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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Levity - Afternoon Delights (Lado ABC, 2011) *****

Following on from Headbrain and Dorota posts one may ask the question ... is their much of interest to be found in the 'never mind the tune, watch my technique' jazz (Berkley, Banff, Conservatory) movement? Or maybe you're wondering whether Peter Brötzmann or Matts Gustafsson could blow a little louder? Or should you just dig out a rock album and turn up the volume, then look no further 'Levity' is here!

As Headbrain and Dorota weren't really jazz albums (and who cares, if the music is good and pushes at boundaries) this isn't a jazz album either. However Levity's previous albums were, although slightly left of center at that. The album confirms that this band is a restless searching unit, constantly looking for new takes on music.

This is Levity's 3rd album to date and a very nice one at that, an album with many elements coming together in a singularly mature way. 'Afternoon Delights' comes at you from all sides in a similar way that early Genesis or Pink Floyd albums did, touching on jazz but only its elements. From the album's opening track 'Clap your hands, Pikku Myy', a prolonged intro to what you're about to hear (almost like Genesis' 'The Lamb lies down on Broadway'), to the closing 'Everyone survived', the music never stops. 'Clap your hands, Pikku Myy' also introduces you to the sound world you'll be visiting for the next 52 minutes, a slightly old sounding piano (later on synths, loops etc), heavy bass sounds, and drums that could be post-rock meets free-jazz! This very original mixture of beats and grooves, melodies and sound effects is quite unclassifiable, at times minimal and at others dense. Listeners of pure jazz should be wary (or embrace) the music which has little (if any) in the way of solos as such, however one can hear immediately the complexity of the music which seems to have a balance between planned and loosely improvised sections which constantly surprise.    

You could comment on each individual track, but since the whole album seems (to me) to be composed and recorded as one, it makes little sense to deconstruct something that has been so carefully put together. Every possible angle is taken on this music from old sounding synths to hard rocking drums, trip-hop grooves, etherial floating ghost music, distorted bass melodies, and the occasional traditional - almost - piano trio, something which actually has to be heard to be believed.  

Tags for this excellent album could be - Bad Plus meets Genesis meets Tortoise meets Deerhoof meets ... to name a few.

Levity is : Jack Kita (kbds), Piotr Domagalski (bass), Jerzy Rogiewicz (drms).

Buy from either (download) Bandcamp or (buy a hard copy at) Serpent.

© stef

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nate Wooley - The Almond (Pogus, 2012)

I think I may have had a 'moment of zen' while listening to this recording. I must admit that I cheated on this one a little at first, skimming the start of the recording, dipping the "play head" to see what was happening with what seemed to be a rather persistent chordal tone. Eventually though, I calmed down and just let it play.

It's safe to say that this recording is a slow build, a very slow one, one that requires far more patience then I thought I possessed. However, I'm quite happy that I eventually did just let it play, and build and build. At the 35 minute mark, I suddenly 'felt' it. A change that on it's own would not have been much but the proceeding minutes of sameness made the next build feel momentous. A new note or a change in the tone, however minuscule, each made a palpable impact. As it continued to change -- and not change -- the sound at times was more like an organ than a single overdubbed trumpet.

Some recent reviews of Wooley's work here with Peter Evans, the group Scowl or alone with an amplifier, highlight his extended techniques like the use of feedback, vocalization, and other avant-garde leanings. This time though the unusual technique is time. Extending these notes for essentially 70 minutes, introducing layers and tonal shifts, creates a hypnotic, meditative and altering piece.

I'm refraining from stars on this because it's hard to say … many stars for concept and experience, but as a piece of music? Not sure how to rank that. Regardless, it's a recording that refuses to leave my head.

© stef

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Headbrain (Desert Poodle Records, 2011) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

Much of the music that I've reviewed here, usually in some abstracted way, has jazz underpinnings (though that is not the case with all of the other recordings reviewed here). Headbrain, however, is creating intriguing improvisational music that has its roots in rock and ambient music. For me, it's exciting to step outside my milieu and listen with the fresh attentiveness that newness brings, and from what I can hear, this is a trio following a trend and trajectory of their own.

The album begins with a percussive clatter and proceeds from there with ample keyboards and effects. The straight ahead beat and eviscerating effects at the start of 'The Day the Earth Turned to Stone' buoys the swirling organ and electronic washes that sounds, to me, somehow suggestive of a robot's digestive tract. It's a foreboding song that is tough but still accessible, and a nice set-up to the 'horror' that follows. Possibly lifting a cue from an Alice Cooper album that never was, the group delivers a soundscape that ostensibly explores the mind of a disturbed young man. It's a bit spooky and retains a good deal of campy fun. The songs 'Wonders of Shad' and 'Minimal Space' shift the tone considerably. Both feature variations of programmed synths and abstract melodies. The final song 'Coefficient River' is a long unfolding composition that seemingly celebrates the life of a strange and beautiful algorithm. The varying combination of straight ahead rhythms and oscillating electronics is both slightly discomfiting and, at the same time, warm.

Headbrain is comprised of Elizabeth Walsh on bass and keyboards, Adam Budofsky playing drums and effects, and Carl Baggaley on keyboards and synths. The electronics and effects are key elements in the construction and sculpting of the sound, adding depth and texture to the soundscapes.

Overall, who plays what instrument probably doesn't really matter, it is a collective voice that we hear, interdependent and intertwined. There is a feeling like this is a group whose sound is evolving and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Available through eMusic or CDBaby

© stef

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms - Spacer (Delmark, 2011) ****

Last summer I had the pleasure of seeing Jason Adasiewicz play with Peter Brotzmann at the Vision Festival and it was the first time I had encountered a vibraphone being played by bow. Adasiewicz used the long fibers to extrude vibrant ringing tones from the metal bars, creating something new to my ears. On the solo piece that opens 'Spacer' he employs another technique that produces a percussive and staccato attack on the bars. Hearing these unexpected sounds helps help free the ears and cleanse the sonic palette.

Sunrooms is the trio of Nate McBride on bass, Mike Reed on drums and, of course, Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. The sound is one full of space and suspense. Adasiewicz lets the vibes pulsate and ring as he plays through the tune heads, often sounding larger than a trio. There are intricate parts, where his intelligent melodies engage the listener, and there are lithe parts where the rhythms section's swing keeps the affair floating by. Several of the heads are Monk-like in their engaging catchy directness and unexpected knottiness.

The accompaniment is perfectly fitted too. The drums swing and give the proceedings great propulsion. McBride's solo breaks, like in 'Hi-Touch', help shift the timbre a bit provide a nice contrast to the ring of the vibes. I particular like the composed syncopations, like in 'Run Fly', that really highlights the effectiveness of McBrides and Reed's expert touch.

Though the the emphasis is on the vibes and it's rich pallets of overtones, there is ample room for all players. The songs of 'Spacer' showcase the players well and present a group that knows how to get the most out of the trio setting. There is not one note or tone too many or too few here.

© stef

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dorota - Dorota (2011, S10 records)

By Ananth Krishnan 

The first thing I happened to do before reviewing this album was to pump the internet for some background information but I was unable to find anything (not in English, at least!). Therefore I was very thankful for the small "dorota-eng" document that came with the album - it led me to a S10 records which again resulted with zilch on the internet but for a face book page which stated that the hometown was Budapest and the genres they dealt in were Hip/Hop, Electronica and Funk. What??! Wondering how this record made its way for review under this site, I hit the play button with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.

How does one review an album where there is no framework, no standards followed, no genre adhered too? Free - free to improvise, free to ignore norms, free to explore the unexplored, free to create - that is the one underlying theme this album overstates !! The opening track is one man moaning (I assume something in Hungarian) for more than a minute with some percussive effects and strained string-plucking in the background. Just when your eyebrows are at their top-most in bewilderment the second track opens up as a scorching straight out rock jam that would not be too alien in a Joe Satriani or Steve Vai album - this is a high energy track showcasing the writing skills of the band. Next up is a track that is more of an interlude lasting just under a minute with some simple guitar plucking but it segues beautifully into another post-rock jam (think Mogwai here) halfway through which you are treated to some more vocals and some riffs that reeks "classical" (semi-Indian almost!) - by now my eyes are wide quite astonished with the versatility behind what I was listening to.

To give you a sample of the diversity that follows - track 6 would fit snugly into western movie soundtrack (even the vocals in this track jibes with that feel) while track 9 is sure to remind you of your hard-rock-led-zeppelin-jam days. To add more flavours track 10 sounds like Sunn O))) indulging in their doom laden sound while track 11 could easily be one of the pieces that would adorn the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (think Kiddo vs O-Ren at the Tokyo nightclub). That should tell you what this 50 odd minute musical journey is all about. Amidst all these are the little nuances thrown in by the band - the odd dissonant chord from the guitar, the rhythm section out on a odd-metered wild improv with the guitar wailing out its own solo not to mention some really weird vocals (track 8 and 9 are prime examples consisting of all of these, also the longest tracks on the album). It would be ideal, I think, to now introduce the brains behind all this - Makkai Dan on bass, Porteleki Áron wielding the drums and Somló Dávid fretting the guitar - I think these are musicians who understand each other and love playing off each other, they are such a tight-knit unit who seem to know as a whole, the parts and the sum of the parts they want to create.

Easily my most adventurous listen in a very long time, one thing is for sure - this is not free jazz, this is not even jazz. This is the just three musicians who seem to have an open mind enjoying themselves exploring, musicians who believe that music is a potent vehicle for communication that transcends the spoken or written. This is just pure fun but with a lot of effort to make true its creation. To the die-hards, yes - this review probably does not belong here but to all those adventurous listeners who believe that the journey is far more relevant than the destination - I will invite you to get on board the Dorota express, it is a journey that you are not going to forget that easily.

Download free here

(I have refrained from 'star-ing' this album because this music is not strictly in the vein of what this blog deals in. However I still felt the need to expose this music to the readers of this blog for I think that the spirit behind the making of such music is very relevant to what is usually dealt with here, it would be very interesting to see where the band heads on to next.)

© stef

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hank Roberts - Everything is Alive (Winter & Winter, 2011) ****

There is no argument in my mind that the Bill Frisell quartet(s) that recorded albums like "Where in the World" and "Look out for Hope" were on to something special. Mixing jazz, rock and Americana, they created a lasting and captivating blend of music, and it seems that some of the musicians who worked in these groups revisit the style in some fashion - often with Frisell's help. Kermit Driscoll's recent "Reveille" touched on it and "Everything is Alive" from cellist Hank Roberts certainly embraces it while putting its own stamp upon it.

While I have enjoyed other recent collaborations between Roberts and Frisell, such as Frisell's "Disfarmer" and "Signs of Life", I'm finding the intensity on the cellist's new album quite satisfying. Joining Roberts here is drummer Kenny Wollesen, bassist Jerome Harris and the aforementioned Frisell on guitar. Throughout the album, Roberts' compositions have intricate passages, big loping rhythms and streaks of humor mixed in with serious compositions.

The first song, "Crew Cut" is a great romp replete with a deep groove and power chords. Roberts' cello cuts through with legato melody and Frisell contributes off an energetic, dare I say, rocking solo. Following this is the pastorally spartan Cayuga, where Robert's builds up a folkish melody, full of space and longing. A few more cuts in is 'Joker's Ace', featuring a sound scape that build slowly with scattered percussion and eventually morphing into an askew hoe-down. The next tune 'Open Gate' features the back-beat loping feel, some folk-like motifs, and a devastatingly good solo from Roberts. 'Necklace' is atmospheric and delicate, with Wollesen providing accents and washes in lieu of steady rhythm.

Frisell and Robert's earlier work is simply a touchstone. Here, Roberts compositions with their masterful folklike whimsy breath and come to life and throughout, the group's interplay really shines. Frisell's guitar is both searing and sweet, Robert's colors the proceedings with well chosen dissonance, and Harris and Wollesen keep the songs moving. This album is fast becoming a frequent play on my iPod.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith's Mbira - Dark Lady Of The Sonnets (TUM, 2011) ****½

 By Stef

Put on a record by Wadada Leo Smith, and each time you will lifted up into a different dimension, out of your daily routine, not into the mindlessness of relaxation entertainment, but into a realm rich in soul and spirituality, whether it's his funky electric Miles tribute albums, the sound universe of complex mastership with his Golden Quartet music, or his meditative and bluesy duo albums.

Smith's incredible strength is to suck the listener into his music ... deeply ... He can create a sound that makes the listener think "yes, I feel this too, this is me, yet I never managed to express it", whether joy, or aesthetic beauty, or peaceful calm or restless tribal energy.

On this album his powerful and uplifting trumpet songs are accompanied by Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Min Xiao-Fen on the Chinese pippa.The voice of the latter instrument is weak compared to the percussion and the trumpet, but yet the excellent sound quality compensates for that, together with the space Smith gives his trio and the solid unity of musical vision among the three artists. On the title track, a tribute to Billie Holiday, the vulnerable fragility is almost palpable, and you can only admire the akLaff's restraint in working his drums, barely audible, yet adding the necessary drama to the singing of voice and trumpet.

There is not much to say about the music, you should listen to it.

As I wrote earlier somewhere about his music : cosmic, rooted in the earth and so deeply human. A rare combination.

Again, I'm quite ecstatic about this album. Before you ask the question : why not a five-star rating as usual? Despite the quality, it is a further expansion of his former duo albums with a new line-up, and not really bringing a new musical vision. But still ...

Highly recommended.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bigoni, Solborg and Brow - Hopscotch (Ilk Records 2011) ***½

Reviewed by Joe Higham

Maybe the first place to start with this album is to introduce the musicians. Bigoni, Solborg and Brow's full names are Francesco Bigoni (sax), Mark Solborg (guitar), Kevin Brow (drums). Since we don't always get much information with the CDs it's difficult to know whether (in this case) it's a group project, or someones specific group. However, listening to the album it doesn't take long to realize that this powerful trio produces some very accessible but challenging music. The three musicians compliment each other perfectly with no one musician standing alone but all acting together. The music veers between a sort of nu-jazz and semi-free, not unlike (if you know them) Trio AAB, Matthieu Donarier Trio, Hyperactive Kid and of course the long forgotten Human Feel (bless their cotton socks), in fact on first listen one cold possibly mistake Franceso Bigoni's playing for that of Chris Speed.

The album's 10 pieces have a nice mix of improvised and written themes that at times almost rock the house as opposed to the ballads which lean towards the melancholic ethereal feel that Jim Black's Alasnoaxis favors. The group blows up a powerful wind on tunes such as 'Elope Soon' (tk2), a rocking tune with a minimalistic pounding guitar/sax theme which also sets the scene for the tunes that follow. 'Brainwashing' (tk4) is a high powered shuffle tune that turns towards some excellent free form improvisation after the theme. 'Meet Mr Green'(tk5) a contrapuntal melody that uses the same idea for the solo with the sax and guitar shadowing each other closely. However not all the tunes race along at high speed, 'Almost' (tk6) is a gentle ballad type melody that is tender and sparse. What's interesting about this tune is that the melody and improvisation meld together almost without one noticing.

All the players have strong voices. Bigoni's sax almost cries at times such as on the lovely frail sounding '2' (tk1) and his tune 'Not Interesting, But True' (tk9). Here he repeats some very simple melodic ideas that the group builds on gradually giving the impression that each musician is searching for a new melody, very effective! But it is probably Mark Solborg's guitar which most links together the three players. His playing is particularly strong with a wide sonic pallet that comes up with a new solution for every tune. His playing is discreet yet utterly compelling. All in all this is very clearly a band which is a product of the post downtown movement, mixing jazz, rock and improv into a highly listenable mix which has a broad appeal…..well X-Factor listeners' should maybe be warned!

Buy from Ilk Records

© stef

Five Years of Free Jazz Blog

We're kind of celebrating our 5th anniversary here, starting in January 2007.

We have reviewed well over 1,500 albums (we're at 1447 posts, but many have multiple album reviews). You commented 2,219 times, making this indeed an interactive blog. Please keep doing it. The more perspectives, the better.

We have welcomed 1,118,061 visitors of which 391,619 are returning visitors (you!), with a total of 1,774,543 pageloads. The following chart gives more details. It seems that we've reached a ceiling, but that is normal, I guess.How many people in the world like free and avant jazz? Although the number seems to lightly increase ...

 I am sure that this blog has, if not launched some bands, at least encouraged some of them and given them wider attention. I also hope that we have broadened the horizon of many readers, by mentioning albums and artists and music that would otherwise have been kept in the dark vaults of anonymity.

Keep enjoying the music. Keep pushing the boundaries of creating and of listening.

Many thanks to the contributors to this blog and to the loyal visitors.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone - Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Apparently they've been at this before, but "Departure of Reason" is my first experience with Jessica Pavone and Mary Halvorson's duo project. Avant-folk/jazz/rock or something, I find it an interesting, eclectic, exciting and rewarding listen.

The album begins with a strident rhythm guitar played by Halvorson. It has a clean, vibrant, and electric sound and over it Pavone's adds a folkish Eastern European inspired melody on her rich toned viola. Highly composed, there are quick unison runs that begin to reveal complexities within the composition. The improv sections begin and end seamlessly, blending back and forth into composed melodies.

The chords at the start of 'Hyphen' are quite interesting. Smoothing out the dissonant progression are lush chords that Halvorson then lightly applies her signature pitch bend to. Pavone joins in on a challenging note and the two then begin a slightly macabre dance. It's a delicious darkness though, once again, a melody that seems more than it appears at first blush. 'Begin Again' is another song that has an overall dark feel, this time the melody more swirling and elliptical. The combination of the hollow body guitar and viola tone is thick but brittle, with dark rich overtones.

Then, there are the vocal tunes. Seemingly interpolated somewhere between wholesome folkiness and the esotericism of progressive rock, the songs are beguiling and captivating. The lyrics touch abstractly on the human condition, "Belief," they sing in 'Saturn', "is the departure of reason" or just the abstract, "In the city of events, on a Tuesday sometime before then… " begins 'The Object of Tuesday'. The vocals come off as somewhat dry - be it with wit or wisdom - suiting the instrumental textures well.

The duo stretches the boundaries, veering fearlessly from folkiness to avant jazz to heavier rock, without relying on electronics or other types of musical programming to fill out the delicate space. I like it more each time I hear it and will probably delve into their back catalog too at some point too.

Download from emusic

© Paul

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wooden Plants – June ’09 (re:konstruKt, 2011) ***

 By Ananth Krishnan

The thrill of listening to music is multiplied many fold when you have no idea what to expect from an album, what sounds are going to emanate from those speakers when you hit that play button - Wooden Plants is one of such many experiences for me. Comprising of Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone), Dmitriy Krotevich (trombone) and Andrey Popovskiy (acoustic guitar), the June '09 recording is one long 36 minute collage of sounds recorded at Experimental Sound Gallery on 20 June 2009 (so much for the album name mystery!).

What this trio has managed to create has me completely befuddled. For one none of the instruments are recognizable - I wonder, given the fact that all three musicians are credited with 'objects' along with their respective instruments, if the objects are indeed the instruments themselves. Now and then, I was able to discern the sound of a strummed chord, some percussive bits (created with what, I have no idea!) or the breathing of the alto (or was it the trombone?!!!).

Sounds you hear are - scraping, sawing, buzzing, twitching, squealing, screeching and whatever else the thesaurus can throw at you, you get the idea right? I got the same sense of loss while listening to the records by Zero Centigrade (reviewed here, here and here) but if they dabbled with the fringes of jazz then these guys have set up camp miles outside the fringes. Believe me this is very difficult music to listen to with no apparent themes or underlying motifs - it sounds random most of the times but it is very clear that the musicians have put in a lot to create these soundscapes.

Leave alone this being free jazz, this is avant-garde pushed to the limits and minimalism stretched to its tautest that definitely not everyone can enjoy. Sometimes in the wake of creating something new, boundaries are erased and paths are lost - this is one such case - I for one enjoyed the half hour ride but will I reach out for this album again and again? Probably not. But I will wait for what else this trio can offer in future.

Buy from re:konstruKt


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ADA Trio (Lonberg-Holm/Brötzmann/Nilssen-Love) - ADA (PNL, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ada is one dirty delicious hell raising improvisation. Within a minute of the sets start, Nilssen-Love's wash of percussion stacks, Longberg-Holm's cello stokes, and Brötzmann's sax sparks the fire. This blazing recording, a single 33 minute set by the Ada Trio, begins full blast, ends full blast, and runs the gamut of intensity between.

An apt description of this blazing nugget of a recording can be found on the Squidco website : "A short but inspired set from the trio of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann performing live at Cafe ADA, Wuppertal in 2011. Bringing Chicago and Europe together for essential free jazz from the new and old generation of improvisers."

True to the description above, Nilssen-Love propels the music along with angular accents and tenacity. Lonberg-Holm adds both texture and depth, sounding a bit like an electric guitar at times, and a bit like nothing you've really heard before as well. Brötzmann's playing is expectably dramatic, if not more so.

However, while there are of course squalls of fury (and I would be disappointed if there were not), there are also many melodic passages and moments of space that lends the fiery parts even more potency and power.

The seamlessly flowing contrasts that occurs as the group plays makes the music emotional and engaging. I left this one repeating in my iPod for at least three full cycles through the tune and felt as if I was hearing new ideas each time. A recording of fresh intensity that makes for a rewarding listening.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Matt Lavelle - Goodbye New York, Hello World (Musicnow, 2011) ****

 By Stanley Zappa

If the quilts of Gees Bend can have a unifying look, can the “free jazz” of Lower Manhattan have a unifying sound? If it can, those unifying characteristics might include idiosyncrasy over slickness, directness over flourish, gesture over precision, frenetic abundance over pastoral quietude—a description which fits the city, its music and Matt Lavelle's "Goodbye New York, Hello World" in particular.

Lavelle delivers heroic performances on both clarinet and trumpet, which if you have ever played either you know is quite a feat to do on both. To what degree does one inform the other? They are two very different instruments organized and operated in two very different ways. My sense is that “looking” at improvisation from the perspective of a brass and reed player, subject to the strengths and limitations of both, has been an occasion for focus and crystallization.

Lavelle's clarinet playing on "You're the Tonic" is nothing short of epic, as is (what I believe to be) his flugelhorn playing on "Rose"—in it is everything you could want in a trumpet solo from a full, enveloping tone to a rapid cascade of notes winding unexpectedly over foundations laid by Francois Grillot on bass.

In the event there was any question what part of the jazz spectrum "Goodbye New York, Hello World" inhabited, Ras Moshe grounds the project squarely under the Lower East side “Free Jazz” umbrella, and it is in those extended minutes that he is at his most convincing. Successfully participating in a way of playing the saxophone that found its most storied expression in Pharaoh Saunders, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler takes time and dedication to the craft—usually at the cost of something else. It is when Moshe plays the “normal” notes on the horn that interest is likely to flag.

"Goodbye New York, Hello World" is a highly listenable document of the “Free Jazz” reality in New York at this time. Like it, hate it, the fact remains that this quartet and this recording is part of a history and lineage.

Lavelle is a vested member of that lineage, a position he's earned through hard work and staying power. His connections to that city and its canonical figures—about which he has written in his own blog—combined with an indisputable way with brass and woodwinds makes Lavelle, now and forever, more than just a passing footnote not only in the New York musical community, but a figure in the larger musical/historical narrative.

The band : Matt Lavelle - trumpet and bass clarinet, Ras Moshe - saxes, François Grillot - bass,  Bob Hubbard - drums.

Listen and download from CDBaby.