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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Phil Grenadier & Bruno Råberg - Plunge (Orbis, 2012) ****

By Stef   

Trumpeter Phil Grenadier and bassist Bruno Råberg offer us a nice and intimate duo performance. Over nineteen, mostly short tracks, both musicians explore the space between sound and emotion, then reworked by Råberg in his studio, which offers a higher density at times than you might expect from a duet.

The use of effects were limited to the studio environment, and not by the use of extended techniques at all. Despite the overall improvisational nature of the album, the sound is very accessible, gentle and clean.

The centerpiece of the album, and also the longest track, is Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", in my opinion one of the best compositions ever because of its inherent conflict of sadness and hope. The shortness of the other pieces give us just snippets of approaches, and before the tone is set, the tune is stopped, without any chance for development and exploration. This may give the impression that substance is missing, but in reality that is luckily not the case, primarily because of the coherence of the tracks.

The deep feeling of the blues presented with abstract zen-like simplicity.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

Since I'm on the topic of "Lonely Woman", here are some more recent albums that carry Coleman's signature theme.

Uschi Brüning - Ornette Et Cetera (Jazzwerkstatt, 2012)

A jazz quartet with Uschi Brüning on vocals, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky on alto, clarinet and flute, Michael Griener on drums and Jean-François Prins on guitar. The quartet brings a number of Coleman compositions, including "Lonely Woman". All well-played, though nothing exceptional.

Fred Hersch Trio - Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto - 2012)

A beautiful trio of Fred Hersch on piano, John Hébert: on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums. Nothing spectacular, apart from the excellent musicianship and Hersch's ability to turn compositions inside out, showing new angles without destroying the original concept. In this way, he interestingly fuses Coleman's "Lonely Woman" with Miles Davis' "Nardis". Probably not adventurous enough for the readers of this blog, yet worth mentioning.

© stef

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - Muku (Libra, 2012) ****½

By Stef   

Regular readers know my appreciation for Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, not only wife and husband, but also musical soulmates, playing together on most of their incredibly prolific oeuvre. This albums is their fifth duo album, after "How Many" (1997), "Clouds" (2002), "In Krakow In November" (2006), "Chun" (2008).

Although the "musical soulmate" concept is bizarre in their situation, because of their totally different approaches to music. Fujii is incredibly innovative, dramatic, abstract, expansive and angular. Tamura's music is more intimate, melodic and melancholy (that is, when he's not totally 'out there' with his other industrial noise approach). On this album, they lean more towards Tamura's softer personality, also because most of the compositions are his, as performed earlier with Gato Libre, his chamber quartet that is founded on European urban street music.

On this album we get the unbelievably sad "Dune And Star" from "Shiro", the playful "In Barcelona, In June", and the melancholy "In Paris, In February" from "Nomad", and the waltzing "Patrol" from "Kuro", fo which the melody will keep playing in your head for hours to come.

This is gentle music, and even when Tamura's trumpet once in a while goes into grunting and blowing and farting, his tone is usually very warm and even classical as much as jazz. And so is Fujii, demonstrating her broad piano-playing skills that also span widely across genres and styles, using many of them as if genres basically do not exist, just music. And like Tamura, her gentle playing luckily also has sharp claws that can tear some anticipated patterns to shreds.

Welcoming, beautiful and fragile music.

Gato Libre - Forever (Libra, 2012) ****

At the same time Gato Libre releases its last CD in the current line-up, as bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu sadly passed away last year. Natsuki Tamura is on trumpet, Satoko Fujii on accordion and Kazuhiko Tsumura plays acoustic guitar.

The bands soft melancholy touch of European traditions, with a little eastern mystery added to it, sounds recognisable and simple and sweet at the same time. Luckily that's only how it sounds, because the technical skills of all four musicians are excellent, so are the compositions and improvisations. The end result is that this is again an album that you play many times without tiring of its warm intimacy, that luckily keeps away from cheap sentiments. This is a great chamber quartet. I wonder what will happen with the band without Koreyasu's contribution.

© stef

Friday, September 28, 2012

Michael Bisio/Matthew Shipp - Floating Ice (Relative Pitch, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Bassist Michael Bisio and pianist Matthew Shipp's Floating Ice is a rather beautiful recording. It's a collection of conversations between two masterful improvisors, and the album's sound is well represented by the title.

There is a delicacy to the intertwining acoustic instruments. Mostly eschewing extended techniques, and working within the more established parameters of melody and rhythm, the music made is like the same element but in different states. Ice, floating on water, connected by nature, but existing fully formed on their own.

Shipp, who I often associate with angular patterns and strong rhythmic statements can often be found here in a more lyrical mode. Using the keyboard to its fullest, his harmonies and accents can be subtly jarring and equally soothing. Bisio's role as a co-creator is well fulfilled, as his bass often provides countermelody to Shipp (or vice versus), accentuating and leading the songs in new directions. A particular favorite part is his energetic rumblings on 'Swing Laser.' the piano's frenetic runs are more than counter balanced with the basses ebullient passages, replete with fret board slaps, slides and other interesting devices. When Bisio switches to the bow towards the tune's end, he is unstoppable -- and wonderfully so.

Quite a nice recording. The overall sound is captured elegantly, as you can even make out the musicians' faint breaths through the crystalline production. The energy alone makes it a joy to recommend.

You can buy it from

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Middle East & Jazz

By Stef  

It's been almost a year since the last "world jazz" post on this blog, called "Jazz From The Middle East, Between Experiments & Kitsch". One of the earliest epigone of the genre was Ahmed Abdul-Malik with his "Jazz Sahara" in 1958 leading to Lebanese oud-player Rabih Abou-Khalil, possibly the best known master of the genre, yet who unfortunately keeps rehashing his own kind of musical blend with different line-ups.

Today two albums are worth mentioning, neither experimental nor kitsch, but bading in a warm atmosphere that is welcoming, with strong character and excellent musicianship.

Jan Klare, Ahmet Bektas, Fethi Ak (Meta, 2012) ***½

On this beautiful and unassuming album, German altoist and flautist Jan Klare meets his Turkish compatriots Ahmet Bektas on oud and Fethi Ak on percussion. The music is more Turkish or middle-eastern than jazz, with long improvisations woven around equally long unison lines, full of sad melancholy and joyful passion. The small setting makes for an intimate atmosphere.

Even if the album will not make music history, it has one intoxicating aspect and that is the sheer pleasure in making music together that transpires with every note. Even if this the band's debut album, they have been playing as trio for over ten years, and that can be heard.

Gordon Grdina's Haram - Her Eyes Illuminate (Songlines, 2012) ***½

On this more ambitious project, Canadian oud-player (and otherwise guitarist), leads a band with Chris Kelly on tenor sax, JP Carter on trumpet, François Houle on clarinet, Jesse Zubot on violin and electronics, Tim Gerwing on darbuka, Liam MacDonald on riq, Tommy Babin on electric bass, Kenton Loewen on drums, and Emad Armoush on vocals and ney. In short, some of Canada's more adventurous musicians.

From the very first notes, you can hear the great Arabic sound of main theme and counterpoint, rhythmic changes, orchestral unison and improvisation. Grdina, for whom this is one of many jazz and fusion projects, call this band his avant-garde Arabic Ensemble.

The music digs deep into Arabic cultural heritage, from the traditional Iraqi oud music of Munir Bashir to the vocal and orchestral Egypt of Oum Kalthoum.

Grdina leads his tentet through the real stuff, including the warm vocals of Emad Armoush, full of respect and admiration, yet he adds the temporary touch in the improvisations, which at times go far beyond what you get in fusion.

A heart-warming and powerful album.

Fabula (Creative Sources, 2012) ****

Reviewed by Joe

I thought I'd wade into some of the 'noise' CDs waiting to be reviewed in our files. In fact I notice more and more bands around that are working in a completely different area from what we would probably call 'music', a more 'noise' oriented area, built up of work with electronics, live and prepared instruments. With these records one has to find another level to listen on, a little like acousmatic and electro-acoustic music. Pierre Schaeffer a man who is more or less responsible for 'musique concrete' and 'acousmatic music' talked about sounds in a new vocabulary, which I believe is called 'solfege du l'objet sonore'. Here he developed a whole new language to describe the construction of sound(s) to make new sounds unheard before. Anyhow I digress, let's move on to Fabula.

And so we have it, Fabula, made up of four musicians : Axel Dörner - trumpet, Ernesto Rodrigues - viola, Abdul Moimême - prepared electric guitar, Ricardo Guerreiro - computer. But how to describe the music (or maybe the sound) they make? Their music is built of fine layers of sound that come together to form a sort of pleasant 'interference' or wall of sounds that organically change throughout the piece. In fact I was immediately taken by the first few minutes as made me think of the noise an alien may make to communicate with, maybe fans of sci-fi will bare that out? In a way that's the beauty of this piece which spans 46 minutes. We hear many colours and combinations, most of which combine well, keeping the listener fixed to the speakers. The trumpet of 'Dörner' rarely uses traditional notes, sound is of utmost importance, texture seems to be the goal. 'Rodrigues' uses his viola in a more traditional way, franticly bowing his instrument or caressing it in a tentative manner hoping to find new vibrations which produce harmonics. Rodrigues and Dörner also develop moments of extremes of pitch which blend into the whistle and hiss of the group's sound. 'Moimême's' guitar is hit, scraped, fed back and changed in various ways, and even though his natural sound can be heard it is only maybe the tightening of a string, or a hammer-on, all very atmospheric. 'Guerreiro' is probably the only one who sounds like himself (a computer), and of course able to finitely change sound and re-process all that happens around him into a new vocabulary.

The music, which is a concert performance, swells around you creating a sort of semi-industrial sound-scape, sometimes mysterious and at times dark and cold. Yet the great thing is it does progress (develop), if not via a tonal system then by an inner logic that the performers felt at that moment. I guess performances of groups such as 'Beast', or the 'Evan Parker Electro Acoustic Ensemble' also work in this very exciting area which to my mind could be thought of as visual sound.

If you enjoy music that has the ability to make you hear mirages (!?), then you'll enjoy listening to this very image oriented sound piece. If you've been working in heavy industry you'll probably recognise some of these sounds. Just remember, 'Please do not adjust your hi-fi, there is no problem with your system!'

© stef

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gustafsson/Russell/Strid: Birds (dEN, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

My girlfriend lives in a tiny but really nice apartment in Munich offering a great view on a small beautiful park inhabited by lots of wildlife like squirrels, hedgehogs, mice and dozens of birds like ravens, woodpeckers, blackbirds, sparrows, tomtits and many more. Especially in summer there are real concerts in the mornings, and when you are up early you can watch this world come to life from the balcony. It is a wonderful, albeit chaotic life, full of beauty and (dis)harmony, both peaceful and martial (for example when a raven chases a squirrel), joyous, abundant, high-spirited.

I have always had the notion of free jazz as the perfect imitation of nature, and especially albums like “Birds” by Mats Gustafsson (soprano and baritone sax), John Russell (guitar) and Raymond Strid (drums) prove my assumption. Recorded live at the 2011 Hagen Festen in Sweden and consisting of the 44-minute central track “The Earth As The Sun And The Ravens Are Watching” and the encore “The Birds. They Fly As They Want, Don’t They?”, the album is a thematic approach to birds’ life in general.  It seems that you are listening to the flapping of wings, the chirping of songbirds, or the cawing of ravens – it is a true onomatopoetic approach of instruments trying to sound like nature.

You would have expected a record like this from many improv players but not necessarily from Mats Gustafsson, who is usually famous for his powerplay groups The Thing, Fire! or Tarfala Trio. Here we find him almost only on soprano, being much more the microtonal improviser than the full throttle player we've gotten to know (and love). He sounds much more like Evan Parker than Peter Brötzmann. But showing this different side you can see what a versatile, prolific and virtuoso player he can be. John Russell brings in his typical microtones as well, creating rainstorms of flageolets that add another natural aspect to Gustafsson’s twittering. Raymond Strid uses a very small drum kit only, he is not interested in rhythmic patterns, but more in the sounds a kit and other percussive instruments can produce (this is why he uses clappers and iron bars rather than usual sticks). So while Tarfala Trio (which is Gustafsson and Strid but with Barry Guy on bass instead of Russell) represents much more classical free jazz, this group is rather about minimalist sound exploration.

What is so fascinating about this album is the masterful interplay, its density and the close listening – like a flock of birds flying in perfect formation. A truly natural piece of improvised art.

This is what it’s like:

You can buy it from

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ra-Kalam Bob Moses - Sacred Exhalations (Ra-Kalam Records,2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sacred Exhalations from Ra-kalam Bob Moses is a fiery affair, one where you can feel the music as much as you hear it. It is dense and pulsating at times and reflective and searching at others.

The opening track, 'Sacred Exhalations' is a wide-ranging and free affair. Instrumental voices rise and fall, searching tones and unfulfilled wails contrast with -- and ride upon -- Moses' strong pulse and kinetic drumming. The sound is full bodied and heartfelt, and the improvisation is captivating. The ten minute 'Invocations' is almost the title track's inverse, more inward looking, it builds off of a long drum and sax duet into a free and yearning mix of sax and bass clarinet swirling around each other. This can be contrasted again against the mournful tones and chanting found in 'Surrender to the One', which cannot help but to conjure up some rather striking and dark imagery.

Joining Moses is Stan Strickland on Tenor Saxophone and Bass Clarinet, Raqib Hassan on Tenor Saxophone, Musette, and Tibetan Horn, and Om-Mudra Tom Arabia on Tenor Saxophone. The oboe-like musette makes a spirited appearance on 'Animal Magnetizm (Zoo Illogical)' which is a rollicking and exciting affair.

Some obvious reference points may be to the recordings of Archie Shepp and latter day Coltrane, and perhaps even the Dunmall/Bianco album reviewed here a little while back. However, the commonality is not found in direct comparison, but rather in what recordings like these invoke -- a deep feeling of humanity and life connected by music.

'Sacred Exhaltations' is dense and full of passion. It would be hard to ignore its inspirational nature.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eve Risser - En Corps (Dark Tree, 2012) *****

By Stef 

Bassist Benjamin Duboc and drummer Edward Perraud have been featured before on this blog, both are among the most adventurous and technically skilled musicians on the French free music scene. Listening to them is by itself always a treat, and now they are joined by Eve Risser on piano. Eve Risser?

Risser was unknown to me, but what a revelation! Her piano-playing is anything but conventional, highly percussive, full of muted strings, extended techniques, and repetitive phrases. By itself this is not unusual, yet propulsed forward by Duboc's frenetic bass and Perraud's insane drumming, her playing even outdoes the rhythm section in intensity, while at the same time remaining incredibly focused on just a few things, repetition and gradual build-up of the tension.

Like so much great music, paradox lies at the heart of things. The image that comes to mind is one of restrained abandon, of suppressed madness, of controlled exuberance.

It is of a physicality that is unusual in piano trios, while at the same time full of refinement. It starts hesitatingly, with weird sounds growing organically out of three instruments, with quiet deliberation and sense of purpose, eery and compelling, gradually picking up momentum, and then it hits hard, relentlessly, but with a sense of direction and coherence that are uncanny. This is also because all three musicians move as one, to push this sensitive juggernaut forward, without breaks, without pauzes, on the first track for more than thirty minutes, and still it is too short. The second track starts slower, but quickly picks up the same inevitable dynamic, with hypnotic repetition and Perraud's drumming full of counter-currents and Duboc's bass mesmerising. And Risser? She is playing muted sounds, full sounds, scraping sounds, with marbles rolling, strings resonating harplike, single strings being plucked, chords resounding in break-neck speed alternation or all together while maintaining this mad pulse, this crazy speed, this insane movement.

This is music that overwhelms, that overpowers, that smashes you down like a huge wave, that sucks you in like a gigantic whirlpool .... without a chance of escape, without a chance of fighting back, so big it is, so big, but while this sounds nightmarish, you enjoy it, and you want to enjoy it, again, and again, and again.

Pure magic! The album of the year.

If you think you know what a piano trio sounds like, think again ...

You can buy the album from 

  © stef

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Angharad Davies, Tisha Mukarji, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga – Outwash (Another Timbre, 2012) ****½

Lately I’ve been reading Seth Kim-Cohen’s excellent book In the Blink of an Ear, which argues that post-Cagean sound art has been short-changed by an unwavering adherence to Pierre Schaeffer’s “sound-in-itself” approach, and that the discourse surrounding the sonic arts should more appropriately be placed within a larger social, philosophical, and political context.  Another Timbre is a label that seems to be heading in the “expanded” direction that Kim-Cohen advocates. They’ve released countless above-average recordings, most in the quiet, detail-oriented vein of modern free improvisation. A lot of this music shares characteristics with the “EAI” genre, but it is often much more than that, thoughtful music that it would be unfair to pigeonhole into one arbitrary subgenre or another. Outwash continues in this tradition.

There’s a cool, late-night atmosphere to Outwash, something fragile about its constitution, like the careful formation of icicles. And perhaps ice lends the right idea: “Outwash”–as well as the glacier-themed track titles themselves—are perfectly suited to the music within, slow fingers of sound that seem to reach out tentatively from something big and still just outside of earshot or awareness. Violin, piano, and zither both make the music and don’t, so far removed are they from typically safe musical deployments. Davies’ violin is a sparse but crucial component, a presence that never really dominates the music but would leave an enormous void if it were missing.  Lazaridou-Chatzigoga is reminiscent of Davies’ brother Rhodri in many ways: she approaches the zither much as he does the harp, plying unnatural sonorities from the instrument using objects on the strings or e-bows. Both seep around the murky din of Mukarji’s prepared piano, its hollow resonances ringing like struck pillars of ice.

In an interview on the label website, Mukarji likens the music to full sentences, as opposed to the clipped punctuation or phrases of some improvisation. It’s a metaphor that ties in nicely with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics and her interest in how we glean meaning from combinations of signs and symbols. But in what at first seems a strange turn, Mukarji later states that music “should never hold a message.” Maybe in the context of Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s day job this is true—it takes a whole different realm of semantics to address Outwash. But a lack of some linguistic message doesn’t equate to a lack of meaning, and this is where Mr. Schaeffer gets tossed out the window: music may not be a language, but it’s also not just sound and sound alone. There’s something rich and meaningful and wildly difficult to articulate about improvised music; maybe some warm and revealing thing about our humanity that we understand at the gut level. We feel these convergences of sound to be rife with meaning, that they are inextricably entwined in our webs of culture and experience.

Cold as this glacial music may be, these three ladies have truly conjured that ineffable, soul-warming something, and Outwash is one of the most captivating records of the year.

Listen to an extract from “Moraine” here:

© stef

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mika Vainio - fe3O4 - Magnetite (Touch, 2012) ****

By Paolo Castertano

Last March, I attended a Mika Vainio live set. It wasn’t the first time I had the chance to experience a performance by this half of the now in permanent hiatus famous experimental electronic duo Pan Sonic. So I was certainly aware of the many-sided embodiments of the artist, swinging from deep techno to minimalism. However, the misleading promotion of the hosting club had me thinking it was a live presentation of his recent work on Editions Mego, called “Life … It Eats You Up”, that we can mainly file as a great “processed guitar” record.

How naïve of me knowing the reputation of the club! Instead, I spent the night at kind of rave party. At two o’clock a.m., after uncountable hours of clearly out of synch breakbeats gently provided by the DJs opening, the happening - despite the three PowerBooks they were proudly showing (how is that even possible?) - and just before my legs gave out (I’m not that young anymore), Vainio finally appeared on the stage.

Basically I was happy because someone was respecting some rhythmic basic rules playing just two turntables, and considering that Vainio is indeed a competent musician, I even managed to appreciate some pretty minimalistic passages while I was trying to ignore the screams and shouts of the infamous audience gathered there for the night.

Apparently the flyer wasn’t misleading for them, so probably it was just my friend Bartolo’s fault for he had convinced me that we should not miss such an important electronic event.

The seven compositions of “fe3O4 – Magnetite” don’t add much to the Nordic master's repertoire. Distorted layers and obscure whistles, all the bursts and melodic structures are skillfully built and the result is pleasurable. The quality of clicks and cuts is far above the average of the genre. Vainio excels in the hyper bass tones. The bells and their resonance in “Magnetosome” are remarkable. Basically every sound in the work is interesting and exactly where you expect it should be. Even if on the whole I consider the formerly quoted “Life … It Eats You Up” as a more sincere and inspired work.

Because I have no fear of contradictions, this is probably not jazz. Nevertheless this is a good album with serious and well-done music.

Buy and listen to some at the label.

© stef

Thursday, September 20, 2012

String minimalism and the power of tone

By Stef   

Two albums with Frantz Loriot on viola, two minimalist albums, very avant, equally good in terms of musicianship, coherence, interplay and intensity, yet totally different in terms of tone and listening experience.

Bobun - Suite Pour Machines À Mèche (Creative Sources, 2012) ****

Bobun is a duo of French-Japanese viola-player Frantz Loriot, whom we know from the excellent "Baloni", and French cellist Hugues Vincent. The line-up is rare and we have so far only reviewed two other albums on this blog (Stefano Pastor & Kash Killion, and Vincent Royer & Séverine Ballon). Both musicians have played together for ten years, as a duo, but also with lots of Japanese and French musicians, including the great Joëlle Léandre, who was a teacher to both of them.

By their very nature, string duets bring us away from jazz as we know it, and Loriot and Vincent take us even a step further away from the known. Their open-ended minimalist music is built around either a drone-like tonal center as on the first track, or around silence like zen drawings or zen gardens. The strings carve out the space around the silence. With little touches, soft movements of surprise and wonder. But like Japanese art, the approach is equally direct and in-the-moment, intimate, recognisable yet at the same time shocking, revealing, pushing the listener (and the players?) out of their comfort zone, challenging his or her perceptions until you give up and just go with the sounds. And this is rewarding, because by the time you've completely let go, the approach changes slightly in the ear-piercing last-but-one track and then into the last track which miraculously opens like a flower.

A strange compelling aesthetic.


Carlo Costa, Frantz Loriot & Sean Ali - Natura Morta (PromNights, 2012) ****

We find the viola-player back in this trio setting with Carlo Costa on drums and Sean Ali on bass.

We reviewed the Italian, but now Brooklyn-based drummer Carlo Costa before, in a duo-setting with Japanse flautist Yakuri and the more jazzy (although still very relative) Minerva piano trio with "Saturnismo".

Despite the minimalism of this album, the tone is entirely different. It is amazing to experience the same concept of sound piercing through silence, but whereas the duet between Loriot and Vincent leads to gentle openness and wonder, this trio - using the same approach - offers us a dark, ominous and intense piece.

Whereas new elements and suddenly emerging sounds in the duo album led to fresh surprise, here they are a source of menace, adding an increase of tension, not actually assaulting the listener - the volume is too low for that - but adding a layer of danger - undefined like creaking floorboards - creating an anticipation of the inevitable doom.

The album is short, some thirty minutes only, but really worth looking for.

© stef

Ich bin N!ntendo feat. Mats Gustafsson: self-titled (vafongool, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

Like many Germans I am a soccer fan. And I was just watching my favorite club being beaten by its “worst” enemy. It was not a simple defeat, it was humiliation – and I watched it until the bitter end. After that I needed something really strong – something like Ich bin N!ntendo feat. Mats Gustafsson.

You need the following ingredients:
  • 1 electric guitar (played by Christian Skår Winther)
  • 1 electric bass (played by Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard)
  • 1 drum kit (played by Joakim Heibø Johansen)
  • 1 baritone saxophone (you should definitely use Mats Gustafsson).
  • a handful of Captain Beefheart blues and heavy rock riffs
  • some 60s psychedelia sliced by brutal saxophone shrieks
  • a handful staccato punk drumming
  • a teaspoon of Frank Zappa and Peter Brötzmann, and some Jimi Hendrix guitar effects
  • a thudding bass
  • some distortion sounds
  • the good old Lasse Marhaug mix and mastering
Take the basic ingredients (guitar, bass, drums, sax), chop them apart and mash them in a food processor. Then pop and empty a bottle of water. Fill the bottle with the basic ingredients, the Beefheart blues and heavy rock riffs, the sliced psychedelia. After that shove the staccato punk drumming, the distortion sounds, the thudding bass, and the Zappa/Brötzmann/Hendrix  ingredients inside the bottle, too. Last but not least you have to stand the whole explosive mixture carefully in the Lasse Marhaug mix and mastering freezer and leave it for about half an hour so everything freezes around the bottle. Then take it out of the freezer and shake it thoroughly.

It tastes a bit like Original Silence, Naked City or Evan Parker/John Wiese, if you need any references.

I gulped down a good mouthful to swallow down the pain my favorite club’s defeat left in my throat and immediately felt better. But you can enjoy this mixture just for fun as well. It’s a killer!

Album release date: October 1

© stef

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mike Reed's People, Places and Things - Clean on the Corner (482 Music, 2012) ***

Posted by Joe

Sometimes it's daunting going into the Free Jazz Blog files to see what's in there, and what needs reviewing! In fact everything should be reviewed but there just isn't enough time in the day to do that. So often I find myself hitting the play button on something and hoping it's what I'm looking for on that day.

Mike Reed's album caught my eye as something that would be easy to listen to and a possible respite from some of the more overtly 'intellectual' releases that I get to hear. Mike Reed - a drummer composer - has written some very attractive pieces that his group gets to work with and develop in a pleasing manner, but with a few sneaky twists that keep these excellent musicians on their toes. The music which is very melodic in content has plenty of tempo changes, rubato sections, free excursions and solo passages that allow each player to deliver some wonderful solos. The music does have some more collective type improvisations but in general it's music which wants swings like the clappers.

Tim Halderman (tenor sax) has a slight Dewey Redman feel to his style, switching between more free-bopish lines to slightly more sound orientated ideas. In comparison alto player Greg Ward tends more towards a strict post-bop vein, often nearly blowing the lid of the tunes with some fireworks. Tunes such as 'The lady has a bomb' and 'Sharon' (which has Craig Taborn guesting) fly past with great speed and have some excellent solos from all, not surprising really as the themes are all melodic pieces that fire inspiration, and must be much fun to play upon.

There are a few tunes which step outside the strait-ahead such as the wonderful 'December', 'Where the story ends' and a fine ballad 'House of three smiles'. These tunes are finely worked pieces that look much further into the possibilities of the group working as a unit or have a more introspective side to them, such as 'House of three smiles' which also features the playing of Josh Berman. It's a shame (for me) that there weren't more pieces as these on the recording. 'December' uses a delicate melody to support a free dialog between bassist Jason Roebke and Mike Reed. 'Where the story ends' uses a strolling type melody which reminds me of some of Ornette's ballads. The two horn players build some interesting solos that look into various corners, melodic and non melodic, whilst the bass and drum create the relevant colours. The other tunes on the record tend more towards the mainstream, and although the music is fun to listen to, there's no real surprises. I also wonder why the two guests have been added. To my ears it seems the group works fine as a unit without the help of outsiders.

And so it is, a joyous bouncy album that verges on the realms of post-bop but actually keeps one step outside of the mainstream. Probably an album for anyone interested in good hard swinging music with a modern twist to it. Also a group that is probably very much fun to see live!

You can buy the album from 

© stef

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ran Blake and David Fabris – Vilnius Noir (NoBusiness, 2012) ***½

By Troy Dostert

Ran Blake has had an abundantly prolific career as a quirky, idiosyncratic, and cerebral pianist who offers performances that are consistently thoughtful and refined, yet with occasional twists of suspense or wry humor that just manage to prevent the listener from getting too comfortable.  He’s made some terrific recordings over several decades of work; more recently, his solo outing from 2006 (All That Is Tied) was a real gem of a disc, and it showcased Blake’s undeniable originality and still-vibrant creativity at the ripe old age of 70.

On this recording Blake is teamed up with David “Knife” Fabris, with whom Blake has worked previously on a couple of discs on the Hatology label (Silver Noir; Something to Live For).  Significantly, the two musicians only play together on half of the tracks; and on one of those (“Driftwood”), Fabris and Blake each take half the tune, making the song essentially two solos placed back-to-back rather than a joint endeavor.  This is unfortunate, since Blake and Fabris clearly have a strong rapport, developing moments of interesting synergy on cuts like the opening “Vilna/Turning Point,” which offers some mysterious musings from both players in a very noir-ish vein, in keeping with the central theme of the disc.  The same can be said of their brief treatment of “Mood Indigo” to close the record, where Blake and Fabris offer a delicately counterbalanced study of the Ellington classic.  But with this interplay a factor on only half of the cuts on the record, the other tracks stand or fall as solo efforts from each artist.

And when it comes to the solo tracks, here Blake gets the better of Fabris by a considerable margin.  Blake is his usual self here, offering consistently interesting and every-so-slightly off-kilter renderings of everything from a melancholy traditional Jewish folk tune (“Shlof mayn kind”) to the jaunty and slightly more upbeat “In pursuit” to a very Blake-worthy interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.”  Even though Blake has offered more dynamic range and stylistic variation on other discs, and his playing here tends to be somewhat more restrained and less adventurous overall, there’s still a consistency to the quality of his playing that repays repeated listens.  Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said for Fabris, who’s not Blake’s equal when it comes to being able to hold his own as a solo performer.  His sound has a very bluesy, expansive, and open feel to it, which is rather compelling in itself.  But on the tracks he’s given here Fabris doesn’t always develop his ideas fully, offering brief patterns and phrases that don’t really go anywhere.  While he establishes an intriguing groove on “Driftwood,” his solo doesn’t do enough to sustain interest; the overall effect is of a pleasant, yet ultimately unsatisfying exploration of the tune that gradually tapers off, at which point Blake comes in with one of his patented chordal exclamations, paving the way for him to close out the tune with more authority than Fabris is able to muster during his portion of the track.

There are moments on this disc with real promise and potential, to be sure; but the recording’s fragmented quality results in its having a bit of an identity crisis.  As a full duo disc, it might have been much stronger on the whole.

You can buy the album from

© stef

Monday, September 17, 2012

Joe Hertenstein, Achim Tang, Jon Irabagon - Future Drone (Jazzwerkstatt, 2012) ****½

By Stef   

There clearly is more than one Jon Irabagon, the tenor saxophonist who played on albums with sounds as different as "Foxy", "I Hear Nothing But The Blues", "Mostly Other People Do The Killing", "RIDD Quartet", or his own somewhat too ambitious "Outright". On top of this, he also recently collaborated on Mary Halvorson's "Bending Bridges".

Here he plays in a trio led by German drummer Joe Hertenstein, and with Achim Tang on bass. The album is very much a trio achievement too, one of free improvisation, with the exception of two tracks. The entire album is dedicated to Paul Motian.

What you get is still entirely different from what you can expect. The music is intimate, raw, fresh, creative, with a range that goes from cautious explorations - of which some are truly magnificent - over some hard intensity to the soulful moments of "Ballad For Paul and Poo", yet all tracks form one very coherent and varied whole.

The intimacy is equalled by the intensity of the playing, which has a sense of supressed urgency, or controlled   expressivity, which never actually explodes but remains full of expectations and held-back anticipation. The result is incredibly crisp and emotional. It hurts and it comforts.

Three incredible players, technically masterful, musically inventive and with deep emotional powers.

© stef

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nate Wooley - [8] Syllables (Peira, 2012) ****

By Alfie Cooke

Nate Wooley is rapidly becoming the main man in solo trumpet.  Admittedly, there is a general shortage of brass players in improvised music so it's a small field, but his only real challenge is Peter Evans (check out his two albums on Evan Parker's PSI label).  Both men are capable of a phenomenal range of sounds from their horns but Wooley seems to be taking the lead in the long-form improvisation.

8 Syllables, like Wooley's other pieces in this vein 'Wong a shape To Be as Storyteller', is not easy listening.  While some will find the blast and thunder of Brotzmann a strain, Wooley's minimalist approach makes listening difficult for a very different reason - this is silence... Breath... The sound of a breeze bouncing off the sides of the bell.  8 Syllables is not something you can put on in the background and drift in and out of.  It is a challenge because it requires attention for the full length of the CD, every time you play it.

Beginning with a sharp stab that the piece then turns into a drone, a single note held for an impossibly long time (evidence that circular breathing is no longer the sole domain of the saxophonist).  The note bobbles and crackles, with every variation in Wooley's embouchure seemingly audible.  Then his breath seems to fail, the note stutters and stumbles before finally falling away to nothing.  And then you start thinking that you've hit track 2...

Once you get the hang of what Nate Wooley is doing, you start to become familiar with the way that near-silence - the breathless breath which he sends through the trumpet - is as much a part of his technique as the pure tone.  Apparently, there is a Miles Davis album where you can hear the shard of skin from his lip that has caught inside his trumpet.  The mistake is always deliberate.  Wooley uses every sound that can be coaxed as part of his palette, and you can imagine him thinking back to every fluff and blunder when he first picked up an instrument and tried to get a sound out of it - all of it becomes part of the possible.

Personally, I love what Nate Wooley does. It isn't easy listening and the range of sound volume means you have to listen real hard, but this truly is the sound of surprise.

© stef

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Elephant9 - live at the BBC (Rune Grammofon, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Dodovoodoo was a revelation to me. That playing the ring modulated Fender Rhodes and pumping out sophisticated jazz rock à la Weather Report's I Sing the Body Electric was still possible, almost made me weep. In this cynical day and age where fusion has been a dirty word for a long time, this Nordic organ trio was making some of the finest of it to date.
It's been a couple of years since a proper release by Elephant9. 2010 brought Walk the Nile, and now the vinyl only 'Live at BBC' represents not only a nice place holder in the discography but also, to my ears, a document of how the group has grown even stronger since the last release.

The trio is Ståle Storløkken on various keyboards like the venerable Rhodes and Hammond organ. Storløkken currently plays in Terje Rypdal's group, and on a rare and recent show of Rypdal's in NYC, the organist nearly stole the show. Filling out the rest of the trio is Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen on bass and Torstein Lofthus on drums.

I feel that this concert recording shows a deepening melodicism since their last outing. The songs are somewhat more accessible to the ear, maybe a bit pared back and rocking rhythmically and overall more satiating than the studio efforts. The climax of 'I Cover the Mountaintop' is visceral, you feel that while the climb was arduous but you may just do it again some time. 'Habanera Rocket' is an enjoyable tune that features an extensive keyboard solo that propels itself along at a fantastic clip. A galvanizing moment occurs in the tune as Lofthus takes a drum solo while Storløkken comps below, slowly building in ferocity until he can hold back no more.

A bit light on liner notes, the album features a cover festooned with the colorful geometric theme that has appeared in various incarnations on their other releases. The limited vinyl pressing is worth seeking out, as it is not a regurgitation of previous releases by any means, and the sound quality is excellent - the concert was originally a broadcast from BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3. All the instruments are captured in their acoustic and electric glory.  

© stef

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Thirteenth Assembly – Station Direct (Important Records, 2011) ****

By Tom Burris

Even before their recording debut, “(un)sentimental,” the members of the Thirteenth Assembly had played together in various combinations and had been friends and cohorts for years.  “Station Direct” is their follow-up from 2011 and shows absolutely no indication of having been anywhere near a sophomore slump.  Without going through the list of projects these folks have worked on together, let’s just say that the members of the band collectively form a supergroup of the NYC improv scene and leave it at that.  However, unlike most supergroup projects, this band consistently lives up to - and even exceeds - expectations.  The band members support each other in ways that are empathetic and downright selfless; and their arrangements are full of surprises that always land the collective directly on its feet. "(un)sentimental" was no fluke.

The disc opens with a few distinguished viola saws from Jessica Pavone before the entire band barrels in with the sort of angular melody that is somewhat of a signature for them. However, two minutes into the track and they’ve already dismantled the thing and are into a free flipout, but maintaining a loose interpretation of the basic pulse.  A minute later they have all headed for the realm of Other, ending on an ethereal note.  As opening statements go, they don’t get more concise.

Tomas Fujiwara paints a drum solo merely one minute into “Coming Up,” with cymbals, toms and bass drum used masterfully to color the canvas of silence.  Taylor Ho Bynum takes a cornet solo in the next spot, holding beautiful notes and then splattering sounds all over the open spaces.  Ho Bynum is a player who can make you hear the entire history of jazz in just a couple of notes; and yet he manages to put his personal stamp on every sound that comes out of his horn and consistently pushes his ideas into uncharted territory.  Pavone slides in with some avant psychedelia, leaving room for Ho Bynum and Mary Halvorson to contribute a muted melody underneath, creating a texturally perfect balance.  Halvorson follows this with her own solo, exhibiting the traits that make her one of the most interesting and exciting guitarists on the planet today.  Her tone here is bright and clean, but the overall sound also runs between a spatially flat standstill and a full, gritty blob of sonic butter.  She never bends a note with her fingers; but bends full chords with a foot pedal that modulates the frequency of a normal delay pedal.  She plays inside and outside simultaneously – as does Ho Bynum – and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard her place a note anywhere except the exact place it belongs.

The highlight of the album (in an album full of them) is “Long Road,” which opens with a more open and airy feel.  Trumpet sputters, suspended chords, string plucks, light drum rolls...  Pavone does a Diamanda Galas impression on her viola with the stereo delay until a beautiful melody surfaces from the instrument alone.  Then a cowboy rhythm begins (!?!) – but it alternates with a blue-eyed funk beat, bringing no less than three Jim Jarmusch films to mind.  Ho Bynum takes a break that is as aurally exploratory as it is full of melodic invention.  He begins playing a folkish melody with Pavone; then the two are joined by Halvorson and Fujiwara as the whole band does a little gypsy swing.  Naturally, Halvorson starts warping the chords with the modulator pedal, sending the group into a freeland fracas.  Fujiwara gets a solo break following this; and the track ends with a perfectly paced percussion wind-down.

The album ends in a rock mode, with “Station” sounding like a long-lost 60s pop classic as interpreted by the smartest band the future could invent; and “Direct,” a mid-tempo choogler that sounds like a bit like a moody later-period Sonic Youth track.  Pavone and Ho Bynum play the bridge without the rhythm section, which is another surprise arrangement that works like crazy.  And Halvorson naturally turns in another killer solo break.  Absolutely brilliant stuff.


Musician links:

© stef

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stian Westerhus - The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers (Rune Grammofon, 2012) ***** [part 3 of 3]

By Paolo Casertano

Editor's Note: This is the final installment of a three part post on Stian Westerhus and his new recording The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers. For more about the musician, see the previous two posts.

Part 3: The album

I will focus now on Westerhus' last work “The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers,” once again for him on Rune Grammofon. The poetically titled work was recorded in the Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, a place kept at a constant five degree Celsius to preserve the wall paintings, and known sonically for its twenty seconds of natural delay. Temporal dispersion and biting icy atmospheres imbue the whole production, but at the same time this album sounds immediately more lyrical and symphonic than the previous “Pitch Black Star Spangled” with its funambulism on pedals and far from the exploding noise of “Galore,” his debut.

The avant-gardish and almost Schoenbergian opening of “Shine” throws us immediately in Westerhus' musical world. On a structure that we may identify as the result of a dialogue between a string section and an ethereal choir,  low-fi chords (sounding like stabs on the guitar neck) emerge, soon followed by the bow slowly rising in a trembling crescendo. I would have sworn this was a synth if I hadn’t seen him play this sound just with guitar and effects.  Notes emotionally climb to the high scales toward the end of the piece.

The second track - "The Matriarch" - has a symphonic approach as well, of low tonality this time. The baritone guitar sounds exactly like a cello. Phrasings are short and jarring. There is a pivotal presence of echo and reverb.

Delay and silence are the way chosen to build the third episode - "Silver Sparkle Attraction." Ghostly presence and chains, just imagine to listen to this in the mausoleum where it has been recorded. Pretty eerie. Little trembling steps are alternated with deep low chords. Tapping on the body of the instrument and looping the resulting sound may work as an invisible drum while the bow grates unceasingly. “Like Passing Rain Through 9 Lives” is highly lyrical and epic. Compositionally this track shows the completeness of Westerhus. Each section of this invisible orchestra has its own score. Remember that he’s playing this alone, and he’s certainly not improvising now. His guitar moves easily from the role of a double bass to the voice of the violin . Far away, there is a trumpet sound, but it also comes from the guitar.

A feeble solo pours us into the fifth track “Unchained Sanity On Broken Ground.” Westerhus comes back in the hypnagogic realm, made of growing waves and whistles, sustained by very distorted buzzes. Closing in a synthetic loop.

In “Forever Walking Forests” Westerhus sings, or let’s just say, he uses his voice. This may be a breaking point. This is conceptual act. He is creating sounds through a gesture, not with an instrument. For Westerhus a guitar seems to be just a conduit and I’m pretty sure he could do the same with many other instruments. I bet John Cage would have admired this piece.

We hear a timpani and viola duet at the beginning of “Kept On Shoulders.” The really melodic open chords contribute to build a stream from which the “violin” can emerge and be totally unveiled, alone, screaming and ululating in the obscurity.

Two different looped layers, enriched by a strong delay effect, contrast in the short “Guiding The Pain,” challenging each other and growing. At times I could call this post-rock. Experimentalism and interferences are the keys of the closing “The Wrong Kind Of Flowers.” Far drones and horns. Play it loud enough to perceive the army that is marching far away till the bombing begins. The atmosphere is tragic and the piece closes with a tear-jerking, unexpected and gentle farewell.

I imagine that the impressive statues festooning the lovely park moved a bit closer to the mausoleum to hear the music being made.

Time for my rating now. I’ve always been looking with admiration to the "album of the month" column here on the left. And I’ve always been wondering why my reviewed albums were not in this list. Are my judgments and ratings too strict and severe? Am I lousy at choosing titles in our “Team Review monthly fighting contest” (I’ll tell you more on it sooner or later) picking always the less eligible ones? That’s why I am now proud to say that my first five stars rating on this blog goes to this album.

And definitely I beg you to let it and my review be part of the “album of the month” column.
Buy the format you like from Rune Grammofon

I have the limited red vinyl edition. But as you probably may guess I’m kind of a groupie here.

© stef

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stian Westerhus - The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers (Rune Grammofon, 2012) [part 2 of 3]

By Paolo Casertano

A note from the author: I lied, no rating yet... 

Part 2: Studio

I take here the opportunity to list some ongoing projects Stian Westerhus is involved in.

The Puma trio, with already three releases under its belt, represents in my opinion the enlargement of Westerhus' solo potentialities, as you may infer from their last “Half Nelson Courtship” in which the role of the guitarist as a leader has become more evident.

A duo with Sidsel Endresen - “Didymoi Dreams” - recently released on Rune Grammofon, an interesting document of his live performance, on which Westerhus explorations are accompanied by her acclaimed voice.

There is also the live and studio partnership with Nils Petter Molvær with his trio, the only collaboration where Westerhus acts as a real sideman so far.  It is is interesting to notice the influences the young artist will have on the music of the great trumpeter, who is a seminal figure in the manipulation of jazz sounds through electronics. I bet something will happen.

And then again there is the successful union with the drummer Kenneth Kapstad from Motorpsycho that has given birth to the Monolithic Project. The unquestionable “metal” nature of the duo is once again the proof of Westerhus' incompatibility with categorization.

Other projects worth mentioning are his brief involvement with Jaga Jazzist, the destructive and noisy interaction with Lasse Marhaug with Puma, the prestigious work commissioned for the Throndheim Jazz Orchestra during the 2011 Molde Jazz Festival, demonstrating that the artist feels at ease with composition and conduction too.

Then there's this really thrilling rumor of a collaboration with Helge Sten from Supersilent. I had once the chance to see him play guitar (his real instrument) rather than working his usual racks of electronics.  I haven’t slept for three nights. Will I survive their collaboration?

Finally, after this long idolizing portrait, just allow me to mention his recent and questionable - just in my opinion - participation to the last work of a band called Ulver, exponent of the never extinguished Scandinavian black metal (but I would say hard-rock as well) branch. Hardly digestible. Our guy definitely needs to play … just as a shark can’t quit swimming.

In a recent comment to Dan Sorrell’s great review (and forgive me if I quote myself quoting someone else who is quoting still another person) we discussed the faculty of a musician to express his musical concepts while improvising within the boundaries of the genre he has chosen. Or better, using the “grammatical rules” established and consolidated by the musicians moving in the related “container”. Now, clearly not everything Westerhus does in his performances, whether live or recorded, is totally improvised. He has a plot and some anchor points to reach, but nothing seems to be already written between a point and the following one. Looks like a climber on a mountain: he knows some places in the ascent are safer than others because someone has been there before. They’re good to take a breath and look up toward the peak. And then to choose the most adventurous and maybe the as yet undiscovered path to reach the next stop. The point is that for Westerhus limits and boundaries are not given by the genre but by the instrument and devices he’s using to achieve his aim.

I’m probably wrong but I’m persuaded that in fifty years time (maybe less and maybe not me, but you never know…) we’re going to speak of him as we speak now of Derek Bailey and his nodal role in the twentieth century guitar.

The album review, it's coming …
        … to be continued later on this blog ...

© stef

Stian Westerhus - The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers(RuneGrammofon, 2012) [part 1 of 3]

A note from the author: I consider Stian Westerhus - together with a fistful of other very young musicians (some of them are portrayed here on both side of the page) - as one of the most promising names in the greater free jazz community. That’s why the following review is going to take into account and give a brief overview both his feverish live activity and his short but already dense recorded output, up to his just released solo album...

Part I: Live

I've been to a Stian Westerhus live set three times during the past three years.

The first one was in Oslo during the 2009 edition of the All Ears Festival for improvised music. In the picture at the end of the article (Pt 3) you may have the opportunity to spot among the listeners my astonished face, but in no way am I going to unveil my secret identity, because I’m actually running an undercover operation for the blog, and Boss Stef is my only safe contact. By the way, at the time Westerhus was rumored as a new emerging name worthy of attention on the Norwegian scene. A few minutes before the concert a gentle - and now I know caring (for my hearing) - Norwegian man suggested I take advantage of the earplugs available for free at the concert hall main entrance. At first, I was a bit skeptical and cheeky (as a free jazz spy has to be), but noticing that everyone around was doing the same, I followed the suggestion. And it was a wise move. In not more than half an hour I 'auditorily' (if one can say that), experienced almost all the conceivable sounds that can be made by torturing the strings of a guitar, delving into the wood below them, caressing and hitting them non-stop, or with unbearable (and how emotional!) slowness, pinching them with tiny and trembling metal grips, scraping the frets and the body of the instruments as only an “advanced guitar anatomist” could do. It was evident to everyone that he was perfectly aware of what the instrument would give him. And to crown it all, Westerhus was controlling a plethora of effects pedals and stompboxes that were difficult to identify, considering the pretty unorthodox use he was making of them. Flabbergasted, I left my heart there, but luckily not my ears.

The second time was again in Oslo, the following year. The venue this time was a nice little church in the city. Maybe only a small audience but we enjoyed a long and intimate excursion of many guitar styles and sound possibilities with long passages yet no electric amplification! No amps .. however it was an electric guitar, capitalizing on the natural echo provided by the empty vaults and every cavernous indentation in the ceiling of the church. By now he had incorporated the use of a cello (?) bow to create wider musical landscapes. I was about to see the light and convert myself to Christianity, but then I remembered I’m a practicing free-jazzer…

The third gig I attended took place in the lovely little town of Foligno, central Italy, during one of the several days of the 2011 Dancity Festival. Again in a church, though deconsecrated and totally empty this time. Westerhus, his two loyal amplifiers and an expanded range of pedals and stompboxes were on a low wooden platform where once had certainly been the altar. Storm and dead calm, classical arpeggios and heavy metal riffs, the bow and the ongoing “preparation” of the instrument through the insertion of objects between and under the strings. Moreover the definitive symbiosis with the electronic devices he adds to his sound. Stian Westerhus can accurately control his pedals effects - apparently some of them are personally “modified and bent” by the artist himself in order to improve or alter the factory settings and features - with his feet. Stian Westerhus, for what I know, wears just heavy leather cowboy boots. Could you believe it? I’m not saying he presses the pedals as everyone does. He rotates knobs and moves tiny switches into the desired position just using the tip or the heel of his boots. Hey, I mean, he’s not wearing comfortable running shoes! Shall we consider this as a biological Darwinian improvement of the guitar player species? Will all the future guitarists wear leather boots and use their hidden toes to maneuver electronic devices? Again, don’t try this at home. Or at least, start exercising with naked toes. In any case, the ever-changing suite he performs in his live solo gigs lasted maybe an hour and maybe few seconds. Breathless.

I unfortunately missed Westerhus recent concert in Rome, where I live when I need some rest from my assignment as a mole in the filthy free jazz underworld. I will never forgive myself for this loss.

Beyond the peculiar coincidence that two of the three concerts I've seen took place in a church, and this last album has been recorded in a mausoleum, it’s tempting to fantasize on the role of religion and spirituality in his music. Why am I describing all of this (I mean the concerts, not my spy life)? Some considerations are really evident to me.

Notwithstanding a mainly unchanged approach - one long suite that grows, alternating between crescendo and diminuendo - all three performance were different indeed. The constant development and research of sounds and techniques seem to be at the core of the artist's musical vision. Stian Westerhus is unceasingly evolving in an unpredictable way. He doesn’t just make the guitar sound as he wants, he makes the guitar sound in ways that the instrument itself didn’t know it was capable of. And the more his sound becomes recognizable and personal, the more he’s going to take it a step further and change it again.

His recordings trace out really well this turbulent inclination.

Take a look and listen here below to get a hint of a live set:

But Hey! Right! The review of his just released album... I honestly don’t know. I still have not listened to it …

                 … to be continued tomorrow on this blog ...

© stef