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Friday, September 30, 2011

Solo bass ....

By Stef

Solo bass, I love it. By definition almost. I love the sound of the wood, the raw physicality, the deep resonance, the velvety plucking sounds, the screeching overtone bowed phrases, the power, the predisposition for subtlety and nuance, if played well, its potential for tonal range, the variation between pizzi and arco, the living room proximity of the sound. And in the hand of majestic improvisers, the joy is doubled.

Nina de Heney - III (Found You Recordings, 2011) ****½

Nina de Heney, Swedish bassist and one-time student of Miroslav Vitous, is releasing her third solo bass album, and it is of staggering power and variation, ranging from the highly rhythmic repetitiveness of "Cerebella Mill" over the bowed and percussive explorations on "Eardrum Peak" to the gutwrenching howls of "Rev Dong Lick" or the hypnotic multiphonics on "Karma Deer Up". 

Even if she is uncompromosing in her approach, it is the real stuff, authentic and enveloping ... impossible to remain unmoved by the sheer musical power of her art.


William Parker - Solo Bass/Crumbling In The Shadows Is Fraulein Miller's Stale Cake (AUM Fidelity, 2011) ****½

There is no doubt that all readers of this blog know bassist William Parker and possibly most of us have seen him perform at one time or another. He is the king of contemporary jazz bass, if such a title can be used. On this triple CD box set, he offers us three solo performances, one being a re-issue of "Testimony" from 1994, the other two bringing the live performance in Brooklyn in August last year.

The first CD starts with a long bowed piece, a stunning example of how to bring sound to live and to expression, with shimmering shades of tonal color reflecting the subtleties of the underlying emotions. It is only after thirty minutes, halfway through the second piece, that he starts playing a melodic and repeated phrase, as a kind of intro to start plucking his strings, first in a kind of dialogue between bowed and plucked sequences, then on the third track evolving into fully plucked, calmer, more meditative, with sparse moments of increased intensity.

The second CD starts darker, gloomier, with the aptly titled "Night Density". for another journey through musical excellence and variation. Fans of his work as the rock solid rhythmic time keeper as a sideman, will appreciate "Velocity", the track that introduces a  more uptempo and regular rhythm, as a kind of moment of upbeat refreshment before the long but equally rhyhtmic last track.

The box comes with a booklet of stories and poems by Parker, and they all illustrate his deep feeling for peace and human freedom.

Cosmic music, indeed!

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Spanish Donkey -XYX (Northern Spy, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

You could try approaching XYX actively listening to every nuance and rhythmic shift, analyzing and digesting every note. Or, you could let it wash over you, letting its sonic sandpaper exfoliate your mind. Either way, you will not be able to escape the tingling rawness it inflicts.

I've tried both approaches, during the same listening session. The tracks "Mid-Evil" and "XYX", coming in at 38 and 22 minutes respectively, give ample time to tune in and out, as they evolve. Joe Morris' clean punctuating electric guitar, Jamie Saft's dark shifting array of keyboards and electronics (and occasional electric bass) and Mike Pride's tough and precise drumming lay down a sonic wash that nary lets up in intensity and constantly shifts in shades and tone. The group pushes and pulls time and texture to create a fantastic world of aggresively ambient sound and music.

At times, the electronics and percussion burble darkly laying a foundation for Morris's percolating melody lines. Pride's percussion adds flare to the ferociousness and helps propel the furious improvisations. Employing rhythm and sound over distinct melody, Saft amps up the intensity, and all three musicians are of equal importance in the mix. Midway into 'Mid-Evil', Saft's electronic tones, uncompromising sine waves and atonal shearings build into a gut wrenching climax that is just not to be missed.

While you may wonder what comfort you may find under this blanket of barbed wire (though it's certainly is more comfortable than the device gracing the album's cover), you may be surprised. This collection is an impressive display of texture, tone and dynamics and is a good, challening listen. Go in, be prepared, be ready, it's a little mean and rough but quite exhilarating.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peter Evans & Nate Wooley - High Society (Carrier Records, 2011) *****

By Joe Higham

Being a musician and playing a wide variety of music means that my family (kids and wife) are used to hearing wild sounds emanating from the hi-fi from time to time. But in certain cases I realise that maybe some music is not for wholesale consumption, and this .... is one of them! It's almost like a dream come true for a horn player (in this case trumpets) to be able to sound like Jimi Hendrix playing with feedback, however, it's more difficult to set fire to your trumpet, even with lighter fuel, you can hear Wooley and Evans had great fun making this recording. 'High Society' is as fascinating as it is unforgiving, there's no way out and no reference points to the trumpet as we know it. If you've heard Nate Wooley's Trumpet/Amplifier record then you'll already know how Wooley's starting to develop his style using this set up, here we have both Peter Evans and Nate Wooley blowing hot and cold through their trumpet/amplifier set ups.

It's almost impossible to give musical images for these tracks. Tracks such as I (track 3) make you wonder if the microphone is inside a turbine in a rocket engine, or is that the sound of something out in the desert somewhere? The two horn players use flutter tonguing, blowing, sucking, singing, spitting, banging the pistons, hitting the trumpet, it's all there. The fourth track LXVII starts like two wild animals in a fight, there are growls and screams, rattling, industrial crashes and explosions, music that's not for the faint hearted. However each track is so fascinating that you find yourself absorbed by the sounds as they change throughout each piece, each idea worked on and pushed to it's extreme and obvious conclusion. The sixth track XC is a fascinating piece as .. shock horror .. you get to hear a real muted trumpet sound as it's starting point. The track develops over 13 plus minutes into a real tour de force of sounds, feedback, screams, singing and real trumpet sounds, never dull moment.

Finally I should say I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to this one, and for something that is rather abstract. The music which although very intense is (I found) always interesting to come back to and I'm intrigued to see how they'll develop and follow up wonderful recording. I can only finish with a often used phrase from our chief critic and editor Stef ......... Highly Recommended.

Tags for this music could be - the wind, the sea, the washing machine, car engines, radio interference, food blenders, vacuum cleaners and the list goes on!

Buy from Instantjazz.

Live at The Zebulon in August 2011.

Sonic explorations into the realm of the unknown unknowns

By Stef

I'm not sure whether the "free jazz" name of this blog is still appropriate for the music reviewed, but with the records below, we go deep into sonic explorations, with no need for any reference, or any tradition. Just sounds and sounds and sounds doing what they are supposed to do : surprise us, captivate us. The great thing about attentive listening to this music is that it forces you to listen differently, as if music and background sound of whatever nature mingle, as if the sounds you hear represent something that is happening in your own immediate environment, as if the sounds are not just sounds but the result of real life things happening around you. It opens new doors of perception.

Lucio Capece & Birgit Ulher - Choices (Another Timbre, 2011) ****

Lucio Capece plays bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, effects, while Birgit Ulher plays trumpet. None of those instruments sound as you would expect, sometimes as percussion, sometimes like whispers or far-away engines, shimmering layers of sound, yet the result is often perplexing.

Taylor Ho Bynum, Joe Morris, Sara Schoenbeck - Next (Porter Records, 2011) ****

Taylor Ho Bynum plays cornet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet and piccolo trumpets, Joe Morris is on guitar and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon. The trio brings a sequence of fragile interactions of embracing sounds. These are intimate chamber improvisations, sweet and cuddly even at times, enveloped around silence, with the instruments being played at minimum volume, and despite the dissonance, the abstract phrasing, the end result is one of a contradictory soothing, unhurried calm.

Jennifer Allum & Eddie Prévost - Penumbrae (Matchless, 2011) ****

Speaking about silence, violinist Jennifer Allum and free improv giant Eddie Prévost on bowed percussion create a subtle and refined sound sculpture, on which notes barely change, tones barely surface the silence, and in which both instruments strangely merge until violin and percussion become one. The result is absolutely mesmerising at times.

Ernesto Rodriguez - Suspensão (Creative Sources, 2011) ****

Silence with two is one thing, but silence with eight musicians is a real feat. The band is Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, harp, metronomes, objects, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello, Gil Gonçalves on tuba, Nuno Torres on alto saxophone, Abdul Moimeme on prepared electric guitars, Armando Pereira on accordion and toy piano, Carlos Santos on electronics and piezo elements, and José Oliveira on percussio. The "suspense" in the title is well chosen, as the music's minimalism creates the kind of tension that you wish would explode, come to a paroxysm, come to an orgasm, but it doesn't. The sound is the calm before the storm, the fear before the killing, the sensitivity before the climax. That kind of tension. Slowly evolving, close to silence, with instruments adding shades of sound, whispers, scrapings, bows, ...

Kim Myhr - Live at Ringve Museum (Audition Records, 2011) ****

I already praised Norwegian guiatist Kim Myhr for his collaboration in "Nectars of Emergence". On this album he plays 12-string, baroque and nylon string guitars, zithers, small percussion, and is accompanied by Burkhard Beins on percussion and objects, Kari Rønnekleiv on viola, violin and hardanger fiddle, and Nils Ostendorf on trumpet. This Norwegian-German quartet uses the same minimalist approach of built-up tension without real release, with an intensity that is almost tangible. It is very short, but the result is absolutely impressive.

Silencers - Balance Des Blancs  (Sofa, 2011) ****

We find guitarist Kim Myhr and trumpeter Nils Ostendorf back in the company of French pianist Benoît Delbecq and percussionist Toma Gouband, for another mesmerising journey into sonic unknowns, played with incredible control and mastery of the instruments. Delbecq shows the same restraint as Christian Wallumrød in "Dans Les Arbres", a band that can serve as a good comparator.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Michel Doneda, Jonas Kocher, Christoph Schiller - Grape Skin (Another Timbre, 2011) ****

This trio of Michel Doneda on sax, Jonas Kocher on accordion and objects, and Christoph Schiller on spinet, is possibly the most bizarre line-up you've ever heard, but the listening experience is again staggering. The sound you hear is impossible to describe or to qualify. It is zen music in a way, but again with the same impression of a sonic illusion, depending on how you listen, it can be equally terrifying. It is soothing and nerve-wracking at the same time. The listener decides.

What can I recommend? All of them, but that's of course too easy. I must admit that my interest and enjoyment of this music has come only in the last years, and because there are no references, it's hard to compare, but the quality is obvious in all of them. My suggestion : pick any one of them. Don't try to understand the music, just let go and experience without preconceptions. See how it affects you, then look out for the other albums. Musical enjoyment is guaranteed.

Somehow, the future of art music lies on the road these bands have taken.

© stef

Friday, September 23, 2011

Premier Roeles - Ka Da Ver (Vindu Music, 2011) ***

By Stef

Dutch quartet with Fred van Duijnhoven on drums, Nico Huijbregts on piano, Gerard van der Kamp on sax, and  Harm-Jan Roeles on bass. Free jazz in the best tradition, if that's not a contradiction. Some short melodic pieces, some longer improvisations. EP. Nice work. Freedom with soul.

© stef

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Silence - It Only Happens At Night (482 music, 2011) ****

By Stef

When drummer Mike Reed presents the idea to bass clarinetist Jason Stein and guitarist, keyboardist, turntablist Nick Butcher to form a trio, the music on this album is created, but the real touch of genius comes when they invite vocalist Sharon Van Etten to join.

Even if free in nature, the music is close to prog rock, with sweet melodies and harmonies evolving slowly and freely, with Van Etten's soft and crystal clear voice adding a dimension of folk and naive innocence. Yet this dreamworld of light textures is then broken by bouts of illogical instrumental parts, of an uncanny and eery nature, sometimes dissonant, but not always nightmarish, just hard to comprehend, hard to grasp, yet inviting. You have to undergo the sounds, like you have to play the lead role in the weirdest of your dreams, with shifting backdrops and contexts and characters, a victim of your own imagination.

The overall result may be too much prog rock for jazz fans, and too wildly free for rock fans, and too much of this and too much of that, but the blending of boundaries, and the surprising shifts in perspective works incredibly well on this album. All music fans will enjoy this, yet it will require some to be willing to open up.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Heberer, Niggenkemper, Hertenstein and Badenhorst - almost times two

By Stef

I love the music of these guys. They sound fresh, inventive, clever, and utterly soulful and compelling. They are Thomas Heberer on trumpet, Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet, Pascal Niggenkemper on bass, and Joe Hertenstein on drums. The first three already made the excellent "Clarino" on No Business last year, while Heberer, Niggenkemper and Hertenstein released "HNH" on Clean Feed. And now they are back, with one trio and one quartet.

Thomas Heberer's Clarino - Klippe (Clean Feed, 2011) ****½

The incredibly impressive percussion-less chamber music on this album is the result of Heberer's own "Cookbook" notation, by which improvised phrases are played, repeated and then reintroduced into an agreed structure. The approach requires astute listening and concentration, an aspect which is audible in the music, and adds a kind of dimension of caution and fragility. In contrast to many other musicians of their generation, they hardly ever resort to extended techniques, yet they use their instruments in the most "voiced" traditional way, but with the skills of virtuosi.

The overall sound as a result is calm, precise and subtle, sometimes grave, sometimes playful, often full of wonder, full of surprise. There is an incredible tenderness for the notes played, and intense feeling of cohesion despite the freedom the musicians have. Even if some of the pieces sound abstract at first listen, this is easily compensated by the sensitivity in each musician's timbral richness and the emotional delivery.

I could start describing the music, but as usual words fail me. You have to listen to it yourself (here, on eMusic, for instance). Trust me, you won't be disappointed, 

Highly recommended!

Buy from Instantjazz.

Joe Hertenstein, Thomas Heberer, Joachim Badenhorst, Pascal Niggenkemper  - Polylemma (Red Toucan, 2011) ****½

The album's title "Polylemma" means : "a choice from multiple options, each of which is (or appears) equally (un-)acceptable or (un-)favorable". And this is basically what you get, but with staggering result. Half the tracks are penned by Heberer, also in his Cookbook notation, the other half by Hertenstein, who is the leader of this band.

It is interesting to hear the same "Clarino" trio with the addition of drums, but it is not the same music plus a drummer. Yes, for sure, there are similarities, but this is music largely led by a drummer, and you can sense that immediately, in the steady pulse of the opening track, the references to old swing jazz, the sweet theme of "Sugar's Dilemma" turning into a real violent fight, a peak of volume that is absent on the trio album, or the last track "Nupeez", with its boppish bass line and crazy soloing. Also Heberer's compositions are tighter than on "Klippe", with unison lines, as on the clever "One Ocean At A Time", in which the rhythm section gets the dominant role, interrupted by sudden and changing themes.

It is obvious that a lot of thought went into these songs, lots of weighing of alternatives and possibilities, of selecting and discarding as its title suggests, yet the end result sounds nothing like a cerebral exercise, because of its incredible sense of spontaneity and musical joy that reverberates with every note.

These guys are really fantastic!

The choice is simple : buy both albums. Both are fresh, inventive, clever, soulful and compelling. The trio is more intimate and introvert, the quartet more expansive and extrovert, and hence they complete each other quite well. No choice this time. Both.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rob Brown Trio -Unknown Skies (RogueArt, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

'Unknown Skies' posseses an intriguing quality: it seems to be precisely imprecise, the strength of its cohesion built upon the tensions of it coming apart. Song heads could almost be improvisations, they seem so naturally unfolding, yet unison accompaniment belies their composition. Rhythms unfold loosely yet totally in control, and it makes for quite a masterful mix.

Rob Brown's alto sax is in command here, it both soars and digs deep, beckoning you to follow but also suggesting that you may want to stand back from time to time. Craig Taborn's acoustic piano veers expertly both inside and outside the lines, supporting Brown, but also cutting free like on his angular and intense solo on the opening tune 'A Fine Line'. In fact, this track on the whole is an exciting statement that serves as a harbinger for the rest of the concert recording.

Throughout, Nasheet Wait's drumming is fantastic. Whether it is his kinetic intro to the album or providing urgent counterbalance to Brown's unbound solo on 'Bounce Back', the drumming is energetic and loose but detailed in the right places.

Though I had read of Brown before, I had not heard any recordings. Thus, while I cannot say how this recording relates to his discography, it seems like a fine introduction to my ears. His tone is evocative, full of bite, passion and melody. The tunes, while grounded (though bass-less) are not afraid to break free of their moorings and take the listener with them (but, you'll be pleased to know they return you safely - albeit a little roughed up - too). And througout the recording, the energy level is high. In my humble opinion, this is some good stuff.

Buy from Instantjazz.

(c) 2011 Paul Acquaro

Drummers, percussionists, glockenspielers, and bell wizzards

 By Stef

Nothing as boring as a solo percussion album, you might think. Until you hear what can be done with it. Below, a short overview of new solo, duo, retrospective albums by percussionists, artists who not only have something to tell (ideas, concepts, ...) but also know how to tell them (technical mastery, inventiveness, ...) in such a way that the listener is drawn in the story and wants to hear what's coming next.The lack of melodies and harmonies make it very difficult to pigeonhole solo percussion albums within genres. So, for sure, this is not all jazz, mostly avant-garde. In any case innovative and worth listening to.

Lucas Niggli & Peter Conradin Zumthor - Profos (Not Two, 2011) ***½

The way Swiss percussionists Lucas Niggli and Peter Conradin Zumthor start this album makes my point. It is repetitive, minimalist and incredibly hypnotic. They move through various styles, ranging from "tribal experiments" to high-pitched whistling noises, yet a really strong performance. The "pièce de résistance" is the half-hour long last track, a magnificent acoustic soundscape.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Zlatko Kaučič - Emigrants (Leo Records) ***½

Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič came to my attention with "Tolminski Punt", a collaboration with Peter Brötzmann. Now we find him back for a solo performance on a variety of percussion instruments, ranging from ground drums, gong, glockenspiel, sansula, kalimba, marimbula, self-made instruments to voice and flute. Because the latter two, world jazz may apply as a subgenre, with folk elements. No doubt he is the strongest story-teller of the whole lot, evoking the emigrant's voyage. A universal story.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Llorenç Barber - Retrospective 1994-2001 (Audition Records, 2011) ****

Incredible piece of music by Spanish percussionist and bell wizzard Llorenç Barber. Very avant-garde, but also incredibly majestic and overwhelming, fireworks included.

Listen and download free EP here.

Paul Hession - 40 Years Of The Drummer (Audition Records, 2011) ***½

True, this is not a real solo percussion album, yet this EP is a great tribute to Paul Hession, one of the most innovative avant jazz drummers of the last decades. Enjoy him here in the company of Joe McPhee, Simon Fell, Mick Beck, Ewan Stefani, although the percussion really dominates, and how!

Listen and download free album here.

Watch Lucas Niggli and Peter Conradin Zumthor

© stef

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Andrew Lamb Trio - The Hues Of Destiny (CIMP, 2011) ***½

 By Stef

Jazz, and free jazz especially, is about directness, freedom, and a lack of formalism, and few other players combine these elements so well with the deep spiritual, festive and bluesy origins of the genre than saxophonist Andrew Lamb, here joined by Tom Abbs on bass and tuba (?), and Warren Smith on drums. And all three artists have performed and recorded a lot together. It's a real trio album, with a perfect cohesion among all three of them.

This album is more down to earth than the expansive predecessor "New Orleans Suite", although at moments, and especially in the title track, Lamb's playing is absolutely hypnotic, even sounding like North-African trance music.

On the other hand you have also pieces of less relevance, nice to listen to, like "Festival Di Mama" on which Lamb switches to flute, but with less gravity.  On the last track Lamb switches to pungi, an Indian reed instrument, offering the album a nice touch of universal spirituality.

The album's lack of ambition is at the same time a weakness and a strength, because it is not groundbreaking while being very authentic and human at the same time.

Listen and download on iTunes.

© stef

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Undivided - Moves Between Clouds (Multikulti, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Last year, Undivided's "The Passion" won the "Happy New Ears Award", organised by this blog after a vote among you, readers. So it was with more than genuine interest that we started listening to its successor, which has again great artwork, both on the cover and inside the album.

Thematically, the music shifts from Christian spirituality to Judaism, with the reference of "Ohr Ein Sof" on the inside package, or the "infinite light" as described in the torah, of the creator's state of being before he created.

The band consists of Waclaw Zimpel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Perry Robinson on clarinet, Bobby Few on piano, Mark Tokar on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. Adding Perry Robinson on clarinet was a clever idea, because both clarinets give each other depth and contrast. 

The music is as before clearly indebted to the Coltrane legacy, including Alice Coltrane, with long and slow thematic developments, post-bop, but then less focused on the musician's individual soloing as it is on the overall effect created by the entire band. As the spiritual theme might suggest, the compositions are full of reverend, solemn drama, exalted and expansive, trying to capture this state of being where there are no boundaries, no demarkations, no differences. Yet this does not mean that there is no musical substance here, quite to the contrary, the compositions, the harmonic development, the playing itself is again fantastic, with its own yearning aesthetic, and its integration of elements of various jazz subgenres, including today's music, but also klezmer. And all this is brought with the ambition of a classical symphony, flowing endlessly, full of majesty and grandeur.

A band with a great musical vision, and pitch perfect delivery. Again a great achievement.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, September 16, 2011

Motif - Art Transplant (Clean Feed - 2011) ****

By Stef

Motif is a Nowegian band with Atle Nymo on tenor, Håvard Wiik on piano,  Ole Morten Vågan on double bass, and Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums. They are joined for the occasion by German trumpeter Axel Dörner. All five musicians form the traditional bop quintet, and that's how they sound. With music that is composed, fully arranged and structured .... but with a twist. They are indeed the masters of deconstruction and reconstruction, abandoning their themes for wild or fun or experimental explorations, yet always falling back on the composed backbone of the piece.

This kind of explains the "Art Transplant" in the title, elements are taken out and replaced by different stuff, invented on the spot and integrated in the old structure. Critics could say that this is a nice trick to keep jazz artificially alive, yet the contrary is true : the band demonstrates how much of the jazz tradition is still of use today, and what a rich treasure trove it is for today's language of expression. The music is also fun to listen to with lots of playful elements. The playing and the stylistic shifts are really exceptional, yet they at times seem to overshadow the emotional power needed to make this a truly great album.

In contrast to "Facienda", the band's triple CD of live and sturio recordings released earlier this year, "Art Transplant" is much more coherent in its approach.

A strong stylistic achievement.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

1,000,000 visitors !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear readers, we have reached the 1 million "unique visitors" threshold, a remarkable feat for avant-garde and adventurous music. Today's technology allows me to announce that the 1 millionth visitors came through the "Jazzrochester" link, and that she/he is based in Brooklyn, NY. There is nothing to win, unfortunately, we are not McDonald's.

I truly hope that the musicians and labels have benefited from the exposure this blog has given them.

I equally hope that many of these 1 million visitors have come across musical discoveries in the past few years.

Keep reading, keep listening!

Open ears make open minds.

© stef

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sax and drums

 By Stef

A short overview of new and worthwhile albums in the noble art of sax and drums duets.

Don Dietrich & Ben Hall - Spitfire (Brokenresearch, 2011) ***½

From the very first seconds till the very last on the second side of this vinyl album, you are tormented by the most violent and relentless sax-drums duo imagineable. Many have tried this before, and even if it is not or no longer ground-breaking, the absolute excess of energy and power raises this LP above the average. The take-no-prisoners approach of Don Dietrich and Ben Hall is not really suitable for breakfast, but at the right moment and mind-set, it is rewarding.

Joe McPhee & Chris Corsano - Under A Double Moon (Roaratorio, 2011) ***½

One of my favorite musicians Joe McPhee teams up with punkjazz drummer Chris Corsano, better known from his collaborations with Paul Flaherty. But the album does not offer a situation of both musicians meeting half-way. It is a McPhee album with Corsano playing drums. Mcphee introduces his soft-toned spiritual lightness on the first track, and truth be told, Corsano deals with it well, leaving the space, then adding percussive subtlety of a nature that sounds surprising coming from him. McPhee picks up his pocket trumpet on the second track, adding variety to the recording. We have heard McPhee in better shape and with more depth on his recent Trio X albums, but it is good to hear him in a different context.

Tatsuya Nakatani & Michel Doneda - White Stone Black Lamp (Kobo, 2011) ****

The most adventurous of the three reviewed sax-drums duets, although not comparable, is the collaboration between drummer Tatsuya Nakatani and saxophonist Michel Doned. I know my mind has opened up to this kind of music in the past few years, because of its subtle, vibrating, oscillating, mesmerising, soft sounds. Because of its absolute lack of violence and volume, it's impossible to call it noise - although some will certainly catalogue it as such - but in my opinion it resonates, it resonates deeply, almost organically, like nature.

At moments, both musicians open aural experiences that you will never have heard before, refined and piercing, uncomfortable but authentic. The future sound of music.

© stef

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gianni Gebbia Trio - Empedocles (Horo, 2011) ***½

By Stef

Italian altoist Gianni Gebbia has developed his own kind of musical journey in the past decades, exploring the stylistic subgenres of jazz, from traditional over meditative or modern funkish to world jazz and world folk and avant-garde, yet always with a great sense of taste and authenticity, and with a story to tell. On "Empedocles", he is joined by Stefano Senni on bass and Francesco Cusa on drums, a fantastic rhythm section.

Upon first hearing, you can hear the legacy of the greats of modern jazz : Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell come to mind when I first heard the rhythm section : warm, with great pulse and inventiveness, yet free too.

Gebbia turns into his most playful element, using his warm and soaring approach for tunes of absolute joy, sometimes quite simple in their foundation, but so much fun, and so well developed that the listener gets easily in the same mood of pure musical enjoyment. 

The long "Zoogony" is the centerpiece of the album, mid-tempo, with slow and somewhat jubilant sax phrases being propulsed forward by a wonderful hypnotic rhythm, underpinning Gebbia's further development of changing moods, weeping, then it becomes boppish like hell, then slowing down again and picking up from the beginning, increasing the tempo for a majestic finale in which all three musicians let go the brakes and just go for it.

You get a solo improvisation by Senni, a mambo even, the Charlie Haden composition "Song For Che", and a long "Blues For Aldo" to end the album, with some Ornette Colemand phrases included (that being said, Gebbia's sax-playing is by far superior to Coleman's, both in tone, expressivity and lyricism).

The album brings nothing new, nothing world-shocking, or even memorable in the totality of things that are being produced, including other material by Gebbia, but the result of the album is so good, played with so much skill and heart, and such a lack of pretense, that I can only recommend it.

The joy of jazz!

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

William Parker & ICI Ensemble - Winter Sun Crying - (Neos, 2011) *****

By Stef

The ICI Ensemble Munich (International Composers & Improvisers) is a loose group of German musicians, with varying line-ups. They have developed their "Composer in Dialogue" concept to which they invite modern composers, with so far Olga Neuwirth, Barry Guy, Pierre Favre, George Lewis, Giancarlo Schiaffini und Vinko Globokar as invitees. From what I could find, only the collaborations with Neuwirth and Lewis were released on record, but I must say that - like most avant-garde music - their promotion is as amateurish as their music is good.

In 2009, the band invited William Parker to compose for them, and the result is absolutely staggering. Parker has of course composed for improvisational orchestras with his own Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, music of incredible density and freedom.

After some questionable side-steps in the past years, we find the New York artist back in full glory. In fifteen relatively short compositions, Parker develops incredibly coherent gems of sound, with the gravity and solemnity of a Bill Dixon, all forming one single suite, and with a lightness of arrangements that belies the size of the octet, because instruments come and go, for short bursts of sounds, a few phrases. Parker seems to try to evoke the strong memory imprints of his life or youth : "Bells", "Train", "Explosion", "Tears", or the space around : "Earth", "Moon", "Sky", but then in a deep and meaningful way : full of emotion and sprituality : "Hope", "Revolution", "Winter Sun Crying". The "Train" sounds like a train, or rather the shadow of a train. "Earth" is all angular and hard and unpredictable. "Moon" is slower and eery with unison howls and crescendos. "Explosion" is built around incredible tension, with weird background noises and dark rumbling drums laying the backdrop for innocent flute playing, juxtaposing Not surprisingly, the last piece, "Let's Change The World" is as fragile as it gets, almost transparent music with Parker's bamboo flute adding a kind of universal song for mankind.

Credit also goes to the entire band, who really move as one, with a great sense of direction creating sonic environments that are open in nature. To be clear, this is not all improvisation : this is well thought-through and structured music, with room for exploration and emphasis, and it makes it all the powerful for the listener.

This is jazz in its most modern shape and at its best : intelligent, complex, compelling, technically superb, surprising, deep, emotional.

Not to be missed and to me for sure one of the contender of album of the year.

The band is :
William Parker, double-bass, piccolo, trumpet, shakuhachi, double reeds
David Jager, soprano & tenor saxophones
Roger Jannotta, alto saxophone, piccolo, flute, clarinet
Markus Heinze, baritone & tenor saxophones
Christofer Varner, trombone, sampler
Martin Wolfrum, piano,
Johanna Varner, cello,
Gunnar Geisse, laptop & laptop guitar
Georg Janker, double-bass,
Sunk Poschi, drums

© stef

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nate Wooley / Scott R. Looney / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter - Scowl (ugEXPLODE, 2011) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

I wonder what would make music like 'Scowl' of interest to the 'lay' listener? I suppose this is a question that has been asked in varying ways many times before, and no doubt will continue to be asked as members enter and (dare I say?) leave the fold of avant garde jazz. I don't pretend to have an answer, nor will I even posit a theory, all I can offer is that It is a compelling listen that offers the small raptures of pleasure in each one of its five sermons.

I believe that a fair comparison can be drawn to the efforts of Evans, Halvorson and Walter's recent release 'Electric Fruit'. In writing about that release, I said it was "a celebration, a joyous racket, a jumble of adjectives and superlatives running roughshod on the expected. The songs are ever shifting and building explorations of texture, tonality and expression." That description fits decently well here too. While the actual connective tissue between efforts is percussionist Weasel Walter, 'Scowl' is a like-minded excursion into purely improvised music that eschews any traditional song structures, harmonic cliches and expected rythmic figures. The music feels uninhibited, flowing and natural, capturing the spirit, even as it at first presents disorder to the ears.

All acoustic, Nate Wooley's trumpet, Damon Smith's bass, Scott R. Looney's piano and Walter's percussion exploit all the angles, sides, valves, keys, strings, and resonant surfaces available. Unbound from convention and expectations, the tracks veer from full throttle collective improvs to quiet exploits between the various combinations and extended techniques of the instruments. While describing each track would be a lexical adventure, an exemplar is 'Tomb Trisects' which begins with shards of bowed bass and leads into a dense mix with voices rising and receding, the musicians creating a journey through sound and time. The piano lays down a spontaneous figure that blends into the trumpet performing a solo that is more texture than sound. Walter lays out at times, and then bursts into the scene with clicks, clacks, thuds, executed with expert timing. Quiet moments appear as well, with Wooley playing short melodic phrases with a tone that brings to mind 1960's Miles Davis.

While 'Scowl' is a recording that requires repeated and intense listening, it is not without reward. It is smart, suggestive, hedonistic and cathartic. Though I have yet to answer the questions I began with, it with assurance that say that on each spin it reveals more and more.

© Paul Acquaro

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mark Hanslip & Javier Carmona - Dosados (Babel Label, 2011) ****½

By Joe Higham

Mark Hanslip is a name that appears regularly along with Mark Sanders, Paul Dunmall, Mike Hurley, the excellent trio with Olie Brice and Tony Marsh 'Tom-Mix', and also more recently the splendid Twelves 'Adding Machine', reviewed here in March 2011. Along with colleague Javier Carmona, another mainstay of the lively UK free scene, the two have been working towards this CD, a much anticipated set of duets, the fruit of regular duo gigs and sessions throughout the past years. A duo recording is certainly a brave step for any improvising musician to take, John Coltrane's Interstellar Space (maybe the first sax/drums duo album) has been followed by the pairings of Jackie McLean and Michael Garvin, Anthony Braxton/Max Roach, Archie Shepp/Max Roach, David Murray/Kahil el Zabar or Evan Parker/Tony Oxley etc, it's a difficult area in which to work and certainly not very 'user friendly' when selling albums! On this CD outing Hanslip and Carmona have taken a similar direction to Coltrane - i.e. they 'almost' play it straight, working more on lines and rhythms as a focal point.

In fact the first word that came to mind on hearing this CD was 'pointillism' - a method developed by some impressionist painters. The two instruments work together, splattering (or is that spraying) notes and beats onto the sonic landscape. The attention taken over details by the drums/percussion is refreshing, no notes are wasted and space and dynamics play an important role. The sax takes just the right balance between lines and sound, sometimes integrating subtle multi-phonics as in 'ffs' then later letting the notes create intense free flowing melodies. 'Preamblo to Nipple 2' seems to have a theme but quickly dissolves into an exciting and detailed dialogue between the two players. 'Mucha Mierda' builds little points of sax and drums, dabbed onto the canvas building into an intense free wheeling improvisation. Much of the work here could be re-titled using painters and painting from American artists such as Jasper Johns, Brigit Riley and Jackson Pollock. Track 11 - 'Jowls, and a Beard' is maybe what a Jackson Pollock painting would sound like ... if they could speak! The track starts delicately, carefully placing notes and beats until the music takes it's own direction, an almost Zen Archery approach?

These are just ways to describe music which for me strongly conjures up images that are often abstract, but never without direction. The album is certainly an intense listen, not a bad sign in this day and age. The music is never short of invention, it's atmospheric, colourful, full and yet has space, and actually it's all quite approachable. One hopes that the duo will continue to develop especially if the results of this first recording are a peek into the window of the future.

Note : The CD was originally released a few months ago, withdrawn and then rescheduled for release at a later date so we suggest you contact Mark Hanslip directly at for more information.


David S Ware - A World Of Sound

The David Lynch Foundation Television released a short documentary on saxophonist David S. Ware. You can watch the video here.

You can watch a short introduction below. No further comments needed.

© stef

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Emo Albino - Lady Lord (Sofa, 2011) ****

By Stef

I don't have much time today. Hence a very short review about some exceptional minimalist noise by Norwegians Ingar Zach and Ivar Grydeland. On their first album the former played percussion and the latter guitar. Now, they are credited with "music". And that's how it sounds : shades of sounds, hovering in the air like dark fog obfuscating any sense of clarity and direction, really dark, ominous, foreboding. The soundtrack for nightmares.

I have praised Zach's vision of music before. This is in the same vein. And equally compelling.

This is not jazz. This is not noise. This is not electronic music. This is something else.

© stef

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jon Corbett's Dangerous Musics - Kongens Gade (Leo, 2011) ****

 By Stef

A kind of sophomore album to Jon Corbett's "Dangerous Musics '91", an album of half-forgotten music, revived in 2008. Now Corbett is back with Nick Stephens on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums, doing as then, only better. And for trumpet trio lovers, I can also recommend "Today's Play" with Corbett, Stephens and Tony Marsh.

The playing is strong, with Corbett using his short phrases, vocalised mostly, creating dynamic sonic landscapes of raw intensity, with notes and beats splattered all around creating a sonic equivalent of action painting, lots of energy but then with a good vision of what the end result is expected to sound like, a glorious flux of crisp and fresh in-the-moment playing, full of urgency and immediacy, the here and the now, without false pretense or show or tinsel.

Corbett's trumpet is setting the tone : he can yearn, sigh, sing weep or rant, but the phrases are always short, with a kind of surprise feeling of wonder on them, like musical question marks. If anyone is well placed to interact with the trumpeter, it's Nick Stephens, his long time musical partner, the one with the deep sound and round tone, and the equally sudden improvisational surprises. Moholo-Moholo is equally fantastic, and the moments are many when the listener - me, you - can do nothing else than smile or laugh because of the pure percussive joy he is hearing, inventive, precise and yes .... right. The band's energy creates an incredible pulse and drive, and that without explicit rhythms, quite an achievement.

You could argue that the trio format limits the possibilities of musical development, and even if some moments of the four tracks are easily interchangeable, each track still has its specific quality due to the variation of instruments Corbett uses - trumpet, valve trombone, bamboo flute - but at least the last track has its slower, more resigned parts.

A real trio, more concerned with the joint result and dynamics than about their individual performance,  and a trio of musicians who've done it all, who no longer need to prove anything, excelling once again and on record, relaxed and intense.

I absolutely love every second of it.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, September 5, 2011

Evan Parker - At Somewhere There (Barnyard Records, 2011) ****

By Stef

Evan Parker has played in many formats and line-ups, but his trio recordings with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton are possibly among the better knowns, having changed the sax-bass-drums trio concept over the past decades. On this album, the British master is joined by Canadians Wes Neal on bass and Joe Sorbara on drums, with a trio building on Parker's legacy, yet somehow more accessible.

Anyone wondering how music is evolving, should listen to this album. The fourty-minute improvisation has three musicians moving in perfect symbiosis through soft and subtle and sensitive shifts of sentiment, with Parker exploring the incredible richness of his timbral pallette on the saxophone, a wealth of tones, and slight variations and technical finesse that he showed the world existed in this instrument, and that is now being copied by many, or at least attempts thereto. This is a story of human feelings, expressed as a universe of sound, warm and intelligent, and only possible with deep knowledge of the instruments and of social empathy to make it work coherently.

Anyway, the gentle approach, of intimacy and respectful interaction is kept throughout the album, with rare increases of volume or density, but more likely developed around silence. The music flows nicely and both Neal and Sorbara - having played together often before - are Parker's ideal companions on this journey, being inventive themselves, expressive and as said, moving forward in an excellent stylistic coherence, even when the music becomes more adventurous and fragile towards the end, with Parker's short, evaporating "whimperish" phrases perfectly embraced and comforted by bass and drums, and taken along on more solid ground for the finale.

A strong performance.

Watch a video from a more recent performance by the trio.

Listen and download from CDBaby.

© stef

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day 2 (Songlines 2011) ****½

By Joe Higham

Personnel: Nate Wooley: trumpet; Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums, compositions.

One might expect daring musical adventures from this group of forward thinking musicians, yet the album the second in the Canada series, is not as avant-jazz as one might expect, however that doesn't mean it's not original. The compositions are excellent, dynamic and complex, the playing (as expected) top quality, and that's what counts in my books. Eisenstadt's 'Woodblock Prints' (2010) was very high up on many 'best of' lists and I find that the compositional work and playing far out-rates the 'Woodblock Prints' set.

The themes on this CD are comparable to the 'Woodbock Prints' album, but here the line up (being smaller) gives a very different sound, more compact and thus agile. The lightest tune - dedicated to his son - on the CD is probably 'Song for Owen' (TK3) a tune played as if the last dance of the evening, maybe it should have been the last track? In fact the accessibility of the album, which brims over with melody, is one of it's great advantages. The music is never throw-away, on pieces such as 'Now Longer' (TK5) or 'To See/Tootie' (Tk7) the group cooks away over dark ostinato bass lines, a device which Eisenstadt seems to like. Both tunes move through different atmospheres and where the vibes really come to the fore, although it's 'Cobble Hook' and 'To Be' where you get the best chance to hear Chris Dingman really stretch out. All tunes have been finely crafted in terms of detail including the solo sections also, pieces such as 'To Seventeen', 'To Eh' and 'Now Longer' (which has a nice bass feature) all unfold as if mini-suites. The aforementioned tune 'To See/Tootsie' is one such multi layered pieces, highlighting all the soloists in one way or another.

As for the soloists it's the two horns who get plenty of space to stretch out. Matt Bauder manages to play some strong solos cutting a line between a straight ahead approach and more jagged ideas. There's an interesting exchange between the sax and drums on the first track (Cobble Hook), which shows off Bauder's playing to great effect. In fact anyone who doesn't know Bauder will be in for a surprise, a little like Zoot Sims in the 21st Century. Nate Wooley also seems inspired and manages to lay down excellent fiery solos which whilst edgy and searching remain mostly melodic. It's also nice to hear him in this acoustic situation away from his 'amplifier mode'. Eisnestadt, Opsvik and Dingman all function as a unit keeping the music firmly anchored around the various riffs, unison passages, ostinatos and general rhythmic groundswell which swings when needed.

The use of vibraphone over guitar or piano gives this group an open and very modern sound which borders on the free but always remains firmly routed in fine crafted melody. Altogether this album carries on the original idea laid down by such bands as Ralph Peterson's F'Otet, the Theo Jorgensmann 4tet (on HatHut) or Chris Menten's Jazz Van. Anyone who enjoyed 'Woodblock Prints' will enjoy Eisenstadt - Canada Day 2, ....... heartily recommended!

Footnote - anybody know why the band is called 'Canada Day'?