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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Le Ggril with Evan Parker: Vivaces (Tour de Bras, 2012) ****

By John Colburn

If you are a fan of longer, exploratory forms and large-group ensembles, this will be a very rewarding disc. Le Grand Groupe Régional d'Improvisation Libérée is an improvisational collective based in Quebec, Canada, and Vivaces captures a live recording from a concert in Rimouski. Le GGRIL often hosts guest artists to head workshops and conduct the group, and this recording captures illustrious saxophonist Evan Parker conducting and playing with Le GGRIL.

The three songs on this recording display great willingness to explore the depths of each improvisation. The mixture of sounds in loose rhythm that open Vivaces gives a hint to the surprising textures at work in this ambitious recording.  These are accomplished musicians, and the interactions between them progress in surprising ways. At times the structures remind me of Parker’s work in the Global Unity Orchestra, and like those recordings, the music here is consistently rewarding and occasionally difficult. The array of instruments and sounds present in each track creates a sonic map that shows us how the conductor’s thinking progresses and still manages moments of great lyrical beauty. We hear accordions, violins, voice, tuba, guitar and of course Evan Parker’s saxophone.

The final third of opening track reaches a brilliant set of surprises and some magnificent saxophone work by Parker, but mostly he is conducting on the first two tracks. And in many ways the conductor is the star here, with Parker directing the sound by dropping instruments in or out of the music, and extending certain tones by bringing them to the forefront. As the second track, Boutrage, crescendos with a wonderfully demented and circus-like rhythm (yes, the tuba!) you feel the full potential of the improvisational large group. The music alternates between rhythmic propulsion and lyrical, floating tones, often involving the accordions. Organic textures provided by violin, voice and accordions often bring a very welcome dreamlike quality to passages in the recording.

The second track covers so much territory, from lush to spare, from hypnotic to jarring, that it alone acts as a large-group improvisational workshop. It's this 25 minute track that most intrigues me, especially because the musicians never seem to run out of new territory and the music often takes on a mind-altering quality. During the third track Parker's playing provides space and melody for the other players to work off, and they often enough find sublime moments behind him.

It's been a long time since I've listened to a live recording with so many textures on it, and all this in only three songs. Congratulations to Le GGRIL and to Evan Parker on this fine recording. The disc is nicely mixed and its live quality adds to that tightrope, highwire tension, that feeling that the musicians could slip up, take a wrong turn, disassemble. But of course there are no wrong turns, only opportunities for the next turn. Vivaces is a blueprint of sorts, a how-to for groups exploring large group improvisations.  As a recording it is fascinating listening, and the LeGGRIL project is an excellent model for the development of a regional avant garde. It and other adventurous music can be found at the Tour de Bras label site.

© stef

Friday, June 29, 2012

2 million page loads

Another milestone reached for your favorite jazz blog : 2 million pageloads!

Thanks for your loyal readership and another thanks to the entire review team for their contributions.


(Every time a page loads into a browser window this is a pageload. This happens either by an url being entered in address bar of the browser, or from a bookmarked address, or by using back or forward browser arrows or a refresh of the page).

Jeff Parker - Bright Light in Winter (Delmark 2012) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

It's been a long wait for album, the third from Jeff Parker and his trio (if you include the 'Relatives' as a trio + 1). The previous record from 'The Relatives' (as mentioned) was also one very understated piece of work, but something that really stayed under the skin. This record is also another lesson in how to make great music for the guitar without flashing off your chops, playing in 23/16, or inviting some superstar to play on your record.

Jeff Parker has become his own man step-by-step, playing and writing intelligent and forward looking music for guitar. In fact it's his personal approach to the guitar that really makes him so distinctive (naturally), and although I'm sure he has his influences he doesn't seem to wear them on his sleeve. His style could be a sort of modern day Jim Hall, so understated, dry and full yet round, almost old fashioned I would say. Yet his harmonies and approach to his material are quite fascinating. 'Mainz' (tk1) demonstrates from the first notes how Parker's understated style is all about melody and atmosphere, and probably what sets him apart from the mainstream of jazz guitarists. 'Change' (tk3) hovers over a backbeat played on the rim set up by Chad Taylor (drums). The steady beat and pleasing chord melody make room for a beautifully warm solo and also another moment when we get to hear Jeff Parker's impeccable jazz chops. To a certain extent much of the music lies between jazz and rock, but certainly not jazz-rock. The melodies and grooves belong to both worlds and are always catchy and stylish. 'Freakadelic' (tk4) is a moment where we get to hear, what seems like, a sort of free-bop romp where the melody is the improvisation. 'The Morning Of The 5th' (tk5), is a wistful melody without bass as Chris Lopes plays flute, which invokes a feeling past times. Each melody has something which sets it apart from the rest, ballads, quasi Latin groves, acoustic post rock, all bases are touched upon. The final track 'Good Days' reminds you of just how fast things can pass us by.

Finally one could say that Jeff Parker and his trio approach the material in a very organic way, letting each melody tell it's own story, no pyrotechnics. Of course this may not be everybody's 'cup of tea' yet for me Parker really stands way out, someone with a strong vision of his own, making the music original, and naturally recognisable as his thing. This is something which we find rarely in jazz music today, and although this is not a record which blows the top of your head off, it's a record which calmly states it's message. 

Highly recommended for fans of the understated!

Can be purchased on Instantjazz.  

© stef

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nobuyasu Furuya Quintet – The Major (NoBusiness, 2012) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Nobuyasu Furuya has the fire of free jazz burning in his belly. Since his impressive debut as a leader in 2009, he’s had a reputation as a brash, passionate improviser with a sound that invokes the cathartic heat of the original movement. As with any purgative art, self-indulgence is a risk that must be managed in free jazz. Raw emotion may be what is most plainly conveyed through music, but that doesn’t mean that communication is an easy task. It’s a caveat Furuya always keeps in the back of his mind. You only need to be swept into the spiritual jazz surge of “Jap Agitator Caught Again” to realize that he’s tapping into some cosmic nerve, something we all can feel on some level.

Part of Furuya’s success with this music is his close relationship with members of RED Trio, all of whom are present in his quintet. They’ve staked out their own idiosyncratic corner of the piano trio canon, and with trombonist Eduardo Lála, they form the flexible, responsive infrastructure that bolsters Furuya’s fiery vision. But these are free spirits, remember, and if there’s a problem with The Major, it arises when Furuya attempts to orchestrate structure or intensity, forcing things like breaks or crescendos instead of letting them naturally unfold. “D.O.O./Declaration from Detroit” is perhaps the biggest victim of this approach, the kind of semi-coordinated, unsubtle blowfest that reminds me of Zorn’s weaker work, and is normally below these guys. It’s a gamble that does have its pay-offs, however, most notably in the raging, dissonant swagger of “Where are the Brother and Sisters?”, which actually finds drummer Ferrandini and bassist Faustino swinging, and hard.

By the final two cuts, the group has settled in comfortably, the three-part conversation between Furuya, Faustino and Lála at the beginning of “When No Saints Go Marching In” a particular highlight.  As the final track closes on a deep, wavering piano chord, it’s hard to imagine ever growing tired of these musicians. They’ve come to improvised music because they are searching, chasing those fleeting moments when sound converges just so, engulfing and moving you in ways you could never attain otherwise. It’s these moments that join musicians and listeners.  The Major may not be Furuya’s strongest date, but it’s as authentic as anything he’s put to tape.  May he keep the torch burning.

This is another extremely limited LP from NoBusiness. Get it from the label here

Can be purchased on Instantjazz.  

© stef

Asunder Trio (Paul Dunmall, Mark Sanders, Hasse Poulsen) - The Lamp (Kilogram Records, 2012) ****

The sax-bass-drum trio is a particularly favorite combination of mine. The flexibility of the unit, the space that is filled by the three instruments and both the power and finesse that it can achieve is inspiring. However, I am also pretty partial to the sax-guitar-drum configuration as well. It's different, the bottom end is more likely to fall to the bass drum, but the canvas of sound in the middle is rife with possibility.  This is exactly there where the Asunder Trio pulls off passages that can coo in your ear and sand blast your face. Single note lines and blurted chords contrast with restraint and melodic intent, it's a trio of musicians who say a lot in their improvisations. 

On the first song, Asunder, the guitar builds incredible tension and darkness over which Dunmall delivers some ferocious lines. Mark Sander's percussion rumbles menacingly below, ensuring plenty of momentum. Dunmall's lines entwine and encircle the guitar and drums foundation, twisting and turning endlessly. For the introduction to the second song, The Lamp, Hasse Poulsen's acoustic guitar plays a little more traditional of a role, introducing the song with strained arpeggios and striking syncopations. The drums clatter below and the percussion lends texture rather than a steady rhythm. Dunmall's sax is introduced through a bunch of squeaks and squeals while the tune builds in intensity. The song is an engaging improvisation that follows its own stream of consciousness logic. 

The last song, For Tony Levin, is dedicated to the late percussionist with whom Dunmall had a long musical partnership. The song has an amazingly subtle build up and is moody soundscape that has palpable restraint. The tension though is not without reward -- but it's not an ecstatic climax the song reaches, rather it's a feeling of gravity, one that captures the feeling of loss tempered by the joy of making music.

Overall, The Lamp is an effective and affective recording.

© stef

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Catherine Sikora, Ian Smith, Han-earl Park - Cork 04-04-11 (Bandcamp, 2012) ***½

By Tom Burris

An improv gig is a gamble by definition, relying primarily on the mood and temperament of the musicians, individually as well as collectively.  Thankfully, this hour-long performance, which gels far more often than falls apart or searches for cohesion, was captured for those of us not in attendance to enjoy.  The set begins tentatively, but starts to flow after just a couple of minutes when Han-Earl Park begins to pull the group together with bowed drones and arhythmic picks on his guitar.  Catherine Sikora picks up the call and starts playing full, purposeful runs on her sax that take the lead while Ian Smith contributes muted trumpet splatters.  Suddenly, Park’s guitar rises and falls w/ quick figures via the use of a volume pedal, simultaneously taking the lead away from Sikora and leading the group to another place.

The performance’s centerpiece, “Red Line Speed,” best represents the trio’s interplay and dynamics.  There is a moment where you’d swear you were listening to a Sonny Rollins and Derek Bailey duet.  Smith plays spastic trumpet figures with a mute, while Sikora plays fluid lines and Park darts in between them.  Smith plays a short solo of hissing sounds.  My favorite moment occurs when Smith sounds like a drunken bumblebee & Sikora plays spiral figures as if she’s waving her arms, shooing him away.  Then Park appears with sonic smacks, clumsily chasing the bee with an oar.  When the piece comes to an abrupt end, amid trilling saxophone, muted trumped, and guitar smears, it sounds like they ripped a peanut butter sandwich apart and smashed it back together with the captured bee inside.

Park is especially adept at steering the group down side streets they might have otherwise ignored and utilizes simple techniques to arrive at unique sounds, such as sticking a piece of metal between the guitar strings & then finger-picking to approximate an alien banjo.  Sikora is often the anchor of the trio, grounding them in traditional sonic terrain while playing every bit as imaginatively as the more unconventional Smith and Park.  Smith frequently surprises with blurts and burps in one second, and full open tones in the next.  He also utilizes the mute as often as not.

Of course, it’s the build-up that makes the magical moments exciting; but those lulls are never a long wait as there is a new surprise around nearly every corner throughout this often fascinating performance.


Musician links:

© stef

Catherine Sikora, Ian Smith, Han-earl Park - Cork 04-04-11 (Bandcamp, 2012) ****

By Philip Coombs

There is almost always one enigmatic person at every gathering, whether it be a bar, venue, or house party. Inevitably, there is an expert storyteller there as well. With any luck, it happens to be the same person. These rare folk have the ability to spin a tale you have possibly heard before but can retell it with such clarity that you are captivated or better yet hypnotized. They can give you a new understanding of something you thought you already knew. This is a beautiful power and an ability that is rare to possess.

Catherine Sikora is such a person/player. She has a clean and colorful voice that could read me my autobiography and still have me in suspense.

Sikora and trumpeter Ian Smith, both Irish, are joined by American guitarist Han-earl Park to complete this trio for a night in Cork, a night that was fortunately recorded for this release.

Topologically Correct Harry, starts the album on a timid, feeling out sort of an arrangement with Smith and Sikora not being overly committal. Park stays low key and adds a percussive element to the proceedings. There is something really refreshing about a trio allowing silence to be their forth member. Sikora is in such control of her saxophone, as every note has a purpose, every note an adjective.

The main story on the recording is track three. Clocking in at almost 25 minutes, Red Line Speed, is, to continue a theme here, the Shakespearian tragedy of the album. It starts with the chatter of a couple sitting at a table close to one of the microphones. The guitar comes in but the conversation continues in the background. Park changes up his percussive touch and somehow gets his guitar to sound like a tuba of sorts. The trumpet is next, adding to the subplot. By the time Sikora joins in, the stage has been set for quite the journey.

The track builds slowly with no lack of intensity until the half way point when both Park and Smith drop out and let Sikora have her monologue. She effortlessly takes away the familiar tone and replaces it with nothing more than the air that she breathes, until there is nothing. Even the chatter of the patrons have stopped. Then out of nowhere comes a cry from the saxophone. A cry for help, a cry to let us know that it didn't end as badly as we thought. The others jump in to help and push the track to its conclusion. This number really is an experience to remember and worth every minute of dedication it takes to hear it in one sitting.

A wonderful gem of a recording.

© stef

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Louis Sclavis Atlas Trio – Sources (ECM, 2012) ****

French clarinetist Louis Sclavis is commonly regarded as one of the world’s finest jazz players on his instrument. For nearly 40 years, he’s readily swapped styles, from free and straight ahead to classical, soundtracks and world jazz. On his latest release “Sources,” he attempts the difficult synthesis of several of these approaches in an intimate, but not understated, chamber setting.

For the recording, Sclavis forms the Atlas Trio with guitarist Gilles Coronado and pianist Benjamin Moussay, both a couple of decades his junior. Their roles in the serpentine musical arrangements are pretty surprising. Generally, in trios without bass or drums, the piano is a natural choice to provide a broad accompanying texture, with deeper bass notes than the guitar and an ability to provide chordal support that’s rhythmically independent of the left hand lines.  In the Atlas Trio, Coronado usually chugs gritty patterns in the low regions while Moussay resides mostly in the same area as the leader, brightly keying the sinuous melody lines in unison with his clarinet. Only at climactic moments does the lower register of the piano sound, and the effect, demonstrated on the album-opening “Pres d’Hagondange” is quite rich and compelling. The sonic depth of this technique is markedly reduced when Moussay switches to electric piano on “La Disparation” and “Sous Influences,” but the crunchy texture is well complemented by subtle drum programming on the title track.

“Sources” is an ECM album, and recordings on Germany’s most venerated label are known for a particular house style. Manfred Eicher, the label’s founder and producer of virtually every release, goes for a round, resonant sound that is at times pleasingly ambient and at times excessively tame. Sclavis’s compositions like “A Road To Karaganda” and “Dresseur De Nuages” fit most neatly in ECM’s world-chamber-jazz box, but even at the most avant-garde moments of “Outside of Maps” there’s a regrettable smoothing of the music’s edge.

Fortunately, the strength of the ensemble is neither novel texture nor border-pushing exploration. Sclavis’s compositions, a natural extension of his film scoring, are the star of the show. They are sophisticated and compact, allowing for a great deal of interaction in and out of the memorable themes. On “Migration,” Moussay and the leader alternately interject brief bursts of baroque improvisation while the other continues to develop the melodies. Coronado slips away from his rhythmic duties to duet with Sclavis on “Quai Sud,” a shift made with the accuracy and sensitivity of a top-class second violinist.

Sclavis manages to pull off this stylistic balancing act through his compositional prowess and the instrumental strength of the Atlas Trio. In the adventure department, it comes off a bit safe and decidedly ECM-flavored. For the creative jazz listener who is more concerned with internal substance than bold artistic statements, “Sources” is well worth a listen or ten.

Highly Recommended

© stef

Daniel Erdmann - How To Catch A Cloud (Intakt 2011) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

I noticed that one of our new writers Philip Coombs (kind of) apologized for reviewing an album from 2011. Well I can tell you if you look into our archives there's piles of albums that we just can't get through quickly enough to review, hence the new members of the review team. Well, this is another one that slipped through the net from 2011. So here you have it, the German sax man Daniel Erdmann with Samuel Rohrer (drums), Vincent Courtois (cello) and Frank Möbus (guitar). A record with not only a very classy line up, but also a selection of very stylish compositions.

You won't class this as free jazz, nor avant-garde. Best of all it's so NOT American jazz, no chromatic approach tones, no tired post bop-isms, it's music with European roots, and deeply planted ones. The music is difficult to describe even though it's mostly composed. If anything the music is slightly 'rock' orientated (or at least rhythmically), a very beat driven music, which has some very attractive melodies. In fact the choice of musicians is a real stroke of genius as the combination of Frank Möbus' guitar with either Daniel Erdmann's sax or the cello playing of Vincent Courtois work a treat, the four musicians (to include Rohrer's drums) bring out the subtler points of the music. The three musicians swap between roles, playing lines together either as part of a melody, part of a bass line, an ostinato, or independently as a soloist or to carry the main theme. It's almost impossible to pick out one track to write about as all of them have something interesting. 'Broken Trials' (tk4) has a wonderful cello melody over a riffy guitar and drums unfolding into a glorious melodic free for all which becomes a sort of suite which passes through various melodic landscapes some free, others rock! The title track 'How to Catch a Cloud' (tk5) literally hangs over you like it's title suggests, a cloud. Waves of cello, sax, guitar and drums spread out like some ominous storm that's brewing. Or the wonderfully relaxed '5463' (tk2) which opens in such an unhurried fashion, becoming a menacing cello/sax melody full of tension which opens up to give space for some fine solo work for Vincent Courtois' cello.     

Finally what I can tell you is I listened over and over to this record due to the excellent material which is highlighted by the groups fine playing. Everyone really plays with subtle precision and the group sound of cello, sax, guitar and drums really make a great texture. There's an excellent balance between solos and melody. The group doesn't go for long burn out heroic soloing, more small compliments to the piece itself, often returning unnoticed to play a melody or join a riff which has recently accompanied them.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes skillfully crafted melodies with never ending twists and turns, thoughtful ensemble work and solos that never outstay their welcome.

Buy from Instantjazz.  

© stef

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mikko Innanen – Clustrophy (TUM Records, 2011) ***½

By Alfie Cooke

There's something about seeing the word ' synthesizer' on the sleeve of an album that can send shivers of terror through even the toughest jazz warrior. Especially for those of us who have all-too vivid memories of the 1970s and the multiple crimes against music that the instrument achieved... but have no fear, Seppo Kantonen, synth-player in Mikko Innanen's Innkvisitio is here to redress the balance. Kantonen takes his lead from deeper in the history of improvised music, when his instrument was new and the subject of intense scrutiny by Sun Ra. So on the opening track, 'Earth's Second Moon', he travels along those same spaceways that Ra did, avoiding the high-pitched theremin squeal of so many sci-fi movies and laying down a low moan full of dark and foreboding. And while this makes way for sonic clusters reminiscent of the clashing of gongs, clavichord-like runs and ethereal whispers, the horns play on, dancing rhythmic swing.

If the idea of synthesisers in jazz doesn't frighten you away, then this album develops a catalogue of surprises. The band itself is a quintet, but instrumentally at odds with just about every other group of similar size currently working. The three-horn front line employs the entire saxophone family from sopranino down to baritone with Innanen, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Daniel Erdmann doubling on a variety of woodwinds. The rhythm section, a tenuous term because the reedmen do just as much to convey the rhythmic basis through some complex riff-like patterns, consists of Kantonen and drummer Joonas Riipa - who also doubles on pocket trumpet - and any evidence of a division of labour is soon dispelled as the synthesised clouds blur the boundaries of time and Riipa's frenetic drumming under, over and around the other's solos disrupts our understanding of a toe-tapping beat and makes you question whether the angular riffing of the saxophones is a pattern or... what?

This is very cleverly composed music, blending different voices and layering sounds seamlessly so that the high reed floating over a burbling clarinet may actually be Kantonen's synth, or maybe it's the synth burbling. And then it all gives way to a brief piece of Sun Ra swing echoing Eric Dolphy's 'Out There' before falling back into what sounds like a single voice working away in the darkness.

Yes, there are tougher albums out there and there are many that are more overt in the way they grab you by you collar and seize your attention. Clustrophy is much more subtle in the way that it gets you to listen and while at times this seems to involve treading on familiar territory, these are places in the memory that you become happy to revisit - Sun Ra, Dolphy, echoes of the sax section of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath... The time has come to lay down your arms in the synth-war, surrender to Mikko Innanen and embrace the sound of the Innkvisitio.

Mikko Innanen - alto, soprano and baritone saxophone, whistle, indian wooden clarinet, toy instruments
Fredrik Ljungkvist - sopranino and tenor saxophones, clarinet
Daniel Erdmann - soprano and tenor saxophones, toy clarinet
Seppo Kantonen – synthesizer
Joonas Riippa - drums, percussion, pocket trumpet

© stef

Veryan Weston, Ingrid Laubrock, Hannah Marshall - Haste (Emanem, 2012) ****½

By Stef     

It's hard to compare music with similar line-ups, and the recently reviewed "Wild Chamber Trio", with Gianni Mimmo, Clementine Gasser and Elisabeth Harnik is clearly not unique in its genre. Today, we review two other albums with the same trio line-up : sax, piano, cello. It is improvised chamber music. You can call it jazz too, but it may fit into other categories as well, or even better, outside pigeonholing. They have one thing common, though, and that is their mastership of instrument and sound.

Veryan Weston, Ingrid Laubrock, Hannah Marshall - Haste (Emanem, 2012) ****½

The trio here is Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano, Veryan Weston on piano and Hannah Marshall on cello. The journey they have in store for us is called "Haste", yet it starts with the kind of pace as if they have all time in the world to move forward, and that's a good thing.

Notes are stretched around a tonal center, with the three musicians circling around with full intensity, alternating subtle low volume moments with harsher bouts of dense interaction. The overall effect is eery, presenting a sonic universe full of surprises and possibilities, of sensitive enthusiasm and hesitating joy, and at times of sad acceptance or paralysing terror. Possibly one of the most discerning aspects of the music is its restraint, the cautious control over sound, creating rather minimalist moments of few notes, yet with full dramatic effect.

It is hard to follow what is taking place conceptually, yet the listening experience is a great one, with all three musicians playing better and more aligned than in many of their recent albums. Weston is of course a mainstay of British improvised music, but the way he challenges - and is challenged by - these two young musicians is fantastic. Both Marshall and Laubrock have been in great demand for collaboration lately and we can only hope to hear even more of them.

Beautiful, challenging and rewarding music.

Buy from Instantjazz.  

The Shoreditch Trio - Again - Live In Brussels (Amirani, 2011) ***½

I saw this trio play last year with only me and one other person being part of the paying audience. To the credit of the trio, they played the entire session. It's great to hear them here again on record. Gianni Mimmo is on soprano saxophone, Hannah Marshall on cello and Nicola Guazzaloca on piano.

Mimmo's playing is actually setting the color of the music : his usual abstract lyricism determines the overall sound. Sometimes hard to relate to, sometimes beautiful, always inventive. This is music that requires attention and close listening in order to get into it. The break-neck speed interaction between the three musicians is exceptional, as if programmed, although oftentimes this forces your brain (or is it only mine?) to be too conscious of what is taking place instead of just going with the flow, being sucked into the music's sonic universe.

Luckily, that happens not too often, and when the band really starts exploring new sonic environments, it becomes more compelling, with Mimmo creating multiphonics out of his instrument, while Marshall and Guazzaloca add drama, depth and tension.

The big difference with "Haste", is that this trio uses the entire range of their instruments from very low to very high, often in big intervallic jumps, whereas the other album reviewed girates around a more anchored central tone.

This is music that is built around paradoxes, of intimacy and distance, of natural evokations and cerebral concepts, of spontaneous lyricism without resorting to patterns, fragile and solid at the same time, sad and joyful. It is hard to grasp, and that makes you want to listen to it, again, one more time, again, as its title suggests.

© stef

Sunday, June 24, 2012

David Krakauer: Book of Angels, Vol. 18: Pruflas (Tzadik, 2012) ****

By Denti Alligator

The new David Krakauer record is the eighteenth volume in John Zorn’s second book of Jewish songs he calls The Book of Angels. Unlike the first book of songs, which he mostly recorded with his own Masada quartet in the 1990s, this new set of over 300 songs was composed in just three months in 2004 and has been slowly appearing on Zorn’s Tzadik label, each set performed by a different musician or group of musicians. The arrangements are typically undertaken by the performers, so that each entry in the series bears the mark of the musician(s) interpreting the songs as much as Zorn’s distinctive melodies.

Krakauer’s contribution is no different. Pruflas consists of eight songs arranged and produced by Krakauer and performed by a quintet including himself on clarinet, Michael Sarin on drums, Sheryl Bailey on guitar, Jerome Harris on electric bass and vocals, and Keepalive on laptop.

Krakauer is of course a veteran klezmer musician who has led and contributed to an impressive array of recordings in both more traditional settings and various crossover projects. In this group he succeeds in melding klezmer with a little funk, some rock, and a tad bit of electronic music. The result is, mostly, exhilarating.

At first I was less convinced of that this fusion worked, and in fact the weakest moments on the record, such on “Egion,” are when the band relies on Keepalive’s blips and beats or Harris’ funky bass to carry the piece forward rhythmically. Even the otherwise marvelous “Neriah-Mahariel” (see the next paragraph) shifts mid-song with a bass break that feels contrived. I like soulful klezmer, but funky?  The beat here just doesn’t seem to fit. It never lasts long enough to ruin a song (again, only “Egion” suffers as a whole), and even helps in establishing the dynamic that defines the record’s motley sound. What may start out sounding like an infelicitous mix soon begins to feel just right.

Some of the generic experimentation is immediately effective, like in “Neriah-Mahariel,” which begins with a slow, one-minute doina-style introduction of mournful clarinet over soft cymbals and barely perceptible bass before Keepalive’s laptop kicks in with a Jews’ harp (hah!) sound that sets the pace for the second, upbeat (even rockin’!) section. This works, and when Bailey enters with spaghetti-Western-meets-surfer-rock riffing the whole band seems to have achieved the perfect balance of serious Jewish music and playful, even punk (that is, slightly irreverent), klezmer.

“Fandal,” the shortest track, is the most punk of the bunch, but by punk I mean DNA-meets-Minutemen, not Black Flag. ‘Cus even here it’s funky. Keepalive provides a scratchy rhythmic texture over Saris’s hopping syncopation—but wait! who’s that on alto? None other than Zorn himself, who contributes his inimitable squeal—uncredited, mind you—battling with Krakauer to outdo one another in volume at the higher registers of their respective instruments. Perhaps he should have joined the band for more pieces, because he seems to inspire everyone to play in top form. Bailey is on fire on this track, blazing away noisy abandon.

The center piece, though, is “Parzial-Oranir,” an eleven-minute piece in which a six-note bass line is repeated as Krakauer’s clarinet, Bailey’s guitar, and Harris’ chanting weave in and out with increasing complexity and intensity and then fall apart around the sixth minute as Keepalive’s laptop noisily disrupts the pace, making way for a drum solo that then ushers in the lively second half showcasing Bailey’s wah-wah-tinged serpentine runs over Krakauer’s insistent wails. Yep, it’s that awesome.

If you like klezmer and you like it with an edge (why else would you be reading this blog?) then you’ll love this record.

© stef

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tom Rainey Trio - Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Camino Cielo Echo, the Tom Rainey Trio's second effort, features the same group as the debut album, Pool School, however in the intervening time, it seems the group has further developed a sound that is as improvization based as ever, but even more elastic and risk taking. As before, the group is Tom Rainey on drums, Ingrid Laubrock on sax and Mary Halvorson on guitar.

The first song is collection of small interactions and motifs. 'Expectations of Exceptions' begins quietly, expectantly, with Laubrock laying down a fluttering expanse of tones. Halvorson's guitar rings out with unique dissonant chords, while Rainey pulls them together with a pulse that weaves in and out of time, skipping beats and creating a complex foundation for the players. 'Mullet Toss' comes bursting from the speakers in a hail of distorted guitar and explosive sax work, while Rainey pours on some dramatic percussion. Then, about half way through, the saxophone transitions the song into a more subdued but still tense state. 'Mr. and Mrs. Mundane' is anything but. Starting with a rather straight ahead sax solo over the drum, the guitar soon joins with some quietly slashing chords. Gradually, the song begins to chase itself around, the guitar scattering notes and the sax both following and leading the proceedings while Rainey pushes and pulls. The title track just hovers, Laubrock's languid lines suspended in Halvorson's unusual chord voicings. Rainey provides texture below the textures, faint sounds that grow stronger as the song progresses, yet always holding back, just floating. This is then juxtaposed against the crunch of distortion of the next tune.

Overall, there is a lot going on in these vignettes. Whether they're aggressive, or quiet, or a little of each, the songs grow organically and spontaneously. The three musician's have played together now over the course of these albums, as well as in several other configurations and they have developed great synergy and sympathy -- one could almost say telepathy -- in their interactions.

Check out an appearance of the group in 2010:

Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012) *****

By Stef     

Regular readers know that it is extremely difficult for me not to give a five-star rating to Wadada Leo Smith, as I did with six of his previous albums. And even if I think this is one of the albums that you should buy this year, and even if I think that few musicians have spent as much time, and effort in an album as Wadada Leo Smith did with this one, I hesitated a long time to give it a five-star rating.

The trumpeter's project is ambitious : a four disc box of composed and improvised music, evoking the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, by juxtaposing a classical chamber string ensemble with his own Golden Quartet, consisting of Anthony Davis on piano, Susie Ibarra and Pheeroan akLaff on drums, John Lindberg on bass, and Smith of course on trumpet. The Southwest Chamber Music ensemble is conducted by Jeff von der Schmidt and consists of Alison Bjorkedal on harp, Jim Foschia on clarinet, Lorenz Gamma on violin, Peter Jacobson on cello, Larry Kaplan on flute, Jan Karlin on viola, Tom Peters on bass, Lynn Vartan on percussion,  Shalini Vijayan on violin.

Whether solo or in duos or quartets or bigger ensembles or bands, Wadada Leo Smith always goes for maximum intensity, with incredible commitment to musical quality, sense of direction and in-the-moment focus. The same is true of this album. Despite its length, it's hard not to remain captivated as a listener. Some moments  are outright spectacular and unique, less in the separate quartet or ensemble pieces, but when they mix or clash or move as one.

If anything, Smith moves his usual commitment even further, creating four CDs with an incredible sense of drama and tragedy and dark romanticism. There is absolutely no moment of relief for the listener in the ensemble compositions, as there is with the jazz pieces, who often move into a lighter, sometimes even lightly funky mode. That being said, Smith moves his "classical" composition into areas unheard of in the genre, adding the level of harsh distress that gives a unique quality to the sound, as on the finale of "Medgar Evers", when piano and drums literally overpower the string ensemble.

Or take the example of "Emmett Till" on the first disc, on which the entire central part of the composition consists of long stretched and eery cello tones, leading the ensemble into a complex arrangement only to clash full force with the jazz band, as if the sweet waters of a massive river collide with the upcoming salty surf from the sea, mixing and moving forward with waves shooting in all directions, full of turbulence and mayhem.

The trumpeter himself is less present than on most of his other albums. Sure, his playing is still decisive for the overall sound, yet if you calculate his playing time on the entire album, my estimate would be around fifteen percent, but as on "The DC Wall" his few muted sounds at the end of the sad and slow quintet piece say it all in terms of mood and effect.

We get some known tracks from "America" with a drum solo by akLaff. Other pieces, like the bass-line on "Thurgood Marshall" sound familiar, yet I did not want to start looking in his full discography to find the similarities.

Maybe my lack of interest in third stream music influences my decision not to give this album a five star rating. Would I listen to the string ensemble if this was not a Wadada Leo Smith album? Probably not. Would I enjoy the classical parts if they were carved out from this album? Possibly, yet not sure. But they are part of the album, they are an integral part of the overall sound and story and structure.

But I must be crazy. Listening again to some pieces after having written the above, and especially the twenty-minute long finale, the great tribute called "Martin Luther King, Jr", with its dark string tones and somewhat hopeful clarinet, the slow build-up and magnificent pacing driving the ensemble sadness into a paroxysmal clash with the quintet, at the same time sad, yet full of force to pick up the pieces and change the intimate chamber sound into the expansive energy of the jazz quintet, I can only go back and reconsider my evaluation.

It is by all means an exceptional album. Smith's grand work, the thing that's been in the making for many years, a cry for America, a cry for freedom and emancipation, for education and expression and representation, using the struggle of African Americans, but representing the struggle of all oppressed peoples at all times anywhere, a cry for what went wrong and still goes wrong, full of heartrending moments of sadness, of distress and powerlessness, and of rising above oneself, standing up and moving the unchangeable.

It is also an intelligent and complex album, with the two worlds of classical and jazz merging yet remaining separate, clashing yet making the same music, emphasised by the identical solos by cello and trumpet, like two individuals coming from two separate worlds expressing the same feelings. Both genres are here in their own right, the classical is classical, and the jazz is jazz and not like in so many albums, with the strings providing a backdrop for jazz musicians who want to be taken seriously. 

Smith manages to make it all come across : the politics, the social distress, the psychology of individuals who conquered their own fear and did what they thought was right, but rather than being an outright ode and tribute to these exceptional people, Smith brings them to life, makes it all real again, makes it felt again, including the internal conflict and turmoil, avoiding black and white contrasts, .... and all this through music.

One of the most memorable albums you will hear in years, if not decades. In the shallowness and mediocrity and superficial junk that surrounds us, it is a wonderful moment of relief to hear something so deep and significant.

The people whose freedom struggles are remembered are :

Dred Scott
Malik Al Shabazz
Emmett Till
Thurgood Marshall
Rosa Parks
Freedom Riders
Medgar Evers
The Little Rock Nine
Fannie Lou Hamer
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Buy from Instantjazz.  

 © stef

Friday, June 22, 2012

Generation Y

Readers who cleaned their eyes this morning will have noticed that the illustrative photographs in the side columns have changed, replacing the free jazz legends (Coleman, Shepp, Cecil Taylor, ...) who themselves replaced the female free jazz pictures of last year (Léandre, Fujii, Crispell, Roberts, Laubrock, ...), who in turn replaced the free jazz icons of today (William Parker, Bill Dixon, Hamid Drake, Ken Vandermark, ...), portrayed in the year before.

The generation Y is born after 1980, and all musicians pictured fall within this category (or almost), and succeeds generation X, which seems logical.

To quote Wikipedia : "Generation Y'ers never truly rebelled against their parents, unlike prior generations, often enjoying the same music, movies and products as their parents. Generation Y has been described in a New York Times opinion piece as entrepreneurial and, "a 'post-emotional' generation. No anger, no edge, no ego."  Generation Y grew up in a time of great change in the music industry, and does not have a discernible sound unlike recent generations."

The challenge is up, boys and girls : prove them wrong!!!

(Photographers who recognize their pix can send me an email, so that I can attribute them.)

© stef

Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: … The Worse the Better (OTO roku, 2012) **** ½

In Bernard Josse’s great documentary “Soldier of the Road” Evan Parker says about Peter Brötzmann: “I can still remember the first few notes I heard from him. It was – oh … okay – we’re gonna have to work on how to get more sound out of the tenor. It has to do with the proportions of the human body and the proportions of the tenor. It demands, it takes everything you’ve got. Tenor is saying: Okay, try your best. You will never know what I can really do. You think you are hard? Okay. Blow into me. That’s the great thing about Brötzmann. He takes the tenor and gives everything. Tenor is asking for that kind of relationship.” When you listen to “… The Worse the Better” you immediately know what Mr. Parker is talking about even if Brötzmann is playing the alto at the beginning of this set which was recorded at Café Oto in London in January 2010.

With the very first tone this gigantic wave comes over you, seizes you and pulls you under water. Brötzmann (reeds), John Edwards (double bass) and Steve Noble (drums) – all of them European free jazz royalty - kick off full speed, Brötzmann shrieking and bellowing as usual while Edwards starts by bowing a menacing drone that prepares us for the evil. All of a sudden Noble changes the rhythms and Edwards starts picking his bass and we are lost to the forces of nature. Finally, it is how the old man in Edgar Allen Poe’s story “A Descent into the Maelstrom” must have felt after he had fallen into the vortex. And as well as the old man we realize that on the one hand the maelstrom is a terrifying power but also a beautiful and awesome creation on the other hand. It is a natural phenomenon that makes us worship its creator as being greater than anything we can possibly imagine. Like the maelstrom in the story this piece of music is infused with musical pantheism.

After ten minutes of sheer breath-taking abrasiveness the trio almost relaxes and reduces the pace, with the click of a finger transforming the track into a swinging modern jazz piece (when he is asked about his musical influences Brötzmann never forgets to mention how he adores Lester Young, Sidney Bechet or Ben Webster) before the sax and the drums drop out just to leave Edwards alone, literally tearing at the strings of his instrument. But the whirlpool is taking up speed again with Edwards playing incredibly deep bass drones and Noble rolling on cymbals and toms, before Brötzmann joins the evil forces again, raging full-on. This is the magical moment every exceptional performance needs and where you can hear the beauty and the awe-inspiring harmony of the maelstrom.

The flipside of the LP starts less crazy with Edwards tuning down his bass and Noble having some room to use his prepared drum kit. But Brötzmann soon makes clear who sets the tone here, he creeps in with a beast-like longing whine that forces the others back on track: the Wuppertal Poseidon is sending out his sea monsters again - until the maelstrom comes to an abrupt end.

Peter Brötzmann has a long tradition with sax/bass/drums trios, from his early days with Peter Kowald and Sven-Ake Johansson to his trios with Harry Miller and Louis Moholo up to Full Blast. The man is 71 years old, he has released hundreds of records, and you might ask if we need yet another one. As long as they are as marvelous as “… The Worse the Better” there can only be one answer to the question.

… The Worse the Better” is the first release on Café Oto’s own OTO roku label and it is available on vinyl and as a download.

Purchase from Instantjazz..

You can watch and listen to an excerpt of the concert here:

© stef

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Resonance Ensemble - What Country Is This? (Not Two Records) 2012 ****½

By Philip Coombs

One thing you can always count on with any recording from The Resonance Ensemble, is a full meal. All of the food groups are represented as well as a few snacks that may not necessarily be all that good for you but are so tasty you can't help but smile and enjoy the sugar rush. This is one album that you need to approach with an empty stomach and an appetite for a big plate of artistic buffet as you will be coming back to it again and again.

And with any piece of art, you only get out of it what you put in. With Ken Vandermark, his dedications are a good starting point to help you get into his creative impetus. Track one is for the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel prize in 1980.

On Fabric Monument (for Czeslaw Milosz), the ensemble attacks the opening few measures as a unified, well oiled machine. What an incredible front line! The drums (Tim Daisy and Michael Zerang) along with the bass (Mark Tokar) start to rumble along and as soon as you think you know where this song is going, there is a crack of the snare releasing Dave Rempis' (saxophone) power. He doesn't waste any time propelling himself from the shoulders of the intro into a blistering solo full of confidence and above all purpose. Keeping in mind that Vandermark is a film studies graduate, it is worth following his aural cinematography here. Further along, after a series of big composed themes, Tokar sets a new tempo and groove that carries out for the second half of the track. A mood that Waclaw Zimpel adds a blissful Bb clarinet solo over. What a journey the ensemble takes you on. For nearly 20 minutes, I was transfixed, churning image after image in my mind as the track guided me through a part composed, part improvised masterpiece.

And the fun doesn't stop there, but as there are only three tracks on the recording, I don't want to spoil all the twists and turns of Vandermark's vision, but a few tastes won't hurt.

Acoustic Fence (for Witold Lutoslawski) allows Per-Ake Holmlander to weave his tuba through wisps and sheets of brass before any order is restored by a reunified front line blasting away. Tension builds to a saxophone battle and then complete silence. This opportunity is taken by Magnus Broo (trumpet) who expertly fills the quiet.

The third and final track on the recording, Open Window Theory (for Fred Anderson) is worth it alone for the touching and poignant Bb clarinet solo by Vandermark himself. As a dedication, you can hear the respect that is given through the instrument.

There is just so much to say about this recording but in fairness, the music describes itself more succinctly than I could. So as I sit back, completely full, licking my fingers, I hungrily await their next installment.

The Resonance Ensemble on this album:
Ken Vandermark - baritone sax & Bb clarinet
Per-Åke Holmlander - tuba
Magnus Broo - trumpet
Michael Zerang - drums
Tim Daisy - drums
Devin Hoff - bass
Mikołaj Trzaska - alto sax & bass clarinet
Dave Rempis - alto & tenor sax
Wacław Zimpel - Bb & bass clarinet
Steve Swell - trombone

 Check them out live here:

Purchase from Instantjazz.. Can also be downloaded from emusic.

© stef

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Steve Lehman Trio – Dialect Fluorescent (Pi Recordings, 2012) ****

By Steve Mossberg

As the history of every art form unfolds, major players fill the dramatic roles that shape its narrative. Jazz has had its ambassadors in Cannonball Adderley and Art Blakey, sorcerers in Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, acrobats in Art Tatum and George Benson, and poets in Chico Hamilton and Andrew Hill. If Steve Lehman has a part to play in the drama of contemporary jazz, he seems than more than qualified for that of a musical scientist.

In the last few years, Lehman has been pushing the limits of rhythm and tonality in groups ranging from octet to duo. On the new “Dialect Fluorescent” he slides the traditional repertoire and sound of the sax/bass/drums trio under his contemporary microscope. For an old-school LP running time of 45 minutes, Lehman conducts meticulous experiments on four standards and four originals in the company of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid.

The CD begins with a lengthy alto cadenza on Lehman’s own “Allocentric.” Taking a Middle Eastern approach, he slowly develops idea after idea, setting the stage for what will occur in the composition to come. When the trio kicks in, it cycles through a simple pattern of chords that mutates rhythmically each time it’s played. Brewer stays minimal, providing a point of reference while Reid outlines the time with frantic but airtight patterns reminiscent of high-octane electronic music. Lehman performs highly abstract but extremely logical improvisations against this backdrop with his dry, concise alto playing.

The group takes a similar tack on Lehman’s other originals and John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice” on which Brewer joins the leader in a drumless duet of extremely complex rhythmic variation. They drive forcefully on when Reid joins with propulsive drums that show as much invention as Lehman’s lead lines.  Coltrane’s familiar melody peeks through only in very small windows, and when it shows up at the end of the song it is remixed, some key notes stretched disproportionately long while others are left alone. “Pure Imagination,” the ballad from “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” appears in similarly distorted form, this time with dark minor bass drones from Brewer that transform it from sweet to sinister.

The group surprises with swinging renditions of Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine” and Jackie McLean’s “Mr. E.” When the breakbeat drumming and prismatic time refractions of the other tracks are removed, it’s striking how firmly rooted in tradition the musicians seem to be. Lehman’s solos remain daringly distant from the bass notes accompanying them, but they suddenly call to mind the calculated tonal romps of Lee Konitz and the knife-edge interjections of Jackie McLean more strongly than in other contexts. His playing in this manner, though not ground breaking, is highly accomplished and reveals his deep knowledge of and strong respect the innovations that preceded his own.

Demonstrating this affinity in a concert last winter at The Stone, Lehman spoke of how “interesting” and “useful” the material Coltrane and his mentor McLean still are for a contemporary musician.  This choice of adjectives parallels a sometimes-clinical approach that, along with a direct, no-frills alto tone, leaves Lehman open to the same accusations of frigidity that Konitz and other cool-school musicians received half a century before him. The music on “Dialect Fluorescent” certainly isn’t particularly warm-blooded or overtly emotional, but engages with its intellectual invention, verve, and deeply felt sense of groove throughout.

Highly Recommended

© stef

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Neneh Cherry and The Thing: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound,2012) *****

By Martin Schray

Let’s be honest: we all adored 17-year-old Neneh Cherry in 1981 when she showed up with post punk/avant-garde jazz group Rip, Rig and Panic. And we loved the sight of an eight months pregnant Neneh performing her smash hit “Buffalo Stance” on Top Of The Pops. It was unforgettable, it was bold, it was provocative and it was sexy. However, after her top ten hit “Seven Seconds” with Youssou N’Dour in 1994 she somehow disappeared from mainstream radars (although she continued making music with projects like cirKus).

18 years later she is really back. And this is not the typical legendary-pop-queen-returns-after-time-out-with-jazz-standards comeback album. Why not? Because she has teamed up with the Scandinavian hardcore avantgarde madmen The Thing (who named their band after a composition by Neneh’s stepfather Don Cherry) to play punk, hiphop and jazz covers including songs by artists as different as The Stooges, Suicide, MF Doom, Martina Topley-Bird, Ornette Coleman or Don Cherry.

Even if this sounds random, it is a coherent collection about the question how you can survive as a human being in a basically hostile society. Therefore it makes sense that the underlying musical pattern is the blues. You can feel it in Martina Topley-Bird’s song “To Tough to Die”, which starts with Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten playing a heavy blues riff on the bass, then Mats Gustafsson penetrates the song with another riff on the saxophone supporting the bass. When Cherry starts singing you can feel her anger about the situation: “Seven states away/they're doin'/the strange fruit swing (…) It's in their eyes/It's unspoken/Don't even know they're out to do you harm.” It’s not the only reminiscence of Billie Holiday on the album.

Another statement is made in MF Doom’s really gloomy “Accordion” where Cherry shows her hip-hop qualities. The refrain says “Keep your glory, gold and glitter/For half of his niggaz'll take him out the picture/The other half is rich and don't mean shit-ta”. This is the way it is, most of the people don’t need the superficial tsatske the entertainment industry offers, they need better living conditions, a more human life.

But what can we do in this bleak situation? The answer the album provides is dreaming, burning, and fighting back. In Suicide’s original of “Dream Baby Dream” Alan Vega’s lyrics are set against Martin Rev’s icy cold electronic riffs, you can feel Vega’s anger, his desperation when he is growling and bellowing out the words. It is not an open revolt, it is a retreat, a private revolution against the world, against politics, against economy. However, Cherry and The Thing interpret the song as a struggle against evil forces in general. Paal Nilssen-Love beats on his toms and so he makes the original computer beat slower and darker, singling out its African roots. What already starts as a utopian idyllic version of the world reaches its peak when it is taken to a higher level by Gustafsson’s boisterous, menacing saxophone yearning and shrieking and battling against a brave Cherry – who wins in the end. It is – despite its abrasive approach - a really optimistic view of the world, a real encouraging ending after all the fights and dangers. This is the choice you have.

Dreaming is also the central metaphor in The Stooges’ “Dirt”. The song starts with this incredible rock riff and Cherry is almost flirting with the band’s harsh style singing “I'm just  dreaming this life/And do you feel it?/Said do you feel it when you touch me?” before they move on to free jazz pastures, a perfect storm made of whirling electronics, voice, saxophone, drums and bass.

There are also two original pieces – Neneh Cherry’s “Cashback” and Mats Gustafsson’s “Sudden Movement” – and a reverberating version of Don Cherry’s “Golden Heart” before the album closes with Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason (could I give)”, another awesome blues track on which Cherry sounds like a modern Billie Holiday and where you can hear a really tender Gustafsson. The song offers a final possibility to deal with life’s miseries - love. When Cherry sings What reason could I give/Only that I love you/How many times must I die/ Oh Lord, only when I’m without you I am literally down on my knees. This definitely will be in my top three at the end of the year.

Highly recommended.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Watch “Accordion” here:

Listen to ”Dream Baby Dream“ here:

© stef

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cactus Truck- Brand New for China! (Public Eyesore Records, 2012) ***½

By Philip Coombs

It starts with a bang! A starter pistol of sorts. This fight to the death, this Brand New For China! album by Cactus Truck has begun. Weapons are chosen. Onno Govaert on drums, Jasper Stadhouders on guitars, and John Dikeman on saxophone, two from the Netherlands and one from America respectively, step into the ring to see who will come out alive holding the recording.

Track one, Aporia, gets to the heart of the matter quickly with all three members fighting for the last available sliver of bandwidth to squeeze their point of view into. Stadhouders pulls up an impenetrable curtain of sound, Govaert's use of the kick drum is like a man with a death wish searching for land mines, and Dikeman plays is if in a headlock. His sound is very purposeful from the strain in the upper registers to the distortion on the opposite end. Aporia is a wonderfully thought out track on this 31 minute record and definitely it's focal point as it gives us the roadmap that the rest of the album follows. It, over the course of its 10 and a half minute duration, gives us pure raw punk aggression, to a diminution, to a lone pleading cry from the saxophone before ramping the whole thing up again to its original fury. Some great playing here.

A band I would definitely love to see and experience live.

With some of their juvenile song titles aside, la la la la labia time!, or The snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea, which fall into their punk aesthetic, there are some very mature and experienced interactions and decisions within the tunes on this album, which definitively places it back to the jazz tradition.

On Coitiphobe, Dikeman steps back to let the rhythm section have a duo moment. If you are quick enough, the album is peppered with such moments. Whether it be the sax and drums or any other duo incarnation, (there are several really good ones on Sweet Movie) they are worth waiting for, but enjoy them because they don't last very long, as this is not the type of band that likes standing in a ring without throwing punches. Almost to a fault.

Brand New For China! reads like a calling card, unapologetically letting us know what their agenda is, from the 3, thirty second blasts of intensity, laced around the 4 longer tracks, to their choice of album cover art. They mean business, and like anyone from the punk tradition, they don't care what we think. I can't wait to see what else they bring to the table on their next effort.

Check out Cactus Truck here:

The album can be ordered directly from the label.

© stef

John Surman - Saltash Bells (ECM, 2012) ***½

By Stef   

As a kid I was addicted to ECM, its great art work, its fantastic musicians, its high quality productions and its polished meditative romantic styles. Next to Keith Jarrett and John Abercrombie and Jan Garbarek, John Surman was one of my favorite musicians, with "Edge Of Illusion" on "Upon Reflection" (1979) one of my favorite tracks, a great solo piece with overdubs of synth loops, several saxes and a great mix of jazz, folk and classical music (Bach).

Now, with Saltash Bells, thirty-three years later, we get a kind of further exploration of his solo album, with overdubs again, mixing folk tunes with jazz and synthesizer.

Surman is a great sax-player, and I can easily recommend him on many albums (his own, with Anouar Brahem, with Jack DeJohnette, Paul Bley or John Taylor), but to my feeling this album adds nothing musically, and the tone is at times rather mellow and sweet (or even too mellow and too sweet, as on "Winter Elegy").

And yet, the quality is good, some tunes are extremely beautiful, and joyful as only folk music can be, and Surman's tone on sax is quite special. Nice for fans, not essential for the others.

© stef

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Harris Eisenstadt, Ombudsman

“Canada Day Octet” (482 Music, 2012) ****½ 

“Canada Day III” (Songlines, 2012) *****

By Steve Mossberg

An ombudsman, from Old Norse, is a trusted representative who communicates back and forth between a governing body and the general public.  It also the name that Harris Eisenstadt has aptly chosen for the central pieces on his new recording “Canada Day Octet.” Along with “Canada Day III” it comes hotly anticipated to jazz listeners this summer.        

Behind his drums at a concert at Amherst College last March, Eisenstadt acted the ombudsman, warmly inviting the audience into his musical world with open arms and dry humor. Peppering the explanations of his abstract work with humility and the odd Yiddish phrase, he made it clear that it was the audience’s opportunity to embrace his concepts and share in the experience – everyone was welcome.

The long-standing quintet featured on “Canada Day III,” are Matt Bauder on tenor sax, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Chris Dingman on vibraphone, the leader on drums, and Garth Stevenson, replacing Eivind Opsvik in the upright bass chair. They are joined on “Canada Day Octet,” by veteran Ray Anderson on trombone, Jason Mears on alto sax, and the pace-setting tuba player Dan Peck.

The four “Ombudsman” pieces that dominate “Octet” are steeped in polyrhythms, the interlocking African-descended patterns that gave birth to all swinging music. In this situation, they give the record an overall sound of the mother continent, and combined with the weighty horn charts call to mind the work of groups like Peter Apfelbaum’s Hieroglyphics Ensemble and McCoy Tyner’s late 60s nonet. Though Eisenstadt may be stylistically trotting through the Gambia on “Octet,” he places on it a stamp of very high quality and originality with his complex, appealingly off-kilter compositional voice.

The large ensemble is powerful in the dense arrangements and always effective when called upon to improvise. The leader opens “Ombudsman 1” with an understated but energetic solo, propelling the ensemble intro the musical meeting at high velocity. Later, Peck and Stevenson take a probing duet together. Tuba blats and overtone-rich bowing carve out the low-end territory sensitively, conversing mindfully with each other in a moment of harmonic uncertainty. On “Ombudsman 2,” Bauder winds his sweet-toned modern/throwback tenor through Eisenstadt’s rhythmic maze, while Dingman plays for contrast, charting a textural course above the subtle, but insistent drum support. The volcanic Wooley is featured heavily on “Ombudsman 3” and contributes fluttering atonal lines, dodging melodic leads, and spittle-soaked sound experiments, all with aplomb and ample consideration for the greater narrative. On the fourth “Ombudsman,” the most overtly Afro-funk composition on the record, Dingman shows another side, flying out of his vibraphone theme into an energetic, percussive solo. Anderson is also funky here, playing in the avant-blues mode for which he is so renowned.

The simple, elegant “Ballad For 10.6.7,” closes out the album. Eisenstadt composed the tune after losing a great deal of his own material in a hard drive failure (every great composer has experienced a similar plight at some point). The reed/brass counterpoint clashes here with the straightforward Western flavor of the music itself, and the result is a bit awkward at first, perhaps consciously so.  He chose to include it on the recording on the strength of the improvisations played in ombudsman-like fashion by the soloists, and they indeed do so with abundant inspiration and masterful execution.

On “Canada Day III,” Eisenstadt presents his musical vision in a more contemporary Western setting, and the compositions are all watertight and tremendously imaginative. The rhythmic complexity and flexibility are still present, but don’t evoke their African roots so profoundly this time. The group is ready to turn on a dime with his rapidly transforming musical ideas, and always fill the gaps between composition and improvisation seamlessly.

Like his fellow drummer/composer John Hollenbeck, Eisenstadt uses the open instrumentation the ensemble and versatility of the vibraphone (particularly great under the mallets of Dingman) to give his music harmonic freedom, ambient texture and percussive attack at the necessary times. “Slow and Steady” feels full and dreamy with its overlapping minimalist layers.  “A Whole New Amount of Interactivity” has a post-rock intensity but a sense of great openness and possibility as the group converges in unison on the complex melodic lines. Despite the modernity of the ensemble, they have no aversion to swinging hard, as evidenced on “The Magician of Lublin,” or to old-school aggressive free jazz blowing (“Nosey Parker”).

With his two new Canada Day albums, Harris Eisenstadt has clearly established himself as one of the most vital composers and bandleaders in contemporary jazz. The best part is, along with material and performances that blossom further upon repeated listening, that the music is immediately accessible and visceral, with no pandering or compromise in sight. The music and musicians seem the perfect ombudsmen for creative music in 2012.

Essential Listening

© stef