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Monday, April 29, 2013

Trio X: Live on Tour 2010 (CIMPoL, 2012) ****½

By Martin Schray

I remember that I once saw the Schlippenbach Trio with a friend of mine, who was a film student then. He had invited one of his professors to accompany him. The professor, who hadn’t been to a free improvised concert before but who had some preconceived ideas about free jazz, was disappointed when he found out that the trio was a long-lasting group and stated that it was hardly possible to improvise freely with such a history, because to him free improvisation was only possible if the musicians don’t know each other to well. So, he claimed, this trio reminded him of an old couple walking along beaten tracks, hovering listlessly in the free ocean. Even then this struck me too simple an explanation for permanent cooperations and today I know that there are many projects that prove the professor wrong.

Trio X is such an example, a group swinging back and forth between tradition and free improvisation. It has existed since the late 1990s and consists of Joe McPhee (tenor, soprano, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn), Dominic Duval (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums) – and they are always ready for the unexpected, which has been very well documented. Only in the last few years CIMPoL has released a 7-CD-box about their 2006 tour, a 5-CD-box about their 2008 tour and now there is a 4 CD-box about their tour in 2010 presenting concerts in Iowa City, Waukee/Iowa, Ann Arbor/Michigan and Mt. Rainier/Maryland. Stef has already been very enthusiastic about the first two albums and I absolutely agree with him.

Surprisingly for such a line-up, the group’s repertoire is based on originals and on standards and classics like Naima, Round Midnight, My Funny Valentine, or Nation Time and they interpret them respectfully and freely at the same time. Nation Time, for example, starts very close to McPhee’s original with the band sticking to the theme. But then it seems as if someone had opened the windows and the notes were blown away so that they just forgot about them and created a very different piece never losing the original out of sight, though.

It is fascinating how Trio X treats this material. The musicians are masters of thematic improvisation, you can find the character of the motif in each phrase of the improvisation, very often either the rhythmic or the melodic shape remains – even if it is compressed or extended.  The central motif is constantly altered and while listening to it from different perspectives, its meaning is permanently changed and renewed.

As a microcosm for their approach serves Going Home, a traditional that appears three times on this album. In Waukee it is mostly a duet between McPhee and Duval, both interact very tenderly, especially Duval plays very discreet lines. Rosen only adds some spots here and there, he is hardly present, like a ghost randomly firing around in the background while McPhee dominates the version with his varied and masterful blues style. The track speeds up after six minutes when Rosen uses a swing beat which almost immediately falls to pieces. There is the same structure as in Nation Time again. In Ann Arbor they play the same track in a condensed version, Duval is much more in the foreground as well as Rosen, who is present from the very first minute. McPhee concentrates on the melody holding the track together and the swing part is only indicated here. For the gig in Mt. Rainier the trio combined Going Home with Naima. It is the most melancholic version, again mostly a McPhee/Duval duet, but the swing part is completely missing here, there is just a rush at the end.
The group is very aware of jazz history which is made clear in the Waukee performance: The gig’s playlist consists of lots of reminiscences and tributes for the late greats when you look at titles like For Jackie and Abe and a Fullish Feast, For Sirone (of course a bass solo), For Tony Williams (a drum solo), For Trane’s 84th HBJC, Not Quite Midnight or More Monkin’ in Evidence. But this does not mean that they act like an old couple, it is just the opposite – a fountain of youth. Another almost forgotten gem of 2012.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Roundup: 4-27-13

By Dan Sorrells

Anne Guthrie & Richard Kamerman – Sinter (Erstwhile, 2013) ***

Sinter is a haunting mix of processed field recordings and electronics. It’s an album that deftly slithers between the familiar and uncanny, a solidifying mass of city sounds, tiny ultra-amplified noises, and huge electronic crescendos that might actually be rushing trains or planes lifting into the sky. Occasionally, the sound of people humming or singing rises through the din, and the listener can’t be certain of whether the voices were later added or were chance encounters within the captured environments. Some tracks are less interesting than others, but Sinter is worth consideration for the lengthy closing track alone. “Several or Many Fibers” hums along with a eerie momentum, like it’s pulling you along a dark forest trail or into a secluded tunnel. It’s the sound of twilight, conspiracy theories, Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Recommended.

Kristoff K. Roll & Daunik Lazro – Chants du Milieu (Creative Sources, 2013) ****

Chants du Milieu sounds like Daunik Lazro playing himself down through the nine circles of Hell. The duo of Kristoff K. Roll create electroacoustic environments that sound like field recordings of imaginary places or dreams, with Lazro’s baritone pushing through as though he’s there, playing from the sidelines of a slightly unsettling dream that’s just too interesting to wake up from. Lazro is fully present in grating, blustery form, never anything less than passionate, and for a few moments in the title track, achingly beautiful. The range here is dizzying, the gravelly tone of Lazro’s saxophone the only constant in a shifting field of familiar and unfamiliar noises.  A fascinating, disorienting 40 minutes of music.

Streifenjunko – Sval Torv (Sofa, 2012) ***

Streifenjunko are a duo of tenor sax and trumpet who use extended technique as the starting point for their pulsing, ambient music, rather than as a tool for coloring more “typical” improvisation. Exactly how much of the double LP Sval Torv is improvised is not clear though, and while it definitely figures into their methodology, it seems likely that it’s used to develop material for compositions. “Våren har aldri begynt så bra” is a gorgeous piece, with a lyrical, quavering trumpet line delivered over a rhythmic sax motif. “Vexselsvev” and “Evig din” are delicious hunks of drone that showcase the incredible synergy and concentration shared by Eivind Lønning and Espen Reinertsen. A unique album, even if it is a bit of a slog to get through both LPs.

Chris Abrahams & Lucio Capece – None of Them Would Remember It That Way (Mikroton, 2012) **½

Chris Abrahams is of course best known for his work with marathon out-jazzers the Necks, but his work in other contexts often takes on a quite different hue. Here he greatly restrains himself on synthesizer, floating along with Capece’s explorations of the subtlest changes in breath and tone. There’s a lot of open space here, and a lot to miss if you don’t listen closely. Though the long pieces “Ring Road” and “Southern Patterns” raise their voices at times, only the short closer “All the Oceans Between” has much of a corporeal feel. The rest is as delicate as breath itself, even the parts that emanate from machinery that’s as far removed from breathing as one could hope to get.

Barbara Romen, Gunter Schneider, Kai Fagaschinski – Here Comes the Sun (Mikroton, 2012) ****

Here Comes the Sun is a long, moody record, an hour of improvisations with no clearly defined rhythm, but always a sense of trajectory; movement is created through tension and color. The music is delicate and unhurried, long drapes of sound, or at times sparkling fields of notes, like light on water. Hammered dulcimer is not a particularly common instrument in free improvisation, but Romen deploys it to great effect, evoking harps, humming oscillators, even muted piano at times. The dulcimer and Schneider’s guitar coast along Fagaschinski’s pure clarinet, creating utterly beautiful, immersive music. “Who’s There?” asks the opening track. Some formidable improvisers, I’d say.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brian Groder & Tonino Miano - FluiDensity (Latham, 2013) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Brian Groder and Tonino Miano's FluiDensity is the work of a duo so conversant and solid that one could imagine that they were working off rather dense charts rather than engaged in the give and take of pure improvisation. Groder's melodies are quite engaging and Miano's imaginative accompaniment never fails to be supportive.

Groder is New York based trumpeter and flugal horn player and has garnered enthusiastic reviews on this blog before. His partner on the recording, pianist Miano, also from New York, and is an educator and musician. Together they have made an album the straddles the line between classical and avant-garde jazz with accessible spiraling melodies and evolving improvised ideas. Miano has a strong rhythmic drive to his playing, even when he's playing quietly, that provides a nice buoyancy. 

'Optika', the opening song, starts with Groder's unaccompanied trumpet playing an intriguingly convoluted melody. When Miano joins, his counter melodies match in pace and phrasing, giving the tune a rhythmic boost. The wide ranging  'Depth of Field' begins with oblique passages on the piano and insistent melodies from the trumpet to moments that have a folksy openness that bring Aaron Copland to mind. The album as a whole breaths, expanding and contracting, leaving space for listener to ingest, digest and reflect and then do it all over again. 

FluiDensity is a rather it is an imaginative and sophisticated album of dense, fluid, melodic and intriguing improvisation.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Peeping Tom: Boperation (Umlaut Records, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray
In their constant effort to work and develop the music of bebop pianists Peeping Tom feature the music of Herbie Nichols on their new album, a man whose influence has been underestimated for a long time. Being a classic musical outsider in the bebop world of the 1950s he tried to combine traditional and modernist aspects in his compositions and could therefore be compared with Thelonious Monk.

Peeping Tom's idea is to bring these dynamic and energetic forgotten bebop gems back to light by re-modeling them and take them on an even more abstract journey by stripping these harmonically rich but also concise compositions to the bones. One simple reason Peeping Tom, which is Axel Dörner (tp), Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (sax), Antonin Gerbal (dr) and Joel Grip (b), have to do this is the lack of a piano in their line-up, which is why a different approach as to harmonics becomes necessary. Nichols’ most obvious stylistic devices are the break and the call and response scheme and this group extends them to a new limit. Especially Dörner and Badaroux introduce the melodic themes just to let them drop and pick them up again, the whole band stops and starts almost arbitrarily (although it is intentional, of course). A good example is “Cromagnon Nights”, a track Nichols wrote when he was wondering how a Neanderthal would spend his Saturday night. The band presents the theme in rhythmically accentuated unison staccatos before they seem to fall apart in a long, almost free collective improvisation until two harsh breaks make them come back to the original theme again. It is the most interesting aspect about this band that they try to combine bebop riffs with free jazz and intellectual sound exploration.

At the festival météo in Mulhouse last year there was a magic moment in Peeping Tom’s set: While the band was playing a rainstorm started outside and heavy drops were falling on the roof-lights so that it was really audible especially during the breaks of their music which had an effect like listening to an old scratched LP. The musicians were puzzled first but then they enjoyed it and even seemed to enlarge the breaks being aware of the fact that a special element was added to their vintage approach at that moment. Peeping Tom is knee deep into Nichols’ highly emotional world, in his torn phrases and complicated chord substitutions. Obviously great fun for both band and listeners.

Watch a short clip about the band here:

Can be purchased from the website:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brigantin: La Fièvre De L’Indépendance (Disques Bloc Thyristors, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray
When Miles Davis recorded the soundtrack for Louis Malle’s nouvelle vague classic Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud his group improvised almost freely (Davis just predefined some chords and the tempo) while watching the film sequences simultaneously, then a revolutionary approach.

This album here works the other way round, it is freely improvised as well and the titles refer to Werner Herzog’s seminal auteur film “Aguirre – The Wrath of God”, a fable about imperialism and hubris starring the megalomaniac but brilliant German actor Klaus Kinski. The names of the tracks were added later but nevertheless the music works as a soundtrack as well.
Brigantin is the working title for another meeting organized by Jean-Noël Cognard for Bloc Thyristors. With Johannes Bauer (tb), Conny Bauer (tb), Barry Guy (b) and himself on drums Cognard got some of the best European free improvisation musicians and the result is European old school free jazz at its best. The Bauer brothers are simply great instrumentalists, absolute masters on the trombone, who are able to play the weirdest scales and riffs. In combination with Barry Guy, the godfather of British free jazz bassists, and Jean-Noël Cognard’s drumming, which is obviously influenced by Paul Lovens and Paul Lytton, this is a perfect match.
Structurally the album is framed by three quartets, the other six build the backbone of it and, being surrounded by solos, duos and trios, they are the musical and compositional highlights. The first two, “Esclandres et troubles” and “Haut-Fonds”, symbolize the riots and troubles and the shallow water the expedition has to deal with, while the final track “Répandues à profusion” is held together by Conny Bauer’s trombone riffs so that the others can improvise freely. It is indeed a widespread profusion of notes and sounds, but it is not idyllic, it is a hostile nature where man is lost (in the last and most famous scene Aguirre/Kinski is the only survivor on his raft explaining his conquest plans to a bunch of squirrel monkeys). The album is full of a variety of dark sounds: honking, gurgling, cawing, panting - it is the soundtrack for a doomed mission.

  Other favorites are “Tractations”, a splendid trombone duet by the Bauer brothers, who seem to be wrestling playfully with each other as they might have done in their childhood days (one of the more blitheful moments on this album), and the Barry Guy/Jean-Noël Cognard duo “Les bateaux se disloquèrent”, a torrent of flageolets, wild bass runs, sawing and sophisticated drumming including extended material, where you can literally feel the panic of the expedition in the film when their boats were swept away by the floods.
These three LPs come as a limited edition of 300 copies, two LPs in yellow and one in clear transparent vinyl. The music was recorded in 2012, studio and live, and the album includes a series of photos from Philippe Renaud. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Martin/Lozano/Lewis/Wiens/Duncan - At Canterbury (Barnyard, 2013) ****½

By Philip Coombs

Thanks to a suggestion from a devout reader on the comments section of my Canadian Round Up review, I was led to this recording from another Canadian group by snooping around for the groups on the Barnyard web site. I must admit, I would have entirely missed this if it wasn't for his ear to the ground back home. Could have been one of my biggest mistakes of the year.

First of all I will address my elephant in the room. I have never been a fan of vocal jazz. Why don't I like it? Is it the one sound that humans make that is the most human? Is it because the lyrical is the most literal? Is it because all attention is shifted to the voice once it starts?

Christine Duncan provides the vocal on At Canterbury and it is a cross between a soprano saxophone, film ambiance, an angry cat, and an aboriginal field recording. And it works. As much of a force as she is, she doesn't dominate or draw attention away from the great moments the rest of the group provides. On "Throwing Light", she cleverly uses the theremin to further blur the lines between voice and technology and my preconceived notions by adding a eerie sci-fi counterpoint to her growl.

Rainer Wiens (guitar and mbira) has a long history of composition and admiration for world music and intrinsically contributes to Duncan's drama. This is best exemplified on the track "Corollary" where his mbira is the main focus. One of its keys has a nasty buzz. The buzz returns often, and over time, I was happily expecting it more than being annoyed by it. It became an instrument within an instrument.
Jean Martin (drums and percussion) is all about the power of choice. Half of the time, he let's things sit in their place adding just enough clever to propel the track and leaving the need to engage to others. The half of the time he turns it up with a military beat that shows his skill on the snare as he plays with power and nuance at the same time. He has also been tasked with the job of keeping the other half of this group together with the first half.

The second half, comprised of Jim Lewis (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Frank Lozano, (tenor and soprano saxophone) make their own mark in various different ways throughout by keeping their improv and free jazz sensibilities in the forefront despite the rest of the group's complexity. On "Patience Game", they trade long singular lines that leads into a wonderful conversation as Martin drums up a storm behind them. They will not be overshadowed even as they get to the outer reaches of there respective registers or when Duncan adds another layer of bandwidth pushing them to break away and explore on their own.

Can be purchased from the label or downloaded from emusic.

This is a recording to be savored as the gifts here keep giving as my ears keep smiling.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

William Hooker Quintet: Channels of Consciousness (NoBusiness, 2012) **** ½

By Martin Schray

In some of my reviews I have mentioned that I come from an alternative rock background and therefore I am a late bloomer as to free jazz, although I have been interested in this music for a very long time. Lately it has become more and more boring for me to listen to country, folk, pop, techno, metal and other genres (although there have been great albums in 2013) and there is a simple reason: rhythmically there is no other music as fascinating as free jazz, and William Hooker is one of the most exciting drummers out there. If you listen to his last album on NoBusiness you will know what I am talking about.

Recorded at Roulette in New York City, Channels of Consciousness is a rollercoaster of polyrhythmic madness, which is hardly surprising regarding the fact that the rhythm section consists of Hooker on drums and voice, Sanga on percussion and Adam Lane on bass. The whole set starts with the three outlining the musical framework before Dave Ross (guitar) and Chris DiMeglio (trumpet) join the crew contributing tons of cracked solos full of fragmented and dislocated phrases. The tracks elegantly flow into each other, though, Ross’s guitar reminds of Sonny Sharrock’s lines for Last Exit which makes an interesting contrast to DiMeglio’s both lyrical and tense playing. Especially the first part of the set is like sitting on a raft going down a wild stream, the music takes you here and there and up and down, it is an adventurous furor.

The second part of the album is full of moments of rapture, too, for example when DeMeglio delves into Don Cherry phrases at the end of “The Unfolding” playing eccentric and jumping phrases or when Hooker cheers Ross on in “Character”.  The slide guitar slaps out razor-sharp sparkling notes sounding like splintering glass, this part is of both a fierce liveliness and deep sadness. Ross is supported by Lane’s arco drones and Hooker uses this moment to recite his stream-of-consciousness poetry about a “life’s decision”, a family drama continued on the last track, “Mother’s History (untold)”, and as in Hooker’s poetry there is a musical stream of consciousness as well telling us that there are decisions to be made – in life and in an improvisation - before DiMeglio’s trumpet transfers the track to the next one, “Connected”.

One of the greatest qualities of this album, which ends with percussion fire as it has begun, is that it draws on the blues, African rhythmic complexity, and classic free jazz. However, it builds bridges to contemporary improvised music as well. One of last year’s forgotten gems.

Buy from or the label:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nels Cline & Elliot Sharp - Open the Door (Public Eye Sore, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The strike of a string, a sudden atonal spark, a jarring rhythmic motif -- in the hands of some this could be a recipe for an improvised disaster. However, under the guidance of two restless and experimental master chefs, the result is a setting of new expectations.

Guitarist's Nels Cline and Elliot Sharp are both uncompromising musicians, pushing boundaries whenever they can and coloring within the lines whenever they feel like it. Sharp's Aggregat was a favorite from 2012, and Cline's recent output like Jazz Free: A Connective Improvization and Gowanus Sessions, his recording with Thollem McDonas and William Parker, occupy opposite ends of accessibility in improvised music. On Open the Door, however, they take the acoustic guitar to the edge and tempt the listener to take a taste of the unknown.

There is something special in the arpeggiated backing and plaintive slides and bends on 'Isotropes' and the rhythmic chatter on 'Blue Particles' that engages the listener. Then, there are the overtones and scratches at the start of 'Let Her In' and the percussive clatter later on that thrills. Each song is a unique and unexpected string of ideas, often eschewing melodic conventions, but always displaying empathy and consideration in the interactions.

Suffice to say, Open the Door is an excellent addition to the guitar duo canon. In a patient but uncompromising way, Cline and Sharp cook up something special.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thomas Chapin – Never Let Me Go: Quartets ’95 and ‘96 (Playscape, 2012) ****½

By Troy Dostert

It was with a great deal of anticipation that I first found out about this release several months ago, as Thomas Chapin has long been one of my heroes on the alto sax.  He was a fixture of the New York “downtown” scene during the late ‘80s and ‘90s, working alongside folks like Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin (his frequentr partners in a trio format that often brought out Chapin’s most inspired music), and occasionally others (such as John Zorn, Tom Harrell, or Mark Feldman).  He helped get the Knitting Factory off the ground with his many appearances there in the 1990s, and indeed the Knitting Factory label ended up releasing much of his output (helpfully compiled in an astonishing 8-disc set, Alive, which is still sporadically available).  What never changed, no matter whom he was working with, was a relentless spirit of creativity and adventure, all the while staying firmly rooted in the jazz tradition—a quality that is rather rare among those typically categorized as “avant-garde.”

After all, Chapin got his first big break in the early ‘80s when he was selected as musical director of the Lionel Hampton big band (by Hampton himself, no less).  Although Chapin would eventually move into much more boundary-expanding projects, he never lost sight of his jazz origins, and in this sense is very much like David Murray, whose passion for and dedication to the jazz tradition has always defined his work—even his more “out”-leaning recordings.  While Chapin was sadly taken from us after he lost his battle with leukemia in 1998 at the too-young age of 40, we are fortunate in that his music lives on—and indeed, that new documents of his greatness continue to emerge.

These recordings are a fantastic example.  Playscape, a little label devoted to a select range of improvisers including Pavone, Michael Musillami, and Peter Madsen, has scored a tremendous hit by offering this glimpse of Chapin in the last couple years of his life, from live recordings essentially found in the family vaults.  In contrast to his most storied work with Pavone and Sarin, here we get to hear Chapin playing in a quartet format.  The first two discs have him partnered with pianist Madsen, Kiyoto Fujiwara (on bass) and Reggie Nicholson (on drums).  Disc three was actually recorded at his very last live performance (fittingly, at the Knitting Factory) in December of 1996, featuring Madsen once again, but this time with Scott Colley on bass and Matt Wilson on drums.

And the music?  Well, it’s simply wonderful.  Chapin’s prodigious technique on not only alto sax but also soprano sax and flute is abundantly evident, as he gets plenty of room on these expansive tracks to stretch out; each disc contains five pieces, and most run at least ten minutes, some much longer than that, the only exception being a powerfully compact and poignant reading of Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” featuring just Chapin and Madsen, on disc 2.  Otherwise, the best way to describe these tracks is as masterfully performed post-bop, with musicians who know each other well enough and who share enough collective confidence to take the music in interesting and surprising directions.  Indeed, I’ve found myself going back again and again to this music over the last several weeks, continuously finding new elements in the music to appreciate and marvel at.

The first two discs are the more straightahead ones, relatively speaking; the material is more standards-based, including a couple from Monk (“Red Cross,” in addition to “Ugly Beauty”), Artie Shaw (“Moonray”), and even Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”)—and the chief pleasure in spending time with these tracks is just to hear Chapin’s incessant exploration and tireless invention.  His solos are remarkably free of cliché, as he somehow manages to find new things to say with each phrase.  Even Webb’s rather syrupy tune is given new life and vitality under Chapin’s thoughtful care.  Madsen is especially vital in supporting Chapin throughout; rather than limiting or confining his options, Madsen’s punchy and rhythmic contributions work consistently to prod Chapin further, seemingly giving him more energy and dynamism as the music unfolds.  Fujiwara and Nicholson are also rock-solid throughout, keeping the music anchored while also being able and willing to adapt to whatever direction Chapin wants to take the music.

When we get to the third disc, we encounter the freer side of Chapin’s playing, as the change in personnel with Colley and Wilson taking over the bass and drum duties seems to liberate Chapin, along with the choice of material.  Here four of the five tracks are Chapin’s own, including “Whirlygig,” which features some terrific off-kilter rhythmic flourishes, and “Sky Piece,” one of Chapin’s most notable compositions.  Overall, the music on this disc is more unsettled and edgy, with Colley and Wilson clearly being willing to push the music harder and take more chances, which leads Chapin to pursue riskier explorations.

All told, this is simply marvelous jazz music.  Chapin’s willingness to forge connections between the traditional and avant-garde jazz camps, and to explore the beauty within each, should earn him his distinctive place in the history of this music—and this release will certainly help him do that.

In addition to the great value of these recordings, there is also a film project underway to celebrate Chapin’s life and music.

Here’s the trailer:


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Various Artists: Long Story Short (Wels 2011 curated by Peter Brötzmann) (Trost, 2013) *****

By Martin Schray

2011 was a landmark year for Peter Brötzmann. It was the year of his 70th birthday, his hometown Wuppertal provided a three-day festival for his Chicago Tentet (as well as Café Oto in London), he was awarded the Albert-Mangelsdorff-prize (one of the most important jazz prizes in Germany), two documentaries were made and Wels “Music Unlimited” asked him to curate their 25th festival. It was sold out weeks in advance, when does this ever happen to a free jazz event? All these things are possible because people have begun to appreciate his life’s work, his authenticity, his consequence in spite of the fact that Brötzmann is difficult man. He says about himself that he is full of contradictions. So if you decide to invite him to curate such an important festival you have to know about his achievements and his philosophy because if you authorize someone like him you’ll have to accept his concept.

Somehow it was an obvious decision to make him curate the 25th anniversary festival because he is one of the last men standing who belong to the first generation of European improvisers (like Evan Parker, Tony Oxley, Alex von Schlippenbach, Fred Van Hove, Han Bennink etc.).  Also, he is a border crosser in many ways, he has always been an innovator trying to re-invent himself constantly in new constellations. The worst thing that could happen to him is that he bores himself because his music is fulfilling the audience’s expectations. So people were very excited what line up he was going to choose and indeed it was spectacular and unexpected but also coherent as to Brötzmann conditions. In order to understand his choice and his way to create music you have to understand the man (which is difficult enough) and his idea of innovation.

Brötzmann considers himself a (free) jazz musician, someone deeply rooted in the tradition of Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins, but he looks out for new experiences and new collaborations with musicians who come from different backgrounds like rock, new classical music, even world music. “Unlike many of his fellow European improvisers, he has always been an internationalist and his lifelong pursuit of new “cities, histories and landscapes” has not only informed him politically and philosophically, it has also impacted on the very DNA of his music”, David Keenan wrote in a long article in The Wire. In Wels this became very obvious when you have a look at the line up which includes people like Bill Laswell and Keiji Haino, Okkyung Lee and Maâllem Mokhtar Gania, for example.  The fact that he is aware of the jazz tradition as an important influence for his music makes him deal with US Afro-American jazz constantly, although being a European and knowing and accepting his Prussian background as a part of his music, too. The same is true for his musical exchange with Asia (which was the most and maybe most surprising and important issue of the festival).

Additionally, Brötzmann likes to work with young musicians (and he also likes to have young people in the audience). His Chicago Tentet proves this, but also his collaborations with people like Jason Adasievicz (vib) or Eric Revis (b).

But most of all his music is the result of his socio-political surroundings, it reflects reality and its conditions. Music is a constant hassle with what’s going on around you and Brötzmann does not like what he sees, that’s why his music cannot be entertaining. It is rooted in the discussion about Germany’s Nazi heritage, the repressive structures in post-war Germany, society’s handling of the holocaust or socialist atrocities - and this approach makes his art (he is also an artist who usually designs the covers of his album – like the one here as well) sensitive for non-musical influences.

The most obvious political issue in Wels was The Chicago Tentet’s Fukushima project, which features the Tentet +1 (Joe McPhee has become a regular member over the years) and several Japanese musicians like Otomo Yoshihide, Toshinori Kondo, Michiyo Yagi and Akira Sakata. Each set lasted for thirty minutes, all in all a two-hour tour de force of music. The box only contains the tentet’s part with koto player Yagi (the whole concert is available on DVD) but this excerpt already shows how the band tries to reflect the whole nuclear disaster in their music, the agony of the people, the rage about the failure of the politicians and the CEOs, the powerlessness of mankind in the face of the forces of nature. Brötzmann’s aim apparently was to make the music a collective experience for both his musicians and his audience despite different backgrounds giving especially Yagi a lot of space.

Chicago Tentet + Michiyo Yagi (Fukushima Project): 

Moreover, he also had something else in mind with this festival, he was not interested in just bringing some old friends together. Hardly ever has he displayed his idea of music so clearly which brings us back to his philosophy.

Brötzmann, who has always had an inclination for communist ideas, has developed a philosophy which is based around key principles he has distilled in almost 50 years on the road – freedom, equality, respect, struggling and dialectics. In his excellent essay “Each is the Work of All” Christoph J. Bauer explains what this means in the Brötzmann universe: ”When the musicians play and work together natural, cultural and social differences, which make up their identity, are to be annihilated in a dialectic unit in which everyone has the same rights to raise his or her individual voice.” This dialectic unit is the basis for the result of an equal collaboration in a Marxian sense, without equality Brötzmann’s groups cannot work even if it seems that he has a superior position. In Wels the best example for this idiom was Brötzmann’s quartet with Bill Laswell (b) (a man who has worked with people as different as Mick Jagger, The Ramones, Pharoah Sanders, Motörhead or George Clinton), legendary Gnawa musician Maâllem Mokhtar Gania (voice, guembri) and Chicagoan free jazz legend Hamid Drake (dr), a performance that made the audience literally freak out. Starting with Brötzmann and Laswell the band builds up layer after layer until Drake, Laswell and Gania agree on a hypnotic world music groove – something you would expect Brötzmann to refuse blatantly. But then there is the unexpected: He joins the band in their rhythm, out of the blue there is a perfect unit, within seconds an identity was created from the most different backgrounds combining Drake’s dance groove, Laswell’s bass being drowned in fuzzbox rock sounds, Gania’s sufi trance and Brötzmann’s free jazz roars. Although it is a 51-minute- track you wish it would never stop.


But living this musical principle is absolutely demanding, the players must be able to contribute spontaneously – at any time. What they yield is based on their musical and personal experiences, on what they have played and heard so far. Put together this finally makes up a piece, this is instant composing. And since Brötzmann usually renounces pre-composed material the result is almost always something new and innovative, a new formation or a changing of parameters always brings forth new structures on which the musicians have to react immediately.

Although Brötzmann is aware of being part of jazz history, he and most of the European improvisers also wanted to emancipate themselves from hierarchical structures in traditional American and European music, which for them had political meaning. So free jazz was an act of  liberation from repressive structures and from socio-political restrictions.

However, freedom was one thing that had to be achieved, but if it had led to anarchy it would have been pointless. So the traditional confrontation between freedom and necessity has to be abolished in a dialectic way which is why another key term has to be added to Brötzmann’s philosophy: responsibility. The collaborations work because the musicians feel in charge for the success of a composition and therefore they act responsibly. This is especially possible for improvisers because they act like an association “in which the free development of the individual is the condition for the free development of all”, as Marx said. But this also means that all the players have to cut back their own capriciousness once and again for the sake of the result, in this case the collective improvisation. This requires a very close listening to the others so that you can react to musical actions in the fastest possible way, it also includes taking a break. Thus, you pay respect listening to the others and while expecting this from all the other participants it guarantees everyone a certain space for his or her artistic expression. This goes not only for Brötzmann’s ensembles but for all the groups and solos in this box and a good example of this notion is the female string trio consisting of Michiyo Yagi (koto), Okkyung Lee (cello) and Xu Fengxia (guzheng) who advance very delicately into their performance and particularly Yagi and Xu hold their fire before they eventually let it burn.


Freedom, responsibility, equality and dialectics are crucial for Brötzmann’s music but respect and struggling are even more important. If Brötzmann uses the term respect in this context in order to state how to handle the other’s need to express themselves, it does not mean respect in an abstract conservative way, it is no value in itself, it is the basis and result of a constant conflict between the individual personalities in an ensemble, it is not a bourgeois form of acknowledgement, it has to be hard-earned again and again in order to contribute to the composition in a valuable way.

When Brötzmann was asked to curate the festival he decided to put the focus on what he was doing at that moment and to bring it into a context what he has done in the late 1960s and early 70s. That’s why he wanted to highlight his long-time connections with Asian musicians like Takeo Moriyama and Akira Sakata (who were members of the legendary Yamashita Trio), something which was only made possible by cultural subsidies (and they are hard to get these days). His trio with Masahiko Satoh (p) and Moriyama (dr) (ironically called "The Heavyweights") is the essence of what the three understand of respect, it is a truly humanitarian approach to music. The track starts with Satoh playing icy single notes counteracting Brötzmann’s typical furor while Moriyama seems to have a look at the interaction before he makes a statement, but then he throws his hat in the ring, first almost hesitating but then absolutely self-confident, even in the duet with Satoh playing almost Cecil Tayloresque patterns (while Brötzmann shows his ability to listen).


Being one of the absolute highlights of the festival The Heavyweights are a perfect incarnation of the most decisive concept in Brötzmann’s philosophy: it is the term struggling. He does not interpret the Darwinist struggle for survival in a negative way, neither in a socio-political environment nor in a musical one. It is the basis for any personal and musical progress, that’s why he rejects the education at conservatoires so violently, he believes in the education of the stage. But again this requires mutual respect among the players, even if a certain difference between them is necessary in order to grapple with one another for a specific artistic expression which always has to be a common one. Brötzmann has always emphasized the social component of improvisation –as manifested in the Chicago Tentet – and for him this does not only mean freedom, equality, respect, solidarity and responsibility but a certain inharmoniousness as well (don’t forget: he is a man full of contradictions) in order to successfully stand your ground against one another with both sides depending on each other. This interaction of struggling and respect counts for DKV Trio feat. Gustafsson/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love in an exemplary way because it shows that struggling does not simply mean power playing, it is pointless hooting the others down. The players consider struggling on a conceptual level, it is not about putting up the volume for the volume’s sake, it is about intensity, about making a statement.  The following excerpt of the concert is not the one on the box but it shows how violently the two bands fight each other in a highly respectful way. It starts with the band in full action before almost everybody drops out except Nilssen-Love – and then they come back even more furiously.

DKV Trio + Gustafsson, PNL, Pupillo

In the end Peter Brötzmann’s key concepts only work when they are used permanently and consequently, if there is a musical situation in which some parts are missing, the result is not satisfactory.

So Brötzmann and all the ensembles gathered here are the personifications of the relevance of improvised music in a globalized world because they stand for constant expansion and the musical globalization we have here is positively counteracting a musical leveling inherent in music industry (something you can see in pop music, for example). All the musicians of this festival (and on this CD box) fight for this definition of freedom, equality, solidarity, respect, responsibility and struggling, which  means so much more in this kind of music compared to others.

Unfortunately, Wels Unlimited 2011 was also a sort of requiem. In the meantime John Tchicai has died and the Chicago Tentet is history. Brötzmann decided to stop it because it has become too difficult to keep such a group running (in an economic way) and because he said he realized that they were playing to fulfill some kind of expectation – something Brötzmann really hates.
However, this box is a great legacy.

List of groups:
CD 1: Sonore (Brötzmann/Vandermark/Gustafsson)
Chicago Tentet with John Tchicai
Michiyo Yagi/Okkyung Lee/Xu Fengxia
Peter Brötzmann/Masahiko Satoh/ Takeo Moriyama

CD 2:  Joe McPhee/Maâllem Mokhtar Gania/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Michael Zerang
Peter Brötzmann/Michiyo Yagi/Tamaya Honda
Peter Brötzmann/ Jason Adasiewicz/Sabu Toyozumi
Dieb 13/Mats Gustafsson/Martin Siewert

CD 3:  Keiji Haino
Peter Brötzmann/Bill Laswell/ Maâllem Mokhtar Gania/Hamid Drake

CD 4:  Jeb Bishop/Joe McPhee/Mars Williams/Jason Adasiewicz/Kent Kessler/Tamaya Honda
Hairy Bones (Brötzmann/Kondo/Pupillo/Nilssen-Love)
Masahiko Satoh
Chicago Tentet + Michiyo Yagi

CD 5:  Peter Brötzmann/Eric Revis/ Nasheet Waits
DKV Trio + Mats Gustafsson/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love; Full Blast
Caspar Brötzmann Massaker

This review is largely based on Christoph J. Bauer’s very intelligent essay “Each is the Work of All” published in his interview book “Brötzmann: Gespräche” (Posth Verlag, Berlin, 2012), a highly recommendable and enjoyable book. If you understand German and you like Brötzmann, I think it is a must have.

The review also contains some aspects from David Keenan’s article in The Wire (#345) and Markus Müller’s excellent liner notes.

In addition, the DVD of the Fukushima Project is also great.

Both the CD box and the DVD can be purchased from the label:

The CD is also available via

Monday, April 15, 2013

Decoy With Joe McPhee – Spontaneous Combustion (OTOroku, 2013) ****

By Paolo Casertano

There is something deeply intimate in the about eleven minutes of wait and evolution before the real explosion of interplay -- it's a long, slow, precious dovetailing of musical relationships between four great musicians. Joe McPhee starts needling the others through the raucous timbre of his pocket trumpet, balancing some meaningful rich phrases with blown passages. The scattered pizzicato incursions of John Edwards rebound Steve Nobles' sharp bells, muted gongs and minimal percussion. The organ of Alexander Hawkins starts its journey from another world, on sustained high pitch tones slowly developing a second voice in search of dialogue. Then Edwards takes to the bow, moulding low magnetic chords and Noble’s rolls becomes sumptuous. It’s like watching a group of kids discovering the pleasure and the joy of “playing” together. Organ presence becomes total, though never invasive. Hawkins goes for a luxuriant solo exploring all the colours and the tones offered the by large palette of his instrument, his fingers running along the two-floor keyboard in an endless spiral. He saturates so much the atmosphere that sometimes the result is like a vibrating cluster of unrecognisable and mesmeric chords.

A Hammond B3 tends to be an overwhelming instrument, not just for its size, and the detractors of prog and psychedelic rock, as I am sometimes, can be doubtful about its role. But it really works well in this set.

On the second side, McPhee unsheathes his alto sax giving a different bluesy slow imprint to the sound of the group, while the rhythm section endorses him with sudden time changes.  Edward’s bass turns out a darker sound. He first dialogues melancholically for several minutes with McPhee while Noble slows down and snaps the rhythm, then he makes his bow scrape a short and involving solo in the instrument's lower register. Finally, he faces a real challenge, playing against the beats and wooden inlays of the drummer. I wonder if it’s McPhee screaming somewhere there in the middle. It’s around about at the time of Noble’s astounding solo on metals and plates enhanced by the water drops effect of Hawkins organ. Soon, the quartet re-joins and closes in a boppish manner.

I can’t be wrong: this is definitely genuine, joyous, satisfying and great jazz!

The recording stands as testimony to the second set of the first night of Decoy’s two-day residence in Café Oto during October 2011 featuring Joe McPhee. The LP, the second OTOroku official release, is pressed in 500 copies and housed in a really nice and original two colours sleeve screenprinted on extra thick raw cardboard.

You can listen to some minutes of the recording provided by the label, where you also find a good video of that evening.

Buy at Instant Jazz

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Made To Break: Provoke (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

If Made to Break’s album “Lacerba” deals with futurism, “Provoke” picks up the thread as to musical structure and philosophical references. Although the music is composed “the material is modular and parts can be combined spontaneously by the various members of the band, so the structure is improvised as well as the solos,” Ken Vandermark said. The three titles of the tracks make up the sentence “Further presentation of the facts” and they are dedicated to influential geniuses of the 20th century – John Cage, Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. Like the futurists their ideas and works were revolutionary and therefore provocative, Cage as to music, Buckminster Fuller as to architecture and technology (among others) and McLuhan as to philosophy and media theory. Of course Made to Break do not have the ambition to be as revolutionary as these giants, a lot of things have changed since then, that’s why provocation is hardly possible or has to be different.

“Further (for John Cage)” has the same threepart structure as the tracks on “Lacerba”, it starts with an old-fashioned sax-drums-duo before the bass ends this improvisation interspersing an irresistible rock groove backed up by Kurzmann’s electronics providing simple sound layers and surfaces. This is much closer to alternative rock than to jazz. Tim Daisy destroys this atmosphere and heralds the third part in which the musicians seem to have lost one another before the electronics provide a pattern on which the others can agree with a new structure. The track ends with a bassline that sounds like Bill Laswell and with Vandermark being back on funky grooves.

“presentation (for Buckminster Fuller)” provides a similar architectural structure. It starts like a soundtrack for an old David Lynch short film (bass flageolets, static, helicopter sounds) before it changes to a lyrical part dominated by Vandermark. Hoffs forces the pace throwing in a Mike-Watt/Minutemen-riff and the rest of the band make use of this – it is a great SST moment (my favorite label of the 1980s).

The most lyrical track is “of the facts (for Marshall Mc Luhan)”. It uses the same compositional elements again and arranges it in a new way, especially Vandermark’s No-Jazz-riffs work in a great way.

This is a promising band and I hope there is more to come.

Buy at Instant Jazz

Listen to them here:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Made To Break: Lacerba (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

“Lacerba” was the name of an Italian literary magazine that wanted to spread the ideas of futurism, a movement emphasizing and glorifying issues associated with concepts concerning the future - including technological progress, youth and violence. The most famous authors were Giovanni Papini and Ardengo Soffici but Tommaso Marinetti, Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire and Stéphane Mallarmé were also among the contributors. Futurist music claimed to reject tradition and introduced experimental sounds inspired by machinery, it was mainly set against backwardness and mediocrity. One of the most prominent figures, Luigi Russolo, published The Art of Noises which became something like a guideline for the musical aesthetics of the movement. Russolo defined instruments as acoustic noise generators so that he can pay homage to, include or imitate machines – his ideas influenced Stravinsky, Edgar Varèse, Stockhausen and John Cage.

Ken Vandermark (reeds) has a profound knowledge of classical music (he studied with Morton Feldman) and although he does not completely reject tradition his new project Made to Break pays tribute to the futurist era not only because electronic noise plays an important role in the band context, which features Christof Kurzmann (electronics), Devin Hoff (e-bass) and Tim Daisy (drums).

Like classical futurist music the first track, “Vita Futurista (for Dick Raaijmakers)”, imitates technology, a dark baritone saxophone sound reminds of a foghorn before the real machine sets in: Kurzmann’s electronics sound like a limbo created by Edgar Allen Poe, there are static loops, a pulsing and scraping that gives you the creeps in a very subtle way. But futurism is not only about darkness, and after four minutes, when the bass turns in playing a super groovy Michael-Henderson-riff and Vandermark slaps out a soulful theme, the band has transformed into a 1980 New York No Jazz group – raw, funky, straight, hardcore. And just when you get used to it, the band makes another U-turn and after 17 minutes – out of the blue - they devote themselves to absolute beauty. The structure of the “Pursuit (for Alberto Giacometti)”, the second track of the album, is similar to the first one. It starts with a very lyrical passage which is close to chamber music before it turns into something completely different. Vandermark’s alto is close to the pain barrier and only Hoff’s electric bass brings him back to solidly grounded jazz rock. Hoff is the driving force in this track anyway, the copula between the different parts.

“Lacerba” is futurist in a postmodernist sense, it uses different elements of jazz history and combines it to something new.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Marc Riordan Quartet - Binoculars (Club Nerodia, 2012) ***½

By Philip Coombs

Like any explorer, the challenge is to push yourself further than the last guy. Your map then becomes the cornerstone, the pinnacle of any wanderer that comes after. On this record, Marc Riodan decides to drop his drum kit and portage a piano from his previous river, through the brush in search of a better river or even an ocean. Binoculars is the travelogue of his adventure.

Every journey on sea requires a muster and the seafarers on this mission are as follows.
On saxophone - Peter Hanson
On bass - Daniel Thatcher
On Drums - Tim Daisy ( Being comfortable with two sticks, brushes, bells, cymbals, mops, mallets, paddles, or oars, Daisy is the perfect choice to propel any vessel unrelentingly forward.)

"Little Dog". Even though Riordan has given up the rhythm in search of the melody, it is very clear throughout this track that the old sea sirens still haunt him. The interplay between the alto sax and the very percussive piano makes for very entertaining listening indeed. The quartet cleverly skirts around almost like they are shaking hands and introducing themselves on a pier waiting for the horn to signal the departure. Before it ends even Hanson gets in on the percussive attack and power as he spars with everyone during the track's conclusion.

"Funometer. The quartet tricks your ears with this one. It begins with a boppy pass that goes on just long enough to for an incorrect and premature opinion of things to come. It gets really good when the whole thing falls apart. Is that a hole? Its taking on water, all hands on deck.

There are beautiful moments all over this recording like the heavy handed melancholy of "Lesson Learned", or the coherence and musicianship of "Magnetic Personality", but the real gem for me is the title track. It starts with a searching bass, a beacon through the fog. When everyone else enters it finds the groove but yet finds a way to keep returning to a escalating chord pattern.

Can't say that the Marc Riordan Quartet redrew any maps on this outing but it is a document that highlights a musician that needs to wear different hats and varying numbers of stripes on his shoulders in order to stay afloat.

Is my canoe on the best river for me?

Here is "Little Dog"

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Saadet Türköz, Giovanni Maier, Zlatko Kaučič – Zarja-Tay (Rudi Records, 2012) ****

Listening to Zarja-Tay involves confronting a lot of uncomfortable places, beautiful dreams and awkward moments. To be up for the challenge, I highly suggest meditating with bells and gongs first. Work with the higher frequencies will help to bust up all your preconceptions about words, sounds, borders, language and communication. At minimum, you will at least clear your sinuses so that you are worthy of receiving the transmissions so generously offered to you by this fine assemblage of highly evolved humans.

The Trio is comprised of Italian bassist Giovanni Maier, Slovenian-born Zlatko Kaučič on percussion, and the Swiss-based Kazakh-Turkish singer Saadet Türköz. Zarja-Tay was recorded in a pilgrimage church in Crngrob, Slovenia (an ancient holy place created by a Giant Girl, whose rib hangs among the detailed frescoes that include illustrations of demons eating those who do wrong).

In the world of Zarja-Tay you will find:
  • unfamiliar words that you want to know
  •  musical ideas that need a lot of time to simmer
  • sounds that are not words and sounds that may not even be sounds….
  • multi-cultural unknowns that are mysteriously familiar
  • other-worldly impulses that pierce through illusion
  • alien landscapes that beckon
  • terrifying leaps that repel
  • subterranean forces that remember what you had for lunch yesterday and work to ensure that you never eat that food ever again even though those morsels  are essential for your survival
Oh, wow, help. This is a journey.


Like all artists, Saadet Türköz is informed by her influences. Hers are very unique: "I was born in Istanbul in 1961, and I am currently living in Zurich.
Due to the political pressure of the Chinese government upon the Turk people in East Turkestan (Uyghur Autonomous Region), my parents fled to Istanbul, where they settled as Kazakh refugees. They transmitted us the rich oral and musical traditions of the highlands of Central Asia. With the tales of their far away country and their journey to Turkey, the elderly people of the Kasakh community influenced my imagination as musician until nowadays." Zarja-Tay is dedicated to her brother, Ahmet Türköz (1963-2009), “…who was engaged in human rights for free East Turkestan.”

Saadet Türköz expresses herself in ways I’ve never heard before. Track 5, “Voice” and Track 3 “Massallah!” are two especially fine examples of her unique vocal style.
It was difficult at first to take in the universe of sound she forges, and I got off track as I became obsessed with not knowing the meaning of the words (*). But what seems like words here, are, in many cases, not even words anyway, so what is perhaps most necessary is to have an open mind and embrace the pre-verbal. This is really hard, and that’s why I highly recommend this album! Saadet Türköz is not fooling around, and you will grow as a listener and as a person because you are going to be squirming. Like an ant who has succeeded in running away from a fanatic wielding a magnifying glass on a hot day, only to get smashed by a big thumb you never saw coming. Shamanic is the only word that will do.


Zlatko Kaučič has gongs and bells and scratchy things scraping and rusty, swinging gates flying slowly open and closed. Listening, I feel as if I were being born inside a Gamelon, with every instrument a living bone or strong tooth. His precision carries a spiritual depth, complete with deep toms at opportune moments. Nothing wasted. Nothing haphazard. Like a brilliant poem throughout. (Of special note, Track 9, “Apa”).


In this context, Giovanni Maier becomes a friendly, loving GPS you are so happy to have around. Full of warmth. A lullabye~compass. Maier’s choices create a powerful juxtaposition with the focused intensity behind Türköz’s voice, and he anchors the band well. This is not to say that he plays it safe. Maier on bass also travels to select alternate worlds, sounding over here like a shofar….over there, like a viola….there again, like a human voice and then, alternately like….? Track 4, “Snake,” is especially enticing, as is the thoughtful and quiet, “Zero” (Track 10).

(*) Saadet kindly helped me out with some translations. Here is another:

The old spirits on the other side invite me to die.
They say to me, you are welcome to paradise
I will die, I wanna go
My heart has pain – take me to the other side

Please don’t forget me,
Where I’m going
I can see you and hear – on the other side
I am a beautiful spirit!
            -- Saadet Türköz, “Köpes,” Eng. transl.
                        (Köpes means: generous human and is a family nickname
                                    for Saadet’s brother)


Phantasie from Zarja-Tay

Saadet Türköz: My Boy, My Horse, My Dog (with English text transl.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Joshua Abrams Quartet – Unknown Known (RogueArt, 2013) ***

By Dan Sorrells

RogueArt continues its Chicago jazz love affair with Unknown Known, a quartet featuring Josh Abrams on bass, David Boykin on tenor sax, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, and Frank Rosaly on drums. In many ways, Unknown Known sticks to those Chicago roots: even it its wilder flights, it always has a foot planted in composition and structure. It’s jazz that comes up under the tutelage of the AACM, which constantly pushed boundaries without ever entirely dispensing with them.

Though Abrams is billed as the leader, Adasiewicz tends to be the dominant voice (as with many projects he’s involved with). This isn’t a bad thing. Personally, I can’t get enough of his enormous, pulsing field of overtones. A 2011 New York Times article touched upon a lot of what makes his sound unique: hitting the instrument hard, frequent use of the sustain pedal, an interest in creating distorted, almost feedback-like effects, and keeping the sound of the vibes consistently in the mix, “rumbl[ing] along with the rhythm section.”

The downside to Adasiewicz’s colossal harmonic artifice is that it needs to be well-miked and recorded, and in its more frenzied moments, Unknown Known can leave a bit to be desired. At times, Abrams’ bass is nearly subsumed in waves of vibraphone and cymbals. Thankfully, he pushes through loud and clear when it’s time to rein everyone back in, laying out strutting basslines that snap everything back into focus.

There are some great tracks here, such as the funky “Settle Down” and the epic “Boom Goes the Moon,” but many seem cast of a similar mold, progressing from laid-back theme to building tension to out-and-out free improv and back again.  I wish more of it could be as arresting as the first four minutes of “Leavening,” a great, moody bass solo over slow, tribal drums and gentle swells of vibes and sax.  Boykin has a robust tone on tenor, but he feels under-utilized. He does have a handful of intense moments on the frontline, but it’s hard to compete with the sheer density of Adasiewicz and Rosaly.

Unknown Known is another solid release from RogueArt, and another reminder that the Midwest continues to be fertile ground for outsider jazz.

Buy at Instantjazz

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jon Irabagon, Hernani Faustino, Gabriel Ferrandini - Absolut Zero (Not Two, 2013) *****

By Paul Acquaro

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon's playing is a treat on this recording with RED Trio members Hernani Faustino and Gabriel Ferrandini. His sax work is restained and searching at times and scorching and scathing at others throughout this focused but free program. Unlike the hearty swinging from the get go, on say his album Foxy or the recent 3Dom Factor, the approach to playing here begins more introspective and evolving, gelling as the songs progress, reaching moments of kinetic cohesion, only to be pulled back to start all over again.

The opening 'States of Matter' starts slowly, builds to an intense climax, not made of volume but of restraint, that soon devolves into just sound of Irabagon's breath through his mouthpiece. Ferrandini's percussion work shadows and pulsates as he deftly fills the many spaces in the sparse, but not lacking, instrumentation. Faustino's bass kicks off 'Nova' in a stately spacious manner, then Irabagon enters with a keen wail. He works the microtones and the upper registers of his horn almost sounding he is pushing through some deep pain. The duo plays through the tension beautifully and when the percussion finally joins lightly, a certain peace has been achieved. 

The last track, 'Spacetime' is another exercise in intensity as Irabagon plays a circular motif that never lets up as the tension slowly builds. By the end, Ferrandini's unique rhythmic patterns have meshed so thoroughly with the sax and bass that it is hard to distinguish an individual in the group (metaphorically speaking). 

Absolut Zero, is hardly the unbelievably cold temperature to which the title refers, rather it is a warm and layered achievement.

Buy at Instantjazz.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekend Roundup: Mats Gustafsson

If you have ever had the chance to talk to Mats Gustafsson about vinyl you know how enthusiastically he is about this issue. I guess he would release more 7-inches if he could, once he told me how glad he was finally finding a company in California that presses flexi discs (and you should have seen his eyes shining) for him. The first part of this short round up reviews three singles, the second one his latest CD.

By Martin Schray

Double Tandem/ Mats Gustafsson Solo: Abet ?! (Terprecords, 2012) **** ½

“Abet ?!” is a split 7’’ starting with a four-minute live killer track by Double Tandem (Ken Vandermark and Ab Baars on saxes, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums) that makes the audience in Addis Abeba freak out (the tracks were recorded during the “saxophone project” of The Ex in Ethiopia in 2009). Nilssen-Love starts the track going mad from the very first second before Baars and Vandermark drop in. This is old-fashioned free jazz at its best. Unlike their two complete albums there is no swing element here, the three keep pushing each other relentlessly before they literally choke the track off. Highly energetic!

The flipside presents Gustafsson on solo baritone sax in front of an enthusiastic Ethiopian audience two years later. It seems as if he is trying to take on African influences at the beginning, it is a very soulful and bluesy track that changes over to rhythmic extended techniques before it fades out in a very Gustafsson-ish way.

Mats Gustafsson & Johns Lunds: Plays Alto Saxophone (7’’) (yoyooyoy, 2012) *** ½

This is Mats Gustafsson’s second collaboration with John Lunds (after “Plays Baritone Saxophone” in 2011). Compared to his recent cooperation with Colin Stetson the two tracks on this 7-inch are rawer and more abrasive, they rather remind me of a quotation of Gustafsson’s colleague Peter Brötzmann, who claims that free jazz is always about fighting and about creating some space where you can present your ideas. While the A-side is a straight punch into your face, the flipside is a bit more playful.

Swedish Azz: Toots and Quincy (Flexi Disc) (Not Two, 2012) ****

Swedish Azz’s two minute track obviously is a hip tribute to Toots Thielemans and Quincy Jones and it especially presents Gustafsson (sax), Per-Ake Holmlander (tuba), Kjell Nordeson (vibes) and Eric Carlsson (dr) paying tribute to the golden age of American west coast jazz (including some scratching and cracking on the flexi). Hardly ever have you heard Gustafsson playing in such a classical cool way. But as usual the presence of Dieb 13 (electronics) warps the whole track adding some special European distorted element. A nice little finger exercise stimulating the appetite for their complete albums.

Merzbow/Mats Gustafsson/Balász Pándi: Cuts (Rare Noise Records, 2013) ***

“Cuts” features Merzbow (a.k.a. Masami Akita) on electronics, Gustafsson on baritone sax, c-clarinet and live electronics, and Hungarian drummer Balász Pándi. When I heard about this line-up I was really excited because it reminded me of another recent collaboration between Gustafsson and Masami Akita – “One Bird Two Bird” (with Jim O’Rourke) - and “Live at the South Bank” (with Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid), both outstanding albums.

Actually I am really glad that this is a Gustafsson album that does not kill me immediately like his previous ones (and that it gives me the chance to avoid the impression that I have lost a critical attitude towards his music). In the first part of this session (which lasts more than 70 minutes) Gustafsson concentrates on electronic sounds; saxophone and clarinet are almost drowned in noise. It is a tough listening experience, as if you were in the middle of an arctic blizzard combined with an electrical storm in which you have already lost orientation. Some sounds are so shrill that you might be afraid of losing your sense of hearing (this is a serious warning). On “The Fear too. Invisible” and “Like Me. Like You” and the 20-minute-hellhound  “Like Razorblades in the Dark”, which make up the second part of the CD, Gustafsson’s saxophone is more present pushing the music towards classical noise-free-jazz – solid, hard, grabbing you by the scruff of your neck.

The titles of this album are inspired by the Swedish writer, visual artist and composer Leif Elggren’s performance “Something like seeing in the Dark” which Elggren and his collaborator John Duncan regarded as an attempt to enlarge sensorial limits in which the participants and the audience were used as test persons. This works for “Cuts” as well, it is a borderline experience.

Watch a short extract here:

Gustafsson sells the singles at his concerts but you can get them via, a website which promotes stuff by Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann and Paal-Nilssen-Love.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Willamette (CD Baby/Bandcamp, 2012) ***

By Alfie Cooke

If the tenor saxophone seemed custom-made for rock 'n' roll, then Dana Colley, Mats Gustafsson and now Matt Rippetoe, seem hell-bent on proving that the baritone was specially designed for its harder, meaner, darker kid brother - heavy metal. Taking note of Bob Dylan's famous "play it f-ing loud", Willamette crank up the volume, thrash the guitars and beat the drums senseless. Holding down, at various points, both lead-line and riffing duties, Rippetoe cuts his way through the middle. His raspy tone sounding at times like Gustafsson, he captures the blood-and-guts vocal low-end of bands like Husker Dü and (Henry) Rollins-era Black Flag.

Although there are similarities to Swedish über-trio The Thing, this isn't jazz, the solos for the most part clinging firmly to the rock tradition - but then, being so heavily sax-lead, it isn't heavy rock either. But the fact that it seems caught in the no man's land between the two isn't a bad thing - the path it takes means its different without being difficult and danceable without being drivel. Try out their samples on the Bandcamp  release page or the version of 'Mr Smith' on YouTube here below, let your head start banging and then decide - metal jazz, is it the new New Thing?

The band :  Matt Rippetoe - baritone sax,  Yoshie Fructer - guitar,  Gary Pickard - bass, Dave Previ - drums