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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lama - Oneiros (Clean Feed, 2011) *****

Lama is an electronically enhanced acoustic drum, bass and trumpet trio that has delivered an excellent album with "Oneiros". The pieces fit together so tightly that there's hardly room for a wasted note, beat or breath as the musicians move gracefully through the set of songs, nimbly riding the contours between structure and freedom.

For the most part, the instruments are used fairly conventionally, though the musicans are not prone to hold back from extended technique when the moment calls, or use electronic processing and real-time loops to create new possibilities. Trumpeter and group leader Susana Santos Silva plays mostly with a clean and dynamic tone. Bassist Goncalo Almeida's upright sound is perfect support for Silva, as he produces a rich sound that contracts nicely with the more subtle use of electronics. Greg Smith's drumming and percussion is an important connection between the other instruments, whether creating texture or coming up with a smart groove.

The first tune, 'Alguidar' contains a little of everything, from a static-laden start that seques into an nonabrasive noise jam and then into a complex groove between Almeida and Smith. Silva delivers, over the elastic time, some possibly Ayler-inspired martial themes but goes far beyond them into a spirited improvisation.

'Overture for Penguins' begins with a simple but effective theme bowed on the bass. Electronics crackle and spit, and soon comes in Smith's colorful percussion and Silva's crystal clear and driving trumpet. A playful juxtaposition of light and dark rhythms help conjure a delightful tension, and as the tune unfolds, it takes on an almost rock-ish dimension.

A tune whose title speaks to me, 'My Fucking Thesis', circles around in an echo filled chamber of angular ideas and passionate argument. The electronics are used here for texture and fill, like cross hatching in a sketch. The brittle fizzle and digital spittle adds depth to the acoustic lines. Moments towards the end of the song, and especially in the next tune 'The Chimpanzee Who Told Man How To Cry' remind me of Miles Davis, somewhere between the minimalist funk of Miles in the Sky and the sheer power of Bitches Brew. Quieter moments, like in the title track, display a sensitive and melodic fragility that exudes a certain melancholy.

Overall 'Oneiros' is a dynamic album with a lot to offer the listener. It defies the conventional but is also quite accessible. Highly enjoyable and grows better and better with each listen.

See what you think:

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The phenomenal Mats Gustafsson

By Stef 

Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson is without a doubt one of the most forceful players ever, combining a ferocity that surpasses Brötzmann with a technique equalling the best and adding an emotional howl that is his unique signature. He is on top of this a real music lover, collector of music in all its diversity and form, interested in new things, quite respectful of the jazz ancestors and his great favorite musicians, such as Don Cherry and Albert Ayler. If Vandermark makes it often a must to put all his weight in composition and in technical complexities, Gustafsson is more of the expressionist, simplifying his music to the most direct and authentic form, and putting all the emphasis on raw yet subtle emotional delivery.

Apart from the albums mentioned below, we can also look out with lots of expectation for two new albums by The Thing, one with Barry Guy and one with Don Cherry's daughter Neneh. More about this later.

Kieran Hebden, Steve Reid, Mats Gustafsson - Live At The South Bank (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2011) *****

Drummer Steve Reid passed away in 2010 and this is possibly his last recorded work. Reid played with jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sun Ra, but was also a soul and Motown session musician. He was 35 years older than British post-rock electronics wizard Kieran Hebden. For this double album, Gustafsson joins the duo for eighty-five minutes of hypnotic highly rhythmic trance-inducing musical madness.

The atmosphere is dark, heavy, apocalyptic, doomed somehow, almost like an electronic tribal dance to chase industrial demons and plead for final redemption. All the tracks are long, very long, taking the time to set the scene, develop the character and take all the listeners on board for this incredible journey.

I am not sure how I would have felt about this album without Gustafsson, but I can assure you that his contribution adds the vital human level of agony and distress and emotional outburst that takes the whole thing to a different plane. The opening track "Morning Prayer" and the absolutely mesmerising "Untitled" are absolutely phenomenal, with Gustafsson wailing, screaming, howling like only he can do it, almost without changing notes, over a one-chord repetitive wall of sound. Madness.

Incredible, phenomenal.

Swedish Azz-Azz Appeal (Not Two, 2011) ***

The Swedish Azz series brings tribute to the Swedish jazz musicians and composers from the sixties, but then with a modern twist, in which the traditionally rendered compositions are slightly transfigured by electronics and present-day concepts.

Mats Gustafsson is on alto, baritone, slide saxophones and live-electronics, Per-Åke Holmlander on tuba and cimbasso, Kjell Nordeson on vibes, Dieb13 on grammophone and live-electronics, and Erik Carlsson on drums.

The end result is fun and entertaining, as its intention is.

Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love & Mesele Asmamaw - Baro 101 (Terp Records, 2012) ***½

Despite having been recorded in a hotel room in Addis Abeba, capital of Ethiopia, this LP does not suffer too much from the context. Gustafsson plays baritone saxophone, Paal Nilssen-Love drums and they are joined by the Ethiopian krar player Mesele Asmamaw.

The playing is good, free form but rhythmic, with a great Ethiopian flavor, especially when Mesele starts singing on the second side. His krar is at times a little weak compared to the power of the two Europeans, but otherwise the trio adapts quite well to each other, with Gustafsson sounding very Ayleresque, bluesy and spiritual and rhythmic in his approach, with Love and Asmamaw enjoying the openness, which is at times a little chaotic and unfocused, yet that also adds to the spontaneity and the fun.

Fire! with Jim O'Rourke - Released! (Rune Grammofon, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Essentially this short review is an update to the excellent one (really long) sentence write up from Stef a few months back on the main release "Unreleased". "Released" is 11 more minutes of music that was not released when the "Unreleased" was released. This seems to be something that the folks at Rune Grammophone have been up to with some recent recordings, and in this case, "Released" is presented as a 10" EP on vinyl.

These two additional tracks from Fire!, which is the collective of Mats Gustafsson on sax and Fender Rhodes, Johan Berthling on bass and Andreas Werliin on drums and guest guitarist Jim O'Rourke, follow suit. "Certainly those older and released …" and "Particular, local and plastic wrapped" are two interesting tracks, the first one is a minimalist piece, lots of electronics, that just seems to simmer digitally. The sax adds a bit of subdued melody in between the electronic chatter, the guitar adds some texture, the bass and drums add some pulse, but it is generally an electronic soundcape that builds tension with its restraint. The second song, however, picks up with Gustaffson's sax quickly building in volume and intensity. As the bass and drums join, soon it is ablaze and the previous soundscape is replaced with a driving musical howl. The electronics on this one flip their role, this time they serve to heighten the drama and pathos contained within, and the acoustic instruments take center stage. It's a cathartic listen as the song reaches its climax, after which the listener is finally released.

A fine encore performance.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kiev, Florence, Liverpool and Brooklyn

By Paul Acquaro

I thought it may be interesting to take a quick tour of some of the free jazz releases that have come this way over the past couple months. The following is in no way an exhaustive list, just a sampling of some of the great music out there that has caught my ear recently.

Stanislav Bobrytskyy, Andy Gone - Live at Babuin (self released, 2012) ****

We start in Kiev with keyboardist Stanislav Bobrytskyy and percussionist Andy Gone's high energy performance at what sounds to be an intimate venue (some clinking glasses and ambient chatter can be detected in the recording). Bobrytskyy is a dynamic and energetic keyboardist who plays with a real vibrancy and urgency. Gone's drumming is a perfect compliment to the colorful and percussive leanings of Bobrytskyy, and together they have a sound that is immediate and melodic. The opening 'Polymer' showcases engaging syncopations and an ever evolving melody. The dramatic penultimate 'Puzzle One' was quite a pleasant surprise. The closing tunes feature Bobrytskyy using a sound and approach that would not have been out of place on a Soft Machine recording circa 1970. These are two musicians I hope to hear more of in the future.

Free to sample and download at Bandcamp:

Atomik Clocks - Magdan in Charleroi (self-released, 2011) ***½

We travel westward now to Florence where Atomik Clocks are lighting their home studio on fire with thier kinetic energy. They are a jazz-punk group that plays with some fire and reminded me of an only slightly tempered Acoustic Ladyland. With a similar instrumentation to the 1970's group Back Door, Atomik Clocks follows suit a bit with Francesco Li Puma's electric bass featured prominently, leading the trio through some powerful and complex grooves. Filippo Pratesi lets loose a stream of ideas on sax that fit tightly with Marco Ruggiero's drumming. A highlight here is the track 'Le stagione deli amori' which features some nice trio interplay and allows Pratesi to break out a bit, extending his range and melodic approach. Though I did feel that there could be a little more variation to the songs, overall it's an energetic and exciting recording.

Sample and download at Bandcamp:

Graculus - Small Things (Whi Music, 2012) ****

Heading north to Liverpool, we find the duo of Graculus making some very gracious and enjoyable improvised music. The group is Richard Harding on classical guitar and Phil Hargreaves on flute and soprano sax, and their approach is as sensitive and light as the previous group is hard charging. During this collection of 34 short improvisations (longest is 2:23, shortest :46), Harding's guitar provides minimalistic but highly effective support to Hargreaves' melodic woodwind lines. The text that the group uses is aptly descriptive: An album of improvised miniatures, using classical guitar and either flute or soprano sax. This (mostly) quiet album is really quite enjoyable, give it a listen.

Sample and download at Bandcamp:

Zombi Jazz - Forclosure (self-released, 2012) ***½

Across the Atlantic, Zombi Jazz from Brooklyn, NY is creating an undead mix of mangled and bloody improvised free jazz. This group is Michael Foster on sax and clarinet, Alex Hood on trumpet, trombone and vocals, Eric Silberberg on bass and violin, and Dan Stern on drums and marimba. I'll admit, it took me a bit to get into this one. The vocalizations on the first tune, and peppered throughout, didn't work for me at first, but I accepted it as a part of the whole package, and it was more than offset with the fantastic meat art on the album cover. Also, I was quite taken with the version of Monk's Evidence. It's a journey through ambient radio sounds, multiple voices playing concurrent solos, extended technique and some snippets of the underlying melody surfacing on occasion. The level of individual musicianship is high and the group dynamic is strong, especially on songs like 'Into Prostitution' and 'Jermiah Jizzbo'. It's not easy music, but it draws you in, and once you're bit, it can be infectious.

Sample and download at Bandcamp:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Skogen - Ist Gefallen In Den Schnee (Another Timbre, 2012) *****

By Stef 

Rarely has a title been as precise as for this album, capturing a feeling in mid-phrase "has fallen in the snow", offering possibly one of the most delightful and lightest musical dishes you may have consumed ever.

The band consists of Angharad Davies and Anna Lindal on violin, Toshimaru Nakamura  on no-input mixing board, Petter Wastberg on electronics, Leo Svensson Sander on cello, Erik Carlsson on percussion, John Eriksson on vibraphone & crotales, Henrik Olsson on glasses and bowls, and Magnus Granberg on piano, but equally rarely will you have heard a nonet with a more open, lightfooted and fragile sound.

Magnus Granber takes the lead on piano, using sparse notes as the reference for the other musicians who intervene with the beauty and transparance of single snow flakes, single-toned, well-paced and creating an atmosphere of perfect tranquility and peace.

The album contains one single track, lasting just over an hour, and despite its minimalism is not boring for one second. On a superficial level you might say that nothing much happens, but quite the contrary is true, nothing is ever the same, as the partly composed piece evolves with subtle and sometimes unexpected sounds. As with other bands using the same approach, such as "Dans Les Arbres", "Silencers" or "Mural", the musicians' utter instrumental control and restraint are astonishing, resulting in this wonderful coherence that is the result of high level common improvisation, made interesting because of the real intensity of the created soundscapes.

Again, as with lots of new music in the past decades, Scandinavian musicians offer us new aural experiences, and indeed very welcoming ones. Highly recommended!


  © stef

Friday, March 23, 2012

Anto Pett & Bart van Rosmalen - Playwork (Leo, 2012) *****

By Stef 

Somehow over the years my musical preferences have changed, possibly because of the hours of listening to music on a daily basis, forcing myself to listen, and I find myself increasingly captivated by what most people might consider "beyond music". I will review a number of these albums in the coming days, highlighting some of the better ones, and if time allows, comparing them to some other works that fall a little bit short, even if I do not like doing that.

Let's start with an album that was an absolute ear-opener even at first listen, bringing the wonderful interplay between Estonian pianist Anto Pett and Dutch cellist Bart van Rosmalen. Pett developed his own improvisation strategies, of which you can find some teachings on the internet, but here he goes beyond the science of his explanations, and actually demonstrates the magic of its results, if performed by virtuosi.

You can almost say nothing else but that the music determines what the players do. It is the creation of the initial character, atmosphere, approach of the music that grows into a further deepening of the concept without actually altering, just offering more shade and color. Both musicians feel equally comfortable in the concept and with each other, co-creating at the speed of light, with unbelievable rhythmic explorations, or to keep the idea, being co-created simultaneously by the pieces themselves.

The chamber music line-up and the  lightness of the overall sound are deceptive, because luckily the substance and depth offered by the music make this incredibly rewarding music for many, many times of listening again and again.

Despite the fact that they use all timbral possibilities of their instruments, ranging from the crystal clear over raw, muted to distorted sounds, the coherence of each piece, and the only gradual insertion of dissonance make this still - I think - relatively accessible, but that may be a strong overstatement.

In any case, lovers of improvisation should listen to this. This is music to be really enjoyed, full of grace and expressivity and drama and subtlety and an inherent playfulness, as if music reveals itself anew.

Incredibly strong!

© stef

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bogdo Ula - Prisoners of Freedom (self-released, 2011) ****

Somewhat reminiscent of Terje Rypdal's more rock oriented work, the Finnish power trio Bogdo Ula creates soaring sonic tapestries that showcase the power of near telepathic interplay. Entirely based on group improvisation, the trio works so well together that they create spontaneous music that could very well pass for composed songs.

Throughout, guitarist Samuli Kristian spins a rich blend of searing melodic leads and dense angular harmonies. While the melodies ride, drive and collide with the rhythm generating friction and intensity, his electric guitar shimmers and glides, filling an immense amount of space. Co-creators Drummer Ivan Horder and bassist Jean Ruin are each just as responsible for the energy and textures that emerge from these soundscapes. The songs often can conjure mental images akin to the majesty and distance embodied on the album's cover image of deep blue tinged mountains in the clouds.

Though some of Rypdal's work (in particular his output with the Chasers in the early 1980s) is a point of reference, 'Prisoners of Freedom' has very much its own sound. On the opening 'Lava Flow' and the following 'Songs from the Moonbog', the interplay is instantaneous and tight and the collective sense of melody is uncanny. Eschewing the majestic leads of the aforementioned songs, 'My Heart is On My Sleeve' is a real highlight. The song builds with actions and reactions between the musicians. Fleet runs on the fretboard and brief chordal accents are held together captivatingly by the rhythm section.

The group sticks to a DIY approach, selling their music via iTunes, eMusic and CDBaby (check their website for links). They have several albums currently available, and it seems that it was only recently, on the previous album 'Charge', that they brought in Ruin on bass. Though a little more on the rock end of the spectrum, appreciators of harder edged jazz-rock like Scorch Trio or Blixt should check it out.

Listen here:

© stef

Monday, March 19, 2012

John Butcher and Toshimaru Nakamura - Dusted Machinery (Monotype Records 2011) *****

 By Joe Higham

Although a bit a of a late review this has to be one of my favourite releases from the end of 2011. John Butcher and Toshimaru Nakamura show how man can meet machine, an almost perfect blend (and also quite a feat), something I wouldn't of thought about when talking about duets. I should probably explain that for those not in the 'know' - and I wasn't either - that Toshimaru Nakamura's instrument is a no-input mixing desk(*). As there's no-input he doesn't mix other people, just himself, reacting with either his own sound or another player, in this situation the sonic palette of John Butcher, for me one of the most revolutionary sax players to be found at present. In fact the combination and collaboration couldn't be more well suited.

So, sax and no-input mixing board react together in a perfect blend of sound - squeaks, crackles, screeches, hiss, and other such noises. John Butcher's style blends beautifully with Nakamura's sound world and there are many moments when one really wonders who is responsible for which/what sound. Of course this has no importance as the record is heard not as two instruments but a blanket of sound that comes from somewhere inside your hi-fi system. It's almost as if the circuit boards were able to talk between themselves, singing away as resistors, capacitors, inductors, relays and diodes all happily finding a prefect harmony. In fact it's quite amusing to find that you're sitting totally transfixed listening to the hiss of a mixing table, something that one normally wouldn't associate with musical sound, yet you wait and see what the duo will conjure up next. Like Nate Wooley's solo record Dusted Machinery makes one question the pre formed ideas on traditional sound and instrumental technique in music. Of course John Butcher's saxophone does come out clearly (as a saxophone) at moments, yet somehow it's as if he's able to commune in complete synchronicity with Nakamura's mixing board and make sense (and music, even if sound based) out of what could be seen as an abstract association.

This is certainly not a record for those looking for melody in the traditional sense. Even if the four tracks have names - Leaven, Maku, Knead and Kobasu - there are no tunes as such, this record makes a fine balance between free improvisation and the world of noise. However it is, for me at least, a record with a constantly hypnotic quality which draws you into the two improvisers sound world, which is totally original. A very successful collaboration and one that asks the question where they could go from here?   

Buy from Instantjazz.

Buy from Monotype Records

* = If you wish to know what a mixing desk is then look it up on the web as it might take up a little too much room here to explain what it is, and of course how it works.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Maya Homburger & Barry Guy - Star (Ergodos, 2011)

By Stef 

Classical violinist Maya Homburger and her husband jazz bassist Barry Guy are always a treat, whether performing their own music, pieces from the classical repertoire, or like on this EP, music composed specifically for them.

The album contains three meditative compositions by  Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, Garrett Sholdice and Simon O’Connor. Both musicians play arco throughout, with an uncanny precision and resonance.

Fans familiar with the the couple's other albums will be surprised : usually they like contrasts, between the classical and the avant-garde, between harmony and dissonance, between calm and intensity.

Nothing of the sort on this EP, which gives you the exact atmosphere as the art work on the cover : the rising of the sun, the world is calm, still quiet, live begins ... without any dissonance, without any disturbance, but equally without form yet, fragile and light. Nothing more than a promise, but a beautiful one, full of purity and hope. Life begins.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

© stef

Friday, March 16, 2012

Aych - As the Crow Flies (Relative Pitch Records, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

'As The Crow Flies' is an inspired collection of songs and ideas brought to life by a group of musicians that hardly need an introduction to readers of this blog. Saxophonist Jim Hobbs, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and guitarist Mary Halvorson have each been busy garnering praise leading their own ensembles. They have also worked together in different pairings before, including Hobbs and Ho Bynum in The Fully Celebrated Orchestra and Ho Bynum and Halvorson with Anthony Braxton.

Recorded and released under the name "Aych" (phonetic for Hobbs, Halvorson and Ho Bynum), this album brings together a handful of compositions by Hobbs with a set of group improvisations. Songs like the bluesy 'Over Yonder' and the melodic 'Cydonia's Face' are nicely developed, the spare instrumentation illuminating the melodies in unexpected ways. The spontaneous pieces range from noisy forays to delicate individual solos with each musician trying out different concepts and ideas.

In both the songs and the improvised pieces, seemingly unconnected parts develop into complex arrangements as ideas flow uninterrupted into each other. The ideas are sometimes atonal and other times quite palatable where both everyone and no one is lead. Hobbs or Ho Bynum may be playing melody and slip into providing texture, while Halvorson may go from a single note run to slashing distorted chords. A nice example of synergistic creation is the collective improvisation entitled 'Southern School of Complete Reality'. With long unaccompanied sections, each player gets to show their concepts of their instruments, both alone and together, sometime listening and reacting, sometimes going off on solo tangents.

'As The Crow Flies' is a creative collection, the improvised pieces can be startling and unique and the composed ones quite engaging. It's an interesting album that welcomes repeat listening.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Download from emusic

© stef

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wojtek Jachna Jacek Buhl – Niedokonczone Ksiazki (Audio Tong, 2011) ***

By Stef 

On their second album, Polish musicians Wojtek Jachna on trumpet, flugehorn and electronics and Jacek Buhl on drums continue their journey, although a little more erratically. 

It is fun at times, as on the highly rhythmic "Bernstein's Mood", with really great moments at others, as on the more free form "Tajemne Schody". But the overall approach lacks coherency, it's like tasting from various fruits in a market place without being able to decide which one to buy in the end. "W Słońcu Dawnych Dni" offers a more soft rock electronic background, with full reverb melancholy playing, "Przypływ Odpływ" is all electronics and noise,"Katastrofa w Porcie" brings us in the realm of Nils Petter Molvaer,  etc. 

The challenge of every artist is to make a choice, and rather than demonstrating a wide variety of skills, to come with a unique voice and vision. The ingredients are here, but this voice is still absent. Radical unity is needed. I'm interested to hear what's coming. 

© stef

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Matthew Shipp - Live At Incubate

With thanks and credits to Joost Heijthuijsen of Incubate.

"The inimitable Matthew Shipp treated Incubate 2011 visitors for an hour-long of unmatched piano virtuosity. A mix between own work and improvisation, best described by the master himself with the following quote: “The next tune I will play is… Well… I don’t know“. We recorded the session that you can listen to below or on our slowly expanding Soundcloud, that reached over 700 followers already. You can find a complete overview of all the recordings here.


© stef

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nordeson Shelton - Incline (Singlespeed Music, 2011) ****

By Stef

After the recent great albums by Ken Vandermark and Tim Daisy, or Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love, we now have another great sax-drums duo album with Aram Shelton and Kjell Nordeson. Both musicians were also to be admired in "Cylinder", in my opinion one of the better albums of last year.

Shelton and Nordeson more than fully deliver the goods here. Both musicians are incredibly creative in their interaction, enjoying highly rhythmic interplay without falling into clichés, to more minimalist and subdued playing as on "Tower". They deliberately look for novelty and they find it, offering a highly enjoyable and captivating listening experience.

The most striking element on the album is Nordeson's rhythmic and percussive-sonic foundation, fully highlighted on "Orbit", odd-metered, with stop-and-go dynamics and counter-rhythms. Fascinating stuff, that creates the perfect context and challenge for Shelton to delve deep into the realm of possibilities, a task well taken care of, without the need to resort to extended techniques, keeping a voiced tone throughout.

The end result is one of deep authenticity, purity and novelty, uplifting and fresh. Easy to recommend.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Scorch Trio with Mars Williams - Made in Norway (Rune Grammophone, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The album is spinning on my turntable but the font is so small and hidden in the lushly decorated label that I've given up on figuring out if I'm on side A listening to 'Sloo' or side C listening to 'Enberg'. I'm starting to think that this obfuscation is by design, to let the fantastic music coming from the grooves speak for itself. Unaware of when one song begins and the other ends, or even which side of the two records I'm hearing, I'm happily resigned to just being flotsam in this tide of sound.

There is something really appealing in the presentation of the white vinyl that slides so gracefully from the sumptuous gatefold cover. Adorned with an abstract painting, vaugely floral, and marked only in a tiny sans-serif font, the "Scorch Trio with Mars Williams, Made in Norway" is a pleasure for both the eyes and ears. Recorded live at Cafe Mono in Oslo and at the Nattjazz festival in Bergen in May 2011, this double album is possibly the best recording I've heard of Raoul Bjorkenheim's Scorch Trio.

If you are familiar with the trio's aggressive and textural music, you'll be satisfied with the proceedings, however, there is an added dimension here with the inclusion of Williams' saxophone. Along with the intense squalls and storms are moments of calm and contemplation. The contrasts are exciting and the inclusion of Williams is a masterstroke. His playing is tough and sensible, ready for the tempest that guitarist Bjorkenheim, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Frank Rosaly can release. He blends into the group seamlessly (or perhaps a better phrase is 'stitched in', with all the seams gloriously exposed) and brings additional dynamics to play.

The Scorch Trio has been working together for several years and have released several powerful recordings on Rune Grammophone, though original percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love was replaced by Rosaly on 2010's Meleza. In this latest configuration, duets between Bjorkenheim and Williams are inspired as they blend their voices and goad each other on, always just a little bit further. Rosaly's drumming is vibrant and varied as he pulls and pushes the music in different directions. Haker-Flaten's bass is brimming with life, generating enormous waves of sound and subtly supporting the gentler passages.

The limited release of 500 copies on LP makes this a trickier recording to find, but one worth seeking out. The joy of seeing and feeling the music is an experience in itself. For someone like myself, slowly being numbed by the instant convenience of the mp3, the gatefold cover and flip of the record makes the experience all that more tactile and engaging - though let me lodge my complaint that there isn't a mp3 download included.

Regardless, good clean rocking free jazz fun.

© stef

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gunter 'Baby' Sommer, The New Trio - Melting Game (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Gunter 'Baby' Sommer's 'Melting Game' recorded with The New Trio begins with a mournful and longing sound. The folk like melody of 'Hymnus' rolls from Floros Floridis' clarinet as Sommer's drums roil below. As the forlorn melody progresses, bluesy shadings and shouts fill in the spaces, while Akira Ando's bass provides just the right amount of counter melody. The song draws you in as it tries to lodge itself neatly somewhere between your heart and throat.

The first song sets the stage for the collection that follows. Next, trying on a rhythm that vaguely suggests cowboy boots and Stetson hats, 'Shuffle to WH' features a loping rhythm and a bass clarinet solo that juxtaposes the subtler side of the instrument with its wilder one, often in the same phrase. The clarinet cadenza that opens 'Hora' invokes a more melancholic atmosphere, this time with Klezmer shadings. Here, Sommer employs all sorts of additional percussion over Ando's long bowed lines. Another highlight is the evocative saxophone solo that bursts out after the long atmospheric build of 'Inside-Outside-Shout.' My favorite two songs are sequenced at the end of the recording. 'Salpismata' starts off with the bass and drums playing a somewhat funky and free introduction, and as the tune progresses the clarinet work really gets quite fiery. The final song, 'Goze,' is an extensive exploration around a repetitive scale played by the bass.

While the recording is Sommer's date and his percussion is featured prominently in shaping the group's sound and songs, it's the woodwinds that really stand out. Whether on clarinet, bass clarinet or alto sax, Floridis veers quickly between playing inside and outside as his improvisations unfold both thoughtfully and with a bit of recklessness. The 'Melting Game' is a tremendously good listen that strikes an engaging balance between premeditated melodies and free playing.

© stef

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Nakatani, Tiner, Drake - Ritual Inscription (Epigraph, 2012) ****½

 By Stef

A new trio, a new label, and the music is as fresh and unpredictable as you might expect. The line-up is unusual too : Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion, Kris Tiner on trumpet and Jeremy Drake on guitar and electronics.

The music is raw, open-ended and strangely enough, deeply emotional. Tiner has the incredible power to make his trumpet tone wail like Lester Bowie could, in an almost human-like fashion, stretching the tone, and then bending it upwards like a blues guitar string, or just - equally Bowie-esque, producing low bluesy grumbles alternated with crystal-clear joyful jubilation.

Drake's guitar does not sound like a guitar at all, most of the time resorting to sonic soundscapes of the harsher kind, with low-toned feedback and full reverb, or using gentle strokes to make strings sing. Nakatani too is a colorist, not a percussionist in the time-keeping sense, but an artist who creates sonic experiences by emphasising, thundering or by adding subtle touches or mad rattles. 

Despite the sometimes raw and dark atmosphere, the total sound is exceptionally beautiful and crisp, music that will grab you by the throat as well as make you dream. It's especially the contrast between both that makes this great art, the tension between Tiner's gentle humanity on the one hand, and Drake's horror-movie sounds on the other, with Nakatani embracing both ends of the spectrum, that make this performance really worth looking for.

 Highly recommended ... but only 500 vinyl copies available, so you'd better hurry.

© stef

Friday, March 2, 2012

BABs - Diving Bells (Loop Records 2012) ****

Here's an interesting recent arrival (if only electronically) from the Loop Collective. BABs stands for Olie Brice (double bass), Jammes Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Alex Bonney (laptop), although not in that particular order ..... as the old saying goes.

Alex Bonney popped up not long ago when I wrote a review for Splice late last year. That record mixed sound manipulation techniques by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay someone who's already a respected electro acoustic composer. That record mixed live and processed sound also, although in a melodic direction, using electronic processing as an accompanying instrument rather than a central point of sound control.

On Diving Bells, BABs uses sound manipulation as it's main reference. Bassist Olie Brice and reed-man (this time on bass clarinet only) James Allsopp rise to the challenge of providing extra material for Alex Bonney to work with via his laptop. Among the looping sounds and clicks there's the cry of bass clarinet, spittled mouthpieces, detuned bass strings, hit bass strings, and didgeridoo like shrieks to name but a few. They manage to keep the whole thing up in the air wonderfully well, finding new angles to add which all end up in the melting pot of sounds. Of course when computers step in it's often difficult to really know who's doing what - a little like Woody Allen's remark in Radio Days about ventriloquists on the radio. But to a certain extent that's not important, the best thing to do is to sit back and just let the sound mixtures wash over you.

It's important to point out that the laptop, and it's prominent role, never means the album becomes totally abstract. The added interplay of acoustic instruments constantly reminds you that this is live communication between musicians, not some abstract sound painting. From the opening 'Fatal Nest Egg' with noises which echo up as if from a dungeon, to the closing 'Becalmed .... finally' with sparse use of bass clarinet and bowed double-bass talking like two ships in the fog, BABs work with all stops pulled out. In fact I often found myself wondering whether this is what Northern European Aboriginal music could sound like? The album has 5 tracks and is 35 minutes long. The two longest pieces tracks 1 and 5 - both 11 minutes - bookending the other three short pieces.

In conclusion although this doesn't have any 'tunes' on it that you may wish to dance to, it is another record confirming the influence of noise and electro-acoustics on the world of pop, jazz and improvised music. It's a long way from Bjork's experiments in pop meets Max/MSP, but goes to show that this musical art form is here to stay and becoming more acceptable and so visible on the live music circuit on a daily basis. Laptops were once a thing of a small minority when talking about instruments, whereas within recent years no concert program of any worth would dare to ignore musicians and their groups who use this machine as an instrument. If you enjoy discovering new areas of music, then don't shy away from trying this one ...... just remember to listen with the lights on!

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