I listened to the entire six albums again. That's the feeling I have with Howard Riley's new compilation on No Business  : it is a lot of music, spanning more than a decade of solo performances. How do you get your ears around this?

Riley is kind of his own genre : a lyricist and synthesist, someone who manages to carve his own voice from material coming from the entire music legacy, from classical to modern music, with obvious jazz as a major influence. In contrast to musicians like Jarrett, Riley does not need the epic lengths to come to a climax, hence the real appropriate title of "short stories", in which you don't need the entire history, but just a glimpse, a snapshot of good ideas, perfected in its smallness, in its uniqueness. The end result is one of close intimacy, recognisable and human. It is also not about the musician, nor about the pyrotechnics. It's all about the music. Fresh, simple, but a lot of it.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Angelica Sanchez - A Little House (Clean Feed, 2011) ***½

On "A Little House", Angelica Sanchez brings also an intimate performance, nothing exuberant, nothing expansive, just thirteen short pieces that do not disturb, that do not challenge, yet which require close attention and concentration. By doing so, she also moves more into mainstream jazz, without losing a sense of abstraction. The playing is good, but I prefer her work with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Umberto Petrin - A Dawn Will Come (Leo Records, 2011) ****

Italian Umberto Petrin is of a totally different nature: he is a spectacular story-teller, creating drama and expectation with a few notes, then expanding on it, measuring pace and tempo to create suspense and climax. He is not as abstract as Riley, or as intimate as Sanchez, he is the man of the depth and universality, easily accessible, but so beautiful. Listen to his majestic "Mantra and Blue", starting heavy and intense, ending in a beautiful blues.

His accessibility does not mean that he takes easy routes, quite to the contrary, themes are not always available, and the way forward while improvising remains full of anticipation and unexpected turns, sometimes coming to an emotional closure, but you can as easily be left hanging in mid-air. Intelligent beauty.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Michel Wintsch - Metapiano (Leo Records, 2011) ***

On previous occasions, I have praised Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch for his forward thinking in music-making, someone who lifted the piano trio and piano improvisation "tout court" to a different level, minimalist, utterly creative and extremely appealing. On Metapiano, he takes things a step further, using synthesizers and feet devices, and possibly lots of stuff in his piano itself, mentioning very clearly that there are "no overdubs".

Even if a solo album, he sometimes sounds like an orchestra, but not always a nice one. There are plenty of good ideas, and he keeps his minimalist approach, but I hate the sound of synths, and is the case here too. Some of the music is nice, some of the synth is plain irritating. The good thing about this is that it will not leave you indifferent. An interesting exercise, but not a route to further pursue if I had anything to say about it, which obviously is not the case.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Nicola Cipani - Klavier Massagen (Long Song Records, 2011) ***½

I was quite charmed with Nicola Cipani's debut album "The Ill-Tempered Piano" on which he plays only untuned and damaged pianos. On this album, he takes the instrument into real uncharted territories, with highly repetitive, drone-like sounds, resulting in feedback, screeching strings, tonal percolations, and a general weirdness that is highly likeable - and sometimes outright impressive - when in the right mood (you have to be calm and serene, if not, you risk to start throwing with things, unless the nervous and unrelenting tension on this album acts as a kind of antidote to calm even if the most restless high-strung anxious bundle of nerves into a state of zen-like acceptance).

To me, the serene mood works best in any case, and it may help to appreciate Cipani's unique and interesting voice.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Dreamers - The Gentle Side (Tzadik, 2010)‏ **

 By Stanley Zappa

More than once Bill Dixon talked about music in terms of problems and solutions. Gerry Mulligan's quartet with Chet Baker was a solution to the problem of there being no piano. At least one semester of ensemble class with Dixon was dedicated to solving the problem of an ensemble with no drummer. Vade Mecum (5 stars, by the way) solved the problem posed by symmetric, academic sounding lines (and did so by
eliminating them all together.)

If you told me one of the problems solved by Zorn On The Gentle Side was how to extend the intro of Santana's Black Magic Woman for the entire length of a song, I'd be inclined to believe you. If you told me another problem solved was how to fill the spaces between shows on National Public Radio while simultaneously reaching out to the Grateful Dead listening demographic and their Gold Cards, I'd believe that too.

While listening, at times I found myself announcing to no one “partly sunny skies with winds out of the south west at 5 miles per hour.” Other times I found myself desperately looking for a rose to put between my teeth or a sombrero to wear—the gestures are vague enough that either would work.

As disparate as all the numbers are, they are, as suggested, unified by a gentleness. With that gentleness comes a certain anonymity. John Zorn? Really? Where?

That you can hear the professionalism in the playing and the production makes this recording that much more troubling; is there really nothing else left to do other than put out “professional” sounding stylized jazz-ish instrumentals?

An entirely unremarkable project.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peter Evans Quintet - Ghosts (More Is More, 2011) *****

By Joe Higham

The quintet : Evans (trumpet), Carlos Homs (piano), Tom Blancarte (bass), Jim Black (drums), Sam Pluta doing live processing. What they do with the music is like going on a roller-coaster as you're tossed up in the air, whizzed around corners, spinning down and around. The quintet mixes bop and electronics in a compelling way, reminding me of the direction John Zorn took with his zapping music. 'One to Ninety-Two' is a post bop type melody but with subtle use of electronics and a rhythm section that stops and starts, speeds up and slows down, it's almost like a be-bop Captain Beefheart ... and that's just the first track. '323' (Tk 2) hits you right between the eyes, flying off into a free form improvisation that gradually reassembles itself only after visiting several different rhythmical sections, here the music is relentless.

Carlos Homs plays excellent piano keeping a fine balance between post bop and the avante-garde by mixing modern styles in a way that Matthew Shipp or Craig Taborn do. Jim Black is also in great form, maybe his most interesting drumming since the Tiny Bell Trio. Sam Pluta takes the music, in particular Evans trumpet, and sends it back to us the listener in many guises. In fact sometimes it takes you a second to realise what you're actually hearing. Blancarte holds the whole thing together, probably more than we actually notice.

There are a few stopping places on the journey though, Ghost (Tk 3) being the first - based on the standard 'I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You'. Here the music is calm and spacious with Evans trumpet spiralling away in all directions even though he stays close to the melody (never played). The music is often daring and always interesting. And 'that' is probably the winning point of the album, the music always stays melodic even in the wildest moments whilst remaining remarkably accessible. 'Articulation' (Tk 6) is like a conclusion at 14 mins, the sum of all the music heard, forever changing. This for me is where Wynton Marsalis could of gone with his classic 4tet, but never did.

You could write much more about this CD as the music manages to subtly integrate many styles and which has endless details to discover also. An excellent album with no weak moments and I suspect one that will be high on 'best of' lists at the end of the year. 'Stardust' (the final track) is a nice way to leave the listener, don't you find?

Buy from Instantjazz.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Colorlist - The Fastest Way To Become The Ocean (2011) ***

By Joe Higham

"*** LIMITED EDITION 10" VINYL *** The Chicago based Colorlist is comprised of crossover jazz duo Charles Rumback and Charles Gorczynski. Both multi-instrumentalists, Rumback mans percussion, bells and melodica, while Gorczynski plays saxophone, numerous woodwind instruments, synthesizers and harmonium."

This is the start of the press release for the latest from Colorlist, however I will mention immediately that there's also mp3 and Flac versions.

If you look at the mixture of instruments above you'll notice that these two guys play most things and the rich colours that come out of overdubbing these various instruments can at times give the impression of a mellotron at work. But with the inclusion of the drums the direction of the music can change like the weather in unpredictable ways.

The music is a sort of post rock minimalism, using overdubbing with cycling riffs and gentle drum beats, a kind of 'Jade Warrior' meet 'Tortoise' one could say. The opening piece is almost bleak in it's use of looping synths, harmoniums, flutes and a saxophone that calls out like a sound heard from somewhere in the forest. On the second track with Jeff Parker guesting on guitar, the music loops as if taken from a Steve Reich composition, the drums continually driving the piece forward but never dominating the music. 'Coming into Sight' (Tk 3) starts with harmonium in full swing and one wouldn't be surprised to find oneself in a chapel somewhere in the Outer Hebrides, but little by little drums roll in to accompany the saxophones call as if out on the waves somewhere unseen - hence the title I imagine? The last track (#4) finds Liz Payne adding vocals to a piece which relies on a mixture of looped saxes, harmonium, clarinets(?), drums and voice. The music fades away almost as gently as it all starts making a kind of bookend to the mini album.

It's difficult to sum up this short album. I listened to it many time due to it's length and found it interesting but slightly underdeveloped. I wondered what the music would/could sound like if more real time musicians were added (a la 'Fond of Tigers'), giving Rumback and Gorczynski more chance to develop these compositions. However, the music holds together nicely and the album kind of passes by fleetingly as if in a dream (26 mins 34 seconds).


Monday, May 2, 2011

Contemporary Noise Sextet - Ghostwriter's Joke (Electric Eye, 2011) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Hailing from Poland, the Contemporary Noise Sextet is redefining the definition of the word 'noise' for me. To them, it seems 'noise' means well constructed and full sounding. "Ghostwriters Joke" is a seriously good piece of work that while not exactly free jazz, or even straight ahead jazz, is a collection of arrangements that sometimes border on the tongue in cheek, but never treats music as a joke.

Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed at first. I thought that "Walk with Marilyn" was a neat wash of music, a cinematic composition with a certain sad grandeur. Electronic tones mixed in with the dominating suspended piano tones while the horns played a vaguely familiar melody in unison. It passed. Next up, "Morning Ballet" kicked off with a catchy rhythmic figure and the uptempo horn arrangement contrasted expertly with the first tune's dreaminess. The sax solo took the song to a new height, only to be followed by a splintered guitar solo that danced gingerly over a restrained rhythm and was finally teased to climax by the horn section.

It was "Is That Revolution Sad?", though, that sealed the deal for me. For a moment I thought my iPod had skipped over to a previously unheard Marc Ribot track. After a brief intro by the trumpet, the guitar took center stage and spun a rich melody with a distinct 'old-world' noir feel to it, all underscored by a powerful horn section. For me, it neatly interpolated the Cubanos Postizos and Ribot's recent work with Lucian DuBois.

"Norman's Mother" is the closest that this group comes to noise. Some free playing and adventurous percussion kicks in about two thirds of the way through the tune, tastefully building to a grand crescendo. The album closes with "Kill the Seagull, Now!", a stand out modal romp, where the piano and drums lock from the count off into a repetitive foundation for some soaring arranged passages interspersed between solos.

The musicianship within is excellent, the arrangements breath and the soloing is well crafted. This is cool music that is perfectly irreverent and precisely executed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Matana Roberts - Live In London (Central Control, 2011) ****

By Stef

Finally another album by Matana Roberts. The Chicago altoist is kind of underrecorded, and I assume not always too happy with the exposure she gets.

This live performance, recorded at the The Vortex in  London in 2009, is among her best album with "Shed Grace" by Sticks & Stones, her trio with Chad Taylor and Josh Abrams, and her "Chicago Project" of two years ago. "The Calling" brought good music, but bad sound quality.

For the occasion, she teams up with three British musicians : Robert Mitchell on piano, Tom Mason on bass and Chris Vatalaro on drums. The band did not get much time to rehearse, and relying on compositions proved to be an excellent basis for further improvisation. And even if Roberts has the main voice on the album, the band does a great job in supporting her warm and energetic playing.

Interestingly enough, when listening to the lengthy opener "Sistr", the expansive post-boppish nature is quite reminiscent of John Coltrane, but then the press release describes it as post-rock as compared to the more "Coltrane-ish" influence on "Turn It Around", which is possibly true in one of his former manifestations. Apart from this, the band also takes on Ellington's "Oska T", circling around the main theme, and at the end a little bit lost on how to move on, hence the fade-out.

She is at her best in the more free form "Glass" on which a soft unaccompanied alto solo develops into an intense duet with the drums, then a duet with the bass - fragile and free - until somewhere halfway the theme emerges in nice full-band unison, pushing the piece into more mid-tempo territories while maintaining the initial sensitivity, equally in one of the few solos that Robert Mitchell plays on piano.

It is not a very adventurous album, but the playing is good and the overall quality excellent.

Watch a clip from the performance at The Vortex

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef