Friday, November 30, 2012

Living by Lanterns - Old Myth/New Science (Cuneiform, 2012) ***

Reviewed by Joe

Here's a record to add to Paul Aquaro's recent post concerning Sonic Liberation Front's record tribute to Sun Ra. Here is Living by Lanterns a group co-led by Mike Reed and Jason Adesiewicz - see below for line-up. Apparently these pieces, and of course this CD, were commissioned by the Experimental Sound Studio (ESS), based on tapes from a kind of free form session of Sun Ra's back in 1961, and catalogued as "NY 1961." There are no real compositions on that tape just improvised ideas. These ideas were used to inspire the music written and played on this album. it seems, from what Cuneiform say on their site that this IS NOT a tribute. However, from the amount of ideas developed from the 'root' material it seems strange to say the contrary, but who cares anyhow, it's the music that counts.

In terms of music one could probably put this into the same bag as the Exploding Star Orchestra. It's vibrant music that swings away happily with some great themes popping up all throughout the record. The 7 themes are all fairly straight ahead affairs except for track 1 and track 6. The first track is a montage of some Sun Ra 'dialogue' doing one of his rants about, love, outer space, who we are, reality, myth and where we come from. If you've seen the various documentaries on Sun Ra and easily found on YouTube (hint!), then you'll know what I'm talking about. The sixth track 'Glow Lights' is the only 'free-form' piece on the record, surprising really considering the pedigree of this group. 

The other five tracks all have some nice moments and solid solos from the stellar line up (see below). As already mentioned this is essentially a swinging record, even if some of the themes are dark in nature. I particularly liked the second track 'Think Tank' with it's glistening vibes. The track quickly falls into an ostinato line with one of Mary Halvorson's wammy-bar distorted guitar solos flowing over it. Jason Adasiewicz comes along to add some spacey vibes as the tune develops before Taylor Ho Bynum jumps in to give the group a sort of free form Wynton Marsalis bluesy slurs to work with before the group heads back into the melody. Much of the front line melodies are carried by Greg Ward who really stands out on all the tracks, either through his solo lines or his lead playing. 'Shadow Boxer's Delight' (tk4) seems to be a feature for Tomeka Reid on cello. The tune has a lovely melody which although played at the beginning really comes into it's own at the end when the rhythm section drops out.

The other tracks such as 'Forget B' or 'Old Science' are well written pieces with attractive melodies and good solos, but for my money it's a little bit lacking in excitement, or maybe that's just what I heard from my armchair. I found the record a really good listen but when looking at the line up I couldn't help wondering if a few more chances could have been taken. It's almost as if every soloist has his/her own feature, but isn't necessarily suited to 'that' job, or maybe I could say 'in that context'. 

A nice record which could be worth while tracking down if you enjoy fairly straight ahead music from the young Chicago/New York scene. Although if you're looking for intense sounds that might be normally associated with some members of the group you're probably better off looking in other directions.

The Group :

Greg Ward – alto saxophone, Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet, Ingrid Laubrock – tenor saxophone, Tomeka Reid – cello, Mary Halvorson – guitar, Jason Adasiewicz – vibraphone, Joshua Abrams – bass, Tomas Fujiwara – drums, Mike Reed – drums, electronics.

© stef

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lean Left - Live at Cafe Oto (Unsounds, 2012) ****

By Philip Coombs

This is an album that is all about the rhythm. From beats to pulses to heartbeats to the sounds of the doomsday clock. From precise muted guitars to repetitive saxophone lines and tones, they are all being accented by Father Time himself Paal Nilssen-Love (drums).

Before I continue, I feel compelled to comment on the album cover ....... To save space and greatly reduce my word count, I have decided to omit my views on the cover and the way the recording was edited. The music is a more important discourse. Philip.

Now that I have that out of my system, I can focus my attention back to where it should be; the music, and in most places, it is truly remarkable.

The recording is being billed as the Ex guitars meets the Vandermark/ Nilssen-Love duo but it is not as cut and dry as that. The Ex guitarists, Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, create a wall of amplified goodness while elevating the tremolo bar into high art. The Vandermark/ Nilsson-Love duo though are not as you would normally hear them on any of their many recordings. Vandermark (sax and clarinet) is using his tenor sax more as a rhythm guitar trying to get in the pocket with the Ex guitars. There are moments of screeching madness but he is primarily pulsating single notes or basic runs almost with a rock or funk sensibility, very different from his cacophony of searching notes. The duo sound a little vulnerable here, willing to be led more than be the leaders.

After the break in the first track, 'Koevoet (Live)', Vandermark picks up the clarinet. He now has lead guitar in mind blasting idea after idea over the Ex guitars who supply a great textural pavement for him.
The Ex guitars work so well together that it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. They finish each others phrases and let the moment breathe when quiet is needed. Even their guitar tones sound similar. The end of 'Drevet (Live)' is a good example of how they speak through steel strings and electricity.

As much as I've written about the the other three, Nilssen-Love can never go unnoticed or unmentioned as he can still find new ways to communicate on a very basic drum kit. Not a lot of bells and whistles on this one. Yet another of his master classes on an album where rhythm is in the spotlight. So please don't judge the album by its cover.
Can be purchased through Instant Jazz.

An older clip of them performing.

© stef

Barrel - Gratuitous Abuse (Emanem, 2011) ****

Reviewed by Joe

Well, I'm not sure how this one got missed in our folders? Alison Blunt (violin), Ivor Kallin (viola/violin) and Hannah Marshall (cello) whip up a real storm using just strings and an impressive storm at that! Hannah Marshall is a name that pops up on this blog from time to time as one of the UK's leading improving cello players. Alison Blunt's CV (you may already know her) includes a long list of very diverse and extremely interesting groups and projects ranging from 'Tindersticks' to the Tony Marsh 4tet. Ivor Kallin seems to be a very interesting artist whose interests go in many directions including film, radio shows and poetry. The thread that unites these three players seems to be the ever evolving London Improvisers Orchestra, certainly a fine recommendation if needed! If you don't know the LIO then the best way to explain them is : a group that's often presented in programs as - 'LIO band members can be ....'

This is surely one of the most creative records of improvised music I've heard for quite a long time. The group really creates a canvas of sounds that makes you wonder if you're listening to something written by the late Elliott Carter. But no, this is a real improvised string trio of the highest order with not one boring second to be found on this album, it's simply stunning to hear these three at work on the CDs four tracks. Three of the pieces (Tks, 1, 3 and 4) are between 22 and 32 minutes, the second track 'Soft Porn, Hard Cheese' is just 1:51sec. The trio uses all available means to make music with their instruments and voices, and even though they mostly use the bows on strings to communicate there are plenty of shrieks and verbal mutterings to be heard as well. All these elements seem to come together at the perfect moment, never leaving you waiting to see what could happen next. What's also interesting is the polyphonic lines they constantly develop and which give an impression of a very contemporary string trio. They also attack their instruments : slapping them, scraping them, plucking, double stopping and anything else that can be used to make a sound.

I can imagine that this is one hell of a trio to see live, great energy and plenty of imagination. I noticed there's a video from 2009 on YT which will give you an idea of the trio in action (here Pt1 and Pt2). Although these pieces are shorter than on the CD, you do get to see how these three go way beyond abstract improvisation, managing to combine melodic ideas with extended techniques.

I think this is certainly an album that will bear up to repeated listening on many different layers. Great stuff, or as we say 'a sleeper'.

© stef

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trespass Trio - Bruder Beda (Clean Feed, 2012) ****½

By Stef  

In 2009, Trespass Trio released its debut album " ... Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky ...", and it was an immediate hit, at least in my end-of-year lists. The Swedish band, consisting of Martin Küchen on alto and baritone, Per Zanussi on bass and Raymond Strid on drums, is indeed exceptional.

In contrast to Martin Küchen's other band, Angles, the trio's approach is more minimal, more intimate, full of suppressed menace and calm development, yet also rawer and fierce, despite the similarity in themes. Compositions like "Don't Ruin Me" and "Today Is Better Than Tomorrow" will be recognised by Angles fans.

The art work and the title of the album are highly unusual. Bruder Beda refers to a relative of Küchen "Ernst Gerson, a Jewish German veteran of the World War I who became a Catholic monk, adopting the name Bruder Beda. When he decided to return to the secular world, when both the Nazis and the Zionist movement were growing, big troubles waited for him". Despite his efforts to claim he was Arian, he was eventually deported and killed in Auschwitz. If you read German, his story is related in this book. The whole complexity of the individual struggling with identity and trying to make his own life, his own truth, against forces trying to put him into a category of religion or ethnicity, both claimed and rejected, is well reflected in the music.

The entire mix of distress, sadness, rage and compassion can literally be felt when listening to Trespass Trio. It is moving and shocking. Hard and touching and deep. 

Real music. True music. 

You can buy the album from  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thollem, Parker, Cline - The Gowanus Session (Porter, 2012) ***½

By Stef  

Avant pianist Thollem McDonas teams up with William Parker on bass and Nels Cline on guitar, and when the music starts, you think you're in for quite a harmful and damaging, and maybe even dangerous recording. Very few of the sounds these sorcerers conjure up from their instruments appear to be familiar, let alone how their interactions, which collide at various levels of volume.

On the second track, you are welcomed by some gentle piano playing, and lured into another strange universe, full of hammering piano chords, irregular stomping and groaning guitar sounds. A similar approach welcomes you into the third piece, with even riskier result, with especially Cline's distorted guitar sounds skittering over the canvas. The longest - fifteen minute - track is called "Lives" and is built around a repetitive piano phrase, very present in the foreground, supported by relaxed bass by Parker and in stark contrast to the absolute mad guitar sounds that are generated somewhere in the background. Towards the end of the track, the listener gets some rest and can let himself or herself be taken along gently rather than with force, but this is only temporary, because the short last track grabs you again by the neck and drags you into sonic mayhem again, but then again relinquishes its grip a bit and marches you forward - you can hear the footsteps - only then to end in absolute calm.

The titles of all the tracks form the sentence "There Are As Many Worlds In A Life As There Are Lives In the World".

A strange and mysterious album. One that sucks you up and takes you along, whether you want to or not. Not for the faint of heart.

You can buy the album from

© stef

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lina Allemano Four - Live At The Tranzac (Lumo, 2012) ****

 By Stef

Reviewers need to give some context and references for readers to understand through words what the music sounds like. This Canadian quartet consists of Lina Allemano on trumpet, Brodie West on alto saxophone, Andrew Downing on double bass, and Nick Fraser on drums. This "Ornette Coleman quartet" line-up says something about the band's roots, but then again not enough. The band indeed cherishes melody and rhythm, as the basis to start form, opening the compositions wide for further explorations, but never too far.

I'd been thinking at times about other modern OC quartets such as the Empty Cage Quartet, or Ideal Bread, yet these comparisons fail too. They don't have the broad aspirations of the former, nor the specific focus of the latter, ... or the Nordic IPA, with Magnus Broo, ... and no, that's not it either. It all sounds so familiar, so accessible though, so recognizable in a way, but then it is not. It's all so different too. Open themes, unison beginnings, and then playful explorations, sometimes soloing, sometimes layering the solos, but always lyrical, always contained, always playful, always joyful. And that's possibly the quartet's major strength : they really enjoy what they do. Or let me put it differently, the quality of the compositions invite the musicians to enjoy themselves, and the audience as a result, as you can experience from this live recording.

It is not expansive, nor is it intimate either. It is not loud and not quiet. It is absolutely not mainstream, but it is also not really free either. You get the feeling. It is lyrical with an edge, abstract lyricism if you want, for lack of a better word. But then that is not right either. It's far too emotional to be called abstract.

Sorry, I give up. It's too hard to describe. Lina Allemano and her band have created an eclectic sound that makes its own synthesis of tradition and avant-garde, of structure and freedom, of clever composition and emotional depth, of abstraction and warmth. It is not spectacular, it is just beautiful and moving and fun. And that's a lot.

Watch a video excerpt from the album


 You can buy the album from

© stef

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Of basses, bows and other trifles: A brief journey through three solo releases

By Paolo Casertano

What follows are my considerations concerning the solo works on double bass by three young and interesting musicians. Despite some evident differences, the three releases are all really pleasurable and well conceived and worthy of an analytic listening to adequately ponder about the role of an instrument that, in this extended techniques new renaissance, is constantly gaining more weight. And this is well deserved considering its friendly bulk.

Sam Pettigrew - Domestic Smear (Avantwhatever, 2012)***1/2
(where our wooden friend is grated with love and learns to whisper)

Sam Pettigrew’s Domestic Smear is the most experimental of the three and may be traced back to the conceptual art area. According to his website  (please take a look at his videos and the liner notes), this red bearded Aussie grizzly bear plays double bass often augmented with metal poles, vibrators, plastics, hearings devices and ipod and "uses the instrument as a theatre to question stereotypical roles, including the artist as performer, the listener as audience and identity as independent, gendered and individual". The work counts three episodes - Truly, Madly, Deeply - and shows in my opinion a brave approach to composition and an “ideological” vision concerning music that is not an end to itself. It would be easy to label the music here as a hypnotic and recursive droning, but there is something more. Below the rattling and the vibrations of sub-tones in Truly we discover alluded melodies, whispers and detailed noises, we find feeble openings coming out from the constant grating as in the middle of Madly, the drilling peal of Deeply and its ethereal bowed closing part. This is a thick album in the palpable meaning of the word, and if you are plucky enough to listen to it with a decent pair of headphones, you will maybe feel like pent-up in a pipeline, but you’ll discover as well how much this is a work to perceive with all the body more than just with your ears.

The couple of silent minutes at the end of each track, where little moves and excerpts of unknown songs float back to the surface, are needed to the listener to have a rest and face a new immersion.

Mike Majkowski - Tremolo (Avantwhatever, 2012) ****
(where our wooden friend trembles despite it being warmly hugged)

This is a remarkable album from another young Australian musician. Mike Majkowski is already credited of an other solo release called Ink on Paper on Creative Sources, and has recently delivered other two interesting works - in the Blip duo with Jim Denley on Bocian Records and on Bo’Weavil Recordings in the trio by the name of Roil. He’s involved as well in a considerable number of other interesting projects.

Relying upon his self-evident technical skills, Majkowski provides a work that has the merit to be both a document of an intense musical research and a highly enjoyable listening. The musician employs through the thirty-seven minute of the composition, which was recorded live and without any editing, the tremolo technique on each part of the instrument: strings, neck, frets and - I assume - the body itself. 'Tremolo was constructed over the course of about 4 months in 2011 […] and focuses on a number of sonic possibilities - both harmonic and textural - that may be extracted from the use of this technique and which serve as a point of departure for the piece itself' explains the author. It’s clear indeed that the conception of such a performance must be the sum of an advanced improvisation attitude and of a rigid work of composition. The most impressive quality of the album is the skill of Majkowski to play (and I refer the term both to the music and to the chance that he’s in that peculiar moment amusing himself) with the minor sonic results of his moves and actions on the instrument. This could be always true in a live execution, so I must explain it better. While he’s bowing on strings with changing intensity and speed to concoct the “main tremolo stream”, below this dominant presence emerge a thriving underworld of subtle whistles, chopped vibes, bits of notes and tones, echoed crackles, tiny scrapes with retracted nails (figure it out!). In my opinion, these fragments are the real compositional patterns of the piece and also the reason why you never feel hypnotized notwithstanding the monolithic structure of what you hear. The entry of the few really evident elements (the aseptic and repeated pizzicato note around minute fifteen, the acute bowed passage from minutes 23 to 27, the hammering immediately after that lasts for several following minutes) are then not perceived as novelties; they’re just the development of the hell of little things that is going on down there. It’s plenty of life just beneath the surface. Besides there is an undeniable fluctuation of dynamics from dead calm to really forceful.
I recently quoted Stefano Scodanibbio as a key figure during the last decades in double bass techniques and composition. It is just my opinion, but I bet he would have looked with favour to this work.

Eyes wide open on this guy.

I want to spend a couple of words of praise about this brave Australian label - Avantwhatever - that is promoting and publishing really interesting contemporary music by young and promising artists.

I’d propose upon trust a three stars global rating for the label and for all its releases, even for the ones I still have not listened. And if you’re looking for something beyond the double bass low tone, in the realm of sub-bass frequencies, I bet you may find some joy listening Matt Chaumont’s Linea, the very first release of the label. An exploration for curious ears!

Listen to the previews of both releases or buy the CDs in a nice eco-friendly packaging and at a reasonable price directly from the label.

Daniel Barbiero - Not One Nor (zeroMOON Records, 2012) ***1/2
(where our wooden friend learns to speak in silence)

Not one Nor by Daniel Barbiero could be described as the most classical among the three, but once again generalization is enemy of the truth. Released on zeroMOON this work incontrovertibly shows the chance of creating rich musical landscapes through the provident use of few elements. The solid heritage of the author about musical methods as counterpoint, atonality and modal composition, allows him to achieve a challenging output. From the label’s explanation: 'Not One Nor presents two works made of discrete events foregrounding the materiality of a large string instrument in its role as a resonating chamber. Both pieces are constructed out of a limited number of gestures and/or pitches and points on the instrument’s geography with the intention of producing an immersion in sound as material, interspersed with contrasting pauses'. Silence has clearly a palpable role for the musician and for the listener as well. The wait for the next event -as we learn from the parenthetically titled second chapter of this work - is an active ingredient in the building of the texture. Both on the acoustic instrument and on its prepared version, Barbiero has a thick, full-bodied tone. Something that reminds me of great hardanger fiddle players as Nils Økland. The slow and extended passages of the bow on the strings and a wise and growing use of the reverberation generate some striking sonic paths (some music has dimensionality - imagine to walk in the back of someone opening a trail for you in the bushes). What I admire the most in the two compositions is the talent to metamorphosize the nature of the double bass. You find here dings and scrapes as cymbals could emit, brushes and shuffles as generated by drums. Well, again this is true for many extended techniques solo releases, but this is not a mere exercise in style.

Another link to know something more about this musician.
Free digital download from the label.

© stef

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Play Some Fucking Stooges (Quasi Pop/Dumpster Diving Lab, 2012) ****½

By Martin Schray

Once upon a time there was one of these hip clubs in Brooklyn. Some in-crowd people were lolling on expensive shabby lounge sofas, some of them were enjoying the retro ambience after a hard day in an advertising agency sipping at their over-priced beers. A local DJ played discreet house and ambient music so that the crowd was not disturbed talking about the latest artsy fartsy hype. At one end of the bar there were two guys who did not really fit in there, a tall, almost haggard 50-year-old wearing a lumberjack shirt which made him look as if he was in a Seattle grunge revival band, and a shorter, chunky Scandinavian in cowboy boots and rolled up jeans. They already had some beers and they were passionately discussing about the music which seemed to bore them to death until the Scandinavian had enough, he obviously needed some raw power: “Play some fucking Stooges!” he yelled at the DJ who gave him a frightened look because there was something in the voice of the man that made it clear that you should better not mess with him. While the DJ and the bartender did not know what to do the two men shoved the DJ away and unplugged his laptop before they entered a rough-and-ready stage. They were up for something. The Scandinavian stud was Mats Gustafsson, he grabbed a baritone sax and fumbled at a set of live electronics, his cohort Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth fame) belted on an electric guitar.

All of a sudden hell breaks loose.

Gustafsson throws his baritone up in the air, he is growling, hurling agonized sax stirs at the people, he is moving to and fro like a sailor on deck of a schooner braving the elements, while Moore attacks his guitar with the palm of his hand. He throws sound splinters and feedbacks into the audience, waves of noise are coming down on them, a ruthless purgatory to cleanse them from their musical sins. It gets even worse when Gustafsson enters the electronics and Moore uses a steel bar as a bottleneck. “Where am I?” a young woman seems to ask, her face in sheer horror. She is in a thunderstorm of nails, shards, shredded metal and debris of biblical dimensions. The apocalypse ends after 22 minutes but you think it has lasted three days, an ad exec is going to the toilets and has a look in the mirror to check whether his hair has turned white.

The Scandinavian and the grunge rocker left the stage keeping straight faces, the DJ had left the place with wide opened eyes, obviously terrified. Rumour is spread that he was seen later wandering about aimlessly asking people for help because he claimed to know that the apocalypse was here. They turned away meeting him with disbelief. The bartender had tried to find shelter under his counter and when the two men asked for another beer he slipped away through a back door. Most people in the audience just stood there, tacked to the floor, puzzled, scared.

At the other end of the bar you could see four men – Stef Gijssels, Paul Acquaro, Paolo Casertano and Martin Schray – with eyes outshining Christmas tree candles, cheering Gustafsson and Moore with their beer bottles.

If you want to get an idea what kind of biblical storm you can expect, watch this:

“Play Some Fucking Stooges” is available as a single-sided LP in a limited edition of 450 copies. Again it is annoying for those who only have a CD player but believe me: it’s worth every cent. But don’t expect any Stooges songs!

© stef

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo — Ancestors (TUM, 2012) ****

By Stef

Any new album by Wadada Leo Smith is something to look out for. After the ambitious "Ten Freedom Summers", we find him back in one of his preferred duo formats in the company of one free improvisations' greatest drummers, Louis Moholo-Moholo, after having explored the line-up before on "America" with Jack DeJohnette, on "Wisdom In Time" with Günter Sommers, and on his more meditative "Compassion" with Adam Rudolph. 

The album starts with the slow "Moholo-Moholo/Golden Spirit", a slow, muted and meditative track penned by Smith in honor of the drummer. The second track is written in memory of American author James Baldwin, and is a prime example of controlled power. Both Smith and Moholo-Moholo are masters in using space, pace, emphasis and silence, thus creating a feeling of depth and spiritual flight, while maintaining a sense of tension and anticipation. 

The third track, an ode to action-painter Jackson Pollock, is of course more explosive, by resorting to sudden bursts and cymbal crashes over an otherwise relatively even canvas of sound. 

"Siholaro" is a composition by Moholo-Moholo in honor of his father and a really sad and compelling piece. 

Real instant improvisation starts with the long title track suite-like piece. And it is excellent : raw, tribal, fiery, without real sense of direction yet propulsed forward by the cohesive energy of both players, deepened by their common sense of spirituality ... and ending with a recitation of the names of the great (free) jazz ancestors as a prayer or incantation of respect ... Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Jack DeJohnette, Dudu Pukwanu, Johnny Dyani, Andrew Cyrille, Ed Blackwell, Art Blakey, Chris McGregor, Misha Mengelberg ... not surprisingly with a good representation of drummers and South-Africans. 

Great stuff. In his duets with drummers, this may not be my favorite one - I prefer the ones with DeJohnette and Blackwell - yet it's easy to recommend for fans of the musicians or of the concept. 


© stef

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Whammies - Play the Music of Steve Lacy (Driff Records, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Steve Lacy's music seems to be cropping up often in the Free Jazz Blog, from the group Ideal Bread (here and here) to a set of recent Lacy issues and reissues on Emanem and Clean Feed, and now The Whammies.

The Whammies' debut album, Plays the Music of Steve Lacy, is a captivating interpretation of the saxophonist's music. During the course of the album the group delivers their take Lacy's own somewhat quirky, avant garde and always melodic tunes. In addition, the group pays homage to Lacy's great inspiration, Thelonious Monk.

The Whammies (named after a Lacy tune) is an international and intergenerational quintet. The group is Chicago's Jeb Bishop on trombone and Nate McBride on bass; Boston's (via Amsterdam) Jorrit Dijkstra on saxophonist and the band's leader, and Pandelis Karayorgis on piano; Holland's Han Bennink on drums and guest violinist Mary Oliver (Amsterdam via California).

As for the music, tunes like 'Bone (to Lester Young)' and 'Dutch Masters (to Spike Jones and the City Slickers)' are fun and energetic, showcasing not only Lacy's compositional approach but also the current musician's contemporary interpretations, making for an entertaining and engaging listen. The Whammies do not shy away from some vintage analog electronics either. 'I Feel a Draft (to Mal Waldron)' begins with light treatment, then building in a swirling manner until the group reaches a dense crush of texture and pulse. An electronics solo graces 'The Wire (to Albert Ayler)' like a shoot out between R2-D2 and a Skeeball game. This all contrasts delightfully with 'The Whammies! (to Fats Navarro)', which just explodes in an out-pouring of counter melodies from Bishop and Oliver.

The closing song 'Locomotive', from Monk's pen, features Karayorgis' piano. The tunes playful dissonance and catchy melody closes out the album and is a perfect ending to this spirited and enjoyable work-out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Urs Leimgruber/Roger Turner: The Pancake Tour (Relative Pitch Records) ****

By Martin Schray

Getting prepared for this short review here I checked if there were other critiques on the internet and I only found one which claims that the two musicians do not really connect, that the interaction does not work, it seems as if the musicians played separately, it would leave the listener cold.

To me, it is the exact opposite. Urs Leimgruber and Roger Turner are not the typical sax-drums-duo in a way – let’s say – Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake are (although they can play this style as well). This duo is more about sound exploration, they are interested in what sounds you can create with a saxophone and a drum set. Leimgruber is really spectacular to listen to, his extended techniques, the tongue slaps, the muffled sounds he creates holding his sax to his calf, or when he simply tries to get as peculiar tones as possible out of his mouthpiece. Turner treats his drum set rather than another solo instrument, he has a lot in common with Paul Lovens, but he is even more minimal. Sometimes he and Leimgruber sound like a sax-sax-duo. “At the Church Path” is a cacophony of seal cries during feeding time – and it is Turner - who looks like a mixture of a pool attendant and a zookeeper - who elicites these sounds of his drum set.

So there is interaction on a very high level here and the only drawback this recording has is that you cannot see these musicians. Live they are absolutely sensational, an album cannot really transport their energy and innovativeness. However, the music is great.

If you want to get a good impression watch this short clip:

© stef

Monday, November 19, 2012

Delphine Dora, Bruno Duplant, Paulo Chagas - Onion Petals As Candle Light (Wild Silence, 2012) ****

 By Stef

In February of this year I reviewed this album already. Only, I was way too fast. I thought it had been released, but it was just a personal copy for me to have and appreciate before the artists found a label. Now it luckily is offically released.  And my appreciation for the music has not diminished. Here is what I wrote in February :

"Have you ever heard of Delphine Dora? French piano player born in 1980? Probably not. She's a singer songwriter and improvisor, and this should be her thirteenth album so far. Yet no singer songwriter stuff on this album, ... or no,  I should say it differently: this music captures the essence of good songs but without the vocals.

Each of the ten pieces is self-contained, short and with a precise character and sound, which is gentle yet profound, full of intimate lyricism and beauty.

Her companions in gentleness are Paulo Chagas on clarinets and Bruno Duplant on bass, two musicians whom I've written favorably about before.

All three are in the same storytelling mode, full of vulnerable emotions and precise phrasing, and with sufficient sense of contrasts to keep the attention going. Notes are used sparingly, but to great effect.

Listen for yourself. I can only hope to hear more from this trio soon."

© stef

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Maya Homburger & Barry Guy - Tales Of Enchantment (Intakt, 2012)

By Stef  

Often in improvised music, rawness and muddiness and even some roughness and extended techniques are essential to the music. Sounds have to collide in order to form something new. On the other end of the spectrum you have classical music, with its incredible attention to the purity and accuracy of the sound.

Nobody but British bassist Barry Guy has been able to combine both in his music. The technical precision of Barry Guy on his five-string double bass (possibly only equalled by Miroslav Vitous) and of his partner in life, baroque violinist Maya Homburger, enable to unify both ends of the spectrum like few others can.

They've played together on a variety of albums, some of which were reviewed earlier on this blog. Like on other albums (Aglais, Inachis, Dakryon, Star), the compositions are either classical or by Barry Guy himself, and by doing so offer an interesting image of pure music, in which genres are no longer of importance, making the overall emphasis on feeling and esthetic even stronger.

The album starts with "Veni Creator Spiritus", a 9th Century hymn, followed by Guy's eight part "Hommage to Max Bill", a Swiss artist and designer, then follow some Biber compositions, the Swiss composer and violinist whose work is among Homburger's favorites, and she has played his oeuvre on many occasions. The central piece is by the Hungarian contemporary composer György Kurtág, around which the album's structure is mirrored.

Guy's compositions add a strong contemporary feeling to the music, full of distress, suspense, danger and anger, aspects that are often lacking in classical music, and that complete the more detached abstract compositions by Biber.

Like with their previous albums, you wonder at the absolute beauty of the playing while at the same time you can be surprised by the boundary-breaking approach in Guy's compositions-improvisations, but also by his introduction of - somewhat iconoclastic - improvised moments in the classical pieces. I'm sure classical purists will call this a disgrace and jazz and modern music afficionados will call this approach conservative, but the truth is : this is a truly great and cohesive album, regardless.

Absolutely impressive and pretty unique. In my opinion one of the best albums of the year. And even if the duo has done this before, they've clearly outperformed themselves on "Tales Of Enchantment", and the title couldn't be more precise.

Watch them play Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's Rosenkranz Sonata on the video below. It is not from the album but it gives a good idea what the music is all about.

© stef

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weekend Roundup: November

By Dan Sorrells

An attempt at a new format: bite-sized morsels of jazzified goodness. This weekend we’ve got dueling duos with Dominic Lash, a new look at the old with Aki Takase, and two unusual outings with Swedish legend Sven-Åke Johansson.

Dominic Lash & Chris Cundy – For Plump Daughters (Creative Sources, 2012) ***½

Clocking in at eighteen tracks, For Plump Daughters might have been a grueling marathon slog. Instead, it’s a continually engaging entwining of bass: double and clarinet. Lash and Cundy are able to find all the right ways to lock their instruments together. Both have great knowledge of various “extended” playing methods, but the result is never harshly abstract or unhinged. Just the opposite, really. It’s an elegant, emotive album that at times simply soars. The track title “Gravity Leaves” about sums it up. Pleasing, pleasing tones.

Denman Maroney & Dominic Lash – All Strung Out (Kadima, 2012) ***

Bassist Dominic Lash spends about an hour trying to keep up with Maroney and his “hyperpiano.” The two establish an interesting dialogue throughout, though the album does drag a bit by the end. Maroney plies all manner of sounds out of the inside of his piano, muting and strumming strings, occasionally mustering orchestral sonorities that remind me of Romanian composer Horaţiu Rădulescu’s “Sound Icon,” a grand piano laid on its side and played with bows. Good stuff, if not quite as inspired as the duo with Chris Cundy.

Aki Takase – New Blues (Enja, 2012) **½

New Blues finds Takase and a cast of modern greats hammering through some old-time stride and swing tunes and a few Takase originals. It’s an eccentric album, but not always in a good way. It’s hard to jive the tumultuous, angular “New Blues” with the over-the-top vocal performance that follows on “The Joint is Jumpin’.” Don’t get me wrong—it’s a fun tune, as are the others Eugene Chadbourne lends vocals to, but they’re hammed-up in a way that borders on unwelcome comedy and can make for a disjointed, uneven listen. Still, totally worth a shot for originals like “So Long Knut” and “Late Spring,” which sets an e.e. cummings poem to delicate music.

Sven-Åke Johansson- Für Paul Klee (Jazzwerkstatt, 2012) ****

Mr. Johansson does dramatic readings of Paul Klee’s poetry, all while backed by a killer line-up that includes Aki Takase, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Axel Dörner, Paul Lovens, and Werner Dafeldecker. The music ranges from fairly abstract to quite lyrical, but comes across as nearly cinematic in scope. I can’t sit and listen without picturing choreography, theatre, a silent film—hell, even Klee’s own colorful geometries swirling and re-shuffling. As I’m not a German speaker, I have no idea if there’s any literary merit to Klee’s poetry. However, comprehension aside, there’s a great aesthetic pleasure in Johansson’s delivery. An album that’s both relaxing and stimulating.

Sven-Åke Johansson– Große Gartenbauausstellung (Olof Bright, 2012) ***

Große Gartenbauausstellung, recorded with Axel Dörner and Andrea Neumann, is an album that often seems devoid of humanity. This isn’t a slight to the musicians, but rather a result of their concerted effort. A lot of it is just…hard to place. It shuffles along faintly, murkily, morphing through various patterns of quiet noise. Source instruments are often obscured, and the music is so focused on small, hushed details that the resonance of a crashing tom in “Hauptweg II” is genuinely startling, exciting even. These musicians have long been interested in poking around the underside of improvised music, and they come up with some powerful music in the process—if you’re willing to stop and listen closely.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Angelica Sanchez - Wires and Moss (Clean Feed, 2012) ***½

By Joe

What a magisterial opening to an album, 'Loomed' bumps into action giving a positive impression with the first melody. Here I am listening to Angelica Sanchez's 4th album(*) to date as a leader, a finely produced album of lovely melodies and searching solos. This is also the second album from Clean Feed with this line-up, Tony Malaby - saxes, Marc Ducret - guitar, Drew Gress - bass, Tom Rainey - drums and of course Sanchez - piano, and a very fine group it is.

The album is made up of six pieces which work on the development of melody and freedom. It's a concept that is gradually evolving throughout the modern jazz world. Structured melodies give way to open ended improvisations, sometimes wild and improvised, and others based on rhythms or melodic fragments used elsewhere. What gives these records, this one included, a very exciting side to them is the ability to interpret chord progressions using modern vocabulary. Lessons learnt from Albert Ayler, Braxton or Derek Bailey are now the norms, moving the art post-bop orientated improvisation into the realms of jazz for conservatory musicians. On this album tracks such as the fine opening 'Loomed' let the musicians probe areas that aren't necessarily suggested in the initial tune before working in a more melodic area that although semi-written inspires the musicians to find alternative vocabulary. 'Feathered Light' lets Tony Malaby weave intricate soprano lines that are neither tonal nor atonal. However before Malaby solos Angelic Sanchez opens up the material a little in the same way that Keith Jarrett did back in his classic Impulse years band of Paul Motian, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden. In fact the music probably owes more to that era (style) than one would maybe think.     

'Soaring Piasa' finds Tony Malaby and Marc Ducret trading ideas before Angelica Sanchez gives the rhythm section some sort of harmony to work with. Drew Gress and Tom Rainey accompany her like a modern Bill Evans trio before the sax of Tony Malaby joins them by which time it's clear that the melody is being developed and prepared to lead the group towards the end of the piece. It's a very graceful and inventive piece that combines open soloing and classic melodic writing. the excellent 'Wire and Moss' which features Marc Ducret also works a little on the same idea. A sort of A-B-A structure with 'B' being the melody. 'Dore' has a dense melody full of rhythmic surprises. Gradually it lets the musicians find their own way, who then develop a more 'open' approach to the improvisation. 'Bushida' the final track is given over to Drew Gress who opens up the tune with a wonderful unaccompanied bass intro. The piece then moves gradually away into a dark melody that is punctuated by Tom Rainy's (almost rock) drumming which accompanies Marc Ducret rough solo and Tony Malaby's poly-harmonic(**) lines. 

It's a strong idea to finish an album that is certainly a pleasure to listen to. I imagine this will certainly be of interest for those who enjoy music that is 'new' in terms of jazz, yet aren't ready to jump directly into more abstract improvised music.                   

*= I could only find, and remember, the following : 'Mirror Me' (Omnitone), 'Life Between' and 'A Little House' on Clean Feed Records.
**= Sorry for the maths expression 'poly-harmonic', but somehow it seems to conjure up the idea of these atonal/melodic lines. 

You can buy the album from  

© stef

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Big(ger) Band Free Jazz: Ratchet Orchestra & Sonic Liberation Front

By Paul Acquaro

I thoroughly enjoy orchestral music, big bands, symphonic adventures and daring arrangements, but I sometimes wonder, how do you pull off balancing writing and arranging with the spontaneity and subtle interactions found in smaller ensembles?

To present an entirely non-scientific and inconclusive answer, I offer two case studies, the 30 piece ratchet orchestra from Montreal and the sprawling Sonic Liberation Front from Philadelphia.

Ratchet Orchestra - Hemlock (Drip Audio, 2012) ****

According to a short bio, Canada's Ratchet Orchestra leader Nicolas Caloia has for over 20 years, "worked at creating a contemporary music generated by using accurately composed textures to channel collective improvisation."

If the guitar break about a quarter of the way into 'Dusty' can be used as illustration, Caloia succeeds astoundingly well. From a prickly drip of melodic snippets to a full on skronk, joined by other woodwind voices, to some classic Fender Rhodes comping, the delicate orchestration that kick off the album ('Winnow') give way to a full bodied group improvization. This is followed by the thoroughly composed and orchestrated snippet 'Yield', which is kind of fun light classical-pastiche. And so on through different approaches and styles, like 'Wish-Part 1' which is a avant-fusiony gem. While my attention drifted a tad towards the end, the closing 'Hemlock 2' snapped me back to attention.

There is a great deal of variety on Hemlock. It is thoughtfully constructed and there are moments of inspiration and spontaneity throughout. The group here is:

Jean Derome (Bass Flute, Piccolo et Flute), Craig Dionne (Flute), Lori Freedman (Clarinet), Gordon Krieger (Bass Clarinet), Cristopher Cauley (Soprano Sax), Louisa Sage (Alto Sax), Damian Nisenson (Tenor Sax), Jason Sharp (Bass Sax), Elwood Epps (Trumpet), Philippe Battikha (Trumpet), Tom Walsh (Trombone), Scott Thomson (Trombone), Jacques Gravel (Trombone), Thea Pratt (E flat Horn), Eric Lewis (Euphonium), Noah Countability (Sousaphone), Gabriel Rivest (Tuba), Joshua Zubot (Violin), Guido Del Fabbro (Violin), Brigitte Dajczer (Violin), Jean René (Viola), Gen Heistek (Viola), Norsola Johnson (Cello), Nicolas Caloia (Bass), Chris Burns (Guitar), Sam Shalabi (Guitar), Guillame Dostaler (Piano), Ken Doolittle (Percussion), Michel Bonneau (Conga), Isaiah Ceccarelli (Drums), John Heward (Drums)

Listen here:

Sonic Liberation Front - Jetway Confidential (High Two, 2012) ***½

The Sonic Liberation Front seems like a collective. The inside fold of the CD has a color coded chart of who plays what on each track, but even without a key to unlocking thier sonic puzzle, you'll be quite entertained with the music. Citing the work of Sun Ra as a main inspiration, the group uses the celestial band leader as a jumping off point.

There is enough percussion and poly rhythms to satisfy ('uh uh') There is chanting and singing mixed in with the fractured grooves and tonal textures  ('Mother of 9') , some rather spacious and sweeping pieces ('Jetway Confidential #3 - for Sun Ra') and towards the later part of the disc some strong Afro-Cuban inspired pieces featuring some atmospheric intertwining of the guitar, woodwind and other horns ('Umami').

An album with a lot going on, requiring repeat listening and a willingness to just go where it will take you. The musicians:

Kevin Diehl; Chuckie Joseph; Edwin Lopez; Adwoa Tacheampong Joseph; Terry Lawson; Matt Engle; Todd Margasak; Julian Pressley; Dan Blacksberg; Travis Woodson: Jon Barrios; Olufemi Mitchell; Shaw Dade Beckett; Bankole Olaleye; Monique Temitope Carter-Beckett; Brent White; Dan Scofield; Baba Joe Bryant; Tom Lowery; Connor Przybyszewski; Bryan Rogers; D. Hotep; Bill Moos.

So, do I answer my original question? Honestly, I'm not sure. Elements of composition and free playing are approached here in two very different ways, from the quiet sonic constructions of Hemlock to the Afro-Cuban stylistics of Jetway Confidential, all I can definitively say is that there is indeed a lot of room under the free jazz tent and the music is fantastic

© stef

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ross Hammond - Revival Trio (self released, 2012) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

Consider me a fan of Ross Hammond's earthy tone and free but 'composed' approach. I first heard the Californian guitarist when I had a chance to review the free-jazz-rock  Adored this past winter. This new release, which is a document of a recent but now dormant project, The Revival Trio finds Hammond exploring African music, but still well within the aforementioned jazz-rock -- or maybe even jazz/folk-rock -- framework.

As Hammond explains, the impetus of the project was simply a desire to explore "African-influenced improv music -- a’la Abdullah Ibrahim, Ali and Vieux Farka Toure, Boubacar Traore and a few others." This combined with his own accessible and organic approach makes for an enjoyable aesthetic, which can sort of be described as a more muscular approach to the style that Bill Frisell touched on with his Intercontinentals.

Starting with the tune 'Ali' where a repetitive rhythmic line gives way to a powerful improvised melody, to the building intensity of "Littlepants" and "All Our Dogs", this group demonstrates its adeptness with African styles, while staying true to their own musical approach. Bassist Shawn Hale and drummer Vanessa Cruz are integral to the interweaving of the sinewy melodies and flowing rhythms.

Overall, the recording isn't quite as varied as Adored, but it is a compelling and quite satisfying listen. It's exciting to hear how musically adventurous this trio was, and while this group may not exist any longer, I'm sure something else will spring up in its place, perhaps building on the groundwork laid.

Listen and download at:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oren Ambarchi - Raga Ooty/Nilgiri Plateau (Bo'Weavil Recordings, 2012) ***½

By Paolo Casertano

In the last six months or so Oren Ambarchi has turned up like a bad penny (will this idiomatic sentence work as I think?). I can count at least six major releases - and I think I’m missing some others - spanning from the psychedelic explorations due to his involvement as a guest in the spectacular super rock n’ jazz group Fire up to the avant-garde aspects to be found in the long collaboration with his plausible mentor Keith Rowe. Yeah, other musicians are actually that fertile, but Ambarchi is - in my opinion - succeeding where others have failed. The creation of a magnetic, unmistakable, powerful tone that is per se an absolute value for everything he creates and for each collaborator he teams up with.

Let’s be honest, this collage of live recordings from different venues can be hardly considered a masterpiece if compared with ground-breaking works as 'Stacte' or the recent live recording on the Polish Bocian Records - I will review it sooner or later - again with Rowe and the interesting (and new to me) Crys Cole. And I will keep on suggesting until the end of my days a meticulous listening of the interpretation that Ambarchi delivered - again with Rowe - of an excerpt coming from Cornelius Cardew’s opus magnus 'Treatise'. But still, what else could you possibly ask to such a kind of work?

During the first track 'Raga Ooty' an extended sitar - they say this is a tambura but honestly I can’t tell them apart - drone allows Ambarchi to build a recursive, almost invariable, distorted phrasing for almost eleven of the total sixteen minutes lasting the track. That’s a raga, you know! You can do this with a simple and cheap looper pedal, but it is obvious that he’s here doing it live and with no overdubs. He controls dynamics; he controls the shades of distortion; he gives texture and polysemic values to a row, repetitive and not even so original portion of sound.  He’s taming the growth of the composition and you can absolutely feel it.  Plots of Nilgiri Plateau and the closing reprise of Raga Ooty are not that different. On the second track Ambarchi takes advantage of the overtones given by the 12 strings acoustic guitar, while in the final track is again the control of this guitarist on the quality of distortion that impresses me the most.

A little story now. When I was more or less a teenager, I was used with a friend of mine to do this silly trick of imagining implausible collaborations between totally different 'artists' (e.g. Karl Heinz Stockhausen playing bass with the early ‘80s English punk group Subhumans or the unforgettable and misjudged blonde pianist Richard Clayderman touring in a duo with the legendary hardcore singer G.G. Allin - more often we used peculiar artistic figures from Italy that luckily no one knows here). Why am I telling this? Because I dream now of a future collaboration between Ryhanna and Ambarchi that will give to the ephemeral pop creature some kind of dignity. He’s the only man who can do that!
He’s the chosen one.

Finally, I’m sorry, but I have a duty to signal the unwatchable cover of this release.

The label provides previews and sells the digital release or the vinyl limited edition.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Coat Cooke : Conversations and High Wire

Saxophonist, composer, band leader and figure on improvisation scene in western Canada, Coat Cooke is a player with a command of a wide range of styles and approaches. He recently released two very different and intriguing duo albums, one paired up with percussionist Joe Poole and the other with guitarist Rainier Weins.

Conversations w/ Joe Poole (Now Orchestra, 2012) **** 

Coversations is a collection of improvizations that really cook along. The first tune "Checkin' In" has Cooke quietly delivering melodic snippets with a slightly fuzzy tone. This tune keeps its intensity in check, and under Cooke's restrained melodies, Poole provides a lot of splash to keep the it buoyant. The improvisation that follows, "Feeling Fit" takes off with a stronger feel and engages in a little back and forth before they really start digging in into some heady lines and runs. A true highlight is the intense "Bob Weaver". Pooles drumming is so tight and propulsive that you can feel a moving baseline in between the two players. Each track has its own distinct flavor and feel. 

This is a solid recording and a great introduction to both musicians for me. Listening in on their conversations is enjoyable and their repartee doesn't miss a beat.

High Wire w/ Ranier Wiens (Now Orchestra, 2012) ***½ 

Now with guitarist Wiens, High Wire is actually a more percussive and textural affair than Conversations. Well named, this album is an document of daring acts on the sonic tight rope, and it's the sonic funambulism that gives this album its edge. Cooke balances on Weins' rhythms precariously, navigating deftly between Wiens' thumb piano wires and his percussive guitar work. A texturist, Rainier's approach to guitar is unusual and unexpected.
Overall, High Wire, to me, is not as captivating as Conversations but still full of original playing and fascinating ideas. 

Available through the NOW Orchestra ( web site

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sound Collision Alliance – 53:38 (Pan Y Rosas Discos, 2012) ***

By Paolo Casertano

In my opinion you must be quite brave to run a non-profit free jazz oriented netlabel for almost five year. Pan y Rosas Discos from Chicago (come on Martin!) has actually done that counting more than sixty releases on its side. I recently reviewed Julia A. Miller solo guitar effort and I’m now listening to this curious experiment entitled Sound Collision Alliance. The name doesn’t match completely with the result. There are some interesting crescendi with a valid deployment of noises, but generally I consider this as mainly ambient release.

Darren Bartolo, that probably cannot rely upon strictly Mandarin roots, plays the traditional Chinese zither gu zheng ( and is joined by Sam Krahn on electric guitar and Sarah Ritch on electric guitar (another one, not the same), cello and laptop.

Obviously the recognizable presence of this unusual instrument (the zither or the laptop?) gives to the general cohesiveness of the sound a folkish taste. I kind of like the obsessive recursion of the first track and its development in a quiet dialogue between the strings. Structure of the second track is more adventurous. The cello, bowed and pizzicato, and some background accompaniment on a distorted electric guitar, plus an ethereal and perpetual synth note to amalgamate the whole, give to the composition an hypnotic pleasantness that bring us to a noisy closing. Structures of tracks three and four are similar. This is probably the most evident lack of this work. Sounds are well-chosen and I especially appreciate the amount of distortion assigned to one of the guitars. It’s really remarkable that this is the output of a six-hour session and I believe the three musicians are on the good way to develop a compelling interplay. It’s worth the listening.

A curiosity. I assume the title of the album is the total running time of the release. By the way my audio player says the four tracks last exactly 54.18. It never ever lies.

Listen and download for free here.

© stef

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Monk, mostly

By Paul Acquaro

Alexander von Schlippenbach - Plays Monk Piano Solo (Intakt, 2012) ****½

Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach's Plays Monk begins with pianist's own tune 'Reverance'. The song fits wonderfully into the Thelonious Monk oeuvre in that it feels, well, reverent. But what does reverence with Monk mean? His playfully angular compositions are so open ended and modular and ripe for interpretation that it seems it would be irreverent to play them reverently. But Schlippenbach, who recorded the complete works of Monk a few years back with a quartet, is revisiting some of his favorite compositions on solo piano and working pretty closely within their original structures, revealing new depths to the tunes.

Schlippenbach's piano playing is just so spot on in these interpretations and every time I put this recording on I find myself lost in the lushness and expecting the unexpected chords. Schlippenbach toys with the time and tempos, and ties the songs together with short interludes that makes for an utterly enjoyable solo piano outing. I feel that the interpretations here bring out a more 'romantic' side of the songs, but still highlights the stride piano stylistics and flawlessly interpretes the melodies. His playing exudes a passion for the music and the thoughts that went to into creating their endlessly interesting  possibilities. Here though, the variation is found by digging deep into the original chords and melodies with such reverence that they are re-imagined just as they should be.

Chris Vasi - Monk's Playground (Fortuitous Records, 2012) ***½  

This was a lucky find on eMusic. In contrast to the more 'traditional' solo piano recording above, guitarist Chris Vasi takes a stab at reworking both the well known and more obscure songs from the Monk songbook and renders them with a somewhat modern jazz feel.  Joined by saxophonists Lou Hoff and Jonathan Gibson, drummer Forrest Young, and bassist Jonathan Wheelock, this is an overall enjoyable collection.

Vasi's approach on guitar is that he uses an unadorned tone and organic approach that really fits the music quite well. From the opening 'Let's Cool One', his arrangements stay true to the original melodies but the feel is updated by mixing in some unexpected elements. As the notes on CDBaby say, Vasi "re-imagines the music of Thelonious Monk, using elements of jazz, funk, odd-meter, New Orleans, Eastern, and flamenco."

A surprise for me was the delicate arrangement of 'Kojo No Tsuki (the Moon Over the Ruined Castle)', a song that Monk recorded under the title 'Japanese Folk Song.' I was unfamiliar with it but really enjoyed the contrasts between the sax and guitar in rendering it delicately but still with a bite. In fact, that may be a good way to describe these arrangements, as generally a mix of subtle shadings and a good deal of energy, taking on the mostly well known tunes in an enjoyable and playful manner.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet - Stellar Pulsations (Delmark, 2012) ****

By Philip Coombs

I have always imagined what it would be like to have an older sibling who had amassed a huge record collection from a past era. A dark room with vinyl everywhere just collecting dust waiting for a new generation of little fingers to delve in and spin them at random. There would be a magnetism and curiosity in finding a record like Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet's latest release 'Stellar Pulsations'. Even before playing track one, the album cover and track titles evoke a certain mystery. A subject matter rarely explored anymore but would fit in an older sibling's aural library. So I blow the imaginary dust off of this one and give it a listen.

'Primitive Jupiter' is the first stop for this intergalactic rocket ship manned by Mazurek (cornet), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Matthew Lux (bass guitar), and John Herndon (drums). They have all been deck hands or in the engine room on Mazurek's much larger ship 'Exploding Star Orchestra' so they are all well versed in navigating through meteors and space junk. This first track is very strong on melody which is pounded out by Sanchez as Mazurek dances around it as if he is defying his own gravity, which is fitting based on Jupiter's size.

'Spiritual Mars' is my favorite track on the album. It is in a perpetual state of introduction. In order to see how this works you need not to look any further than the engine room. Both Lux with his electric bass and Herndon are adding fuel to the engine at a monstrous rate propelling the ship into an eight and a half minute take off. Mazurek tries to calm them down but the power from the rhythm section is just too relentless to contain.

Unfortunately, the tracks 'Magic Saturn' and 'Spanish Venus', are not to my taste. They head in a direction of simple melodic balladry and rhythms. Strong statements, but not for me. It sounds like the group are waiting for Mazurek to save them from themselves. He tries calm and restrained and also tries Mazurek Runs the Voodoo Down.

'Twister Uranus' demonstrates what Sanchez can bring to the cockpit of the ship. The opening is beautifully played by her. Actually her magic touch can be heard all over the recording by filling in little holes left by the others or painting large pictures when enough space opens up.

So I put the album in a dark room in hopes that one day a child of mine or a distant relative pulls it out and gives it a spin. I would love to hear how the next generation of space dreamers would analyze it.

A clip of them can be viewed here:

© stef