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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Joy Mega - Forever is Something Inside You (New Atlantis CD, 2012) ****½

By Monique Avakian

Joy, MEGA! That’s what you get when you cross New York with Chicago by way of teleportation, apparently. Often described as indescribable, this is a band bent on building bridges.

How is it possible to be so WAY OUT yet draw people in so readily? As with any true kind of magic, the answer reveals in a set of three: the bass/drum ostinato grooves, the philosophical integrity of the band’s process, and the authentic use of voice.

1) Ostinato Anchors

While several pieces are of the tone-poemy-sound-collage type, and very well executed, it’s the ostinato grooves, and the function they serve, that stand out to me. “No Shout” and “Little Rain/Big Story” deliver with a clock-tock bone-soul vajra-fist of devotion. This is rather refreshing. We also get some Latin-Funk (“Tomar Sol”) and Swing Jazz (“Leaves Rainbow”) – solid rhythms scaffolded around the unpredictable middle of improvised sound sculpture. This is great! You can walk right into all the challenge areas with no fear whatsoever.

As for the bass alone, for much of the album, Ajemian keeps it straight and to the point, as if ferrying the entire world into the Joy Mega Universe. “I’m in Love With a Navajo Boy” is the best example: funky, solid, and jamming. I could see this tune easily extending past the 30 minute mark live, with crowds of thriving bodies dancing their way into the Joy Mega Dimension of Love. This tune is practically it’s own Woodstock….

2) The Creative Process

For Joy Mega, the philosophical integrity of process is rooted in the concepts of shared clarity and hyper-individualism. Through scores that literally read as shapes (pieces of art in and of themselves), we get to hear everyone be themselves. We are offered a lot of warm and nicely phrased melodic lines from Matt Bauder on sax. Chad Taylor on drums provides all the necessary ingredients to keep everyone connected. Jessica Pavone (violin) shines through with characteristic depth at key moments. As for Mary Halvorson on guitar, in addition to shredding some meaty glissando slides and infusing the Joy Mega Mother Ship with her signature waves and bends, she gets to play it somewhat straight up at certain moments – this alone is unique and unexpected. The result is a unified sound characterized by true freedom. (For more on Ajemian’s philosophy, check out )

3) The Voice

Ajemian follows in the tradition of Gil Scott-Heron, Nina Simone, Laurie Anderson, Bob Dylan, Amiri Baraka, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Gregory Corso, and Yoko Ono. As with those who’ve come before, he evolves his voice from the center of his own frame of reference. The psychedelic feeling and synthesized tonal shifts, mixed with more conventional song constructs, result in assured consistency and a gentle ease. (“100 Rainy Days,” “Slow Bird,” “Pleasure Fountains” and “Big Sky 5.”) Frankly, I feel like Ajemian is invoking the spirit of John Lennon in such an authentic manner that Lennon would be pleased. Who am I to make such a claim? Simply: a human with a heart.

This band has a whole lotta heart,
and we are
in need

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Zeena Parkins - Double Dupe Down (Tzadik 2012) **½

 Reviewed by Joe

Well this is one hell of a surprise, for me anyhow. I couldn't decide whether to give this album two or twenty-two stars, it's certainly a difficult one to review for me. I did a quick scan round the net to get a little information and discovered that it's a compilation (so they say) of film music from five films. Unfortunately I didn't know anything about this, so I was wandering about in the dark when trying to get a hold on the music, I guess that's maybe the best place to write a review from.

When listening to the album from a completely neutral position the first thing that comes across is how bitty it is. There are 19 tracks which range from 0:37 seconds to the longest at 5:05. My first impression was like listening to out-takes from an early John Zorn album. The tracks seem to move quickly from beautiful string trios to scratched noise duos which fly out of the speakers, disappearing as quickly as they arrive. Although each piece does have something interesting it's often without any connection to the last track. As an example the album finishes off with the track 'Anthem', which is the Star Spangled Banner played a la Jimi Hendrix. There's no guitar mentioned so I imagine it's Zeena Parkins' sampling - maybe made up from Hendrix samples? In spite of that I couldn't quite see what the purpose was, and the American national anthem isn't really a favourite in this house either. But in general the bones of the album are made up from semi classical pieces - 'Opening Credits' 'Zoo', 'No Sweet Love', 'Fireworks', 'Allegra' and 'The Air is Perfectly Clear'. These are all miniature compositions, and very attractive pieces I should add, generally performed using harp, cello and violin.   

Other confusions, probably due to the film music aspect of the record is the wonderful atmospheres which don't go anywhere. The first track is an excellent example 'Harpstrings and Lava', an eerie piece which hangs in the air expectantly. Sounds of pedal steel or bottleneck harp (?), clicks and hiss floating through a sustained chord finally leads us to a short harp cadenza. You wonder what will happen next? There are noise tracks, there are sudo classical tracks, there are electro-acoustic tracks, there are even bagpipe tracks - 'Pipes Oompie'. The mix is enormous and for anyone having seen the films these are taken from, or dedicated to, there's probably lots of very interesting references. You can't complain about the music, each track has something to offer, and often something interesting but it's a bit like eating a plate of Egg fried noodles with ice-cream, boiled fish, chocolate mousse, oysters, lemonade and a glass of red wine.    

Finally, if you see the people involved (see below) in the pieces you'll understand the range of music to be found on the CD. I only really know Zeena Parkins from her amazing work with other musicians, so maybe if you know her work already, or even the films this music comes from then you'll probably enjoy this. If not I suggest you start elsewhere. 

Shelley Hirsch: Voice
Okkyung Lee: Cello
Christian Marclay: Turntables
Ikue Mori: Electronics
Zeena Parkins: Harps, Keyboard, Objects, Electronics, Yamaha Cs-80, Gleeman Pentaphonic Synth.
Sara Parkins: Violin
David Watson: Bagpipes
Matthew Welch: Bagpipes
William Winant: Percussion
Maggie Parkins: Cello
James Pugliese: Drums
James Staley: Trombone

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Michael Attias – Spun Tree (Clean Feed, 2012) ****

By Tom Burris

Confession time: This is the first time I've heard Michael Attias as a leader on a recording; and am I ever sorry I wasn't clued in earlier.  The band he's assembled is measured yet open, and produce music that is often delicate without sounding precious or fragile, reminiscent of a freer version of Miles' second great quartet.  Look no further than the opening track, “Bad Lucid,” as proof, as the melody line conjures up Wayne Shorter; and the band sounds something like Shorter, Herbie, and Miles playing alongside Sirone and Andrew Cyrille.  Attias floats along gorgeously before a long passage appears featuring the group riding a one-note bass passage, swelling against a tide of their own making.

“Question 8” begins with a thoughtful drum solo by Tom Rainey, before Matt Mitchell's piano figures propel slowly forward in blocks, then pull back at the same rate while notes move up and down in a spiral of carefully constructed geometry.

There is a melody played by Attias and trumpeter Ralph Alessi that starts “No's No” that I can only describe as oblong.  Mitchell's haunting chord progression grounds the horns' exotic phrases, but not too much.  This band's sense of space, openness, and just plain balance has to be heard to be believed.

For example, there is a cluster of repeated chords around 3.5 minutes into “Calendar Song” that locks into Rainey's thumping before stopping on a dime and rolling directly into a sublime passage featuring an elliptical bass line by Sean Conly.  Rainey's accents propel everything forward at a constant rate.  Around the 7.5 minute mark, Mitchell takes the lead with bright, quick glissandos that deliver a knockout punch.

“Subway Fish Knit” and “Arc-En-Ciel” are shorter vignettes that function as meditative pieces, particularly the latter track.  Spun Tree is an aptly named disc, as it describes the loopy vertical melodic figures that the musicians constantly wind around each other.  “Ghost Practice” is a prominent example of this; and shows the unusual, restrained interplay between the musicians to be of the very highest caliber.  This one's a keeper.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, January 28, 2013

Andreas Kaling: As If There Was A Tomorrow (JazzHausMusik, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

In the early and mid-1990s I worked in a small record store to finance my studies. It was badly paid but working there was a lot of fun (especially more than working at the assembly line) because the store had a social function as well. People came to talk about politics, movies, TV series and the latest music, of course. So I could recommend unknown bands and albums to the clients and vice versa. Some of these people have become friends for life. In the meantime I have changed sides, but because of this background I still prefer going to record stores instead of buying music on the net and I satisfy my ravenous appetite for free jazz and improvised music at Ludwig Beck’s in Munich. Ernst Nebhuth, the man in charge for jazz there, knows so much about this music (for sure a lot more than I do) and I could spend hours with him in the store exchanging the latest news, anecdotes, rumours and listening to his recommendations. This was how I got to know Andreas Kaling’s album.

As if there was a Tomorrow consists of eight of Kaling’s own compositions and four cover versions: Feist’s “Graveyard”, King Crimson’s "People" (from their 1995 Thrak album), Franz Schubert’s version of “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” and the hymnbook classic “Mitten im Leben sind wir vom Tod umfangen” (the English meaning is “in the midst of life we are surrounded by death”) – something like the album’s main topic. The songs celebrate life in all its variations – like in “Tears and Joy” - and therefore death must be a part of it, as pieces like “Death – No Death” or “Passover (to Barbara Buchholz)” suggest. Highlights of the album are “Graveyard”, which has always been one of my favorite Feist songs, in which Kaling adds an angry drive and abrasiveness to the breezy original “Bring ‘em all back to life” lyrics and “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” (The moon has risen), which Kaling alienates beyond recognition. The songs groove, they rock, they are funky and fun to listen to with all their percussive and rhythmic clacks, the buzzes, the hums, the wheezing, and the sustained notes in the low register.

As if there was a Tomorrow is an album for solo bass saxophone and the back of the album cover points out that there were no overdubs, no loops and that all the music was played live, which is hard to believe because there are lots of passages where you hear at least two saxophones (e.g. in “Passover”). If you like Colin Stetson’s “New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges” you should definitely give it a try.

Watch the ”Graveyard“ video here: 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kirk Knuffke & Jesse Stacken with Kenny Wollesen, Like a Tree (SteepleChase 2012) ****

If you enjoy a deep ballad with an evocative melody, you will love this album. If you like fun and inventive be-bop lines and thoughtfully-phrased and rhythmically-layered runs up and down mega-octaves, you will also love this album. No matter your mood, Jesse Stacken, Kirk Knuffke and Kenny Wollesen deliver a well-rounded assortment of choices, and all without one cliché!

The fact that this album is comprised of covers (C. Bley, S. Lacy, Coleman, Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Julius Hemphill and Misha Mengelberg) deepens the metaphor: these glorious branches simply could not exist without a thriving network of hidden roots and ancestry.

One of the most interesting elements of the partnership between Stacken and Knuffke (who have been playing together since 2006), is their creation of the third body. In addition to the obvious (living entities created in the ether via musician empathy and non-verbal communication), these two take the concept further. 1) live or recorded, Stacken’s left hand literally becomes a living, breathing bass player. 2) structurally, in melody and during solos, a third pianist often appears with Knuffke as the Right Hand and Stacken’s right hand as the Left Hand. None of this is done with smoke and mirrors or slight-of-hand. It’s just their natural way.

As for the cornet, Knuffke’s tone on his specially designed instrument is like a treasured taste of butter-cream caramel frosting warmed ever so slightly at a comfortable room temperature. Oh, man! And his phrasing is so pleasing: his inventiveness is in the best of the be-bop tradition, but with no staccato shrillness or ego-driven antics. And the way he sounds like a human voice for a moment on “Art” – riveting….

As for Stacken, I’d like to return to his independence between hands. His level of mastery here allows him to burst into several layers of terrain at once, yet, somehow this is not confusing nor difficult to listen to. Melodic, syncopated, rhythmically adventurous, filled with space, filled with sound….he’s not afraid of the highest nor lowest notes. And on this album, Stacken ends several tunes with the lowest registers allowed to ring out and out. Nice!

Wollesen is a great choice of drummer for these two. Wollesen is consistent, and he’s got a lot of secret ways of getting extremely specific vibrations out of hammered metal disks. He is somehow focused on playing where the ringing ENDS and getting vibrations to stop at nano-rhythmic intervals. I don’t know how he has developed this extensive repertoire of individualized sound-style, but it is incredible. Wollesen has a lot of guts to take on “Saturn” and handles the tune adeptly. And, of course, as you all know, the man can swing like nobody’s business.

This is great CD to give someone for Valentine’s Day! Bundle this gem with a dozen red roses and a poem, and you will have a nice year with your honey. Trust me.

Knuffke/Stacken/Wollesen – “Free” (Aug. 12, 2012):

© stef

Saturday, January 26, 2013

François Carrier and Michel Lambert w/ Daniel Thompson, Neil Metcalfe and Guillaume Viltard - Shores and Ditches (FMR Records, 2012) ***½

By Philip Coombs

I have never concentrated on a piece of music so hard that I've missed my bus stop before. So 'Upstream' , the only trio piece from the album Shores and Ditches, is now the proud owner of that distinction. I was totally absorbed in the moment, not an easy task in this day and age with my phone buzzing in my pocket and my tablet buzzing in my work bag. With eyes closed and forehead firmly on the window, I heard the restraint, the power without the obvious violence in a very live room where reverb is long enough to be its own instrument. Recorded in the St. Leonard's Shoreditch Church in the U.K. Back in 2011, Shores and Ditches uses the wood and glass to offer up the music and let's it bounce back to them. I was very in tune with my spacial awareness and the knot building in my stomach. I opened my eyes once during this 19 minute offering just in time to watch my stop whip by.

For half the tracks on the recording, François Carrier (sax) and Michel Lambert (drums) keep the music amongst themselves, creating duo moments that showcase their long history together. These selections, 'Caldera', 'Lava' and 'Reef' are the most immediate and compelling. They resonate with that certain familiarity that is very difficult to fake, like two good friends in the car pool lane making fun of the kids on motorcycles.

Daniel Thompson (guitars), Neil Metcalfe (flute) join the 'Upstream' trio of Carrier, Lambert and Guillaume Viltard (double bass) for 'Wadi', the only track where the full quintet is heard. It wrestles with angelic fluttering and a Spanish flamenco blended with a full compliment of intelligent atmospherics.

The title track, Carrier's solo, demonstrates how captivating a sax solo can be when augmented with intense passion, longing, and a clear vision, plus of course that reverb that goes on for days.

On a side note. As I was flipping (scrolling) through older reviews on this page, I stumbled upon the entry that made the world aware that the web page had just welcomed its 60,000th visitor. (Wednesday, March 12th, 2008) François Carrier commented on that post saying that he was the 60,001st. Hope you are still reading François!

Can be purchased from the label.

© stef

Friday, January 25, 2013

Joe Morris, Agustí Fernández, Nate Wooley - From the Discrete to the Particular (Relative Pitch, 2012)

Well, it seems to have happened again, a double review by the Paolo's of the Free Jazz Blog...

Joe Morris, Agustí Fernández, Nate Wooley - From the Discrete to the Particular (Relative Pitch, 2012) ****

Being perfectly aware that a trio featuring Joe Morris on guitar, Agustí Fernández on piano and Nate Wooley on trumpet can’t be, for an immanent reason connected to the mastery of the musicians, less than rewarding, my attention has instead been caught by the title of the album. Echoing and mixing several philosophical and scientific subjects it is, in my opinion, a brief and inspired description of some tendencies and paths sketched out in the compositions.

“Automatos” offers a parabolic curve structure where you can focus, starting from the opening, on very discrete elements of the ensemble - each instrument could be perfectly self-sufficient and this is not always true for every single part of a score if it has not been conceived as a solo piece - merging in a really dense and involving continuous. Fernández  is immediately terse, stinging with short phrases contrasted in the first half by the hoarse voice of Wooley and the initial far grating of Morris guitar then soon disappearing for several minutes. The six strings come back in the second half facing spasmodically the growing piano and joining the brass. “As expected” and “Bilocation” are conceived as piano/guitar duets with the gentle touch of Morris inserting below the trestle of the piano. Wooley’s muted trumpet enhances even more the delicacy of these constructions. Tension grows back in “Hieratic” where the prepared acoustic guitar of Morris (watch out the solo of minutes 5 and 6) set the stage for a dissonant and offbeat duet with the trumpet. “Membrane” and “That Mountain” and especially the closing “Chums of Chance” represent three really more hectic episodes in the evolution of the album. The three musicians give here more room to extended techniques and experimentalism. In particular the final eleven minutes long chapter of the work seems to strongly reaffirm a kind of double nature or condition of each instrument. The prepared piano starts as the rhythm beater of the composition with hammering chords outbursts. Fernández put through the wringer the piano’s wires but he closes the piece with a gentle, really clear fingering. The fragments of Wooley’s trumpet are as usual extra-terrestrial but he chooses to re-join to the piano in the closure with a really vintage far sound, while Morris is perpetually bowing the strings in a complete overthrow of his instrument.

Tracklist is also significant. Track 1, the central 4 and the last 7 have an enough similar length and development. The two symmetric couples of tracks 2,3 and then 5,6 are both shorter and in each couple the two elements have similar length and structure or we could say “musical mood” (calm and tradition in the dyad 2-3, chaos and experiment in 5-6). The progress of the album is then a kind of fractal figure, and this approach known as “from the universal to the particular” can be employed on each single track and up to each single passage in a sort of regressus ad infinitum. Or everything above said is just a matter of coincidence. It is certainly just a matter of coincidence. 

But it is true what I’ve said at the beginning. These people play in a unique way.

By the way I could add that external devices - mute on trumpet, prepared guitar and piano - are mainly used in track 3, 4 and 7 that is clearly a clue of a Fibonacci series starting. Take your own conclusion!

Buy it at instantjazz.

Joe Morris, Agustí Fernández, Nate Wooley - From the Discrete to the Particular (Relative Pitch, 2012) ****

After seeing Joe Morris, Agustí Fernández, Nate Wooley and Ken Vandermark at the The Stone recently, I had a brief conversation that went a little like this:

"So, what did you think?" I asked a fellow attendee. 

"It was great," was the reply, "The sax just dropped in and added to it. The trio had become so tight I was wondering what was going to happen..." 

"Trio?" I replied, confused. "Oh, right, Morris, Fernández and Wooley"

And all the next day I kept asking myself, why did I say that? All I can think is that the group I had just heard - a quartet - had really boggled my mind in the most welcome way, and suffice to say, the trio here on From the Discrete to the Particular is the core of the musical group I had just experienced. The sounds from inside the piano (that had me standing and peering over the audience to see how they were being made during the concert) to the minute and not so minute interactions and intertwining with the guitar and trumpet is captured here wonderfully. I am aware of Fernández and Morris having worked together, releasing Ambrosia  a few years ago, and the combo of Morris and Wooley on Tooth and Nail but I believe that this is the first time that the three of them have released an album all together, and the combination is potent and exciting. 

From what I can tell, the tracks are pure improvisation, of-the-moment constructions of moods and fragments of feelings. From the skittering beginning of 'Automatos' through the ruminative probing of 'Bilocation', to the extemporaneous combustion found on 'Hieratic', the group's approach to improvization and free playing covers a great deal of territory. Through all of the notes and approaches, all three of the musicians contribute equally, resulting in a cohesive set of sound and textures. Fernández's use of the whole piano creates a sonic blanket at times upon which Wooley may lay his notes down or perhaps puncture with pointed blasts. Morris' approach to the guitar, which at times may or may not include kitchen utensils and letter openers, contributes rhythmic figures and counter-melodies to the fierce rhythmic runs on the piano.

Honestly, it's hard to really capture in words the sympathetic and interactive playing here. This is an album that is evocative and emotive, built around quite non-traditional song structure and plenty of extended technique. It can capture the listener between the hints of melody (the trumpet and piano cat and mouse chase at the end of 'Hieratic' is good fun) and surprise with unexpected twists. It isn't music to pick apart and try to listen for individual prowess, rather it's something to sit back and let wash over you and muddle your senses -- or is it? -- on second though it can also be a lot of fun analyzing the snippets of Fernandez's melodic lines as they serves as the glue between Wooley's brash tones and Morris' textures and colorations.  

The album, like the aforementioned show that left me speechless, is intense and rewarding.

The January 17th 2013 set at The Stone:

  © stef

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Soren Kjaergaard / Ben Street / Andrew Cyrille - Femklang (Ilk, 2011) *****

By Stanley Zappa

It's not so much the excellence as it is the perfection of Femklang that is immediately evident. It is a perfection that lasts the length of the recording without interruption—a perfection that underscores the centrality of Soren Kjaergaard, Ben Street and Andrew Cyrille within a very elite cohort of true artists working within this area music.

That Femklang evaded the critical eye of (most) everyone at frejazz-stef as well as the rest of the greater blog roll only underscores this truth. Femklang gives credence to the inverse of the truism that states “if everyone digs what you're doing, you're probably not doing anything worth doing in the first place.” Femklang's evasion of commodity jazz' in-house for hire pom pom waving flunkies is to its credit—a “tell” which we the conscious should be aware.

Like Louis Moholo Moholo on Ancestors, Cyrille has reached a place with the drums where he need not resort to hysterics nor pyrotechnics to make his point. His delicacy on the instrument is not ponderous sloth, but the careful measurements of someone who has done all there is do in the percussion world. With nothing left to prove to the beats-per-minute counters, Cyrille provides just as much melodic and harmonic information as Kjaergaard's piano. He is one of the greatest the medium has ever heard, and he is with us NOW. Very lucky us.

Even though the last thing we need is yet another insight into the market's inability to tell the difference between genius and chocolate pudding, we got one. Despite all the warm feelings we're told to feel about the parent culture's “mainstream-internationalist” posture, Kjaergaard isn't an international household name--yet another portrait of the market's abject aesthetic poverty. Like Cyrille, Kjaergaard sets himself above the rabble through subtlety of gesture and innuendo. Kjaergaard plays tonally when called for, and eschews tonality when it is an impediment. He communicates his command both languages with brevity and grace.

Through out Femklang, bassist Ben Street is given ample opportunity to make an ass of himself—a gambit he never takes. Where so many bassists would have seized the opportunity to parlay Femklang's many meditative stretches into a sonic bouncy-castle for the dexterous celebration of self, Street instead consistently chooses the path of musical integrity and sensibility.

Because we at Freejazz-stef do not have the ability to grant a rating of **** 15/16th I err on the side of sensible with a rating of 5 stars. Were I able to deduct 1/15 of a star I would, for the simple reason Femklang is simply not long enough. While the usual fair haired trough habitues continue to “cry wolf” in an endless parade of agonizingly indulgent multi-CD box set retrospectives (and in so doing, depreciate the credibility and value of our beloved music) Femklang restores faith in the idiom in only 46 minutes. Talk about whipping out just enough to win.

Hopefully they will record again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Tilbury – For Tomasz Sikorski (Bôłt, 2012) ****

By Daniel Sorrells

John Tilbury, high statesman of the New Music, has a touch on the piano like few others. For decades he’s been an essential fixture in both modern classical and improvised music, illuminating the works of greats like Feldman, Cage and Cardew, and pushing the boundaries of improvisation in AMM. For Tomasz Sikorski dabbles in a bit of both.

For Tomasz Sikorski is just that—an homage to the Polish minimalist composer, with three interpretations of his piano works and an improvisation in tribute. Tilbury and Sikorski studied together in the 1960s, though they never again crossed paths before Sikorski’s death in 1988. A pianist himself, Sikorski’s compositions are deceptively simple, often featuring recurring figures with large rests between sections. Though structurally different and maybe a bit more deliberate, these pieces are very much in the spirit of Erik Satie: melancholy, beautiful, even a bit disorienting. The central motif in “Rondo” feels like wandering in a dream.

“Zertstreutes Hinausschauen,” the earliest piece included, boasts dizzying alternations of pitches and dynamics, creating the illusion the piano is panning from one side of the listening field to the other. Suddenly, the pattern drops, and as the last deep notes are still dying out, a few delicate notes ring out, like bright stars being gently placed against the resounding dark. Tilbury’s long improvisation is perhaps the sparest, moodiest inclusion. It’s quiet, shadowy, all deep, resonant thumps and ghostly undercurrents. But, after a few minutes, in a perfect Tilbury moment, he touches upon a woozily dissonant cluster of notes that encapsulates all that we’ve learned about Sikorski from the previous performances. In three perfect notes, Tilbury cuts to the heart of Sikorski’s music.

As I finish writing, the world outside is slowly being buried in drifts of white snow. It seems cliché to link music to weather or landscapes, to assign “perfect” soundtracks.  I’ll simply say it’s a collection of moments that feel right. My only complaint is that, at a mere 35 minutes, For Tomasz Sikorski doesn’t allow them to linger nearly long enough.

© stef

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Slippery Rock (HotCup, 2013) *****

By Paul Acquaro

I'm obviously late to the Mostly Other People Do the Killing party. I have covered several of the individual musicians on their own recording and in other groups, but while I knew MOPDtK was out there, I was not in the know. But, I'll stop this now, this review isn't about me, it's about New York based group and their unique approach to creating some incredibly complex and fun music. 

Their 5th studio release (6th counting a recent live album), Slippery Rock, begins with 'Hearts Content' which kicks off with a slippery groove from the bass and drums. Quickly, the straight ahead rock beat splinters into fragments that you can hardly count along to, only to suddenly coming back together in time for some strident but slightly askew horn lines.

As the charged melodic lines give way to some heated improvisation there is suddenly a whiff of 'Dueling Banjos', just for a moment and now are onto something else - I think the hook from the very un-free jazz 'Celebration'. By the end of the first tune, after all the rhythmic displacements and tempo and slight stylistic shifts, you're in for it. It's a juxtaposition exhibition and you know you are in for great musical ride with filled with sly humor, tongue-in-cheek musical quotes and telepathic playing. 

The premise of the album is that composer Moppa Elliot found inspiration rooted in the smooth jazz of the 70's and 80's. Maybe I'm not well enough versed in that genre, but the influence has to be so subtle and abstracted that all I can do is throw up his hands and say "ok, if you say so." I suppose if you listen closely you do hear the R&B influence in the harmonic rhythm of "President Polk" before the brilliant use of the high pitched woodwinds work into a well assembled pastiche of old-timey jazz mixed with more modern atonality. "Sayre", one of the many songs named after a town in Pennsylvania (a state that does provide a rich assortment to chose from, but I feel one could do this with New Jersey as well, Manunka Chunk or HoHoKus seem like a good choices too) begins with a jaunty syncopated horn line and over its seven minute course offers fiery solos from trumpeter Peter Evans and saxophonist Jon Irabagon. "Can't Tell Shipp from Shohola" is cleverly titled and quite an emotive piece. Irabagon's interactions with drummer Kevin Shea and layered with Evans' contributions feels quite poignant here. Bassist and band leader Elliot's compositions are so well thought out that they hardly reveal the shifts in style that MOPDtK is known for (or so I have come to believe after reading some other reviews).

This is jazz for a mashup generation. Rapid fire ideas coming from all directions at all times, fitting together perfectly in puzzlingly intelligent manner. All this data, and all of its corresponding information and meanings -- encoded in the licks, styles, tempos -- are seamlessly woven into a cohesive and exciting set of songs.

And yes, I know I'm late to this party. You, dear readers, already know all of this. You're just nodding your heads and thinking "yeah buddy, that's what we've been talking about all along."

Listen to Hearts Content:

You can buy the album from 

© stef

Monday, January 21, 2013

Carlos Alves “Zingaro”, Jean Luc Cappozzo, Jerome Bourdellon, Nicolas Lelievre – Live at Total Meeting (NoBusiness, 2012) ***

By Daniel Sorrells

Live at Total Meeting may be the first album I’ve heard where a flute plays the bass line. About halfway through the first of three long performances from the 2010 Total Meeting Festival, there it is, Jerome Bourdellon’s bass flute, trudging along, the instrument with the airiest reputation anchoring a unique instrumental line-up.  I like to think of Live at Total Meeting as continuing in a great Threadgillian tradition: delighting in the concoction of new timbral stews, relishing the results of unusual juxtapositions of instruments. The ingredients here include not only Bourdellon’s flute, but also violin, trumpet, bass clarinet, and a variety of percussion.

I’m willing to venture that Carlos Zingaro is the best improvising violinist around right now. He’s quick-thinking, quick-fingered, and constantly surrounds himself with high-caliber musicians. Though the performances on Live at Total Meeting tend toward the long-winded, they’re constantly being rescued from monotony by Zingaro’s ability to thread his lines through the other instruments and pull them all tight again. “Total 4” bursts into a breathless, high-register swarm that brings to mind truly Angry Birds (or at least, extremely restless birds) before taking a darker, brooding turn with plodding toms and creeping clarinet. “Total 3” culminates in a prickly counterpoint that might also be appropriately described as “Threadgillian,” touching upon some of the strange harmonic effects that Zooid produces when it’s kicked into high gear.

NoBusiness’s super-limited LP releases might get most of the ooos and ahhs, but regardless of format, they know a good performance when they hear one. Live at Total Meeting is a CD worth checking out, especially for those who enjoy less traditional line-ups.

You can buy the album from 

© stef

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Surface to Air – Surface to Air (NCM East, 2012) ***½

By Monique Avakian

This is a friendly album, made even more inviting by this trio’s relaxed subtlety and strong crafting.  Combining a myriad of global influences into something sensible and evocative, Surface to Air brings you the world, and all from a very comfy armchair. Rohin Khemani (tabla and percussion), Jonti Siman (bass), and Jonathan Goldberger (guitar) engage in satisfying cross-pollination throughout the album, with each player’s strengths highlighted accordingly.

S2A’s compositions and improvisation reflect a deep and thoughtful simplicity. This encourages the listener to embrace each melody on multiple levels, including subconsciously. The overall rhythmic stance is not intimidating and allows the ear to roam without getting lost inside of superficial complexity. The vibe of the album feels whole and complete, and this band avoids the trap of creating yet another cut-and-paste multi-cultural listserv. This is no small feat in the modern day world, especially since S2A ambitiously garners inspiration from sources as varied as Iceland’s Sigur Rós (Heysátan), traditional song forms (Waltz for Celia) and Coen Brothers’ movie scores (Blood Simple).

Further testament to the band’s keen sense of balance can also be found in a deeper layer of fusion, where the worlds of music, poetry and philosophy unite. As the phrase “surface to air” implies, we are encouraged to think in metaphor. There is a refreshing sense of maturity in being able to keep the dark realities of the world in mind as we enter the oxygen-rich space of light these musicians have made for us.

This live version of Heysátan (Barbes, 6/2011) includes a valuable close-up of tabla technique.

© stef

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Octet Possibilities

Harris Eisenstadt The All Seeing Eye + Octets (poo-bah records, 2007) ** 
Keith Tippet Octet From Granite to Wind (Ogun, 2012) ***
Rob Mazurek Octet – Skull Sessions (Cuneiform, 2013) ****

By Stanley Zappa

Unlistened to, yet surviving years of CD culls, Harris Eisenstadt's The All Seeing Eye + Octets, along with Keith Tippets From Granite to Wind and Rob Mazurek's Skull Sessions, give us three different realizations of the Octet's possibilities.

Knowing how hard it is to arrange my own solo rehearsals, anyone who can manage a duo or larger has earned my respect regardless of the actual output. The octet in particular holds personal fascination in part because of my mania for the number 8, as well as the potential for acute dissonance, my other mania.

Because our focus at Freejazz-stef is the new, I only felt so guilty not listening to the first 5 tracks of Eisenstadt's 2007 recording, as they are re-readings of Wayne (and Alan) Shorter's work from even earlier. Re-readings of old work on a recording from 2007, for this application, are of less interest than Eisenstadt's original work on a recording from 2007. Unfortunately Eisenstadt's original work diminished in interest the longer I listened to Without Roots I-III and What We Were Told I-III. What is interesting about my waning interest in this case is my steady, unwavering fascination with Eisenstadt's compositions, which are tremendous. It's the realization of these intricate compositions and non-authority of the solos that constrain. The instrumentation is fantastic—the combination of bass clarinet, vibes and bassoon can't be beat, especially for those fans of “contemporary classical” music. I wouldn't be surprised if after this session, those involved went to the University to rehearse Perrot Lunaire, and did so with steely, pinpoint precision. Which is to say all the music with none of the excitement. Were we able to pencil in a gig ten years from now, once the brine of life has had its chance to do it's work, with this ensemble, playing these compositions, 2023 would be off to a great start.

Moving away from the composed and conducted towards the felt and understood, Keith Tippets' From Granite to Wind, as Joe pointed out in his review, is a rollicking good listen.From Granite to Wind could just as easily refer to the conjunct of (and wavering between) notation and improvisation through the single, 47 minute composition. Speaking synesthetically, the All Seeing Eye + Octets sounds like (sensible, high ticket) pocket protectors and sensible shoes. The instrumentation (and musicianship) on From Granite to Windsounds like the usual jazz couture—suits and pork pies—with the addition of 16 different colored socks.

With the Skull Sessions, the Rob Mazurek octet proudly bursts out of the closet with the sounds of feathers, fur, animal print spandex and a dash of sequin. And thank God for that. The primary strength of the ensemble and indeed this recording lay in the instrumentation and the luxurious textures they create. First, two drummers. For that, an immediate 4 stars. Hearing the liquidity of John Herndon and Mauricio Takara, makes most single percussion ensembles sound funerary and impoverished. Then there is Thomas Rohrer on the rabeca. You know, the rabeca. What's that? You don't know the rabeca? You will after you listen to Skull Sessions. Not to get all “world beat,” but as heard on the totally fantastic Kaiso Stories, “new” music often benefits from “new” instruments.

Jason Adasiewicz's fantastic vibraphone sensibilities, combined most notably with Nicole Mitchell's piccolo and the part time electronica of Carlos Issa, Guilherme Granado and Mr. Mazurek himself combine to make shimmering, enthralling sound environments which, among other things, bring to mind that special time when the hallucinogens have just taken hold, right before the walls start to bleed and the lamp starts to melt.

The bad trip part happens when written melodies are trotted out as prelude to solos. While there is nothing wrong with Mazurek's cornet playing, many were the times I felt like I was sitting behind the director at the premier, as he talked on his cell phone narrating his favorite parts as they happened—one reason why I no longer go to the movie theater (that and the shootings.) Mazurek, as fine an instrumentalist as he is, did not entrain my attention away from the far more fascinating band behind him. The solos were like pleather belts, distracting from the group's sparkly rainbow suspenders. The pants of this recording would have stood up just fine on their own without them. Yet we all know as the tail of consumer culture wags the dog of Art, a fascination with big shiny statement-buckles that say “look at me, I'm special” is just as inevitable as the deep seated societal fear of pants, any pants, falling down. It makes one wonder if there will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance--or will it be Bow-tie Daddy until the bitter end?

© stef

Friday, January 18, 2013

Evan Parker Week: Epilogue

By Martin Schray

Alexander von Schlippenbach,
Evan Parker, and Paul Lovens after
a performance in Berlin, December 2012
One of our readers who commented our recent “innovation debate” mentioned that he had “enjoyed seeing other bands a lot more than Evan Parker circular breathing for the zillionth time”. Once I had this discussion with a visitor at a Schlippenbach Trio concert as well. But I guess this is not the point. Parker’s saxophone technique is a distinctive voice (like B.B. King’s guitar or the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard’s language) and he can bring in this voice in various contexts (he has worked with artists as different as David Sylvian, Robert Wyatt, electronic hardcore wizard John Wiese or the German free ambient band Kammerflimmer Kollektief). Maybe this is his greatest achievement – his open-mindedness.

He plans lots of releases for 2013, for example a new album by his trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton on NoBusiness. However, the future of Martin Davidson's Emanem label is uncertain because Parker's long-time collaborator is thinking about retiring. So Parker has to look for a reliable successor who shares his artistic and economic ideas.

If things work out fine there will be a lot of great new albums and re-releases. In this context the wonderful website should be mentioned, because they offer legal downloads of seminal out-of-print records by the great FMP label, just recently Three Nails Left (1975) and Anticlockwise  (1983) by the Schlippenbach Quartet (Schlippenbach, Parker, Kowald, Lovens), both of them must haves.

Even if all his albums are worth checking them out you should see him live. He has a website but the most reliable source is If you have the chance to talk with him you will see what a friendly, intelligent and educated man he is. I would like to listen to his circular breathing another zillion times.

© stef

John Stevens, Paul Rutherford, Evan Parker & Barry Guy: One Four and Two Twos (Emanem, 2012) ****½

On the last Schlippenbach Trio concert, when I was talking to Evan Parker for almost an hour after the gig, he told me that he has lived from day to day as to musical plans but now – at the age of 68 – it seemed time for him to realize that you could not live forever. This is why he plans to re-release some important out-of-print albums he made (or was part of) in the past, actually he named the seminal duo album “Chirps” on FMP (with Steve Lacy). “One Four and Two Twos” belongs to this plan as well because the first four tracks were released as “4,4,4” on View records (1980) and with the fifth track on this album here they were reissued under the same title on Konnex in 1993 (including an unissued SME track with Nigel Coombes and Roger Smith).

And it is soon quite clear why Parker wanted to have this album made available again, for it is a missing link. Guy (b, electronics), Rutherford (tb, euphonium), Parker (ss, ts) and Stevens (dr, voice) have all been members of the SME (Spontaneous Music Ensemble) in the late 1960s (e.g. on the legendary “Withdrawal” album) and here they have teamed up again about ten years later. Then in their twenties, they had wanted to explore new paths in music and especially improvisation, and you soon realize that they have moved on as personalities. All of them had socialized with musicians in the US or on the continent - especially Germany and the Netherlands - but they had kept on playing with each other as well (particularly Parker and Guy).  It is obvious that the music we have here has changed and the result is more extroverted free jazz compared to early SME stuff. The longest piece, “4,4,4”, is a wonderful interaction of these extraordinary players, with Stevens driving them in front of him, shouting in rapture like an Indian chief on warpath. But their roots are still audible in more contemplating, quieter parts (for example in “3,4,4”) where you can hear something which has always been the key element of this music: it is the ability to listen and to interact (or as Stevens put it: “If you don’t listen why are you in a band?”).

In addition to the original LP two previously unissued duo sessions have been added on this reissue. Paul Rutherford and Barry Guy were two thirds of Iskra, a revolutionary percussionless trio. According to Martin Davidson’s liner notes “they also performed as a duo from time to time, and the duo tracks heard here are from an Italian tour.” You can hear what a marvelous player the late Rutherford was (he is really missed!), all the three pieces are wild, sick rides, both musicians are struggling with each other on a high technical level and Guy is adding some interesting weird electronic sounds.

The 1992 pieces are a duo of Stevens and Parker sounding very much like early SME on the on hand, on the other hand it is truly Parker as he sounds in his duo with Paul Lytton, full of energy, a masterful player accompanied by another genius.

Although Evan Parker’s name was used in a prominent position he has always stated that the sessions were organized by Stevens. He said that these pieces were the sound check for a recording that had never happened. The musicians went to the pub and never got back. Can you imagine what they were able to do at real gigs?

You can buy the album from

© stef

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra with Lol Coxhill and Evan Parker: Improcherto (for HB) by George Burt (Iorram Records, 2012) ****

If you want to have a description of Improcherto you only have to look at the cover: it is a very simple graphic score (based on the ones Barry Guy has developed for his orchestras) for the piece by the orchestra’s guitarist George Burt, who wanted to write a more complicated composition but also tried to limit melodramatic conduction. According to his liner notes he was “trying to get to the essence of how (these scores) work” drawing little diagrams on post-its. The result is that Improcherto is a really dense nearly 40-minute-orchestral composition with a lot of space for solos and tight group interaction. Sometimes the whole orchestra takes a break to give the soloists space just to come back even more forceful.

What distinguishes GIO from related larger ensembles (like the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra or the London Improviser’s Orchestra) is its unusual line up, it is less brass dominated and therefore makes room for a more open display of softer textures through its strings, flutes, and woodwinds but most of all because of its strong, yet delicate rhythm section. But don’t be misled: there can be powerful chords and sudden swells to structure the composition. Very often “Improcherto” sounds like classical music, there are allusions to Schönberg or Hindemith, but there is also a great visuality in the piece, an almost soundtrack-like component.

The architecture of the piece follows a similar basic structure: four of the five solo parts start with the soloist completely on his own before the orchestra integrates the player again allowing him to float over the other instruments. Particularly Evan Parker (who simply is a great team player) shows what a great listener he is. Although he delivers his typical Parker specifics and sounds, his solo is a marvelous part in the context of the composition. Even when he is out there all on his own, you can conceive your own score supporting him before the orchestra picks him up elegantly after all. The only exception in this sequence of things is Ray MacDonald’s solo which is only backed up by the rhythm section (the trumpet and the baritone) providing a broken rumba beat. If you want to find a week spot in this composition, you might call this uniformity, although the splendid soloists – besides Parker and MacDonald the late Lol Coxhill, Neil Davidson with his Derek-Bailey-like approach and John Burgess - compensate for that easily. And there is a good deal of humor as well, for example when Coxhill stops his solo abruptly to remind the band: “Don’t forget to stop me”.

The album is dedicated to the British trumpet and cornet player Harry Beckett, an old companion of Parker and Coxhill, who died while George Burt was composing the piece.

Improcherto is a live recording of the orchestra's performance at the Gateshead Jazz Festival 2011.

The musicians are:
John Burgess (ts)
Raymond MacDonald (as, ss)
Graeme (Wilson (bs)
Robert Henderson (tp)
Chris Barclay (tb)
Emma Roche (fl)
Liene Rozite (fl)
Matthew Studdert-Kennedy (fl)
George Burt (g)
Neil Davidson (g) third solo
Nikki Moran (viola)
Peter Nicholson (cello)
Gerry Rossi (p)
Una MacGlone (b)
Achim Sturm (b)
Fritz Welch (perc)
Rick Banford (dr)
Stewart Brown  (dr)
+ Evan Parker (ts) and Lol Coxhill (ss)

You can buy the album from the band’s website.

© stef

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Evan Parker / Georg Gräwe

Evan Parker / Georg Gräwe Unity Variations (Okka Disk, 1999)  ****

Evan Parker / Georg Gräwe Dortmund Variations (Nuscope, 2012) ****

By Stanley Zappa

On top of my desk is a pile of CD's. I purchased none of them. Most are overflow from the to-review bin at the sadly defunct Bananafish Magazine. On the one hand, I know no one cares and realize that nothing I can write will change anything for better or worse. On the other, while the last thing I need in my life is a cat, only a monster wouldn't pick up a poor lost kitten, even if the tags on the rhinestone collar say “Okka Disk.” And that my friends is the mental illness of free-jazz criticism; feeling obliged to interpret for others those messages in the bottles that come your way, despite several thousand copies of the same message having been sent out, received, reviewed and put in the cut out bin a decade earlier.

The mental illness reveals itself further when it manifests in “corporate welfare”--when the narcissism gets to the roiling point and an “obligation” is felt to the already established, the Brahmins and their handlers. Because really, what else is there to be said about Evan Parker?

Once and for all: if you haven't heard Evan Parker, by all means do. Dortmund Variations by Evan Parker and Georg Gräwe is a great place to start. If you have, then chances are you formed your opinion quickly, decisively and there isn't a thing I could say to make that different.

On top of the pile of CD's I've been meaning to lavish with attention is Unity Variations by Evan Parker and Georg Grawe. In the liner notes, Parker mentions his first meeting with Gräwe in 1991. Unity Variations is recorded in 1998, Dortmund Variations, in 2012. Though I don't have the recording from 1991, Unity Variations and Dortmund Variations provides all we need for an intra-artist, horizontal analysis—a look at the effects of time on the Parker Gräwe partnership.

Would you be disappointed if I told you the two recordings are a lot alike? Somewhere or another I opined that Mr. Parker's excellence is getting tedious, and here is no exception. Though I don't know Gräwe's output like I am getting to know Parker, it's safe to say that Gräwe has also flatlined on excellent as well. This excellence from 1999, that excellence from times its hard to tell them apart. If anything, Parker and Gräwe have become more lithe, even less constrained, even freer. Unity Variations is a live recording, Dortmund Variations a studio date. Here's an instance where the managed environment of the studio trumps the “energy” of live performance.

Both are a glorious pan-tonal spray of notes, covering the entire range of their instruments. Gräwe reveals no small debt to Cecil Taylor without ever availing himself of the fist or the forearm on the keyboard; a facet that is missed but not mourned in his playing. Parker similarly favors sounds both small and luxurious without ever going into full shriek.

Though both are complete listening experiences unto themselves, those of you in the rhythm section for whom the name Jamey Aebersold means something might want to pick up both of these recordings for your play along pleasure. The sounds and the strategies in both recordings are to “This Music” what rhythm changes are to its antecedent.

© stef