Saturday, March 31, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
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.
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) ****
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
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: http://beaver.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-babuin
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: http://atomikclocks.bandcamp.com/album/magdan-in-charleroi
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: http://philhargreaves.bandcamp.com/album/small-things
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: http://zombijazz.bandcamp.com/album/foreclosure
Saturday, March 24, 2012
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!
Friday, March 23, 2012
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.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Monday, March 19, 2012
By Joe Higham
Buy from Instantjazz.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
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.
Friday, March 16, 2012
'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
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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.
Monday, March 12, 2012
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.
Thursday, March 8, 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.
Monday, March 5, 2012
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.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
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.