Click here to [close]

Friday, July 29, 2011

Harris Eisenstadt - September Trio (Clean Feed, 2011) ****

By Stef

To review music in July by a band called September Trio may sound a bit premature, yet nature already seems to be in that season now, with cold winds, dark clouds, heavy rains and mushrooms sprouting everywhere, birds hesitating to migrate and thick spiders looking for safer places indoors.

So allow me not to wait till September to review it, if only because it's a strong album that does not accept a late review.

The trio is Harris Eisenstadt on drums, Ellery Eskelin on sax and Angelica Sanchez on piano. As I mentioned several times before, Eisenstadt is a great artist, re-inventing himself with each album, not shying away from complexity, but actually looking it up, rhythmically, harmonically, and to his credit, always with the objective to create a great listening experience. The music on this album is not comparable to his modern "Canada Day" band, neither with his superb genre-bending "Woodblock Prints" or with his African rhythm fest "Guewel".

No, September Trio brings you into an incredibly sad, almost moaning atmosphere, slow to mid-tempo, with Eskelin's tremendous tenor offering the lead voice, with tremor in his voice, deep sorrow welling up from deep inside him. His warm sound is recognizable from far and possibly one of the most beautiful around.

Eisenstadt's compositions are rooted in blues and traditional jazz, but of a sophisticated structural refinement and complexity that is highly modern, with interweaving melodies and rhythms, subtly handled by the piano, which offers the music's backbone, depth and contrast to the tenor's phrases. Eisenstadt himself is an excellent drummer, adding polyrhythmic effects and subtle accents, driving the music forward in its elegant dynamics.

Although the album could be the right atmospheric musical backdrop for a lazy and rainy September evening, it will equally please the attentive listener, with its beautiful playing and creative angle and interesting themes and subtle sensitivity.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bill Dixon - Envoi (Victo, 2011) *****

Bill Dixon - Intents & Purposes (International Phonograph, 1967, 2011 re-issue) *****

By Stef

1967 was not only a fabulous year for rock music to mature out of rock 'n' roll*, it was also the year in which trumpeter Bill Dixon released his first masterpiece : "Intents & Purposes", an ambitious piece of music with jazz instrumentation and improvisation, but with compositions closer to modern classical music, and with harmonies and musical development all Dixon's own. The musical vision was quite unique : slow, dark, foreboding, compelling, with sudden outbursts of the solo instruments, especially then Dixon's trumpet.

Already then, Dixon's preference for low-sounding instruments was clear, with bass trombone, English horn, bass clarinet, cello and double bass. The band has musicians like Reggie Workman, Byard Lancaster, Jimmy Garrison, Robin Kenyatta.

In the years leading up to 1967, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Miles Davis had already started to bring artistic maturity to jazz, like some of history's rock icons did in 1967, extracting the genre from the entertainment context from which it developed, but Dixon's "Intents & Purposes" marks a major milestone, creating a bifurcation in the paths of jazz that has not had many followers. True, many ambitious orchestral jazz compositions were created over the decades, but none had the exceptional power or vision of Dixon's music. Neither did they have the quality and authenticity. We had to wait for fourty years until Dixon himself and the courage of some record labels like AUM Fidelity and Firehouse 12 brought us the logical sequels. And now Victo.

"Intents & Purposes" has been re-issued and is of course superhighly recommended. And without a doubt the most worthwhile re-issue of the year. But that is not all ....

Buy from Instantjazz.

Bill Dixon - Envoi (Victo, 2011) *****

It is really hard to believe, but after Dixon's masterpiece, no albums of his were released until the early 80s, and then primarily, yet also highly recommendable, small ensemble pieces : from duets to quartets, most of them equally easy to recommend. 

We find him back with a large ensemble in 2008, with "Darfur : 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound", a musical statement for the people of Sudan, devastating and powerful. 

In June of last year, Bill Dixon passed away at the age of 84, and his band performed a month before at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Canada, a last performance. We find this performance on "Envoi', yet again a magnificent record.

A composition and performance that is so majestic that we can only deplore the fact that Dixon is no longer with us, and that he did not get the chance to record as much for larger bands. The musicians are the same as on "Tapestries For Small Orchestra", released in 2009, and also highly recommended : Bill Dixon on trumpet, Graham Haynes, Rob Mazurek, Stephen Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Glynis Loman on cello, Michel Côtè on contrabass clarinet, Ken Filiano on double bass, and Warren Smith on vibes and percussion.

The album is again of the same high level, continuing the musical vision that started in 1967, again drawing a dark and ominous landscape, in which the harmonies evolve around stillness and calm whether as an expression of resignation of a calamitic scale or fear that it might still come, you will never know**. The end result is absolutely magnificent, with musicians who understand the music fully, demonstrate incredible control and coherence in bringing Dixon's vision to life.

Occasionally, single or multiple voices erupt, in wild exclamations, or rarely, solo, in soft lyrical phrases of hope. At other times, the dark cello tones, the percussive mayhem evoke catastrophic and dramatic images, but never for long, as the slow silence and harmonised horns continue their contrapuntal lament, gradually expanding, glorious sometimes, of an extreme beauty and refinement.

What Dixon achieved is beyond current recognition. These are works that can stand the comparison with Bach and Beethoven, yet with the expressive power and emotional weight of jazz.

After two long tracks, the album ends with some words by Bill Dixon to thank the audience : "It is not so easy trying to attempt doing what you wanted to do ... in front of people who know what they would like for you to do ...  so ... one does one's best, always .... and one hopes for the best ... always. I thank you".

We, listeners, can only be glad, that we got to know his music so much better in the past few years with these fantastic recordings.

* An incredible list of genre-shaping rock albums appeared in 1967 : Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Are You Experienced and Axis Bold As Love, Velvet Underground & Nico, Strange Days, Disraeli Gears.

** Again, my lack of English vocabulary limits the accurate description. In Dutch I would use words like : "meeslepend", "opzwepend", "onderhuidse spanning", "indringend", words for which I can't find the translations.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Kris Wanders Outfit - In Remembrance of the Human Race (Not Two, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The four musicians in the Kris Wanders Outfit connect at a level deep below the surface. Their primal collusion results in some dark and earthy improvised music that bares the soul while kicking up some serious dust.

Wanders, a tenor saxophonist from the European free jazz scene in the late 1960's has made Australia his base since the late 70s and I swear I hear echoes of the didgeridoo in his playing from time to time. Joining Wanders is Mark Sanders on drums, Johannes Bauer on trombone and Peter Jacquemyn on bass.

With a big, sometimes droning, oft times rough hewn sound, Wanders evokes the open expanses of outback and the crushed excitement of the city. He uses his sax to create myriad sounds, that go beyond the typical sounds of the saxophone to include ones that mimic angry speech, intense wailing, quiet rumination, among others.

The 32 minute 'In Remembrance of the Human Race' begins with Wanders playing a plaintive repetative figure tinged with a slight abrasiveness, while Bauer's trombone shadows. Adding texture to the proceedings is Jacquermyn's bowed bass as the song slowly picks up intensity and density. Perhaps we are hearing a eulogy to humanities, a recount of its rise and prediction of its fall, a nod to our evolution, up to and through the creation of our doom. The excitement is palpable. Crescendos of overlapping exclamations build as solo voices rise above. The communication between the players is telekinetic and inspiring.

The unfettered improvisation and tunefulness extends through the other cuts as well. A skittish start to the tune "Uwaga" morphs into almost a rock rhythm midway and then into simultaneous solos between the horns. Sanders and Jacquemyn are supportive and driving throughout.

Adding to this raw and natural mix is the album's cover. A crude and effective line drawing of a skull being carefully tended to by hands is evocative of the sounds and emotions found within. This album, with its dark hues and heaving pulse of life is a thoroughly enjoyable (and demanding) recording.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© Paul Acquaro

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to listen to music ...

Here is the good news : there are no rules for listening to music.

Here is how I do it. And I may be the most irrational of music reviewers.

Play the music first several times without listening to it. I mean without actively listening to it. Absorb it unconsciously, concentrate on other things, think of other things, do other things. The music will seep into you.

Don't treat music like an artifact. Treat it like nature. Something that is just there. Surrounding you. Don't even think about how it is made, how it came to be, how it evolved. Don't look at its parts or elements or structures. That's interesting stuff for biologists and geologists and physicists and possibly chemists too. Don't objectivise art. Let it overwhelm you. Let it surround you. Let it blow you away. Let it drench you.

Equally like nature, don't even think too much about who made the music. You will be deceived for sure, and it closes your mind to other options.  It's about the music, not about the musicians, and certainly not about their reputation - before or after.

If the music is any good, it will grab your attention. If it is really bad too. If it is neither good nor bad, you will not notice it. Like you will not notice nature most of the time. It will leave you indifferent. If it is really bad, like an icey hailstorm or an erupting volcano, you will run away. If it is really good, either spectacular like high mountains cascades, or sweet like a spring breeze, you will want to be exposed to it again, and again.

That's when you can start listening to it for real. Now you listen to it attentively, but again without too much rationalising. Any conscious effort to listen will detract you from the totality of it. Concentrate on the music as a whole. Let it resonate within you. Stop thinking about how the musicians do what they do. Don't start to even think what key they're playing in, or which rhythm. Be the music. Switch off your thinking brain. Put on your experiencing self. Undergo the experience. Let your self be carried away on the journey the artists prepared. Be part of it.

Never think the following : who made this music? what is coming next? how did they do that? should I like this? is this my genre? does it relate to anything I know? never think : what will others think of me?

Never think. Be all emotion.

Be the music.

© stef

Monday, July 25, 2011

Starlicker - Double Demon (Delmark, 2011) ****

By Stef

I just took off cornettist Rob Mazurek's "Calma Gente" from the "Album Of The Month" messages on the left, and here we find him back with Jason Adasiewicz on vibes and John Herndon on drums. The approach is totally different again, and it must be said that Mazurek's creativity knows no bounds.

The trio started with composed material, with clear - and often memorable - themes, that lays a kind of overarching roof over the music, rather than a foundation, under which they improvise. And the latter are not of the lengthy expressive kinds, but a kind of common sound that the three musicians try to build together. Mazurek's cornet is the real theme-bearer, with Herndon adding incredible power, energy and more rock-influenced beats, with Adasiewicz being responsible for the more subtle - or subdued is maybe a better word and jazzy references.

The end result is exceptional, in that the trio creates a very dense sound, something that you would expect from a bigger band, rather than from just three acoustic instruments. A dense, warm sound. Weird in structure as you can expect, with repetitive patterns and sometimes totally unexpected rhythm and tempo changes that the trio take seamlessly.

And although it is a strong album, Mazurek has composed better themes and produced more gripping music, with the Exploding Star Orchestra still being the easiest to recommend.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, July 24, 2011

David S. Ware - Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity, 2011) ****½

By Stef

This is a great summer for music, with some excellent albums just released - and more reviews to come ...

Let's start with the great David S. Ware and his new quartet, a great quartet, with William Parker playing the bass as on all other David S. Ware albums, with Cooper-More on piano instead of Matthew Shipp, and with Muhammad Ali on drums (the latest in a long list, with Susie Ibarra, Guillermo E. Brown, Warren Smith, Whit Dickey, Hamid Drake, ... and quite a phenomenal list at that).

It is no doubt the best David S. Ware album in years, sounding like a kind of home-coming, a very warm and coherent album, with a spiritual and mystic touch, yet also very abstract in nature, fully improvised and with no discernable themes. Ware is magnificent, but Cooper-More's participation is possibly the most characteristic feature of the overall sound, rawer than Shipp, more pounding, angular and rhythmic, in his own typical style, yet strongly influenced by Cecil Taylor, more focused on dynamics and sound than on harmonies.

Muhammad Ali, brother of the late Rashied Ali, plays a duet on this album, "Duality Is One", that takes the Coltrane/Ali Interstellar Space reference into a new generation. Muhammad Ali is excellent, also on the other pieces.

You could say this is a quartet album, rather than a David S. Ware album, because he gives more space to his band members, but that was already apparent in his other recent albums, with Parker and Cooper-Moore getting ample room to perform solo or duo.

The quartet takes you along on a fantastic journey, full of intensity, ferocious expansiveness to more meditative and spiritual moments and back, with Ware's phenomenal playing alone making this album worth the purchase. The way he can create something strong on the spot is remarkable, setting a whole scene and atmosphere with a few notes, being expressive and lyrical while at the same time keeping overall cohesion of the band, giving each improvisation its unique and recognisable characteristics. This is not given to many, and with an end result that is both beautiful and deeply resonating, it makes it even better.

Free jazz at its best.

Download from iTunes.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tarfala - Syzygy (No Business, 2011) ****½

By Stef

After two albums on Maya, the super trio of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and alto fluteophone, Barry Guy on bass and Raymond Strid on drums, took on the name of the second album, "Tarfala", and is touring Europe this summer. I unfortunately missed them when they came to Belgium in May, but the good thing is that we now get this fantastic double vinyl LP with 7" EP and booklet, equally recorded in Belgium, two years ago, as a comforting substitution.

Although it must be said that comfort is the last thing that crosses your mind and body, when listening to this fabulous trio.

The trio creates a world of urgent little sounds, full of eager anticipation, surprise and fast response. There is hardly any volume, no screaming, no violence, just the dynamics of a mountain river, light, fast and crystal clear, moving forward without choice. How the currents will flow is unpredictable and chaotic, yet coherent and focused. At times the speed picks up, or slows down, .... but that's where the metaphor meets its limits.

Next to the dynamics, there are the emotions, no doubt the most hard to describe, and the most difficult aspect of the playing, and no doubt this trio's strongest asset. Nobody in the world can scream like Gustafsson, in long heartrending wails, bringing the long built-up tension to a level or relief, or release, or increasing agony, depending on how you listen. Guy's playing is as usual, oscillating between extreme precision and maverick madness, with Strid demonstrating the art of modern percussion, and critical to the overall sound, with little accents and colorings, yet equally driving the music forward when needed. And the three of them together ... well that's some kind of magic, moving you through a wide variety of sonic landscapes.

In sum, a music of contrasts : raw and vulnerable, sensitive and harsh, coherent and adventurous, energetic and contained, yet full of incredible passion.

Highly recommended!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Giacinto Scelsi - Vincent Royer, Séverine Ballon – The Viola Works (Mode, 2011) ****½

By Stef

For those who think that improvisation, extended techniques and tonal explorations belong to the realm of avant-garde jazz, I can recommend a close listen to this fantastic album of modern classical music, composed by Giacinto Scelsi and performed by Vincent Royer on viola and Séverine Ballon on cello. I review classical music rarely, and when I do, I seem to have a preference for string duos, as with the equally recommendable "Manto and Madrigals" by Zehetmair and Killius.

This album is quite unique in the sense that it is the first recording of the complete works for viola and cello. It consists of five pieces, ranging from the experimental "Manto", in which Royer even sings, to the more restrained and austere "Coelanth". "Elegia per Ty", dedicated to his former wife, is the most gripping piece, with cello and viola playing in a tender embrace, full of sadness and controlled tension.

There are no themes so to speak of, just soundscapes, composed with an incredible sense of minute development and sense for effect, and performed with an uncanny precision. The end result is incredibly mesmerising and compelling.

Fantastic music. Listen to the excerpt below and judge for yourselves.

© stef

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joe Morris & Agustí Fernández - Ambrosia (Riti Records, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

This guitar and piano duo album from Joe Morris and Agustí Fernández is an outing by like minded improvisors, happily extending the definition of melody and the physical limitations of their respective instruments. Between rich acoustic tones they scratch and pluck in unintended places, creating rhythm and melody in adventurous ways.

The series of improvisations begin with "Ambrosia 1", which finds Fernández delivering fleeting phrases on the keys while Morris, reacting, provides counter argument via his fretboard. The two build in intensity, playing melodies and rhythms that interact but are each quite complete on their own. At times one may drop out, leaving the lone voice to pursue its own path, but soon they reunite to further explore the boundaries of the song.

As "Ambrosia 2" demonstrates, the first song was a showcase of possibilities, not a template. This time around, Fernández is fully exploiting the inside of the piano, developing a hypnotic percussive motif while Morris plucks, scratches, and mutes his lightening quick runs to create an alternately percussive accompaniment. "Ambrosia 3" exploits the full range of the keyboard, Fernández laying out deep rhythmic figures while Morris parries with precise flights across the freeboard.

"Ambrosia 4" is essentially the sound one may hear in their soul as they descend towards hell. Working on the guts of the piano Fernández creates dark passages that sloughs the skin and lets Morris pick the bones. There are moments when one may feel they just may make it out alive, a softening, a lighter spot perhaps, but soon the terror begins again ... and this on acoustic instruments! It's quite a fantastic ride. The last two improvs do not disappoint either, both employing their own interesting devices.

Mixing conventional and extended techniques, melodies and harmonies, this duo creates a shifting landscape of sound. From swirling clouds that are dark and grainy, to ones that are fragmentary and fleeting, these improvisors uses all of their respective instruments to elicit texture and song.

© Paul Acquaro 


Monday, July 18, 2011

Joëlle Léandre - Solo (Kadima, 2011) *****

By Stef

Good news for those non-French-speaking music lovers who can now get access to the translation of "A Voix Basse", the biography of Joëlle Léandre, written by Franck Médioni, and translated by Jeffrey Grice. I will not review the book again. It is worth reading. There aren't that many books about modern music, let alone books that are so honest and frank.

What I will talk about are the CD and DVD with solo performances that accompany the book in a nice package published by the Kadima Collective of this other bass player, JC Jones. The CD offers a little over thirty-eight minutes of a performance given at Piednu, France in 2008. The DVD was performed in September 2009 at the Guelph festival in Canada, and clocks a little over thirty-three minutes.

I can recommend the whole package, easily, wholeheartedly.

I cannot describe the music.

I can describe the artist, although I know her only from her music ... and a quick hello after a concert. A true, real artist. Stubborn. Visionary. Uncompromising. Intense. Tender and poetic at moments, raw and angry with the world at other times. She is unconcerned by style, and definitely stays far away from stylistic and formal mannerisms that are needed to placcate the reviewers and the hip audiences. She integrates music as music, and delivers it as music, using elements from tribal rituals over classical finesse to jazz expressionism and avant-garde search for new approaches, yet turning it all into something else, something more authentic, more innovative and - interestingly enough - also more universal. 

She cares about the interaction with other musicians who have a story to tell, whom she can learn from, who can lift her up to a different level, on new journeys, open to musical adventures, but who also likes sharing, in warmth, in inventiveness, in sounds, ....

Yet solo is quite a different experience. And it is surely not her first use of the concept, with albums such as  "No Comment", "Sincerely", "Solo Bass, Live At Otis, Hiroshima", "Concerto Grosso", "Taxi", "Contrebasse Et Voix" preceding this one. And both the CD and the DVD are a delight : balanced, varying between piercing bowed intensity, angry grunts and growls ... and softer plucked pieces sometimes with soft chanting ... but all played with incredible passion for the music, for the beauty of sound, for the surprises that come out of the instrument, that are made to come out of the instrument.

I can describe the music. It is Real. Art. Visionary. Uncompromising. Intense. Tender and poetic. Raw and angry.

Captivating from beginning to end.

Don't miss it. 

Buy from Instantjazz.

Here is the promo video :

© stef

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aram Bajakian's Kef (Tzadik, 2011) ****½

 By Paul Acquaro

Picked by John Zorn for his new Spotlight series on Tzadic records, one suspects something interesting must be is going on with Aram Bajakian's trio. One spin of the Brooklyn based guitarists debut recording and these suspicions are confirmed. The songs on this album seductively, destructively and quite entertainingly blend passion, reverence and a little self-immolation. In the words of Zorn himself, "the music here rocks hard with exciting rhythms, searing guitar work and beautiful world music melodies, beautifully performed by a brilliant group of young lions."

Bajakian's choice instrumentation is slightly eclectic for a jazz group -- himself on acoustic and electric guitar, Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on acoustic bass, electric bass, oud, and gimbri -- but perfectly suited for the take on Armenian folk music that inspires and shapes both the music and the name of the group. Dialing up the snarl and twang, Bajakian's guitar brings some rock and good old NYC punk to the Middle Eastern themes. I hear echoes of Television and Ribot throughout, giving this recording a biting and satisfying edge.

Opening with 'Pear Tree', Bajakian spins a sensitive solo acoustic guitar piece that belies a classical grace and a hint of more exotic seasonings. Things really pick up on the next song, the ethnic rhythms support some sharp attacks as the driving theme gives way to some vicious improvisation between guitar and the violin. Proving mastery of the 'downtown' guitar solo implosion, Bajakian lets loose.

'Laz Bar' returns us back to stabler ground, the theme is folkier and gentler, but still insistent. However, along with then abandon, there are moments of restraint and beauty. The last three tunes, starting with 'Shish', seem almost like a suite. Fragile melodies intertwine with deliberate accompaniment, I even hear a hint of the Beatles in the brief '48 Days'. 'The Rota' is an lovely coda to the recording.

This is a very much a song driven affair. The improvisations are contained within the clever compositions, and the compositions are made of choice cuts of folk, jazz, and rock. To some degree I feel some kinship with the Cubano Postizos and Brad Shepik, Matt Kilmer and Peter Epstein's Lingua Franca, not so much in the actual tunes, but in the sensibilities and that certain sense of abandon and 'downtown' aesthetic. An album worth seeking out, and a musical vision with something going on.

© Paul Acquaro

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carlo Costa's Minerva - Saturnismo (Between The Lines, 2011) ****

By Stef

Piano trios led by drummers are rare, yet here is another great one, led by Carlo Costa on drums, JP Schlegelmilch on piano and glockenspiel, and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass.

The trio manages to create a wonderful synthesis of styles, grounded in jazz, but leaning towards modern classical with lots of improvisation. The approach is not unlike Tørn's "Crespect", with slow and precise evolution of the music, pacing the music with incredible control, creating a welcoming and mysterious environment, full of lyricism and subtle nuance.

As you can expect from a drummer in the lead, the music is full of rhythmic surprises and refinement, as on the aptly titled boppish "Let's Go, I Don't Know", but that's as jazzy and familiar as it gets.

At the other end of the spectrum is the long "Nocturnal Patterns", a minimalist piece built around silence and full of tension, and contradictions oscillating between sweet and abrasive, including a shockingly surprising bowed note by Niggenkemper.

To Costa's credit, and also the band's, is the great interplay and the coherent musical vision, with the drummer often pushing himself away from the attention, emphasising and coloring and shading in the way of Paul Motian, but so are the piano and the bass, this is not about fast runs on the keys or uptempo pyrotechnics, but about mature music, woven lightly but solidy out of thin sounds.

Really strong.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tørn - Crespect (2nd Floor, 2011) ****

By Stef

This German piano trio is bookended by two compositions by one of the great ladies of modern jazz, Carla Bley, starting with "Batterie" from the 1964 Paul Bley album Barrage. And this is not surprising, since "batterie" is the French word for drums, and this trio is led by drummer Joe Hertenstein, with Achim Tang on bass and Philip Zoubek on piano.

Surprisingly enough, the Bley compositions are the ones with the most recognisable theme, and sound also as the most accessible. Gradually, and especially with "Flaps", we enter into a different world, one that is more unreal, or is it surreal, with still very jazzy sounds, but eery, sweet, but alienating.

The piano is without a doubt the lead instrument, but the strong cohesiveness, and the incredibly precise playing by Hertenstein and Tang give the pieces a common sound. Listen to the beautiful "Prag", with its uncanny slow and hesitating development, with bass and drums coloring the sparse touches on the keyboard, full of melancholy and distress at the same time. At the center of the album, we find two short pieces : "HK3" and "The Grips", bringing only extended techniques, then moving back seamlessly into Zoubek's "Subminus", a kind of mirror-image of "Prag", equally slow and exceptionally beautiful.

The "pièce de résistance" of the album is Hertenstein's "Crespect", on which the musicians' strong sense of pace and control is at its best, shifting through a kaleidoscope of subtle rhythm and stylistic changes.

I will not review each piece, but you get the gist : this is very refined and carefully crafted music, taking the traditional jazz trio a step further, developing a great and coherent musical unity in the process, accessible and quite eery an mysterious at the same time.


© stef

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cosmic Leaders

Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp - Cosmic Lieder (AUM Fidelity, 2011) ****

ROVA Saxophone Quartet - Planetary (SoLyd Records, 2010) ****

By Stanley Zappa

The play on words was unavoidable as both recordings touch on the galactic and vibrate with a dignity that “we” have come to expect only from the “masters” as recorded on the Deutche Grammaphon label. Both the Rova Saxophone Quartet's Planetary and Darius Jones and Matt Shipp's Cosmic Lieder are examples of the ever dimming line between formal European concert music and improvised music--indeed, here is an example when the term Free Jazz doesn't adequately describe the music.

The Rova saxophone quartet was founded in 1977. To give you some perspective, consider the Kronos Quartet was formed in 1973. Though both quartets have been together for roughly the same amount of time and both quartets are dedicated to the new, the Kronos Quartet boasts performances with artists as diverse as Pat Metheny, The Dave Mathews Band and Texas yodeler Don Walser. The Rova Saxophone Quartet's
aesthetic trajectory is more focused and austere. Depth as opposed to scatter load.

The product of several concurrent decades of development and devotion, the combined musicality on Planetary, is something to be cherished. Those parts that are clearly being read, like Parallel Construction #2 are read flawlessly. Those for whom the sound of written order is important, this is an important album. The thoughtfully written parts are many. Those parts that are clearly improvised, as on the title track are a fulfilment of improvised music's promises. Then there are those parts where you can't tell if it's improvised or not. Those sublime moments marble Planetary, vastly outnumbering instances of occasionally overbearing compositionality.

The Rova Quartet could musically fit in a larger program of “Serious European Concert Music” just as easily as they could a “free jazz” festival. Could the same be said of Kronos?

Cosmic Lieder immediately brought to mind my favourite recording of Schuberts Die Winteriesse. Victor Braun is the Baritone and Antonin Kubalek is the pianist. (It's on the Dorian label and it's a five star performance in case you were wondering.) Though they are performing repertoire, they—they two of them
combined—have a sound that is different than the sum of its parts. I think of that “sum” as a point on a graph, rather than on an axis. Fischer-Dieskau performed the same piece with Klaus Billing but created a different sound. Their two parts came up with a different “sum” than did the combination of Braun and Kubalek. It is important to remember that when we listen to music, we are listening to lives lived.

The sum of Jones and Shipp is no less glorious, sounding like a long standing musical relationship. Ironically, it isn't anywhere near as longstanding as Shipp's relationship with David S. Ware (for one)--and yet Shipp and Jones together function flawlessly.

Despite reminiscence of Schubert, Shipp's and Jones' harmonic sensibilities are clearly of this era—Motherboxxx makes that clear. It is Cosmic Leader's proportions, pacing and musical sentiment that are timeless and unanimous among the works we love in all music.

Shipp's playing favors harmonically luxury over virtuosity. Musical phrases are candid and direct without an ounce of noodling. For large segments, Shipps playing is so uncluttered it sounds “composed.” As with Rova, the progressive consumer of formal European concert musicwould have to try hard not to admire and enjoy Shipp's playing on Cosmic Lieder.

Darius Jones has me most captivated when he steps outside of the tempered scale reality a la Giuseppi Logan and Joe Maneri. Those moments are sparce as with Shipp, much of what Jones plays could have been written. I'm thinking of Ultima Thule. There are of course also those moments where Jones playing defies notation—Multiverse for example—and those are the moments why we read and write for this blog. Jones covers all bases more than adequately.

If recorded music can point to anything other than itself, it could be that Planetary and Cosmic Lieder point to a re-imagining of the third stream—the ultimate fusion, that of improvisations vitality and formal European concert music's capital. Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends...

Rova Saxophone Quartet : Bruce Ackley-soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, Steve Adams-alto saxophone, Larry Ochs-tenor saxophone, Jon Raskin-bairtone and alto saxophone

Darius Jones & Matthew Shipp : Darius Jones - alto saxophone, Matthew Shipp - piano

Buy from Instantjazz.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Daniel Levin - Inner Landscape (Clean Feed, 2011) ****

By Stef

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading the book "The Cello Suites" by Eric Siblin, a rock journalist who shares his pursuit of the essence of Bach's cello suites in a quite readable and informative book. He gives the background of Bach's life and the context in which the cello suites were composed, as well as their discovery by cellist Pablo Casals and the latter's life with the background of Europe's history of the 20th Century. A highly recommendable book about music that still hits the iTunes charts regularly, and Yo-Yo Ma's performance is on the number ten spot of all-time iTunes classical album downloads.

What Daniel Levin brings, is anything not Bach, far from it, improvising six pieces without any preconceived plan, like a "monologue intérieur", expanding on the ideas that pop us in his head, the surprises that come from the strings, the bow and his fingers. The biggest challenge for any musician in a situation like this, is to fall back on patterns or on automatisms in the fingers. Luckily Levin is too good an improviser to fall into that trap. His concentration and ongoing effort to go beyond this is remarkable, using all his skills and creativity to bring something new and fresh with every "landscape" as all pieces are called.

What he does have in common with Bach, is a great sense of austerity, quite cerebral at times, with no room for cheapness, loss of concentration or sentimentalism. This is music that requires several listens to really get into, because there are no patterns at all : you can have the traditional and familiar aesthetics of the bowed strings, yet the next moment Levin takes you into novel and uncharted territories, with high intervallic jumps, double stops, pizzi, glissandi of identical notes on two strings, from light touch to brutal noise, but he does it in such a subtle and sensitive way, that you feel welcome to join. This is mature and open-hearted music. A really strong album.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Click on the "Solo Cello" tag below to view more solo cello albums.

© stef

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Maikotron Unit - Ex Voto (Jazz from Rant, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

From Quebec, the Maikotron Unit refers to themselves as 'mythic' in some of their press material. Now, the 'mythic' may refer to the elusive maikotron, a reed instrument with a range that dips below that of the bass saxophone, or perhaps it is related to the scope or origin of their mission, which is "dedicated to research in New Music." Regardless, the trio has been together for over 26 years but this year's "Ex-Voto" is their first release on CD (and online).

The combination of reeds, like the maikotron and the bass clarinet give the unit a sonic palette rich with deep hues with which to work. Pierre Côté's bass and Michel Lambert's percussion provide both definitive grooves and more textural undercurrents as Michel Côté bounces around with melodies that embrace free jazz and pays homage to past masters and keeps up with current trailblazers. Snippets of melody may recall post-bop, just as much as Eric Dolphy, and others on the fringes of jazz.

"Ex-Voto" is an album to enjoy the sound of the instruments, luxuriate in the woodwind tones and nod to the rhythms. The 20 short themes that make up the album range from one to five minutes and are like stanzas in a poem, each one able to stand alone but more meaningful when taken together.

Mythical or not, the existence of this album is at least some fleeting proof, like a grainy still of a Sasquatch, that can keep the believers satisfied for a good long time.

© Paul Acquaro

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Solo sax

By Stef

You could say that an entire album with solo sax might be a boring experience, yet it isn't in the hands of musicians with skills and vision - and for that matter, with great physical capabilities too. Three of those were released recently that are really worth mentioning, but their approaches are entirely different.

Simon Rose - Schmetterling (Not Two, 2011) ****½

British saxophonist Simon Rose had already released a solo alto album, yet now he takes on a similar project with the baritone, and with stunning results. From the beginning till the end, this is an extremely captivating performance, entirely improvised, but with a rare emotional power.

If the first track gives a kind introduction into the concept, the second piece starts with a phenomenal cry that will resonate till the end of the album. Rose explores every emotional aspect of the sound he can get out of his instrument, extremely raw, but then delivered in a slow, inevitable way. There is no urgency at all. Just the endless wails of despair, of anger, of sadness, or if you wish even deep resonance with the universe. The depth, the heaviness of the sound, the multiphonics and circular breathing, the vibrations, the bending of tones .... all contribute to giving a kind of natural primeval quality, something that unveils emotion without the add-on complexities of culture, or call it music stripped of all superfluousness, reduced to sheer vulnerable feelings.

Not for the faint of heart, but an incredible listening experience.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Norbert M. Stammberger - Poem IV (GNU Records, 2011) ****

German saxophonist Norbert Stammberger is the exact opposite of Rose, who has a more minimalist approach on his baritone, tuned for the occasion in 1/4 and 1/6 tones, avoiding volume, working on his sound and sophisticated murmurings into a long trancelike repetitive texture. As he says, the sounds come from nowhere, and go nowhere, they just are. No sudden blasts here, no cries of agony, but cautious and subdued development of intimate, meditative shades of color, yet incredibly intense to listen to.

Music of an unusual fragile beauty. 

Listen and download from eMusic.

Greg Osby - Solos - The Jazz Sessions (Original Spin Music, 2011) ***½

Comparing altoist Greg Osby with the two albums reviewed above is not entirely fair. Osby's music is of a different nature : stylish, broad in scope, technically astonishing, but then in the traditional sense of using the instrument. On this album he improvises on his own compositions, doing a great job at keeping the quality of those intact with his single solo instrument. His approach is lyrical and fully based on the stylistic breadth he has, ranging from St. Louis blues to more complex modern jazz. Without a doubt, Osby's music is the more upbeat and sophisticated of the albums reviewed here, but possibly because of that the less memorable. But, I must admit, that's a very personal appreciation.

Listen to and download Greg Osby on eMusic.

© stef

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Stephan Crump & Steve Lehman - Kaleidoscope and Collage (Intakt, 2011) ****

By Stef

In some previous reviews I questioned the compositional complexity that saxophonist Steve Lehman put into his music, because in my opinion it created a kind of barrier to bring across real emotional rapport with the listener, who may be in awe for the skills and intellectual effort, yet is a little bit too baffled to still be part of it.

Nothing of the sort takes place on this fantastic album, quite to the contrary. Together with bassist Stephan Crump, they create two improvisations : "Terroir", a little over twenty minutes, and "Voyages", sixteen minutes long. The improvisation itself is not entirely free : both musicians agreed on some structure and pieces of interplay that they had developed during previous sessions. The merged these conceptually into one flow, which works sometimes, but not always, in the sense that both improvisations contain some pauses as if a new track starts.

The end result is a real treat, extremely sensitive and captivating, accessible as post-bop and creative as avant-garde music. Crump and Lehman have the same gentle and lyrical approach to their music, with a strong coherence in the development of the sound. Just listen how the light-footed first track turns dark and foreboding, with the bowed bass underpinning some despairing alto phrases.

Precision and finesse are combined with creativity and implicit groove, with instruments that are at times barely touched, resulting in whimpering or humming sounds, yet the lack of power and voice create a sweet kind of emotional intensity.

A strong performance, but very short, too short.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, July 4, 2011

François Carrier, Alexander Lapin, Michel Lambert - Inner Spire (Leo, 2011) ****

By Stef

What a great idea for the Canadians François Carrier on alto and Michel Lambert on drums to perform with one of Russia's leading pianists when visiting Russia in December of last year. I've described François Carrier's playing before on several album reviews as a very lyrical player, who can make his alto sing and resonate in a way that is reminiscent of Coltrane, in more than one way, including the expansive and spiritual nature of his improvisations. Lapin is an unusual piano player, someone with a very distinct voice himself and quite creative in his musical approach. Lambert is a very musical and subtle drummer, rather than a rhythmic drummer, and in that sense the perfect match.

The first track "Inner Spire" immediately delivers on the expectations : soaring sax-playing, with a piano that hesitates between postboppish sensitivity and avant-garde dissonance, creating an improvisation with great tension and beauty. On the second piece, the approach becomes harsher, with iconoclastic sound patterns, hesitating at moments, pounding with self-assurance at others."Tribe" is an incredible improvisation, and one that is astonishing because of its interplay. The rhythmic foundation is odd, if it can be discerned at all, yet the coherence with which the uncommon sound is created and developed, with Lapin and Carrier echoing each other's phrases with great precision, is extremely strong. It unravels in a way into thin threads, keeping its unusual character, picking up power again for the second part.

"Round Trip" starts with a tentative trialogue of bouncing phrases, again slowly merging into one single movement, with Lapin acting as an incredible creator of a musical context, a stylistic framework that he keeps developing, pushing Carrier into possibly to him less comfortable zones, yet he manages extremely well.

The album ends with the more lyrical "Sacred Flow", led by Carrier in duet with the piano to start with, and when the drum comes in halfway, the tempo picks up a notch, though not for long.

Really excellent album. Carrier has so far just released a few albums with pianists, often restricting himself to duo or trio settings, but this collaboration with Lapin points clearly in the direction of further exploration.


Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elton Dean's Ninesense Suite (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011) ****

This is a little bit of a strange album, with two bands performing with a year difference, and each playing one long improvisation of respectively fourty and thirty minutes.

This first track was recorded exactly thirty years ago in Germany, and features a British-German band consisting of Elton Dean on sax and saxello, Alan Skidmore on tenor, Mark Charig and Harry Becket on trumpet, Nick evans and Radu Malfatti on trombone, Keith Tippett on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. It is a great, though not exceptional long group improvisation, that keeps a nice lightness despite the nine musicians, with all of them taking turns for the soloing and shifting between free bop and completely free playing: intense, quite lyrical and full of variation.

The second track was recorded a year later and consists of a trio with Harry Beckett on trumpet, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. Apart from their frequent collaboration with Elton Dean, this music has no relation to the nonet mentioned above. The difference is immediately obvious, with Miller's bowing and Moholo's drumming having a much clearer and crisper sound, not only better recorded but also with the rhythm section contributing more to the music itself. This performance is quite stellar and a magnificent tribute to a trumpeter who made his mark in British and European jazz in the last decades and who sadly passed away last year. He does not sustain his notes, which gives his playing a dry, non-resonating quality, yet his tone is also warm and clear, even playing is quite fast and uptempo. He does this with a kind of natural joy that is contagious, and keeps pushing the South-Africans Miller and Moholo further on, leaving them to a great duet in the middle part of the track, one bursting with energy and lightning speed interaction.

An easy album to recommend for free jazz fans, even if you get two different bands with totally different approaches.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

William Hooker & Thomas Chapin - Crossing Points (No Business, 2011) ****

By Stef

It is May 30, 1992. New York. William Hooker plays drums. Thomas Chapin plays sax. They meet. All hell breaks loose. For seventy-one minutes.

No holds barred. No limits. Just exploring. Just interacting. Just enjoying. Volume. Pulse. Speed. Power. Power. Energy. Anger. Depth. Scope. Lyricism. Sensitivity. Rawness. Rebels. Innovators. Ayler. Coltrane. Rashied Ali. Elvin Jones. Billy Higgins. Spirituality. Authenticity. Honesty. Integrity. Reality. Humanity. Energy. Freedom. Optimism. The creative force.


Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef