Click here to [close]

Friday, May 31, 2013

Little Women - Lung (AUM Fidelity, 2013) ****

By Philip Coombs

While browsing around the AUM Fidelity website looking for some insight into the latest Little Women's recording,'Lung', I discovered a few interesting facts or, I guess, selling points. It is mentioned that this album would not have a vinyl counterpart due to a creative decision to not break up the single 42 minute track that is the entirety of 'Lung'. It goes on to mention that 'Lung' was recorded in one complete take and was designed to be listened to as such. Now, there are plenty of jazz albums that are just one take, but AUM Fidelity really takes the time to reinforce this point.

So..... I sit, inhale deeply into my lungs and press play.

The air that goes into your lungs is for you, the air that comes back out is for others. It can pass over vocal chords to form words like 'I'm sorry', or 'Please help', or 'I love you'. It can be used to produce a sigh or an audible exhale which is how 'Lung' begins. It starts with nothing and slowly evolves into breathing; air in, air out until Jason Nazary (drums) rattles his cymbals, kick starting what is to become a 42 minute meditation/ propellant/ epic/ peace keeper/ anarchist.

It can be used to sing a G in unison with each voice alternately dropping out to breathe while maintaining the note. This is a very memorable moment as you can hear the frailty in their voices, a gutsy choice indeed but one that, even though very short, bridges a gap between musical movements beautifully.

The air out also passes over the reeds of both Darius Jones (alto) and Travis Laplante (tenor). Throughout the track, the force of the expelled air dances between subtle and introspective to violent and confrontational with an occasional siren but also a good helping of conversation between the two saxophonists. One of my favorite things about Jones is how comfortable he is in the undefined spaces between notes but here he clearly demonstrates his comfort in the composed and being composed.
Andrew Smiley (guitar) chooses his moments very carefully, knowing how the slightest motion could change everyone's direction, especially in the absence of a bass. But when he does strike, the air that is pushed from the cone in his amp is strong enough to take your breath away.

I now totally understand the need to listen to this track in one sitting and more importantly in its entirety. It tells a story, a tale, a fable if you will, and as much as i am only describing segments, it really does meld together into one complete piece. It will soothe you and jolt you awake. It will have you on the edge of your seat holding your breath.

Can be purchased from

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Arve Henriksen: Solidification (Rune Grammofon, 2012) **** ½

by Paolo Casertano and Martin Schray

First there are the plain facts: Solidification is a marvelous box consisting of seven LPs including Arve Henriksen’s Rune Grammofon albums Sakuteiki, Chiaroscuro and Strjon, all of them with bonus tracks (all in all 8 songs), and as the icing on the cake it features a new album called Chron, his first since his ECM album Cartography. Kim Hiorthøy´s design is luxurious and affectionate and the superb 24 page booklet includes extensive informative liner notes by Fiona Talkington and John Kelman. The first three albums are presented on three double LPs on black vinyl, while Chron is pressed on white vinyl. The package also includes two DVDs with all the total 56 tracks as 16/44 files, hi-res FLAC files and original master quality 24/44 or 24/96 files. A good compromise and incentive both for collectors and for geek audiophiles.

Henriksen, who is now 47, has been a very prolific and versatile musician since the early nineties, including cooperations as different as those with Nils Petter Molvær, Marilyn Crispell, Motorpsycho, Christian Wallumrød or David Sylvian (only for ECM he has contributed to almost 30 albums) gathering international recognition but also harsh critiques because of his sound: when Stef reviewed Strjon he said that he liked the “immense sadness of this music” and “the sounds he manages to get out of his instrument”. On the other hand he said it was somehow not his cup of tea either. Less well-meaning statements called his music pussyfooting and world music crap. But besides this melancholic approach there were also his albums with Supersilent and Deathprod, productions that for sure don’t concede much to the easy-listening wide hotchpotch.

In any case, one of the most impressive aspects of his career is, as a matter of fact, the capacity to create a unique and recognizable style in four solo albums. You may appreciate it or not, but really likely, after you have listened to him just once, you are going to recognize his sound and approach immediately since then, exactly as you would recognize a Quentin Tarantino or a Wes Anderson movie after just a couple of screenshots. His cavernous, drawling, reverberated tone, the insertion - alongside the main line of his instrument - of his neuter - sort of “voce bianca” - singing that enhances the temporal dilation of the compositions and the listener’s estrangement towards their deployment.
Because of that it is hard to talk about compositional development in Henriksen’s works. They are basically the results of little sounds sketches (Sakuteiki is certainly the most representative example of this) in contradiction to acoustic non-events where the attention of the listener is grabbed more from the texture of the sound than from his shape. The musician achieves this focusing unconventionally on the empty spaces inside the pipes of trumpet. From time to time the instrument sounds almost like a flute, or like a didgeridoo, or like a totally new and unknown brass or woodwind. For Henriksen the air, the noise, the breath staying inside it, touching and melting with all the inner metal surfaces of the trumpet seem to be more important than the sound pouring out from the bell itself. He often plays without the mouthpiece, strengthening the idea and the listener’s feeling of his “epidermic being inside the trumpet”. The other fundamental factor in Henriksen’s music is the almost unnatural background silence where his musical presence takes place - once again the objectification of the oriental (and for extension and derivation also Cagean) conception of the juxtaposition of polar opposites. The sound of the trumpet always seems to be a foreign body as in the musical context where it belongs (the other sounds and instruments) as well as in the surrounding “acoustic environment” that necessarily include silence. But the trumpet doesn’t seek for integration, its otherness also being its ultimate substantiation.  

No matter if you like his approach (and we do), Solidification is an artist’s work in progress from Sakuteiki in 2001 to Chron in 2012. Trying to avoid sounding like another Miles Davis epigone and presenting his albums much like in form of a voyage around the world Sakuteiki starts in Asia with its strong influence of Japanese melodies and harmonies. It is an album referring to a handbook from the 11th century about gardening. Tracks like “Inside Tea-House”, “Tsukubai – Washbasin” or “Paths around the Pond” are like pictures come to life presenting Henriksen as a landscape architect with a very distinguished meditative, lyrical and intimate sound, or as a haiku where the musician just sets the trestle of the composition asking for the imaginative and active participation of the listener to fill and complete the musical structure.  The album is recorded by Helge Sten and already displays Henriksen’s liking for special places like the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum (Stian Westerhus has recorded his album The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers there as well).

For his sophomore album Chiaroscuro he worked with Jan Bang and Audun Kleive and his voyage took him to Italy. The name of the album hints to the use of strong contrasts between light and dark affecting the complete work of art. Henriksen transfers the shadow-and-light-contouring to his compositions and sound - especially with the help of Bang’s live sampling and Kleive’s percussion but mostly by the growing use of his own exceptional falsetto. As to color and structure the album is a fascinating mixture of Henryk Gòrecki’s Sinfonia Nr. 3, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and Bill Dixon.

Here the intensification of Henriksen’s interest in drums and percussion is evident, that will bring him subsequently to perform also as a drummer in the most recent Supersilent line up.

Also, the technological enhancement and augmentation of his sound through sampling, looping, overdubbing and many other forms of real-time sound treatment (thanks also to the great work of Jan Bang, weaving with Henriksen an all new and unpredictable technologic interplay - if you have the chance do not miss what he can do sampling the voice of Henriksen during a live performance and directly challenging the trumpeter on the stage with it. This clearly implies a new aspect of improvisation and gives birth to many questions: the trumpet player improvises reacting to his own musical elements played by someone that is not him, and the other musician does the same answering with elements that are not properly his own) has definitely grown across the years, but Henriksen seems to be more interested in the possibility of building multi-layered soundscapes than in the alteration of his own tone, though.

Drums and percussion, anyway clearly ethnic and folk (whatever this means), gaining a nodal role in this album are probably to be seen also as the elements that explain the tendency of some critics to encapsulate Henriksen under the world music etiquette.

On Strjon, his third album here, his voyage takes him back to his childhood town of Strjon, a place in west Norway located at a fjord. His sound has evolved and changed again since he has recruited his old Supersilent combatants Ståle Storløkken and Helge Sten in order to play duets with them on this album, but most of all because Norway’s nature is the big topic for the first time. Henriksen had to travel around the world to find his identity which is deeply rooted in the glaciers, snow-topped mountains and the green-blue water of the fjords. This could sound really cheesy but Henriksen is too much a clever and sensitive musician to avoid such traps. Longer tracks like the creepy and chopped “Black Mountain”, “Green Water” with its dissonant keyboard chords and “Glacier Descent” with its broken ethereal sound layers are of a dark beauty insinuating that nature and home are not only idyllic places but something which has to be fought with constantly.

With Chron Henriksen’s journey leaves the earth’s surface and continues within the earth. Now there are tracks called “Proto Earth”, “Magma Oscillator” or “Plate Tectonic” and Henriksen is back to a pure solo album on which he claims that he has recorded the tracks at home and in hotels, airports, planes railway stations and backstage. The result is the rawest, most fragmented of all his albums, on the first three tracks there is not even a trumpet. Henriksen goes back to his musical roots with Supersilent as if he wants to destroy his musical image relentlessly, it is a journey of further exploration again.

But there is one aspect we have to mention for the audiophiles out there: the music is wonderful in its gorgeousness, it is simply splendid in its melancholic accessibility. It is a five-star-box as to art. For some of you there might be a serious drawback, however. When you listen to the vinyl over the headphones the trebles are sometimes distorted, especially in the high registers where they should be clearer and crispier (as they are on the files). It is not as obvious when you listen to it over the speakers. This might be due to the fact that some registers simply unravel on vinyl, while files are zipped. We don’t mind, but maybe it is useful information for some of you. And a further proof that the musical world of Henriksen - ancient, new and timeless at the same time, ethnically and geographically contaminated even though powerfully individual and rooted in his land atmospheres, minimal and alienating as much as overwhelmingly lyrical - is made of contrasts and dichotomies also in its physical outputs.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ben Goldberg - Unfold Ordinary Mind (BAG Productions, 2013) ***

Reviewed by Joe

Ben Goldberg is back again. Somehow there seems no limit to his energy, performing and writing like there's no tomorrow! On this newish release Goldberg is joined by saxophonists, Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth, a guitar genius (and now certifiable rock star) Nels Cline, and drummer Ches Smith. On the previous Ben Goldberg release reviewed here Philip Coombs clearly enjoyed Goldberg's accessible style. His music, originally more 'Ornette' oriented, has crept slowly but surely towards a more melodic direction. This doesn't mean Goldberg's music wasn't melodic before, however his style of writing was more angular - at least that's what I remember thinking back to albums "Here By Now", "What Comes Before", "Eight Phrase for Jefferson Rubin" or "Twelve Minor". 

On this record Ben Goldberg created a raunchy gospel tinged, funky and 'rootsy' blend of tunes which rely heavily on his contra-alto clarinet to provide a deep growling bass line. Rob Sudduth (an new name for me) and Ellery Eskelin play some snaky type lines over the seven joyfull tunes with Nels Cline and Ches Smith keeping a healthy beat going for the band to 'do their thing'. With the lack of a bass Ben Goldberg's primary role is to hold the whole band together harmonically. This gives the music (and the band) a quasi gospel come New Orleans brass band feel, with melodies being strongly arranged and of course attention given to the contra-alto clarinets bass lines, which are strong melodies on their own. 

There's plenty of fun from the soloists also. Nels Cline jumps in with some hard hitting raw guitar lines and loops. His guitar rips into the music with a real edge, something that makes for exciting listening, on "Stemwinder"(tk6) he almost breaks your speakers open! Eskelin and Sudduth blow very mainstream modern bop-ish lines over the tunes. On "Parallelogram" (tk2) the saxes wail above the ensemble taking turns to give their own testimony. There are darker moments on the album, "Lone" (tk4) sounds like an Ornette Coleman type ballad with rubato rhythm section. "I Miss The SLA" (tk5) also flies out of the speakers like a rude remark at a party. Nels Cline gets to take his guitar apart before Eskelin, Sudduth, Goldberg and Smith jump back in with the melody (rude remark). "Stemwinder" as already mentioned, gives a great chance for everybody to play some really dirty and gritty music, blowing hard and melodically over this relentless attack. The last track "Breathing Room" (tk7) is exactly that, a lovely ending to the record, no drums, just melody.

This is certainly a good record, and an interesting addition to Goldberg's catalogue. Its accessible, raunchy, fun and catchy, something you don't find everyday in the world of modern jazz.   

Here's a clip of the band in action playing "Parallelogram", track two on the album. Unfortunately you don't get the 'punch' of the album sound, but at least you get a chance to sample the style of music. Check out Ben Goldberg's amazing raunchy contra-alto clarinet!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wacław Zimpel Quartet: Stone Fog (For Tune Records, 2013) **** ½

By Martin Schray

I can still remember the day I discovered this blog. I wanted to get better information on free jazz because I was dissatisfied with the regular magazines and so I tried it on the web. I put in “free jazz” in the search machine and after the usual Wikipedia entries there was this site. I entered it and found Stef’s frenetic review on Wacław Zimpel’s Hera, a band I have never heard of before. That was in December 2010 and as to music many things have changed in my life since then.

In the meantime I have bought many CDs by Zimpel and of course I was excited when I heard that he was going to release new material with his new quartet. So expectations were high, but I was not disappointed. Their new album Stone Fog is bookended by two marvelous compositions based on a massive D minor chord (“Cold Blue Sky” and “Stone Fog”), both almost classic Zimpel compositions which remind of his majestic Undivided albums The Passion and Moves Between Clouds. Both pieces have a marvelous spiritual quality, you can literally feel the deep melancholia and the roots of this music (Coltrane’s way to play the blues, Jewish klezmer music). Around very delicate bass lines and sparse percussion the clarinet notes and piano modulations drip like honey into thick red wine. For his fans this could go on for hours.

But Zimpel and his Undivided drummer Klaus Kugel are joined by new combatants on this album (Krzysztof Dys on piano and Christian Ramond on bass) and their impact on the music is tremendous. Five of the eight tracks are group compositions and there is a lot more classical music influence on this album, which is mainly due to Krzysztof Dys’ outstanding achievement. Zimpel said that “he is an excellent classical piano player who brought a lot of stuff like Russian 20th century composers as Prokofiev and Scriabin to our music and you can also hear notions of 12-tone music in our playing combined with tonal and modal structures.”

It is the clash of these classical influences and modern jazz (e.g. Jimmy Giuffre’s classic trio) which make this music so exciting. Part of the idea of this lineup was to achieve a very wide spectrum of stylistics, Zimpel also said, which can be heard in the central pieces “Hundreds of Wings Steel the Sun” and “One Side Of My Face Is Colder Than The Other” - the first one built around massive piano drones while bass and drums fall apart and the clarinet squirms with pain, the second one a spooky soundtrack-like track full of fragmented chords, lost strummed bass notes and jingling little bells which the band then transforms into a beautiful lament.

This is another wonderful album by outstanding musicians, and although Zimpel has been constantly supported by this blog, he is still underrated. The world is cruel and unfair.

Listen to his new quartet here:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Jason Mears Electric Quintet - Book Of Changes, Part 1 (Prefecture Music, 2013) ****

By Stef  

What a delight of an album. The intro unison line of alto, electric piano, electric guitar, bass and drums immediately evolves in cool electric piano vibes with the drums double-timing in full energy. The contrast between cool and fast, composed and improvised, jazz and rock is immediate and powerful. Miles - Bitches Brew version - is here, somewhat in sound, yet more in spirit. This music, though structured and with thematic anchorpoints, is as open as can be. A danger zone for inexperienced travellers, yet not for this crew. We have Jason Mears on alto saxophone and clarinet, Jonathan Goldberger on electric guitar, Angelica Sanchez on Wurlitzer piano, Kevin Farrell on electric bass, and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. 

Credit to Mears for this album : the compositions are great, the band well selected, the space he gives them is amazing, as is the end result. Unlike many Miles-inspired music, this band captures the spirit quite well, without going for the technical pyrotechnics on the instruments. Next to the electric piano, Goldberger's electric guitar sounds like McLaughlin, including the signature lift and sustain to end the arpeggiated phrases, and even if he does show some speedy licks once in a while, the overall sound is restraint, as it is with the rest of the band. The music gets priority, a strange version of highly modern sounds grafted on the 70s' basis. 

Mears himself takes center stage on a long and raw solo on the second track, "The Creative", when all hell breaks loose after some quiet meandering. "Joyous Lake" is a beautiful composition, with a nice theme on clarinet and aldo, supported by beautiful harmonics on piano, slow and open, full of heart-rending sounds.

"Receptive" starts with electric bass and guitar, creating a menacing intro, full of tension and expectations, and again Goldberger sounds like McLaughlin at his best, emphasising, not showing off, then Mears joins with the piano to set a theme - after five minutes only - then Sanchez takes over and gradually the volume and power grow, without going into overdrive though. The strangest thing is the reduced role Mears gives himself on this piece.

... and Eisenstadt you may wonder? Well, he is just amazing, full of ideas, perfect timing and amazing interactions, knowing when to limit himself to some quiet rumbling or when to move the music to higher levels.

What a band! Not boundary-breaking, but high quality music and high quality playing : a real treat.

Download from Bandcamp.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Weekend Roundup: May 26, 2013

By Dan Sorrells

Michel Doneda, Didier Lasserre, Mathias Pontevia – Miettes & Plaines (Petit Label, 2012) ****

On Miettes & Plaines, a French wine cellar is suffused with Doneda’s considered sax and the slowly seeping percussion of Lasserre and Pontevia. Lasserre sticks to a pared-down kit, working mostly with cymbals, choosing extended washes of sound over short, shrill attacks. Pontevia is a subtle, moody presence, filling the gaps as the cloud raised by Doneda and Lasserre spreads to the furthest corners of the room. There’s a keen awareness here of how even the smallest sounds react in the space, and the result is an intelligent, ethereal improvisation that fully embodies the secreted, subterranean imagery evoked by playing in a cellar, the warm and dark fertile ground beneath the brighter, open spaces of the world. An intimate recording of what must have been an amazing concert.

Eva-Maria Houben – Decay (Diafani, 2013) **½

Decay is an hour of just that: decaying piano notes, struck in different methods and with varying intensity and then allowed to ring fully and expire. If it sounds tedious already, you may want to skip this recording, but the result can actually be quite fascinating. Any one piano string is surrounded by a multitude of others, and the timbres and sonorities produced during the full life of a note can be surprising and complex. This is especially true for the long stretches in which these notes are rung out at intervals over a quiet, droning organ tone.

The problems arise when the organ stops—there then seems to be some sort of post-production, “absolute” silence inserted between the decaying notes, something that unfortunately destroys the continuity of the entire piece. As can be imagined, volume is important to getting the full effect of each decaying note, but it also means that you pick up the faint environmental sounds that were present during recording. There’s a slight grain to the recording that represents the “silence” of the reality that it captured, a silence that is abruptly halted by the total, artificial soundlessness of the silences that were inserted. The grainy character returns as each note rings out, only to be cut-off again once the note has died away. Yes, it’s a subtle effect, but your ears can’t help but hone in each time one silence smothers the other. A niggling complaint perhaps, but one that is magnified greatly in the delicate atmosphere of the piece.

Atolón & Chip Shop Music - Public Private (Another Timbre, 2013) ***½

You could call this collaboration of  improvising groups “lowercase raising its voice”—not anything written in capital letters necessarily, but maybe conveyed in a larger font size. You can feel in it the stirrings of a predicament Paul Vogel (one of Chip Shop’s reedsmen) articulates in an interview on Another Timbre’s website: that the quiet, spacious approach of a lot of current improvisation is becoming as restrictive and “safe” as the loud, busy forms of improvisation it was originally a retreat from. Public Private may be an attempt to forge yet a new path, but the result is closer to a compromise.

The stated purpose is an odd one: that two groups with similar sounds and approaches should get together and play, not as one ensemble, but as two distinct entities pitted against one another, trying to be influenced as little as possible by each other. Perhaps only the second track, “Private,” truly achieves this, being as it is two separate recordings of each group that were later combined in the studio. The longer “Public” track fortunately allows the listener to encounter the two groups actually playing together. For those that enjoy this sort of droney, spread-out music, Public Private is an excellent addition to the canon.

Michael Thieke & Olivier Toulemonde/Lucio Capece & Jamie Drouin – The Berlin Series No. 1: Inframince & Immensity (Another Timbre, 2013) ***

Inframince & Immensity is the first disc in a series designed to highlight the large Berlin improv scene. It features a pair of clarinetists (Thieke and Capece) performing in duos with players from two very different worlds: Toulemonde improvises only with non-amplified, everyday objects, while Drouin plays an analog synthesizer. The resulting tracks are surprisingly similar, however, the product of what appear to be closely aligned improvisational philosophies. “Inframince” can be grating at times, being largely the product of friction. But Toulemonde is in impressive form; some sounds it is difficult to imagine an object for.

In “Immensity,” Capece can be hard to distinguish from the synthesizer. He has a whole bag of tricks and preparations designed to alter the same parameters of sound the synth is built to manipulate.  At times I can’t help but wonder if the titles are mixed up, though. The conceptually tight playing of Capece and Drouin more fully evokes Duchamp, feeling like the magnification of the imperceptible differences in a field of  seemingly static sound. Thieke and Toulemonde, on the other hand, conjure something large and imposing from a limited palette of objects and technique. Whatever you want to call them, two impressive improvisations.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Zen Widow Featuring Wadada Leo Smith - Screaming In DayTime (Makes Men Forget) (Pfmentum, 2012) ****

By Stef  

For those who don't know Zen Widow, the trio is worth mentioning for its previous recordings too. The trio consists of Gianni Gebbia on sax, Matthew Goodheart on piano and Garth Powell on drums. Their debut album brought seventeen pieces of short ideas and more elaborate developments, all pretty abstract sketches and adventurous sound creations, a little crazy at times, yet quite coherent overall. 

Their second album, "Quodlibet", was even better, more accessible, more melodious, "drawing on a wealth of material that ranges from Soviet era cabaret tunes to Gene Pitney classics to 17th Century Italian opera arias", and using these as inspiration to work from, not as separate tunes, but within the same piece. The result is interesting and beautiful at the same time.

On their third album, with the frightening title "Screaming In Daytime", the same concept is used, but then with material coming from tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman. As the liner notes say "Wishing to maintain the essence of Glenn's rich compositional style was the priority, without resorting to a typical tribute collection of an artist's past works".

... yet now the trio is expanded with no one less than Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Goodheart already played with Smith before, including on the highly recommendable duo album "Interludes Of Breath And Substance" (1998).

This album starts with a powerful and typical horn phrase by Smith, an incantation and wake-up call at the same time, full of contemplative calm and spiritual yearning. Then Powel joins on light percussion with strong pulse, a great introduction for the rest of the music to come. Halfway the track Gebbia joins for a few echoing phrases, as an invitation for the piano to join - replacing trumpet and drums and sax - and the mood shifts into one of only calm contemplation on keyboards, and when the sounds then completely dissolve into silence, the sax, solo again, picks up the tread, and Powell picks up a single-percussion rhythmic delight, with some small leftovers of trumpet and sound resurging before it all fades out.

It is all strange, pleasant, welcoming, open-ended, light-textured, with the artists taking turns in making the music, rather than simultaneously, in a slow, evolving unhurried relay of creative thoughts and shared sentiments. Musically, the album ranges from real "soundscape" mode in "This Seeming Dream" to the more jazzy long closing track, "Musa Physics", which is built around an actual theme and has more density and simultaneous interplay.

A strange and beautiful album. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Elena Kakaliagou, Schmoliner, Stempkowski - Para-Ligo (Creative Sources, 2012) ****

By Stef  

The first sounds on this album come from the French horn played by Greek musician Elena Kakaliagou, a deep and dark wail arising from the depths of human emotion in a desperate cry to be heard, heartrending and beautiful, followed by the double bass of Thomas Stempkowski and the subtle piano touches of Ingrid Schmoliner, both from Austria. The three young musicians create a warm yet sad welcoming sonic environment.

Once you've been welcomed, you get different aural vistas, with sounds emanating from the same instruments, but now unrecognisable, yet intense, vibrating around a fast repetitive rhythm, that quietly dissolves once the horn makes its entry, an entry of silence and deconstruction of sound fragments trying to get a life and structure.

On "Ti ine?", Elena Kakaliagou recites poetry in Greek. What she recites is ununderstandable to me, but in contrast to most poetry recited in a jazz or musical context, it sounds lyrical, intimate and beautiful, in sharp contrast to the bombastic declamatory style that I abhor.

"-1°", the long center piece of the album sounds slow and sad, with some uncanny wails over light percussive sounds, no, it is extremely sad and extremely desolate, amazing what you can create with so few sounds.

"Sandra" offers more recognisable instrumental voices, with the horn, the bass, the piano using their intended sound, offering a small waltz-like song, fresh and simple and beautiful, gloriously disrupted by the rattling strings on the piano on "Canidae", offering a torturous backdrop for the muted plaintive laments of the horn, interestingly surrounded by a lightly jumping walking bass.

"ihobkanfoelagsehn" is a long slow piece circling around a tonal center played by the bass, with muted parlando-style horn, a strange dialogue interrupted - or complemented - by resonating piano chords.

A young trio, with an unusual line-up, brings us remarkable music with a strong musical vision and voice.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

AMM - Two London Concerts (Matchless, 2012) ****

By Stef  

The album starts with a forceful piano chord ... then silence ... then another chord ... then silence. This is impact : drag the listener right into the sound, let him or her anticipate what's coming, or what's not coming. You cannot listen without being part of what you hear, not to dance on (god forbid, although you may give it a try), but because your mind and soul are being captured by tension, anticipation and surprise. Slow scraping and piercing sounds escape from highly resonating cymbals. The chords change color, become darker, just as percussive sound arise from unknown places, gentle and deep, then slowing down with single keys and near silence. What is going on here? What is going on?

It is AMM, in a duo setting with John Tilbury on piano and Eddie Prévost on percussion, in a way that only they can do it, in a genre that they created, the art of silence, the art of dynamic silence, the art of sonic tension. They create a place where there is no hiding for the listener too. You have no choice. Either you flee are you are into it. And if you are into it, you are part of it. Enjoying the beauty of the sounds, their horror, their precise shading, their cautious interaction, their gentle collisions, the ominous atmosphere.

AMM is getting smaller as a line-up, but that's no handicap really, not here, strong stuff. The joy of listening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Atomic - There’s a Hole in the Mountain (Jazzland, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

There is no doubt that Atomic are a great jazz band. Yet, I had difficulties writing about their album. Should I refer to the title and/or the titles of the single tracks? Is there a common theme, either musically or thematically? Is there something personal I could refer to like a certain live experience (I saw them once)? As you can see, starting the review was a problem. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block but somehow I was stuck. I even considered just describing the music but when I was at the Moers festival with my friend Christoph he reminded me that this is something I didn’t have to do and he came up with this Günter “Baby” Sommer quotation that “describing music is like story-telling a meal”.

When I write about music I am always very subjective and very personal, I write about the things I like. And of course I like Atomic. I like their long time cooperation (this is their 12th album since 2001), I like listening to the small changes they have made during their existence (check out Bikini Tapes for that), I like Håvard Wiik’s unpretentious but precise way of playing the piano, I like Magnus Broo’s (tp) and Fredrik Ljungkvist’s (sax) arrow-like and razor-sharp unison riffs, and I like Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love as a rhythm machine just because they are my favorite European rhythm machine.

As to their music the French critic François Couture claimed that Atomic was founded as a reaction to the very smooth Scandinavian bands released on ECM (like Jan Garbarek, Nils Petter Molvær or Bobo Stenson). In contrast to the really ethereal and hyper-clean ECM sound Atomic’s approach is rather enrooted in the American bop and cool era and the European free jazz movement of the 1960s as well, something they combine in a very tense and tight way.

You can see this in a track like “Civilon”. It displays this kind of Miles-Davis-Ascenseur-pour-l'échafaud-atmosphere (the faster tracks, of course), but in their typical Atomic way the whole piece makes a U-turn to something that reminds more of Archie Shepp’s Fire Music, it completely falls apart before the band picks up the pieces again (or actually what’s left of them). It works similarly with “Available Exits”, just replace the Miles Davis theme by a hard bop staccato line. There are a lot of styles present on the album, though. The title track and “Wolf-Cage” include classical and/or klezmer elements to the brew which makes me think of Arnold Schönberg, Lennie Tristano, Ornette Coleman and John Zorn on a night out, getting loaded on some bottles of Pinot Noir, before they start composing all together simultaneously.

This whole thing is full of energy and funny and sometimes even breathtaking.

But I realize that I describe the music again. I don’t know what else to do. Maybe I whetted somebody’ appetite.

Watch a clip from 2010 here:

 Buy it on

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - Your Turn (Northern Spy, 2013) *****

Marc Ribot says it best when he sings 'why burn like a crazy Roman candle when you've got a hand grenade'. Musical shrapnel, sharp lyrics and well conceived mayhem explode from the second recording by Ribot's Ceramic Dog.

Your Turn is seething, powerful, delightful, and one heck of a rock album. The collection of songs run the gamut from stomping punk ('The Professionals') to campy fun ('Back in Love Again') to avant rock ('Your Turn'), all lovingly draped in a dark and brittle sound that embraces the decay that goes along with beauty (or perhaps finds the beauty that exists in decay?). Regardless, with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and electronics and Ches Smith on drums, the group can be both hard hitting and nuanced.

One striking aspect of the recording is the perfect setting Ribot created for his singing and lyrical prowess. The intro to "Lies My Body Told Me" sounds to me a little bit like if Morphine was fronted by Gordon Gano, before exploding with the vibrant and dark intensity that fills the album. I won't delve into the ironic and witty lyrical content, but I am excited to let you discover the wit and pointed criticism to be found in 'Masters of the Internet' and sheer joy of 'The Kid is Back'.

On Your Turn, Ribot seems to have brought together many sides of his musical career. From the more song based structures found in his support work with Tom Waits and many others, to his restless experimental work on his own recordings with say the Rootless Cosmopolitans, to his dark instrumental rumination that exist throughout solo efforts like Saints and even Silent Movies. Elements that have appeared throughout are assembled into a cohesive whole, and when aggressive avant-punk-jazz juxtaposes with Tin Pan Alley chord progressions, it makes perfect sense.

You can buy it from

Listen a little:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Evan Parker Trio: Live at Maya Recordings Festival (NoBusiness, 2013) **** ½

By Martin Schray

As a musician Evan Parker is a man of many faces. On the one hand he is always looking for new collaborations like on C-Section with electronic madman John Wiese (Second Layer Recordings), Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (Re:konstruKkt) with the Turkish group konstruKt or ‘Round About One O’clock (Not Two) with Slovenian drummer and percussionist Zlatko Kaučič. On the other hand he likes long time relations like his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble (although many new members have been added to this project), the legendary Schlippenbach Trio (as to persistence the Rolling Stones of free jazz) and the Evan Parker Trio (with Barry Guy on bass and Paul Lytton on drums).

Albeit the work of this trio is pretty well documented (their first album was Tracks in 1983), there haven’t been many albums in the last 15 years (just Nightwork/Marge, Zafiro/Maya, 2x3=5/Leo) - if you don’t count the albums when the band was augmented by guest musicians like Peter Evans or Marilyn Crispell. And now almost simultaneously there are the contributions to Barry Guy New Orchestra Small Formations: Mad Dogs and this one here.

And Live at Maya Recordings Festival presents the trio at its best. Especially when the whole trio is in action the building up of sound layers is of a rare intensity, a “thickly textured woven soundscape, which is constantly adding and subtracting, re-designing itself and pushing the sound through new possibilities and decisions”, as Steve Day describes it in his book “Two Full Ears”. It is music from the bottom of a Poe-ish maelstrom pretending it is perfect surfing weather. Their secret is that they are a well-greased machine, an improvising entity, a true trio – with a drummer that stirs the shit, a bass that provides an irresistible pulse (plus some extra surprises) and a saxophonist who does not use this context for selfish solos but for tight and spontaneous interaction looking for new pastures.

The best example is the last track on the album. “Scoria” starts with an intimate Guy/Lytton conference, there is an almost evil pizzicato drone by Guy, a climactic strumming supported by Lytton’s cascade of cymbal rolls before Parker’s approximates rather hesitantly to the figure of the duo before he jumps on the train with his typical circular breathing. What makes up the beauty of the piece is the contrast between the dark atmosphere created by Guy and Lytton and the twinkling sea-spray of Parker’s tenor at the end – an undertow you could addict yourself to forever … and ever … and ever.
The album was recorded during a concert at the Maya Recordings Festival in September, 2011 at Theater am Gleis, in Winterthur, Switzerland

The album is available on double vinyl as a limited edition of 500 and on CD as well.

You can buy it from

Finally, get an impression of the trio here:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Empty Cage Quartet - Empty Cage Quartet (Prefecture Music, 2012) ****

By Philip Coombs

The imagery of an empty cage. Unless you are looking at a new one in a pet store, there was once something alive in there. A bird perhaps, maybe a large cat, or a chimpanzee to pick something a little closer to home. Of course, there is always a positive, more uplifting way of looking at it. Was there a jailbreak, a run to freedom leaving an antiquated symbol of repression? These were just some of the thoughts running through my head as the 'Empty Cage Quartet' were running after them.

This recording celebrates their tenth year as a group and all their years together realizes itself in various incarnations of telekinesis.  Little did I know the ride I was in for.

This is thoughtful music, thought out music, and ultimately realized music.  The recording begins with promise, ('Oblige the Oblivious') a promise of a happy, albeit slightly off putting soul quite happy to be singing in a cage. Oh, the sweet sounds of when you think you are correct. The soul soon leaves the tenant ('Peace') and begins what can only be described as a downward descent until it nearly reaches rock bottom ('Taming Power of the Great').

This quartet feels right and even better for the listener if the album can be listened to in one sitting, (multiple times if the ability is there to do so) and is brought to you with skill and precision by Kris Tiner (trumpet), Jason Mears ( reeds), Paul Kikuchi (percussion) and Ivan Johnson (bass).

'Joyous Lake' haunts as it takes a 9 minute introspective look through the bars of the cage where claws or paws or fingers once held. It is at times as stark as the album's artwork. It begins with a flutter of sound searching for a footing. Horns ring out. An emotional bowing of the bass and a tentative tap on the drum kit set up the final fall until the tension breaks and leads the listener into 'Avoid the Obvious' thus bringing the album full circle by revisiting some of the themes and sensibilities of the recording's opener.

Even though split up into tracks, this recording works as a single piece of composed and free music, both suspenseful and uplifting, both creative and destructive. You may even feel a little better than you did at the beginning of the record, I did.

Can be purchased from their Bandcamp page.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Devototionalien: “söllen uns in demut üben in harmony zu ieberlüben” (Not Two, 2013) *** ½

By Martin Schray 

Sometimes you sign up for a review under false assumptions. Here I was attracted by the label (like NoBusiness and Clean Feed the Polish Not Two label usually guarantees great music) and the obviously Yiddish title of the album (which roughly means “we should try humbly to survive in harmony”). I thought it might be music like Martin Küchen’s Hellstorm or Ned Rothenberg’s World of Odd Harmonics, music that deals with the Jewish heritage in Europe, sad and lamenting, but full of self-confidence, though.

  And the album even starts like that, with an agonized soprano and a piano which is played in the interior. But after 35 seconds the drums immediately make it clear that this is not the way the music is going, this is gonna be straight and classic free jazz.

Devototionalien is a malapropism of the German word “Devotionalien” (meaning devotional objects), the band is Eric Zinman (piano, euphonium), who studied with Bill Dixon, George Russell and Jimmy Giuffre,  and Austrian veterans Kilian Schrader (electric bass, sfx effects), Mario Rechtern (sopranino, alto and baritone saxophone, flute) and Johannes Krebs (drums).  The quartet is obviously devoted (another pun as to the band’s name) to the tradition of the great European quartets and trios like the ones led by Alexander von Schlippenbach or Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink.

Especially Zinman’s piano is very Schlippenbach-like, like him he uses the interior of the piano quite frequently, he pushes the band with wild piano clusters and in combination with the highly energetic drums they almost take the small audience’s breath away, something particularly discernible in “Track Nr.1”, in which the quartet is immediately at full speed after a very brief warming up. Mario Rechtern’s sax is deeply rooted in the European tradition as well, his style is heavily based on Brötzmann, for example, it is very expressive with a lot of outbreaks. There is hardly any break, no relief, he is hard and concentrated and sounds as angry as a 20-year-old (although he is born in 1942). Only in “Track Nr. 2” the band let go a little, there is more subtlety and more lyricism, before “Track Nr. 3” picks up the speed again.

This is nothing you haven’t heard yet, it is not the reinvention of the wheel - but it is plain and simple free jazz played by fine musicians on a top level.

Buy at Instantjazz.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Andrew Cyrille – Duology (Jazzwerkstatt, 2013) ****

By Tom Burris

Duology = Michael Marcus (clarinet) and Ted Daniel (trumpet, flugelhorn).  And Duology = the new album from the pair with master drummer Andrew Cyrille.  They're an interesting group, as the musicians are all seasoned players whose abilities as support players are superb.  A really open-ended approach to the playing field makes the possibilities seem innumerable with musicians of this calibre; and you may keep your hopes up because these guys came to ball.

The opening melody line of “Vigilance” immediately made me miss the bass line.  Early Ornette & Cherry are easily detected as influences and maybe that's the reason why. (You are conditioned to hearing Haden's part underneath, even when the drums lay out.) Daniel takes a solo about a minute in, sounding pretty mu-like. Halfway through the track, Marcus takes the lead and spends his spotlight time thumbing through the surplus of ideas he has running around in his head. Not cohesive in any way, but completely fascinating. Then he and Daniel wind improvised lines around each other for a minute before returning to the head.

By the time you enter the world of “Zight Pulse,” it becomes apparent that Ornette and Cherry are going to be the reference point for Marcus and Daniel – and that Cyrille's approach, including the sound of the high-pitched and barely muted ride tom, is going to lean a bit toward Ed Blackwell on this date. It makes sense. Both Blackwell and Cyrille are careful, thoughtful, subtle and very natural players. Neither man is fussy, flashy, or overly aggressive, which are all too often the hallmarks of the free jazz drummer. Or at least the stereotype.

Cyrille gets his first extended solo during “Eclectic Autumns” and stays anchored to the rhythm of the track, but in a very exploratory fashion. His playing throughout swings with accents in surprising places. One great idea after another rolls out of Marcus' horn, this time in a way that is so artistically, aesthetically, mathematically sound that I suddenly realize he was jerking my chain during “Vigilance”. The first time through, I had to go back and listen to that track again right away just to be sure.
The album's longest cut, “Tripartite (Body, Soul and Spirit),” is appropriately divided into 3 sections – but Marcus sits this one out. Daniel blows some tub farts while Cyrille's gut pounding steadily churns, representing the Body section fairly well. The less, uh, earthy sections of the track are (more) beautiful; and there's a direct Ornette quote on this one, in case you weren't aware of his influence on all of this yet. But really, it's a testament to Daniel that it doesn't feel anything less than perfectly natural & heartfelt. In lesser hands, this could have been disastrously cloying.

“Epicycles” is perfectly titled. Loopy spirals from all players that weave around each other with careful precision. As great as the chemistry is between these amazing musicians, and as airy as the music feels without the sonic anchor of a bassist, I still find myself missing the sound of that instrument. Sometimes, as on this track, I actually find myself mentally writing the bass line. Any bassists looking for a creative outlet could do far worse than playing along with this disc.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Barry Guy New Orchestra Small Formations – Mad Dogs (Not Two, 2013) *****

By Dan Sorrells

I’ve been listening to Mad Dogs for three days straight, and I’m still giddy and disorganized in my thinking about it. My mind gets pulled into ruts when I try to find some clear expression of the music it contains. Sometimes I feel as though clichés are the only way we can get everyone sufficiently close to a piece of music. At least, they’re what we struggle to stop returning to when we brush up against the limitations of language, especially when faced with music that really connects. I’ll only let one really easy one go for you: embarrassment of riches. Five discs and over four and half hours of music captured at the 5th Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival in 2010. Calling this the Barry Guy New Orchestra is sort of misleading, but forgivably so. “Small Formations” is offered as a qualifier, and the smallest formations on display are as small as they get: solo sets by Agustí Fernández and Mats Gustafsson. It may just be that the New Orchestra name is the easiest rubric to jam the musicians of Mad Dogs into, though they all certainly interface in a world much more expansive than that.

You see, there’s a great thing that happens when the New Orchestra is broken down into small subsets: you get all kinds of other high-profile, well-received groups like the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, the Tarfala trio, the Gustafsson/ Fernández duo, Fernández /Guy duo, and on and on (see full list of line-ups below). What makes Mad Dogs such a resounding success is that any of the five discs could easily have stood as a solid album on its own: the restless clatter of Parker/Guy/Lytton, who claim the entirety of the second disc; the absolutely balls-to-the-wall fourth disc, which features a surprisingly emotional set by the Tarfala trio, followed by a reprise of Parker/Guy/Lytton, this time with Fernández added; or the wide-ranging third disc, which features Hans Koch and Per-Åke Holmlander with a subtle dual percussion backup, a beautiful duo with Maya Homburger and Lytton, and the truly critical mass of Fernández and Gustafsson, who build to an almost unbearable crescendo.

This is not the world of microsound or the quiet smears of instruments and electronics that mark more recent branches of improvisation. This is the physical, acoustic collision of virtuosity and musical ingenuity, the raw synergy of musicians recognized as masters of the form. There’s an urgency spanning across these discs, as though Mad Dogs is making a case for the very legitimacy of free improvisation itself. Intentionally or not, the set is presented in an expanding fashion, building in both size and intensity, launching with the dull, muted thuds of Fernández’s solo piano set and culminating in a cathartic orchestral blowout with an octet whose bombastic density would make Varèse blush. In between, all manner of duos, trios, and quartets make their showings. Especially interesting is the opportunity to contrast the three different sax trios present throughout (Parker/Guy/Lytton is a whole different beast than Gustafsson/Guy/Strid).

In László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, the defeated musicologist Mr. Eszter, distraught at the fraud of equal temperament (which fakes the elegance of pure tuning), decries that the “world […] was too full of the noises of banging, screeching and crowing, noises that were simply the discordant and refracted sounds of struggle, and that this was all there was to the world if we but realized it.” It may well be that the world can be heard in bangs and screeches and crows; however, not all are the product of struggle. Some arise from the joys of cooperation, exploration, innovation, even downright Dionysian celebration and excess. These are the bangs and screeches of Mad Dogs, and they are a rallying cry for a world (or at least music) we can be proud of.

Line-ups featured:
  Agustí Fernández (solo)
  Agustí Fernández/Barry Guy
  Mats Gustafsson (solo)
  Johannes Bauer/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Hans Koch
  Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton
  Trevor Watts/Johannes Bauer
  Hans Koch/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Raymond Strid/Paul Lytton
  Trevor Watts/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid
  Maya Homburger/Paul Lytton
  Agustí Fernández/Mats Gustafsson
  Mats Gustafsson/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid
  Agustí Fernández/Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton
  Evan Parker/Paul Lytton
  Trevor Watts/Herb Robertson/Hans Koch
  Agustí Fernández/Johannes Bauer/Raymond Strid/Trevor Watts/Herb Robertson/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Mats Gustafsson/Paul Lytton

Buy at Instantjazz.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Many Sound Battles of Colin Stetson or Sax, Health and Rock’n’Roll

Starring Martin Schray on the first two episodes and Paolo Casertano for the season finale

Colin Stetson: New History Warfare Vol. 1 (Aagoo Records, 2007) **** ½
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation, 2011) *****

The first Colin Stetson album I came across was New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges because my friend Bernd recommended it to me. Listening to it for the first time something rare happened: It sounded like nothing else I've heard before even if it consisted of familiar elements, though. It’s hard to explain but this music felt so natural and accessible that I immediately fell in love with it and purchased Vol. 1 as well.

On this album everything which is so masterfully refined later on Vol. 2: Judges and Vol. 3: To See More Light is already on display: the references to minimal and serial music that sound like a weird Steve Reich composition, the growling, the clicks, the speech samples, the excursions in breath (especially circular breathing), the percussive sounds, the effects like reverb or fuzz tones that make the saxophones and clarinet sound like a distracted alphorn (as in As a Bird or a Branch) or a pinball-machine (e.g. Nobu Take). Compared to the sophomore albums, however, it makes no secret of the fact that it is standing on the shoulders of giants – namely solo sax performances from Steve Lacy to Anthony Braxton or Evan Parker.

New History of Warfare Vol. 1 is structured by three long pieces - And I Fought to Escape at the beginning of the album, followed by Time Is Advancing with Fitful Irregularity in the center and Our Heartbreak Perfect as the closing track – all of them typical Stetson solo pieces which sound as if there was more than one sax player although he uses no overdubs or loops. How does he do this? The percussive elements are due to the close-mic'd and manipulated recording of the instruments' keys and he is vocalizing through the horn as he blows. He establishes basic rhythmic patterns and builds up several musical themes or recognizable phrases and riffs above them, intensifying the tempo or slowing it down, which has a monotonous psychedelic effect.  The album’s shorter pieces use heavy funk/dub (Tiger Tiger Crane), rock splinters (Drown the Rats and Giants) or even crossover riffs (Stand, Walk) – a complete world of its own has been created here and Stetson planned to enlarge it.
Four years later the result was New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges and it is nothing else than a true masterpiece. Again Stetson does without overdubs, the record is one piece, even if it seems hardly possible that one musician is capable of doing this (proof is given in the sample below). On this album there is an even richer maelstrom of notes Stetson pours out repeating his scales, he also extends the use of massive bass drones and the percussive sounds plus he has added other voices to his own amalgamating everything to a perfect entity. The result is that the albums actually contains “hits” – for example “A Dream of Water” (with Laurie Anderson on vocals) and a cover version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes", an abstract, alienated folk blues featuring Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond, whose ethereal vocals sound like someone trying to deliver a dreadful, heart-breaking message from a twilight zone with Stetson adding incredibly dark sound layers to that.  It’s a vivisection of a lost and tortured soul but what makes this music so great in the end is the fact that it is so easy to enjoy on a purely musical and emotional level without bothering the listener about the underlying ideas or concepts of how it is made.

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3 To See More Light (Constellation, 2013) ****

I will start upside down. When I listen to ¨Part of me apart from you¨, the last track on Stetson’s third (and it seems by now final) solo sax installment, I can’t help having goose bumps (even tough guys need to be hugged sometimes), I can’t help feeling that I am being to be called to a glorious fate, probably riding on a black horse - definitely no saddle - towards the sunset, gunpowder smell still in my nostrils, the heart full of love and joy thinking of my wife and my son running to me when I will pass the fence of our farm with a life full of promises (avant-garde is stimulating and culturally chic but hey ... some good old tear-jerking melodies have never killed anyone, as far as I know). I would probably have the same kind of epic feelings playing in this empty resonating theater.

This is maybe the most impressive aspect of Stetson’s music, as Martin formerly stated. Its uncontested immediacy, the automatic suppression of the awareness that the involving melody you’re listening to is the result of a plodding, obsessive construction and augmentation of the acoustic possibilities given by one of the most uncomfortable instruments you can decide to play. You just don’t care if it is an entire orchestra playing or just a guy blowing his lungs in some metallic pipes. It is kind of uncommon to wiggle out so easily from an approach that is also based so clearly on technical virtuosity.

Colin Stetson enhances beyond the boundaries the already physical relationship the player has with a bass saxophone, adding to circular breathing his constant clicking on buttons, hisses, wheezes and many other guttural eruptions pouring out of his throat, captured by a contact microphone housed in a tight collar he wears when playing (I hope only when he plays). His devotion, his physical annihilation in the performance (it seems Stetson adopts a rigid diet and undergoes to hard physical training before and while touring to withstand the hustle, and the reasons can be easily understood) get him closer more to a cyborg-like enlarged new sound source than to a musician working with extended techniques on his instrument. This may be not connected to the quality of the musical result, but it is in my opinion the most remarkable experiment of technological hybridisation for these instrument techniques, as well as an interesting enhancement in the relationship between human body and sound technology in general.

In To see more light the opening act “And in truth” starts exactly where the atmospheres of Judges have left us: in the middle of some Michael-Nyman-Draughtman’s-Contract-echoes boosted by the gospel choir of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver that Stetson has enlisted for several episodes of this new adventure. Stetson seems to have found a perfect compositional alchemy in the technique of singing along with himself through his horn’s mouthpiece over the obsessive bass beat of pieces as “Hunted” and “High Above A Grey Green Sea” and then again, more gorgeously, in “Among the Sef” sustained by a relentless serial phrasing. Be reassured, this time vocals are overdubbed for the morale of the poor human being with just two lungs. But also a shorter episode as “In Mirrors”, where he just plays with shuffled and trembling breath drones, leaves its mark. The cutting and distorted “Brute” offers instead the most aggressive metal side of Stetson also hosting the rude hardcore singing of Vernon, far away from the clean Laurie Anderson’s presence in Judges. The voice is clearly gaining a nodal role in the compositional vision of the musician.

“To See More Light” is the cornerstone of the album, the album’s most ambitious track, in the form of a layered suite of fifteen minutes that sees one long excursion through a singsong melody, constantly moving across speed changes for about eight minutes up to a mournful, percussive rattle pierced occasionally by growing sighs that reconnect in a cathartic closing chant. As the music changes, it changes only in texture, colour and intensity, so that the feeling is not of something being created or developed, but of something already present being slowly illuminated.

I think it’s worth mentioning the album mixing by Ben Frost, grey eminence of so many recent masterpieces, when not directly involved in his own groundbreaking electronic (and not just) production.

Stetson’s New History Warfares trilogy accomplishes the goal to be at the same time rock and coherent with the experimental music, the lower rating I assign to this album - if compared to the two previous chapters - doesn’t mean this work achieved a lesser result. But just that probably the next time, to amaze us this much, Stetson will be forced to change and go even further than this. And I’m sure he can.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ben Goldberg - Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (BAG Productions, 2013) ****

By Philip Coombs

Okay, here's the line up on Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues. Ben Goldberg on all things clarinet, Joshua Redman (tenor saxophone), Ron Miles (trumpet), Devin Hoff (bass), Ches Smith and Scott Amendola (drums). As you can see, one has to go into listening to this recording with a certain heightened expectation of what will happen when Miles, Redman and Goldberg get in the same room. My only fear is they may play it too safe.

The opening track 'Evolution', is a wonderfully played take on New Orleans and what I hear as their musical rebuilding process. What begins with long somber tones, evolves into  a dutch old style Dixie romp before descending back into the darkness from where it came. The fun and mutual respect is palatable on this track. Even the pauses contain part of the story. You can almost see them smile behind their mouthpieces.

'Ethan's Song' is like slipping on your favorite pair of trousers after a long hot shower. No rush, one leg at a time. It is here that I started paying attention to Hoff's bass and how beautifully recorded it is. I have always found it difficult to get good bass response from a MP3 at the best of times, but this recording seems to address this issue better than most. It holds onto a mellow tone but yet cuts through everything placing it right into its own proper bank of frequencies without sacrificing any of the groove.

Make no mistake, as musician heavy as this recording is, it is still very Goldberg and if at any point you needed a reminder, just listen to 'Study of the Blues', a horn fest of the highest level.
Ches Smith puts his stamp on just about everything he touches. Every time I see clips of him play, I am reminded of the famous self description of the great Mohammad Ali; 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.' Here he does it with a heightened grace, as there are few tracks that require aggressive drumming. As the title suggests, this really is a blues album, and as a parallel nod to Bob Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', it is also a very lyrical recording with very structured passages.

Even if you are not completely in the mood to listen to this type of release, before you have finished, it will put you there, aided but tracks like 'Asterisk'. Things get a little more upbeat on 'Who Died and Where I Moved to' and freer on 'Lopse' but all in all it is a very introspective listen even if sometimes it does sound a little safe.

Available at Instantjazz.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lotte Anker, Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernâni Faustino - Birthmark (Clean Feed, 2013) *****

Here is my rating overview of Lotte Anker albums on this blog :

- Live At The Loft (2009) : *****
- Floating Islands (2009) : *****
- Alien Huddle (2008) : ****

Here is my rating overview of RED trio albums on this blog :
- RED Trio + Nate Wooley - Stem (2012) ; *****
- RED Trio + John Butcher - Empire (2011) : ****½
RED Trio (2010) : ****

That's a lot of five stars for a few albums. So, when Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker teams up with Portuguese pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and bassist Hernani Faustino from RED Trio, you can bet that magic is the air. And yes, they deliver the goods. What more can I say, that yes, I am a little bit biased because I had the honor of writing the liner notes, which I reproduce below, which saves me the effort of writing a review. Intensity, lyricism, sensitivity and character guaranteed.

"Intensity, you cannot put your finger on it … though you know it when you hear it. Nervous tension, the creation of anticipation, the quick-turn changes, the effect of being in the moment, all three, at the same time, then adding a flowing continuity, building expectations, building tension, new expectations, new tension. What you hear surprises you, it captivates you, every note, every sound a story by itself. Listen to the slow shimmering tones of Lotte Anker, and the precise and cautious sparse piano notes that Rodrigo Pinheiro adds, accurate, without abundance, just the right few notes that make it work, the dark tones of Hernani Faustino’s bass, one accent here, another foundational color there. What is happening? You wonder … you wonder about the beauty you hear, the worlds that unfold behind your ears the images behind your eyes … enveloped in shimmering light, subtle yet dense, ephemeral yet solid … the space between substance … the nature of contrast. Intensity may be the result of paradoxes, a feeling of alienation combined with the comfort of recognition, the alienation of form with the recognition of emotion, the feeling that these light textures and joint instant lyricism reveal something known, a fleeting familiar feeling, implied but never stated phrases, melodies that evaporate before they become, images out of long-gone memories or images spontaneously arising, you don’t know, it is beauty offered. Intensity is about giving value to each note as part of a broader canvas, created together, with each little note valuable like glittering diamonds in a necklace, with silence acting as emptiness to emphasise the quality of the tone, the shade of the sound, their combined effect. Intense calm, controlled passion. Stretching tones on alto on arco with piano like raindrops piercing through fog. Skittering like bird song, fresh naïve and real, with somehow a menace in the background, something that might disturb, that might alter and it does, the mood changes, but somehow the structure doesn’t, still the skittering bird song, the piano the bass menacing, the bird song in distress. Ongoing surprise, unpredictability, deep experience. Don’t think while listening. Go with the sounds. Let go. Let yourself be surprised. You will be taken to strange places … intense and rich and authentic places".

Buy at Instantjazz.

Joe McPhee/Thurston Moore/Bill Nace: Last Notes (Open Mouth, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Berlin in a not too distant future after the musical revolution:

Three months ago Justin Bieber was arrested at the Russian border where he was trying to ask for musical exile – he was on the run. American Idol has been banned from television for good, the whereabouts of former stars like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and many others are unknown. A young angry audience was fed up with their music and sent them packing. The latest, coolest and hippest thing is improvised music, preferably free jazz. New clubs and record stores spring up like mushrooms. 20-year-olds are ready to spend a fortune for original vinyl albums by Bill Dixon, David S. Ware, Supersilent or Last Exit.

In front of a new club called “La Brötz” with an adjacent record store three young people -  Oscar, Karl and Enna - are fumbling at their Apple glasses. You can hear only pieces of the conversation: “Yes, they are supposed to have super rare stuff…” – “Bill Dixon’s Edizioni Ferrari” – “AMM’s Ammmusic on Elektra …” – “I hope it’s not too late” - “… maybe it’s just a rumour”.

At 10 a.m. Elias, the shop owner, opens the doors. He is a man in his thirties who looks like a young Allen Ginsberg. The youngsters overwhelm him with questions. “Yes,” he answers, “there are some new LPs from an old lady who has cleaned out her late husband’s record collection. You find them here.” He points at two heavy wooden boxes in front of the counter. The young people ignore Elias now, they feel completely at ease and check out the stuff. The albums are in an excellent condition, the man must have been a connoisseur. Dixon’s and AMM’s album are not there but they find some rare FMP and RuneGrammofon LPs. Then Karl suddenly sees an LP on a board behind Elias. “What’s this?” he asks Elias, pointing at the cover. “It’s a trio LP with Joe McPhee on sax, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Bill Nace of Body/Heat fame on guitars, it’s called Last Notes. You can sometimes find the first part of the session on the video channels on the internet, but the vinyl is super rare, they only printed 250 copies then, but ….” “I heard about it, I don’t even know someone who knows someone who owns this record”, says Enna.  “What’s the music like?” asks Oscar. “It’s not like the noise tornado you might expect, well … maybe the flipside, but the A-side is actually magical, majestic, both meditative and adventurous music. Totally beautiful! Moore and Nace build up huge guitar feedback and sound walls while McPhee makes use of his magnificent tone. Imagine you listen to Sonic Youth’s outro cacophonies around 1990 with John Coltrane as a guest star. This might come close to it. It was recorded live at Roulette in NYC in 2012, but you must know something …” - “How much do you want for it?” asks Enna. “It’s not mine, that’s what I wanted to tell you. The old men in the café across the street, it’s theirs. I know the oldest one, he is in his eighties now. His name is Martin Schray. He and his friends Paolo Casertano, Paul Acquaro and Stef Gijssels, these are the others, they wrote for a free jazz blog Gijssels started. But that was a long time ago. Maybe you can ask them …”

Back to the present:

There is an edition of only 250 vinyl copies and as you can imagine the album was immediately sold out at the source but there are some copies left on the web. So you better be quick, it is great music.

Watch the end of the album here: