Click here to [close]

Monday, April 30, 2012

This new stuff that's hard to fathom, yet that's got me addicted ...

The great thing about free music, just like abstract painting, is that it forces you to go beyond the rational, to forget about anchor points, reference models, elements of recognition or patterns of comfort. Does this mean it belongs to the realm of the "emotional"? Well, not necessarily. It can create emotions, but it can contain very cerebral abstractions, which are alien to our feelings, yet still can be appreciated in an aesthetic way, whatever that means. It does resonate with something inside you, or it doesn't, at whatever level, which makes it extremely difficult for your humble servant, the reviewer, to write anything meaningful about it. It is often described as "noise" by its opponents, despite its use of low volume explorations.

Without a doubt the subgenre's roots are to be found in jazz, as testified by the use of instruments and by the musicians' backgrounds. You can also argue that the music's inherent openness and the importance of improvisation are typical for jazz too, but that's as far as the comparison goes. The sounds, the harmonies, the rhythms, the structure, the atmosphere, are anything but jazz.

Presenting all these albums in one go is a little disrespectful, because some of them really require some deeper analysis, but time is lacking, and the choice was either to pick a few out, and leave the rest unaddressed, or present a large bunch of them, with small indications of preference.

Axel Dörner, Werner Dafeldecker, Sven-Ǻke Johansson - Der Kreis des Gegenstandes (Monotype, 2011) ****

It is equally pointless to say that Axel Dörner plays trumpet, Werner Dafeldecker bass and Sven-Ǻke Johansson percussion, because you can only at times recognise the instruments. As the cover art suggests, this is not music for tropical Carribean dance parties, but rather an exercise in minimalism and the feeling of immediacy, of matter and space, of objects, and of being in that space. But it is not in-the-moment either as with free improvisation, because there is a clear development of the music, with moments of increased density and tension, after which siberian winds force you back into an inhospitable calm. That you ask questions, and are left with a feeling of wonder, is part of the process. Whatever it does to you, it will not leave you indifferent. And that's a great accomplishment.

Listen and download from the label.

Muringa - The Unknown Knowns (Sofa Music, 2012) *****

My real favorite in the list here is Muringa's "The Unknown Knowns" in reference to the famous Donald Rumsfeld quote. Muringa is Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on alto saxophone and clarinet, Tor Haugerud on drums and percussion, Kim Myhr on guitars and objects, and Martin Taxt on tuba.

There is no silence here, but an uncanny and slow development of sound, with lots of horizontal lines being imposed on top of the other, leading to sometimes eery moments, inexplicable drama, revealing a world of distress that you assumed could exist but that remains hidden and dormant, then everything goes quiet again, and by doing that the tension increases. Yet at the same time, primarily because of the bells and the clarinet, some pristine beauty and innocence emerges, in contrast to the industrial sounds (or are those helicopters?), on "Northwest Passage". On the last track, out of the slow, often piercing sounds, the tuba (I guess it's the tuba) erupts in dog-like barking, strange and impactful.

Subtle, full of character and vision. Really strong.

Jim Denley, Philippe Lauzier, Pierre-Yves Martel, Kim Myhr, Eric Normand- Transition De Phase (Tour De Bras, 2012) ****

This is without a doubt also one of my favorites in this overview of albums, with Jim Denley on alto saxophone, and flute, Philippe Lauzier on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet,  Pierre-Yves Martel on electronics,  Kim Myhr on acoustic guitar and zither, and  Eric Normand on electric bass. Like "Dans Les Arbres" and "Mural", things happen all the time, often close to a single tonal center, with instruments alternating in long resonance and vibrating airwaves. It is intimate and spacious at the same time.

Sheriffs of Nothingness - A Summer's Night At The Crooked Forest (Sofa, 2011) ****

This album has been lying around here for a while, and each time I decided to review it, words failed me, yet I did not want to put it on the not-for-review pile. The Sheriffs of Nothingness are Ole Henrik Moe Jr on viola and Kari Rønnekleiv on violin. Some pieces are composed, but their nature and approach is the same, with barely touched silence, joint development followed by dissent and change. A hypnotic and rewarding album.

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

Eddie Prévost possibly initiated this kind of music, with AMM, completely changing the way music could sound, and be listened to. He turned his drum kit and other percussion into instruments that produce sustained sounds by using a bow. It is no surprise that he teams up with Jennifer Allum on violin to produce weird sonic soundscapes, with piercing sounds, oscillating in a near vacuum, working in the regions between visible and invisible, audible and inaudible, .... yet incredibly intense in its delivery.

Thanos Chrysakis & Philip Somervell - Knotted Alembic (Aural Terrains, 2012) ****

It could sound strange, but this music has kept me company during the long morning commutes to work, calming my nerves in the daily traffic jams and hostile motorised compatriots. Thanos Chrysakis and Philip Somervell dive deep into the sound possibilities of their pianos, often inside, but not necessarily. Chrysakis also plays synth and vibes, as well as shruti box and chimes.

The result of an incredible beauty, calm, paced, and in contrast to its dark cover, the sound is light and clear. On several tracks the shruti box provides the single-toned drone, on which drops of sound occasionally fall.

 Otherways and Free Space - Life Amid The Artifacts (Emanem, 2011) ***

The music on this album is a compilation by the British art music scene of the seventies and early eighties. They are John Stevens on cornet and voice,   Trevor Watt on soprano saxophone, Herman Hauge on alto saxophone, John Russell on electric guitar, Nigel Coombes on violin, Ron Herman  and Marc Meggido on double bass, Dave Solomon on percussion, and Simon Mortimer on piano. Despite the minimalist approach, many things are happening here: instruments react with little notes, like a conversation of a group, exchanging thoughts and exclamations and confirmations and disagreements, not with lyricism, but with conversational intensity, struggling to be heard, glad to share insights. The album ends with two sax-percussion duets. Great that this music is again available, and it demonstrates the musical vision by these artists so many decades ago. On the downside, it remains a compilation of music that is not entirely coherent.

Lapslap - Granita (Leo, 2012) ***½

After "Itch", "Scratch" and "Zuppa Inglesa", this British trio releases its fourth album. The band is Michael Edwards on tenor and soprano saxophones, computer and midi wind controller, Martin Parker on french horn, flugel horn, recorder, computer, and Karin Schistek on piano and synth. Although minimalist in nature, the music can be extremely abrasive, harsh and raw, punching out at the listener with high volume and intensity. Quite varied and carefully crafted.

Myelin - Axon (Intonema, 2012)

Myelin is the duo of German trumpet-player Birgit Uhler and French saxophonist Heddy Boubaker, who perform here their second album together. You will rarely hear the normal sound of their instruments as they use lots of extended techniques, and add other input such as radio, sordinos, mini-speaker and numerous objects.

Soizic Lebrat & Heddy Boubaker  - Off The Record (Audition Records, 2011)

Classically trained cellist Soizic Lebrat joins self-educated bass and alto sax-player Heddy Boubaker, both from France, exploring sound and timbre and textures.

Download full album here.

Earl Howard - Granular Modality (New World Records, 2012)

"Granular Modality" is a sonic sculpture by Earl Howard on alto saxophone, electronics and synthesiser, with Miya Masaoka assisting on koto on the second track. In contrast to most of the other albums in this review, some of the sounds are really in-your-face, lacking subtlety and the natural control the genre requires.

Christina Kubisch - Mono Fluido (Important, 2011)

German flautist and composer Christina Kubisch releases sounds she recorded more than thirty years ago, digitalised and re-edited them. "The sound sources are flute (alto and bass flute) played by myself, the sounds of swinging plastic tubes in the air, the recordings of the windscreen wiper ("tergicristallo") of my old car, the sampled sounds of glass and of my own breathing. Just pure instrumental sounds and some "field recordings", no electronics. The piece is a quiet piece of ambient music, an acoustic landscape, unspectacular and yet intense", as the composer explains.

Ernesto Rodrigues - Suspensaõ (Creative Sources, 2011)

Portuguese Ernesto Rodrigues, on viola, harp, metronomes, and objects is joined by his brother Guilherme Rodrigues on cello,  Gil Goncalves 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 percussion.

How this octet manages to keep the music at an almost conceptual level, with light touches here and there, with at times barely anything audible beyond the occasional flutter and scrapes and bells. The music and the listener are kept hovering between reality and dream, between concept and realisation.

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

Incredibly intense sound environments by Michel Doneda on soprano and radio, Jonas Kocher on accordion and objects a,d Christoph Schiller on prepared spinet. I have the impression that this is something I've heard so often before, on other of these minimalist albums, but then again, it's sound is truly addictive in its compelling tension, soothing calm and unnerving shrill invasiveness.

Michel Doneda & Jonas Kocher - Action Mécanique (Flexion, 2011)

Michel Doneda plays soprano and sopranino saxophones, Jonas Kocher accordion and various objects. The music was recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2009 during a live performance and at times you hear the audience.

Like with so much of this music, you could qualify it as horizontal developments, with tones stretched beyond the usual, with the other musician interfering, adding and then relaying the tone, filling the space, seeking depth and shades and subtle timbral colorings, creating novel listening experiences out of instruments that cannot be more traditional.

Michel Doneda, Kocher, Grom, Sambolec- Udarnik (L'Innomable, 2011)

Michel Doneda on soprano and Jonas Kocher on accordion are joined by Slovenian musicians Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec on computer and, Tomaž Grom on double bass. Mystery and exploration are the words, as well as conflict and contradiction, of gentleness and rawness, industrial versus natural sounds, confrontational or serene ... and possibly because of the four musicians, the music itself is a little richer than the duo albums.

Osvaldo Coluccino - Atto (Another Timbre, 2012)

Coluccino only uses objects, not instruments, to create his music. He is concerned about the sensation of creating sound, about the expressive act of it, about its impact beyond the known. On some tracks, the density is high and many things happen all at once. On most other tracks silence offers the foundation for the objects to hear themselves.

Rafael Toral & Davu Seru - Live In Minneapolis (Clean Feed, 2012)

I have reviewed some of electronics wizard Rafael Toral before, with mixed outcomes. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't. In contrast to the previous albums, drummer Davu Seru plays drums in the traditional way, no bows or brushes, but hard-hitting avalanches of beats.Toral kind of uses this foundation to weave his electronics around, sometimes small and full of surprise like little birds, sometimes angry and violent like the best guitar shredder. Not really my cup of tea, I must admit.

Annette Krebs,  Anthea Caddy,  Magda Mayas - Thread (Another Timbre, 2012)

Two tracks, the first called "Sand", the second "Shore", these three women have a strong an unique coherence in their approach. Annette Krebs plays prepared guitar, tapes, mixing desk, Magda Mayas piano and Anthea Caddy the cello. The music is hesitant, with strange intrusions of Mozart's 40th symphony, or is this a coincidence? Calm intensity varies with outbursts of furious clamor. It is all very strange, and one is left wondering what it is all about.

Jean-Luc Guionnet & Sijiro Murayama - Window Dressing (Potlatch, 2011) 

A sax-percussion duet? By Jean-Luc Guionnet and Seijiro Murayama? Yes, for sure. But think again about the sound you can expect from a sax-percussion duet. Yes, you hear the sax, and you hear the percussion, but that's about as close to existing experiences that you get. On their previous album, "Le Bruit Du Toit", they were inspired by their immediate environment, evoking and reflecting and maybe just being the object that inspired them. Now the process is less clear, yet the music is as compelling, crafting sounds around silence.

Thomas Tilly & Jean-Luc Guionnet - Stones Air Axioms (Circum, 2011)

On this album Guionnet plays the church organ in the St Pierre Cathedral of Poitiers in France. Thomas Tilly made all the measurements and composition to ensure the full acoustic possibilities of the space inside the cathedral. It is minimalist and drone-like at times, with spectacular outbursts to counterbalance the silence.

Lucio Capece & Radu Malfatti - Explorational (B-Boim, 2011)

Lucio Capece plays bass clarinet and Radu Malfatti trombone. They play one long piece of fourty minutes, and even if you turn the volume up to the maximum, you still hear nothing, apart from the occasional and extremely rare sound. A statement, but nothing more.

In sum, as with all music, you are the judges. Jazz purists will find nothing of interest in the above, avant-garde "classical" music fans will not like it, yet the genre's potential, it's emotional power and low-volume subtleties are exceptional, not to mention the incredible conceptual understanding and discipline of the musicians.

© stef

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Aaron Novik - Secret of Secrets (Tzadik, 2012) ****½

By Paul 

It's about half way into the first song 'Secrets of Creation (khoisdl)' on Aaron Novik's Secret of Secrets and after a long classically influenced passage, the strings have interlocked with the keyboards in a dark and moving groove that makes me feel like I'm discovering an unknown chamber in my soul. The sounds takes on an earthy hue and I can feel my heart being pulled from my corporeal being as the strings draw the song up to a tight finish.        

Now prepared, I embrace the powerful entrance to 'The Divine World (terkish)'. The persistent and powerful rock like intro is a multi- layered affair with a klezmer melody atop a weighty rhythm played by the strings. The guitar contributes a swirling line over the dark and churning tempest below, until the strings soon help usher in the next movement and lighten the whole affair with a folk tinged melody.

Throughout the recording, rhythms, countermelody, and complex harmonic movements that reveal great attention to detail and thoughtful construction. While Novik's compositional approach has yielded  lucrative results, his talented cast of musicians really help bring these compositions to life. Novik plays electric clarinet and his group is Matthias Bossi on drums, Cornelius Boots playing the utterly fantastic robot bass clarinet, Carla Kihlstedt on electric violin, Willie Winant on percussion like the timpani, vibraphone, glockenspiel, gong, and tubular bells and Fred Frith on guitar. He also features Bay Area guests Ben Goldberg on contra-alto clarinet, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and Aaron Kierbel on dumbek. The Real Vocal String Quartet and Mafia Brass help round out the contributers.  

Besides the strong musicianship and intriguing song development, there is a third element to the album, which is its inspiration. The album is built around mysticism and reference to 12th century Kabbalistic writings (for a more in depth explanation I refer you to Eyal Hareuveni's excellent review). Suffice to say, I am simply listening to this dark and stirring album as just that, a dark, stirring and electrically charged album, though I'm sure an understanding of its roots and inspiration could shine in some light while deepening other shadows.    

A fantastic work that draws on elements of classical, jazz, rock and electronics to great effect. Certainly worth checking out!

Check out an excerpt here:

Monday, April 23, 2012

4Tet - A Different Song (Leo, 2012) ****

By Stef   

The great thing about jazz is its inherent openness to new possibilities, including the inclusion of non-Western instruments, harmonies and scales. The toughest part of doing this well is to ensure that both traditions keep their identity while adding a new musical experience on top. This great album is a prime example of this.

Swiss musicians Michel Wintsch on piano, Bänz Oester on bass and Norbert Pfammatter on drums welcome Chinese pipa-player Yang Jing in their midst for a fascinating journey of calm and cautious improvisations.

I am not quite sure what kind of arrangements were made among the musicians, but the interplay has this relaxed sense of respect, ensuring that sounds get created by a few musicians for the others to join and expand. There is no rush and no hurry, yet the music is very intense.

If the pipa may sound like an instrument from a different culture, Wintsch, Oester and Pfammatter also make sure that their traditional instruments get the occasional extended sound too, leading at times to an interesting clash of unknown knowns.

Part of the tracks are composed, and while they are easier to remember, especially the short "Les Mots Lisses", it is in the improvisations that the real value of the interaction becomes evident, with a somewhat darker and sadder atmosphere emerging, as on the partly composed "QinXu Street No 48", but especially on the suite "Steps Into The Future". The album ends with "Water Lilly" a typical Wintsch theme evolving in a circular way, full of romanticism, but then with skills and character.

Beautiful and sensitive stuff.

Buy from Instantjazz. 

   © stef

Sunday, April 22, 2012

KIRK - Msza Święta w Brąswałdzie (InnerGuN label 2012) ***½

Reviewed by Joe

First things first for all (myself included) who don't speak, or read, Polish - Msza Święta w Brąswałdzie = Holy Mass in the City of Brąswałd.

I always enjoying reviewing electronica albums, or anything that comes from that left field musical area. There's something fresh about hearing clear 0s and 1s coming through your speakers. This is an album for all those who enjoy trance (like) music encompassing jazz, techno and I suppose also a (sort of) ethnic feel. kIRK is a Polish collective made up of Paweł Bartnik (electronic instruments), Olgierd Dokalski (trumpet) and Filip Kalinowski (turntables) who clearly enjoy the art of mixing up various components. In their PR blurb they talk about Mary Anne Hobbs, techno and Si Begg, but to me this is actually (even if they didn't know) a more recent version of 23 Skidoo and Rip, Rig and Panic, two bands that if you don't know them .... you should!

To a certain extent kIRK comes directly from the same industrial wasteland as those two aforementioned bands. The music conjures up those same industrial soundscapes, something that many people can relate to at the present. The music is dark and minimal using the trumpet as a sort of melodic foil for the hard hitting percussive sounds coming from the two 'sound men'. From what I read the music is improvised, built from simple structures. You can certainly hear all this in the record as the music's minimal aspect hits you straight from the start. The title track is a repeated note played in a strong heavy repetitive rhythm that is neither a guitar, nor a drum, nor electronic beat, but something in-between. The music washes over you, not as dance music, but comes at you as a sort of unstoppable robotic beat, slow but never wavering full of trumpet flourishes that swirl within the sound.

Unfortunately as my Polish isn't up to much I can't tell you what the titles say but the five tracks on this LP all work more or less on the same system, not a criticism as it works very well. One hears turntable scratching and drum beats mixed with voices (in the machine), keyboard flourishes and other processed sounds providing the backdrop for the trumpeter Olgierd Dokalski blows over these rhythms spattering phrases here and there. There are no developed melodies, however Tk 2 has a vague klezmer quote (from a piece whose name escapes me at the present).

This album will certainly be of interest to those who like a more post modern approach to popular music and rhythms but still have some connection with the world of jazz, electro-acoustics and improvisation. In a way creeping into these sonic landscapes is like listening to a sort of industrial Sketches of Spain.

© stef

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vinny Golia Quartet - Take Your Time (Relative Pitch, 2011) ****

By Stef   

After yesterday's review, here is another great quartet, with Vinny Golia on saxophones, Bobby Bradford on cornet, Ken Filiano on bass and Alex Cline on drums. As I might have written once, Golia is one of those musicians whose playing really opened my ears many years ago, because of his power to be lyrical and emotional while at the same time trying out new things. So I always look out with anticipation for his new projects.

Like good wine, this music also has body and substance, while being fluid. All tracks have composed elements without having real themes, but offer structured character as the basis for the band's interaction. Another characteristic is that all four musicians play all the time, with only few exceptions. This adds to the density of the sound and the intensity of the music, which spans the whole range from bop to free jazz.

And needless to say, four fantastic musicians. Not a real musical breakthrough, but consistent high quality music. Recommended.

Vinny Golia - The Ethnic Project (Kadima, 2012)  ***½

On this album Vinny Golia plays all kinds of ethnic instruments, each time in a duet with some of the world's best free improvisation bassists : Barre Phillips, Joëlle Léandre, Bert Turetzky and Lisa Mezzacappa.

The instruments include native American flutes, guanzi, zurla, zun, nohkhan, danso, souna, maori bone flute, hulusi, taragato, kaval, moxeneo, Scottish bag pipes.

It all sounds very exotic - as is the intention - but also familiar as it is free improvisation after all, with limited real ethnic musical influence apart from the instruments.

It is lighfooted, fun and easy to digest. Music by friends. Music of the world ... and for friends all over the world. Warm and full of character. Peace.

© stef

Friday, April 20, 2012

Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan (Skirl, 2012) ****½

By Stef   

Imagine you're 28 years old and you can make an album with jazz veterans like Ellery Eskelin on sax, Dave Ballou on trumpet and Michael Formanek on bass, three artists with incredible span and depth, and come out as one of them, no ... actually offering them some great music to play around with, to improvise from?

Well, that's what young drummer Devin Gray achieved with this fantastic album. From the very first notes, you can hear that this is a percussion-led quartet, with the rhythms setting the scene for musical complexities and arrangements that are an absolute treat. The rhythms, themes and melodies are not easy to get into, but that only increases the fun, making them elusive, and once patterns start getting formed, they get broken down again, only to re-emerge.

Building on the heritage of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Gray takes the concepts into a more modern context, intelligent without becoming intellectual or cerebral: this music is all about soul, with technical skills and finesse fully at the service of the end result, full of surprises, emotion and a deep-rooted sense of pulse.

Possibly one of the best debut albums in years, and by an artist with strong musical vision and maturity despite his young age, and with a musical quality that is consistent throughout the album.


© stef

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lisa Mezzacappa and Nightshade - Cosmic Rift (Leo, 2011) ****

Ambience is to the fore on Lisa Mezzacappa and Nightshade's album Cosmic Rift. Built upon electric/acoustic soundscapes, the focus in on interactions and textures rather than strong rhythms and striking themes.

The album has been sitting in my iPod for quite a while now, slowly gaining my attention and surprising me each time I give it a listen. I am finding it an entirely different approach than some of the other groups I'v heard from the bassist. For example, Cylinder, reviewed here, drew upon connections to Coleman and Dolphy with its upbeat interlocking melodies. Another group, Bait & Switch, reviewed here as well, was a more jazz-rock oriented affair.

The music on Cosmic Rift strikes an intriguing balance. Tim Perkin's electronics and the other musicians' extended instrumental techniques are as important components of the sound as the rhythmic and melodic lines. Yet, while the sonic textures are a main feature, there is still a big role for the melodies woven throughout.

During the first song, 'Cosmic Rift (prelude)', Kjell Nordeson's vibraphone intertwines with the bass and percussive voices, while clainetist Cory Wright spins a long free form melody that slowly builds to a satisfying climax. On 'Delphinius', John Finkbeiner's guitar threads its way through a thicket of syncopation and texture. Soon a melancholic melody appears which weaves in and out of sync with the woodwind. The Frank Zappa penned 'The Eric Dolphy Memorial BBQ' is a captivating re-working of the tune. Starting off with bass clarinet delivering the melody over an insistent bass line, it is punctuated with all sort of sound effects and percussion, then halfway through it coalesces around Finkbeiner's guitar, building into an off-kilter groove.

While this album took a little while for me to get into, I'm finding it to be as engaging, albeit in a different way, than the aforementioned recordings. The nuanced interactions, melodic juxtapositions and subtle electronics present a new sound that slowly intrigues and captivates.

Buy from Instantjazz. 

Aldo Romano, Louis Sclavis, Henri Texier - 3+3 (Label Bleu, 2012) **

By Stef   

For those of you who know the fantastic French trio of Aldo Romano on drums, Louis Sclavis on clarinet and Henri Texier on bass with their "Carnets De Route" and "African Flashback" trio albums, this review comes as a warning.

The trio invited three other musicians, Enrico Rava on trumpet, Nguyên Lê on electric guitar and Bojan Z on piano, all three musicians who have played with the other three in previous bands and performances. The end result is almost the opposite of the trio albums, which were lyrical and refined, but above all had a kind of straight-to-the-heart authenticity, with solid and beautiful improvisations over Africa-inspired melodies and rhythms.

This album also has the great themes and compositions, yet the additional elements, and especially the electric guitar, give the music a more fusion-like feel, leading to a too polished and commercial touch.

The trio pieces ("Nous Trois", "Rituel à Trois", "Valse à L'Âme", "Moins Qu'une Ombre") are without a doubt the best tracks on the album, and they come close to the music we're familiar with, and when only Rava joins on "Ravages", the end result is also excellent. But that's only half the album, and that's a little sad.

And this is not to denigrate the musical skills of Nguyên Lê and Bojan Z, who are both excellent, it's just that their addition makes the music stylistically more slick and less adventurous and authentic.

But if you get a chance to see the trio in a live setting, don't hesitate. And try to get hold of their previous albums.

© stef

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chicago Underground Duo – Age of Energy (Northern Spy, 2012) ****

"Wind Sweeping Pines" is a twenty minute track on the Chicago Underground Duo's sixth album "Age of Energy" and the intensity and emotion that builds by the end of the track is just incredible. Cornetist and electronic sound sculptor Rob Mazurek's melody sails above the mix of acoustic drums and bubbling electronics. But, it's the journey to that point that deserves the most mention.

Through an electronic soundscape that is as organic sounding as it is electronically structured, tones and waves slowly build and blend mesmerizingly. Five minutes in, Chad Taylor's drums appear with a simple pattern that gives the pulsating electronics a human element. Things seem to break down a bit at the 12 minute mark and when the cornetist finally appears, it is as an effected ghostly wail, blending with the electronic tones. Only towards the very few last minutes do the acoustic instruments burst forth with the aforementioned ferocity.

Other tracks, like "It's Alright" is a thorny nest of ambient sound that creates a desolate and tense atmosphere below the cornet's lonely melody. "Age of Energy" is a percussive piece with the electronic oscillations coloring Taylor's free playing. Mazurek's soloing is focused and driving when he picks up about half way into the song. 'Castle in Your Heart' is a tender piece with Mazurek playing muted horn over the mbira. The most straight ahead song is 'Moon Debris', comprised of mostly drums and cornet, it blazes a bright and energetic path as it courses though the speakers.

The album is aptly titled, the duo captures the bits, bytes, fumes and fusions of our age with an expert blend of electronic sounds and acoustic instruments. Melodies and motifs are ephemeral, a constant flow of ideas and sound, grafting the organic and electric. A fitting soundtrack to our times.

The Chicago Underground Duo/Trio has been covered here in the past, see some of the other reviews:
  • Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey, 2010) ****½
  • Chicago Underground Trio - Chronicle (Delmark, 2007) ****

© stef

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mikołaj Trzaska Ircha Clarinet Quartet - "Watching Edvard" (Kilogram, 2011) ****½

By Stef  

Last year, Polish clarinet quintet Ircha's debut album "Lark Uprising" was a contender for the "Happy New Ears Award" 2011. There might have been some confusion about the exact album and the exact year, but now that I have heard the band's sophomore album, now a quartet, I think this one is even better.

The clarinet quartet is Mikołaj Trzaska on bass clarinet and Bb metal clarinets, Michał Górczyński on Bb and bass clarinets, Paweł Szamburski on Bb and bass clarinets, and Wacław Zimpel on alt, Bb, bass clarinets and tarogato. 

The album consists of sixteen improvised pieces, mostly short with a few exceptions. Trzaska has this unique capacity to create situational music, as the miniature soundtrack for a movie scene, much in the same way that you can listen to the music of Evan Lurie. Each piece has a precise character, sometimes fun, sometimes stressful, sometimes sad, sometimes fast and nervous, clearly defined with the first notes, kick-starting the four men to meet on an imaginary stage and start their dialogue. 

Like in a good movie scene or theater play, it is all about the interaction of people, communicating, disagreeing, agreeing, chosing sides, building tension, releasing tension. Only a few tracks are long enough for real expansion and the development of a plot, with the title piece a clear winner, beautiful, slow and sad, with one clarinet taking the lead against a background of a warm-toned sonic tapestry. The two other long tracks "Upper Trias Caspian Fugue" and "Dream Analyzer" have the same emotional quality. "Tender Dictator" combines both approaches. 

The playing is absolutely superb and the moods shift between the very humane and down-to-earth situational with more compelling sensitive developments. 

This is great stuff, by great musicians, but the overall coherence of the approach and musical vision is possibly the album's most discerning quality. 

© stef

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Nu Band - Relentlessness - Live At The Sunset (Marge, 2011) ****½

By Stef   

Their first album, "Live At The Bop Shop" was released before I started with this blog, it was followed by "The Nu Band Live" (also at the Bop Shop), "The Nu Band Live in Paris", "The Dope And The Ghost" (Live In Vienna)  and "Lower East Side Blues". 

Each album received a high rating, each album was is also recorded live (except for "Lower East Side Blues"). The band is Roy Campbell on trumpet and flute, Mark Whitecage on sax, Joe Fonda on bass and Lou Grassi on drums, all musicians with an incredible track record.

As on the previous albums, the music is best catalogued as free bop, with a strong rhythmic and harmonic component as the foundation for lengthy group improvisations, with moods that vary from upbeat to contemplative and serene. As on the previous albums, this is also a real band effort, with compositions coming from all four musicians.

Musically, there is nothing new though, as they have been playing the same language for the last ten years, yet it is so powerfull, so lyrical, so emotional, so cleverly executed, with precision, and adventure, and openness, and with such an incredible respect and understanding for each other, that each nu album is a nu treat.

Sit back and enjoy!

Buy from Instantjazz.  

© stef

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boris Hauf times two

By Stef  

Boris Hauf - Next Delusion (Clean Feed, 2012) ****

Berlin based saxophonist Boris Hauf creates some unusual music, synthetic of several modern styles, regardless of genre, combining jazz with noise, minimalism and electro-acoustic musings. On "Next Delusion" he is accompanied by Keefe Jackson on tenor sax and contrabass clarinet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet and the triple percussion line-up of Frank Rosaly, Steven Hess, and Michael Hartman on drums.

As the cover art illustrates, this is not exactly music for birthday parties, offering the combined sound of resigned desperation, sadness and doom. The first track evolves quite monotonously in the literal sense, with increasing volume and intensity. The second track starts without percussion, with the three saxes playing slow subtle harmonic shifts, to be suddenly interrupted by a triple percussion outburst, then gradually both conflicting approaches overlap and end in harmony. On "Fame And Riches", the mood is black again, with Hess's electronics adding to the eery atmosphere of low-toned unison lines. The album ends with a rhythm-less free-for-all in which saxes and percussion explore chaos, broken by sustained and very long rumbling of the drums, finishing in an orchestrated repetitive and rhythmic fashion.

There are moments when you wonder about the actual substance of what you've just heard. But then, it's so intriguing you want to listen again. And that feeling does not go away. What is happening here? Possibly a strange and not unpleasant kind of disorientation. And somehow that is what we like.

Boris Hauf - Proxemics (Creative Sources, 2011) ****

On Proxemics, released almost simultaneously with the other album, we find Hauf back in the company of Steven Hess on drums and electronics, Keefe Jackson on contrabass clarinet and tenor sax, and Juun on piano.

Even if the overall atmosphere is as dark as on "Next Delusion", the touch is lighter, possibly because there is no real percussive sound, more transparent, more open. The minimalism is quite strong, with long single-toned lines, somehow a little flexed to increase intensity and with powerful interaction between the four musicians : slow, feeding off each other, adding a touch here and there, building the fragile pieces with caution. Despite the linear minimalism, the music remains highly unpredictable, full of mystery and tension.

Juun's piano adds a lot, from percussive moments, over scraping sounds and harp-like playing to real piano phrases, even if repetitive. On the last track Hauf plays harmonium, laying a sonic foundation for the whole piece, which in a way evolves differently, with the various instruments, and especially the saxes playing actual phrases, creating a crisp and bright ending to an excellent album.

Buy from Instantjazz. 

© stef

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eivind Opsvik - Overseas IV (Loyal Label, 2012) *****

By Paul Acquaro

I haven't yet heard Overseas I through III, but catching the series here at IV is quite a pleasure. Eivind Opsvik, with his instrumentally eclectic group, creates a world of unfolding soundscapes that run the gamut from precious to powerful. It's an excellent collection of music that packs a lot of surprises.

Possibly the most interesting sound is Opsvik'a use of the harpsichord on songs like the classically-tinged opener 'They Will Hear the Drums – and They Will Answer' and the striking 'Men on Horses'. Jacob Sack's playing, mixed with the sonorous tones of Opsvik's bowed bass, it's a mix rarely heard (at least by me) in the realm of jazz and adds a certain baroque feel to the songs. Tony Malaby's saxophone is a creative and welcome voice as he makes his presence known with an emotion laden solo during the delicate opening song. Kenny Wollesen, whose excellent drum work is a constant throughout the project, is also featured on the opening song where his use of the timpani adds emphasis at key moments.

This recording neatly defies categorization, while it has a strong improvisational component and a compositional complexity that suggests jazz, it also references a diverse and imaginative palette of genres and influences. In contrast to the strong classical elements, Brandon Seabrook's guitar adds a rock dimension, and an early peak comes in '1786', where Malaby delivers an intense free blowing solo that could pop your iPod ear buds out. The start of Michelle Marie suggests something akin to a new wave inspired Robert Fripp riff and the rough hewn textures of 'Robbers and Fairground Folks' is as fine of a progressive rock statement that you will find anywhere.

Overseas IV is a multi-dimensional recording that demands repeat listens. It's a complex soundtrack and a fascinating compositional statement. For what it's worth, I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Check out "1786" here on YouTube - it starts delicately and just builds from there:

© stef

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bushman's Revenge - A Little Bit of Big Bonanza (Rune Grammophone, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I've enjoyed listening to albums by the Norwegian power trio Bushman's Revenge over the past couple years, but their latest offering is the most impressive by far. 'A Little Bit Of Big Bonanza' is a powerful collection of tunes, that while downright heavy at times, also seems to be constructed with a little more attention to dynamics and composition than previous offerings.

The album kicks off with the appropriately melodic 'As We Used to Sing', a Sonny Sharrock tune whose almost hummable melody is unpinned with some fierce drumming and fine fuzz bass. Then there is 'John Lennon is The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived' which features finger picked acoustic guitar, a melody driven by descending bass notes, and a delicate brush pattern on the drums. It is reminiscent of the Nels Cline Singers and the inclusion of Gard Nilssen's vibraphone is a key element.

A little after half way into the album things really begin to open up. '4E73' features a spacious arpeggiated melody underpinned by sonic textures that hint vaguely at sage brush and prairie, and it slowly swells into 'Tinnitus Love Poem' which has become one of my favorite tracks. It follows an evocative emotional arc as the guitar builds, bends and breaks your heart.

But worry not, while they may have briefly shown a subtler side, tunes like 'Iron Bloke' and 'Hent Tollekniven Ivar Det Har Stranda En Hval' are hard driving affairs. Replete with churning baselines and driving riffs, Even Helte Hermansen's guitar is incisive and cutting, Rune Nergaard's bass line is insistent and Nilssen's drums pulsate strong and free.

Overall, the songs and playing here feels a little more considered and varied than past recordings. While not jazz, the complex free rhythms and improvisational approach give this music a complexity and sophistication that goes beyond rock or metal as well. On the heavier side, but well worth a listen.

You can download the mp3 version from eMusic, and note that there is a companion LP called "Never Mind the Botox" which is available from Rune Grammophone.

© stef

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Alex Ward and Lol Coxhill - Old Sights, New Sounds (Incus 2011) ****

Reviewed by Joe

It's great fun to listen to live duets and so see (or rather hear) what improvisers get up to when placed in the same space. The answer is true improvisation, a coming to the fore of the improvisers art in reacting to stimulation from another performer. To add to the fun when it's to blowers you often get to hear some of the finest performances that these players are capable of, there's nowhere to hide, and they already know the other instruments possibilities.

On this CD release you get the splendid clarinettist Alex Ward happily duelling away with soprano sax king Lol Coxhill - a true legend in his own lunch break if there ever was one. Lol has been on the scene for a long time, improvising in just about every situation, from punk rock bands to solo outings in swimming pools and many more besides. His work here with Alex Ward is wonderful to hear, full of his usual snake like lines, harmonics, over-blowing and witty melodic twists that have become Lol's trademark. Alex Ward matches him line for line with a wonderful fluency that only comes from someone who has not only mastered technique but also is able to use it in a truly musical way. Together they make quite a team.

One can't really break down any of the tracks individually as this is an album which I can imagine seeing live, it's about two performers feeding of each others ideas. In fact one reason why I don't give this more stars is that although this is a thoroughly rewarding listen it certainly breaks no new ground, and (strange as it may sound) somehow I don't think it was meant to. Each track holds your attention from beginning to end with plenty of energy and surprises keeping you fixed to your seat. Ward and Coxhill improvise in the old school ethic of 'let's just play and see what happens', it's good fun and very listenable. What more do you need from two of the great blowers on the UK free jazz scene?

Highly recommended.  

* = There are 7 tracks, however, one of my tracks had nothing on it! I don't know if this was a fault on the CD - sound files that we get sent - or a musical joke. Check with your local stockist before purchasing.

© stef