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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend: Kirk Knuffke and Mike Pride

 Kirk Knuffke and Mike Pride – Exterminating Angel (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Troy Dostert

Don’t let the menacing title fool you: this isn’t a death-metal scare-fest, but rather a freely-improvised collaboration between two very busy musicians who are recorded here together for the first time.  Knuffke released a fine debut quartet record several years ago on Clean Feed (BigWig), and a follow-up trio disc also on that label (Amnesia Brown), not to mention a sizable number of collaborative projects with others.  Pride has a similarly extensive output, documented on Aum Fidelity as a leader in addition to his many other gigs in a supporting role.

Knuffke offers a terrific range of techniques on the cornet, as evident particularly on the third track, “Moritz,” which begins with Knuffke providing some relatively quiet and furtive phrases to introduce the track, followed by progressively involved and lengthier passages.  Pride starts with a thoughtful and sympathetic use of mallets on this cut, supporting Knuffke as he gradually escalates the dynamics and energy of the piece.  As the players develop their improvisation, Pride’s strong rhythmic foundation begins to emerge, prodding Knuffke to become even more adventurous and expansive in his phrases.  Then as Pride switches to brushes midway through the track, Knuffke once again becomes a bit more quiet and restrained, developing his ideas first more subtly while Pride offers graceful support, and then becoming once again more voluble and exuberant before gradually ending the track by working an infectious, jaunty little groove with Pride.

Aside from the brief second track, “Goldie,” which clocks in at just over two minutes, the other five cuts offer plenty of time for the musicians to stretch out and explore their ideas.  Pride brings a lot to the table in providing not only a good deal of expressive range as a percussionist, but also a strong sense of pulse that helps propel the improvisations forward.  Whether it’s limiting himself to occasional interjections or launching into more identifiable grooves, Pride does more than enough to sustain the duo’s improvisations.  And for his part, Knuffke doesn’t feel compelled to overwhelm the listener with a barrage of notes; he’s just as content to explore the sonority of his instrument and allow individual notes to linger and decay, as he does to fine effect on the first portion of “Exterminating Angel” before he decides to ramp things up and bring a bit more fire as the track closes.

If I had to offer a criticism of the record, it’s that at times I felt Knuffke was a little too-patient in developing his ideas.  While he should be commended for being willing to use space and silence in the articulation of his ideas, there were moments on the disc (particularly on the lengthier final track, “SuperDixon”) that seemed to wander a bit before becoming more fully defined.  But that quibble aside, there’s still a great deal of value here for fans of free improvisation who can appreciate the quieter, less boisterous side of the genre.

Can be purchased from

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend: Kirk Knuffke & Mike Pride - The ExterminatingAngel

Our sporadic deep listening weekend series continues, two points of view, same recording's post one:

Kirk Knuffke & Mike Pride - The Exterminating Angel (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Monique Avakian

What would you do if trapped in a room with others where the usual social conventions eroded and evaporated one by one forcing you to deal with reality, which is, essentially, surreal?

As with the thought-provoking film of the same title (made by Salvador Dali’s radical contemporary, Luis Buñuel), this is an album where you are left on your own. Track 6, “Super Dixon,” is 23 minutes long and also mirrors the structure of the film where the ending encapsulates what’s been said, but, then again, not really. As with the film, you are forced by default to deal with the human frailty of wanting to eat sheep even though you’re a free-thinking vegetarian.

Mike Pride (drums and percussion) and Kirk Knuffke (cornet) push themselves to confront difficult moments, bringing listeners right along. But you’re not really a sheep are you? Are you? Throughout, you will be asked to deconstruct various aspects of definition and identity through asking layers of questions. And, in the true surrealist tradition, none of these questions have answers. The musicians succeed in pushing through every false boundary they create, but will you?

The contextual backstory of existential paradox underlines the musical risk-taking involved here. Just pairing the drums with cornet sets up all kinds of possible cliché’s and regretful potentials – but these two, in forcing the trap, avoid the trap. Never once do we hear any kind of sound that suggests the militaristic history of the two instruments. And never once does the space feel empty, too treble, or sparse or thin. Each musician pushes the conventions of his instrument. The results are refreshing, and I would describe this album as first and foremost a study of the purity of sound. This, in and of itself, has a cleansing effect, true to the Zeitgeist of the fierce angel totem.

Screams, dreams, sighs, cries, moans, and Zen-Koans. Wolves, bears, whales, sheep, robots. Radio transmissions leaping across computerized nightmare scenarios. Divined directions for swimming inside volcanoes. Industrial hammering. A whispering breath. The long tone of desire. Space, lots of space, less space, space as sound, breathy suggestions of sound, a suggestion of an idea of sound, plaintive questions, succinct statements, long paragraphs of rumination, repetitive sonic motifs that really don’t repeat yet are still repetitive….so many times I thought: did Pride switch to trombone or something? Has Kirk ditched the cornet altogether and simply opened his vocal cords? The word inventive doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Knuffke takes his advanced breath control, breathy vocalized emotional utterances and multi-layered phrasing technique into a landscape constantly shifting. Pride uses sparse roll-like embellishment figures, snare taps, woodblock cracks and washy cymbals in new ways. Most impressively, he takes the skin scrape to a new level, conjuring a variety of timbre rarely achieved – who would think of it?

Pride goes beyond sound play, though, and somehow provides the essential role of the drummer without playing in a conventional manner. It is almost as if he is reacting to what Knuffke is NOT doing and vice-versa. Meaning, each plays to the other’s implied statements. I don’t know how that is possible, but there it is.

Example: Track 3, “Moritz”:  Near the end what happens between them with the drum brushes and the soft breathy horn feels like they’re painting with oils on two canvases side by side -- and their gestures lead to the realization that it is really your hands doing the painting. Here, Knuffke’s ending is so soft, it is almost imperceptible…..

The most fascinating aspect is that throughout this album, the swing is there. I don’t know how that can be because this is the most abstract album I’ve ever heard. Yet, there it is. This speaks to the integrity of the musicians and the success of the project, because if the swing were absent, then Pride and Knuffke would have fallen into their own trap and become abstract artistic sheep churning out surreal sound clichés made only for effect. Instead, we get music. Music that is not there. Marvelous!

Can be purchased from

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mikołaj Trzaska - Mikołaj Trzaska Gra Różę (Kilogram, 2013) ****½

By Dan Sorrells

Mikołaj Trzaska “plays Rose” in this stunning performance from the 2012 OFF Festival. With a beefed-up version of Ircha Quartet (swapping out Paweł Szamburski’s fourth clarinet for two double bassists and a drummer), Trzaska recreates music he originally composed for Wojtek Smarzowski’s 2011 film Róża. This is Trzaska at his foreboding, old world best: creating a distinctly Eastern European music that’s quiet, achingly sorrowful, and able to quickly reduce the murmuring, animated crowd to an hour of rapt silence.

As exhilarating as he can be on saxophone, I much prefer Trzaska on clarinet. His playing is passionate in a way that’s entirely at odds with the free jazz exorcism of his saxophone: instead of driving spirits out, it’s as though he’s calling them in, giving voice to tragic old souls whose painful stories were drowned out by the monotonous grinding of history and conflict.

“By Boat” opens the program, developing a recurring motif that perfectly evokes the steady rocking of waves. In a way, the music is difficult, not because it’s abstract or abrasive, but because the details of its themes and structures are hard to anticipate and so seamlessly blended with the improvisation. Though there are occasional pockets of tension, the music surprises through the warps and coils of its unfolding progression, rather than through volume or density.

Further into the performance, the woody tones of the long “Bicycle Herd” turn very dark before brightening in a driving, jaunty clarinet counterpoint. It’s one of those gripping musical highs that you wish would last longer, but derives so much of its power from its very fleeting nature.

After a rough start, “Harvest Axe” quickly reprises the theme of “By Boat,” cementing the feeling that this is truly a cohesive, singular experience. It’s a remarkable performance, and the hushed crowd simply erupts at its conclusion. Gra Różę is rife with moments of brilliance, but when the last of the applause following the encore “Wedding, Boat, and the End” dies away, there’s one epitomizing sound that lingers in my mind: the eerie, theremin tone of the lead clarinet in “Despair on Birch.” Haunting, beautiful music, and one of the year’s best so far.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cactus Truck - Live in USA (Eh?/ Tractata Records, 2013) ****

By Philip Coombs

On Monday, June 18th, 2012, I had the opportunity to review Cactus Truck's recording, 'Brand New for China' for the Free Jazz Collective. I remember my ears being boxed by the sheer violence and it's power coming from their unbridled energy. I also made a comment that I would love to experience them live for full effect. Well, unfortunately, there was no Cactus Truck tour of Singapore this year but was pleased to hear that a tour of the United States did happen and was recorded for this release. Adding to my anticipation was learning that the core trio of Jasper Stadhouders (guitars), Onno Govaert (drums) and John Dikeman ( saxophones) would be joined by trombonist Jeb Bishop for two extended tracks and trumpeter Roy Cambell for the recording's closer 'Ninja'which clocks in at over 21 minutes.

Jeb Bishop (Trombone)

'Prairie  Oyster'  starts the album and for those of us who have been listening to these guys before now, there are smiles forming on our faces before this song has played for too long. What Bishop chooses to do with his horn in the face of such power is rather clever. He chooses to be an anchor instead of trying to one up them, giving them dramatic melodic lines and a crisp pulse to bounce off of. This in no way means that Bishop's contribution is minimal for it adds a dimension to the band's comfort zone that is both challenging and profound. If I were a snake, he would have me charmed. 'Seans Gone' relaxes a little and Bishop becomes more of a band member and less of a special guest. When Dikeman drops out, leaving Bishop to his own devices with Stadhouders and Govaert, he steps up to the microphone and lets loose on the opportunity with all the vinegar and thunder he can muster.

Cactus Truck (On their own)

The 4 track that are Cactus Truck on their own show real growth amongst the members in terms of their pacing, pauses, and power. I mean that in a maturation way not an old men lost their touch way. 'Hot Brown' is all I have to say to set that straight or the insane drum intro to 'Magnum Eyebrow'. Their sound doesn't sound forced, their speed comes naturally and their cohesiveness is seamless. Dikeman hits notes notes on that sax that make my jaws hurt.

Roy Cambell (Trumpet)

Right away Cambell punches through the upper register of frequencies like a machine on the closing track 'Ninja'. There are points in this track where you feel like you are in the back seat of a car that can't stop and the driver is laughing at you because he is the one who cut the brake lines. On 'Ninja', that driver has a co pilot who is yelling to drive faster. Amongst all of this cacophony, Cambell and Dikeman really tell a wonderful story, one where subplots weave and entangle again before the car hits the wall. They check to see if anyone is hurt, pick up the pieces, remove any glass from their faces and start all over again and again. They leave space to explore technique in the softer moments as well as the loud. Wonderful advancements from the last effort.

Can be purchased from

A clip of them here with Jeb Bishop

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Electro Acoustic Ensemble - The Space Between (Delmark, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Cornetist Ron Mazurek's The Space Between caught me off guard. Coming off of the Skull Sessions and the Pulsar Quartet, I had certain expectations, but after giving it spin, I found the oscillating electronics and instrumental fragments delightfully confounding.

Digging around the Internet, I found the context I was looking for on the Exploding Star Electro Acoustic Ensemble:

"Commissioned by Meet the Composer Commissioning Music/USA,The Space Between is a multimedia interdisciplinary project utilizing sound, video and movement based on the idea of Psychedelic Illumination Drones. As the image and sound develop an ongoing conversation, Mazurek manipulates and accumulates sound layers in an attempt to relocate where sound can be experienced and embodied, while Kim creates a visual environment through the metaphor of the reflective nature of the Indra Net." (

After reflecting on that statement, I realized that my issue was that I had been experiencing this in mp3 format without the visual context.  The CD versions comes with a DVD containing the work of choreographer and video artist Marianne M. Kim. Regardless, the music comes from everywhere and dissipates into nothingness. Evocative and ephemeral, you just want to reach out and grab it. Though electronics dominate the beginning songs, they mesh seamlessly and eventually give ground to the acoustic instruments. Suffice to say, this recording stands well on its own, but at the same time, one of its triumphs is how well it suggests a visual experience.

The subject matter has to do with oneness and interconnectedness within the universe, and to that point,  I'll just say that the musicians and the electronics mix seamlessly. From Mazurek's Sao Paolo Underground, Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado contribute electronics and electric cavaquinho. Nicole Mitchell is on flute, Jeff Kowalkowski on keyboards, John Herndon is on drums, Carrie Biolo adds percussion and Matt Bauder provides more electronics. Damon Locks' recitation of poetry on some of the tracks lends a foreboding air which fits the dark and free form atmosphere perfectly.

It seems that many of Mazurek's projects are deep and thoughtful, and this one is no different. The soundscapes, the textures, the mix of electronics and acoustics are done impeccably. Overall, The Space Between makes for a fascinating listen, and I'm willing to venture that with the visual component added, it's an enveloping one. My only complaint is that I wish there was a little more to grab on to, with so much atmosphere and set up,  I hoped for a Nils Petter Molvaer type of climax at some point. But as it is, sounds sail through the ears, textures and layers tease the mind, and the imagination adds the other dimensions. I think the music achieves its goal.

Can be purchased from

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Steven Lugerner - For We Have Heard (NoBusiness/Primary Records, 2013) ***½

By Martin Schray

I have to confess something. Sometimes I do not listen to music with appropriate attention, I listen to it when I cook, when I clean my flat or when I read my weekly paper. Yet, sometimes the music grabs me and I can’t help concentrating on it (which happens very often with Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Agustí Fernandez, Waclaw Zimpel or David S. Ware, for example), but sometimes I can focus on the other things. This listening habit does not do Steven Lugerner’s “For We Have Heard” justice, an album that demands close and attentive listening because of its very delicate and tender compositions.

The reason for this delicacy is the fact Lugerner uses texts from the Book of Joshua in the Torah, and he wrote the music by using gematria, a traditional rabbinical system to assign numbers to verses from the Torah and taking them as a basis for each composition. He said that he “devised a couple of ways of turning those numbers into music.” What sounds really theoretical and sober is actually rather fascinating.

 “For We Have Heard” is the sophomore album to “Narrative/These are the Words” and  multi-instrumentalist Lugerner (clarinets, saxophones, flute, English horn, oboe) has rounded up his combatants Darren Johnston (trumpet), Myra Melford (piano) and Matt Wilson (drums) again.  Located at the interface of jazz and Judaism, the album continues what was started on the first album, the musicians often play intricate unison parts while the drums are released from setting a pulse and rather contribute to the melodic lines of the pieces, which are miniatures in which the band is often split up in solos, duos and trios.

Exceptions to the rule are two larger compositions: the title track, in which the whole band is at work before the clarinet opens a tender dialogue with piano and drums, and  “All Those Kings”, which is based on the classic gospel “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. The piece starts with a drum/alto duo before there is the only real free jazz moment of the album, when the whole band seems to forget the notated parts and accelerates before they pick up the gospel theme at the end again.

For NoBusiness this is a rather unusual album but it proves their openness for new music again.

The vinyl is distributed by NoBusiness and limited to 500 copies, Primary Records distributes a CD version as well.

Buy from

Listen to the album on bandcamp:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nicola Lancerotti – Skin (dEN Records, 2013) ***½

By Tom Burris

I was unfamiliar with the work of Nicola Lancerotti, an Italian double bassist and composer based in Brussels, before giving this disc a blind spin.  It is loosely improvised and tightly composed, balancing on a tightrope not only in approach but also texturally.  Lancerotti's quartet presents his compositions in the best possible light, while also taking them on lively detours via group improvisation.  That said, there are five improvised bits – at least I think they're improvised - spaced throughout to break things up a bit.  Like I said, it's about balance.

One of the short group improvisations opens the disc (“Quartet I”), and sounds a bit more composed than then others.  The entire band, led here by reed men Jordi Grognard and Daniele Martini play freely, enveloping the listener in slowly cascading waves.  The second improvisational piece to appear is “Trio,” all of 51 seconds on which one of the tenor saxes lays out (not sure which one, as both Grognard and Martini play tenor).  “Quartet III” almost hits the four minute mark, beginning with a slow free dirge from Lancerotti that manages to stay in the hull of the ship even after the other drunkards join in, creaking and wheezing under the night sky.  A spacious reed and drums duo tiptoes around the attic on “Duo,” while “Quartet IV” features more tentative drunken pirate interplay, closing off the disc in a manner reminiscent of Gil Evans' “Sunken Treasure”.

The first composition on the disc, “Faking East,” opens with a few droning 2-note chords played by Grognard and Martini vamping over a lightly swinging rhythm that wouldn't sound out of place on Dolphy's “Out To Lunch” album.  As the music progresses, a tinge of Altlantic-era Ornette Coleman Quartet is detected.  Lancerotti takes his first sublime solo on this track as well.

There is another Dolphy flashback on the next track, “T.T.F.K.A.C.” but this time it's Chico Hamilton's group, complete with drummer Nelide Bandello leading the way with mallets strategically directed at his toms and cymbals.  The track is soft, somber, meditative, and features beautiful melodies throughout.

I was disappointed for a few seconds that “Why?” wasn't a Yoko Ono cover, but disappointment turned to sheer joy after a couple of minutes of this, the longest track on the album.  It opens with Lancerotti alone, followed by Grognard and Martini riding a slow groove with carefully constructed melodic and harmonic lines, reminiscent of a Mary Halvorson composition.  Martini takes a sax break, followed by Grognard on flute, including the occasional Roland Kirk vocalized exhale.  This track clocks in at 8:53, but it feels like it's over in half that amount of time.

The farthest “out” playing on the album can be heard on “La Quiete Prima Della Tempesta,” as Grognard takes the bass clarinet out for a mud bog, followed by an outbreak by Martini on soprano sax.  Amazingly, there is still a very evident showing of cohesiveness in the band and they remain united in purpose even as Martini goes batshit near the end.  If “Why?” is the most successful composition on the disc, then “La Quinte” functions as the real showcase piece for the band.
Lancerotti's tunes are worth checking out every bit as much as the band that brings them to life.  This is quality stuff worthy of your attention.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend Number Two (or twelve years listening to SPUNK)

SPUNK - Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK (Rune Grammofon, 2013) ****½

by Martin Schray and Paolo Casertano

12 is a magic number. A year has 12 months, there are 12 hours a day twice, we have 12 signs of the zodiac, King Arthur gathered twelve knights at his round table (each had a special virtue), Jesus had 12 disciples, the old Jerusalem had 12 pearly gates, the Kabaa has 12 edges, in the Jewish Kabbala 12 is the symbol of the order of time and space, and in astrology it is the holy cosmic number of perfection … and we could go on like this almost endlessly.

SPUNK, an all female Norwegian music collective consisting of Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (voice, violin, harmonica, accordion, theremin, various objects), Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn, electronics), Lene Grenager (cello) and Kristin Andersen (trumpet, flutes) started their long-time project “Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK” on January, 1st, 2001 at 8.01 p.m. (which is 20.01.2001 at 20:01 in European writing/counting which we will use further on) and finished on 20.12.2012 at 20:12 (8.12 p.m.). The idea was to play one single note as long as the musicians felt like, one per year, each at a different, unusual place in and around Oslo - at locations as different as the mysterious, almost gloomy interior of the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum with its twenty-second reverberation time; the Nobel Institute; an idyllic cabin on a remote island in the Oslo fjord; a tent on top of the slanting roof of the newly built Opera House; the river Akerselva in Nydalen (an Oslo suburb), a simple basement, St. Edmund’s Church, Hønse-Lovisas House at the river Akerselva, the Physics Department of Oslo University, Gamle Aker Church, the vivid shopping mall Oslo City, and a private domestic living room. The exact time of each following concert would have been determined by the starting moment of the former one - according to EU time notation - then 20.02.2002 at 20:02, 20.03.2003 at 20:03 and so on until the eleven years, eleven months, eleven minutes later closing performance to reconnect the cycle (or to interrupt it for ever?).

The number 12 was meant to be of crucial importance and there are even more ways how it is used in the project. Starting with the key note B and ending with a G, SPUNK have finished a musical trip that took them through the 12 tones of the well-tempered tuning of the chromatic scale Anton Webern has used for his famous String Quartet opus 28, which closes a circle by spelling out B-A-C-H in the first four notes - apparently a reminiscence of Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed the original “Das Wohltemperierte Klavier”, a study of each note of the well-tempered scale. However, the group has found its own approach by playing one single note as long as they felt like.

And let’s be frank: “Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK” is a masterpiece, a total work of art.  It conceives an acoustical notion of how men live, a sonic painting of life on earth in general, a musical universe celebrating creation and civilization because of the selection of the places  involved - from commercial centers, cultural venues, sacred sites and private apartments to natural surroundings. As a matter of fact, a really ponderous act of music dealing with the impressive and personal improvising attitudes of each member, as much as with a deep work of analysis and organization of their own semantic skills preceding the final musical dialogue, where each voice, each statement find its own value in the comparison and opposition to each other, given the boundary of using a shared and limited vocabulary composed of just one term with multiple meanings (or of one reference with multiple senses if we imagine that this difficult work collides not just with a celebration of the tempered scale and the tonal music in general, but in some ways also with its overtaking).

What makes the album so fascinating is the wide range of unexpected representations; the music is as surprising as life itself. If you listen to the two concerts in the churches you find the performance at Gamle Aker Church (Ab) the sacred, ethereal and even psychedelic drone one might expect (at least the first part). However, the concert in St. Edmund’s Church (D♯) is raw and tough. Especially in the first part Ratkje’s voice very often tears the track apart. It reminds of a character in deep turmoil, as if the person is looking for emotional support or even salvation.

The four concerts from June to September form a block being the ones recorded in natural environments, in which the sounds of a river, of seabirds and waves provide a natural sound carpet which contrasts the sometimes rough and distorted instruments.

The structure, the dilated execution, its final physical and usable output (something that you concretely listen, not waiting twelve years and going around in a city) must be reconnected to famous ancestors as the cycle “Licht” by Karlheinz Stockhausen dedicated to the days in a week (more than 29 hours of music) or Giacinto Scelsi’s “Quattro pezzi su una nota sola” (Four pieces on only one note) where length, repetitiveness and the choice of a minimal musical vocabulary, exactly as in this SPUNK’s work, is not just mannerism but an effort to produce a new musical paradigm, solipsistic if you wish (just the player himself is really present to such kind of performance in its entirety, but you could also say that it’s not the same performer for its whole deployment) but certainly aiming to the noble intent of reinventing both the traditional compositional approach and the usability of an opera.

But this conception can be seen also as kind of “dangerous”, creating in some way an irremediable fracture between the musician, the only real beneficiary of the whole picture and the listener, compelled to rebuild the size and the details of the fresco only through wait and great attention, its virtue instead to be found in its affinities with the processes of everyday life.

From the background voices of the mall to the birds chirping behind the instruments on a little island while the water is flowing, up to the aseptic resonance of the Physics building or the echo of Nobel Institute that SPUNK try to mitigate with an accentuated ethnic and folk timber (mainly because of the dominant presence of Ratkje’s accordion and vocalizations à la Meredith Monk driving the composition towards an impetuous finale). In every situation the group achieves a deep hybridization with the surrounding environment developing an original language to speak in that peculiar context.

Emblematic is the connection in the performance held on the roof of Opera House, that is already architectonically as much conceptually - with his rigid geometry made of white sharp surfaces and glass, contrasting with the warm wooden predominance inside the structure located in the heart of the city of Oslo but at the same time like stretching out towards the sea - a junction between the human territory and the nature (an aspect always to be considered in the Norwegian culture and consequently in the national musical production), between what you want to say and what you can really express.

On the one hand this concept is a highly complex notion reflecting today’s modern life, an abstract soundscape, it even seems artificial in its proximity to mathematics. But on the other hand - as to form and content - this is a really punk/DIY approach in its “simplicity”. Everything seems to be possible, from ambient Native American chants to hardcore electronic shredder, you can recognize SPUNK’s absolute individual style and their will to cross borders, it is an other-world field recording of unheard sounds.

“Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK” is available as a 6-CD-Box limited to 500 copies. You can buy it from the label:

If want to know how SPUNK sounds you can give this excerpt a try:


Here instead you can find an excerpt of a band's performance where they were augmented by Joelle Leandre:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Drew Gress: The Sky Inside (Pirouet Records, 2013) ***½

Reviewed by Joe

Amazing, this is an album that is - dare I say - completely under control, melodies, rhythms, solos, all moulded together like a jigsaw, not a piece out of place. Welcome to Drew Gress's new album, which after "7 Black Butterflies", is another highly complex set of compositions and a top notch team of players to interpret them (the same line up as "7 Black Butterflies" ) - Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Craig Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums) and Drew (double bass).

It's always interesting to hear a bass players album, their view point 'musically' is totally different from other musicians compositional perspectives. I guess sitting in the engine room of a band brings out a certain view on how music should happen. Mingus also had this organised yet free approach to music and composition, sensing exactly at what moment a soloist needed to move on, change rhythm or tempo, keeping the listener on their toes (uh,... ears!). Drew's new record is exactly that, a set of highly organised compositions that lets the players develop their own 'thing' in a controlled atmosphere.

The sensual melodies are well crafted, but its the arrangements that give this record its special edge. The way that Drew Gress develops each composition is fascinating in itself. I'd be very curious to hear the group live to see how much of the form (backing figures, section changes etc) the band use, and how it works. Complex rhythms lock together with the melodies of the two horns, providing a contrapuntal music which is very rich - "No Saint" (tk1), "Jacquard" (tk7) and "Zaftig Redux" (tk9). There are also tunes that have a more open ended atmosphere, bordering on rhapsodic, and at other moments swing.

With a team like this on the record it's hardly surprising to say that Berne, Alessi and Taborn all come up with some great ideas in the space allotted to them in such a framework. The bumpy ride that the rhythm section gives the soloists on "Long Story" (tk3) produce real musical interaction, or the duetting horns of "The Sky Inside" (tk4) are just two such moments. Craig Taborn, like Berne, is able to be either melodic or angular when needed. A track such as "Long Story Short" (tk10) has Taborn dabbing colour onto the musical canvas to support the horns, then emerge into a fully blown solo with its own inner logic. Bass and drums provide whatever is needed throughout the record, swinging, riffing or colouring-in as each tune develops. 

A record for those who enjoy adventurous soloing, but within the framework of recognisable compositions, and a band that would be great to catch live I guess! You can listen to some samples of the music on Pirouete's website

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Satoko Fujii

Satoko Fujii New Trio – Spring Storm (Libra, 2013) ****
Satoko Fujii Ma-Do – Time Stands Still (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

I was fortunate enough to see Satoko Fujii Ma-Do in June of 2011 (it’s uncommon for prominent jazz musicians to make their way up to Maine, let alone prominent international musicians). Just two days before, the quartet had recorded Time Stands Still in New York City, and a mere three months later bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu passed away, prompting the dissolution of the group. The New Trio soon formed as a vehicle for Fujii’s small ensemble compositions, a “standard” piano trio featuring young drummer Takashi Itani and bassist Todd Nicholson, who had previously relocated to Tokyo. Spring Storm is their first album, released at nearly the same time as Ma-Do’s swan song.

Fujii’s small groups have always placed rhythm in the foreground: her pieces oscillate between sturdy, regimented grooves and spiraling, unmoored freedom. In this respect, the differences between Time Stands Still and Spring Storm are slight; Horikoshi tends towards short bursts of emphasis, while Itani’s drumming is more of a mass accumulation of sound. Both approach Fujii’s music from a similar, energetic angle. Likewise for Nicholson and Koreyasu, two workhorse bassists who bring a swing feel to even the wildest climes. When they pull out their bows, Nicholson is weak in the knees, woozy and sad. Late in Spring Storm, his long arco song on “Maebure” is an arresting change in pace. Koreyasu’s bow is what allowed him to be most free; “Fortitude” captures well his soaring, idiosyncratic bow work, like the very soul of the bass itself trying to leave its constrictive wooden body, a wild twisting spirit that builds a parallel tension to the staccato vamp the rest of the band hammers out.

And Fujii—well, Fujii has her usual moments of unbearably catchy syncopation, the dense clots of sound, the brilliant lyrical turns in the midst of what seems to be barely-controlled chaos. You always know what to expect with her. This isn't a slight against an improviser—the unpredictable nature of improvised music is a standard that holds up best when improvisation is compared with other forms of music. Considered within improvisation, a certain notion of "what to expect" (even if we can't always put it into words) is exactly what allows us to pinpoint our favorite musicians, or feel excited when we see a collaboration of artists we’ve never heard play together. Consistency is her hallmark. One listen to “Broken Time” from Time Stands Still, as perfect an encapsulation of Fujii as one could hope to find, makes a strong argument. Even if you're inclined to say she's treading the same ground with Time Stands Still and Spring Storm, that'd be unfair: what she's really done over the years is refined an approach, mastered a methodology that continually delivers the goods.

And these albums are great, both of them. It’s tempting to dismiss the New Trio as Ma-Do without Natsuki Tamura’s mighty trumpet, but that would be missing the whole picture. Blustery tracks like “Fuki” remind us that we’re working in different spaces, with different musicians: when the rhythm section comes back in after a solo piano spot halfway though, it sounds like someone trying to tear down a building with hand tools. It’s a level of intensity that’s not so much beyond Ma-Do as of an entirely different cast.

 I always come back to the idea of ma when faced with Fujii’s music. It’s a concept she likes to invoke. It’s slippery though, more robust than simple translations often suggest: something like the natural space we perceive between things, or the interval that exists between two phenomena. Perhaps what we should listen for when we listen to these albums is this idea of ma: with Spring Storm, what the interval between groups means, and the manifestation of space between musicians newly working together. With Time Stands Still, the natural pauses in the conversation between good friends, one of their last, and maybe even the space between Ma-Do and we listeners, once we realize we’re listening to a ghost, to the sounds made by an absence.

Can be purchased from

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ellery Eskelin Trio - New York II (Prime Source, 2013) *****

“A free approach to the Great American Songbook”

By Monique Avakian

If there is a band to check out in 2013, this is IT.

I’m tempted to stop right there, or at least toss in a spoiler alert. Half the grand delight of listening to this album is the process of discovery as you uncover the multi-layered subtlety of this group’s free, beyond~interpretative stance. Another tasty slice of major happiness derives from recovering your relationship with some kick-ass standards through this visceral free improv. The Ellery Eskelin New York Trio II embodies the ideal of the avant aesthetic: forward movement, deeply rooted, and set free with honest emotion.

Overall, I would describe this trio as precise, kinesthetically supple and incredibly feline. You may not know they’re in the room until you feel their whiskers, but they already know all about you and everything you dreamed of before breakfast.

On this album, you’ll be treated to three musicians who take their respective instruments each and together into the wild and unexpected.

Gary Versace expresses feelings and thoughts with the Hammond B3 Organ in a way that is simply unprecedented. What a supercool style! During the first listen, I didn’t even know he was playing a B3; I thought he was playing multiple synthesizers and getting the sonic variety out of electronic dials and settings. In Versace’s words: (The organ is the) “first kind of real time synthesizer. You can change the sound as you’re playing, you can hold a note, there’s vibrato, there’s air moving through it…(and I can) change phrase lengths and chord lengths as I see fit.” (*)

Gerald Cleaver is one of those super highly evolved drummers who can play anything he needs to super soft. If you’ve ever been anywhere near a drum kit, you know how difficult that is. Cleaver takes this concept even further through his careful choices of not playing. Whoever heard of a drummer not playing ?!? Especially when you reach a technical level, like Cleaver, where you can pretty much play anything. You could learn a lot about musicianship by studying his choice of silence. In Cleaver’s words: “I try and swing and try to do the things that feel the best….the idea of swinging is one of connectedness and having a real affinity for the piece, whatever it is.” (*)

And Ellery Eskelin, ooooh! His work on the tenor sax (now playing a 1927 Conn.) is complex and experimental, yet completely engaging and intimate. Conceptually, he’s all about paradox and sparking wonder, and this is made all the more appealing due to his natural and relaxed fearlessness. Even though he can knock your socks off with rapid, inventive runs, he never runs all over you. His phrasing is intuitive and often subliminal. Ellery Eskelin brings you inside—DEEP into the living breath of sound.

As for playing live with the trio, in Eskelin’s words: “We know that there are probably six or eight tunes that we might incorporate in some way, without me prescribing any kind of a treatment or rules at all for how those may or may not happen. It’s simply a matter of real-time musical negotiation between us, listening very hard to each other.” (**)

Standout Tunes:
The Midnight Sun
Like sparkles on water, sun and moon dance through threaded ideas traded with echoes. Some kind of unity forms from duality, and I am feeling the blazing sun late at night.

This trio achieves a sonic representation of emotional metaphor so central to the tune that at first listen I literally felt the sun and moon simultaneously appear without knowing anything about this song, including not having read the title – (! ! !) – I’m not making this up! The emotive quality engendered by the trio’s take on this lovely standard is completely involving. Wait a minute….is that stardust on my sleeve?!?!

We See
This take on We See is like having déjà vu while simultaneously hallucinating inside a parallel universe. This version is out, yet NOT closed-off inside some phony fortress with a thousand doors locking you out. The Eskelin Trio is so open and inviting, even when the swing is sonically invisible, you feel it. And the Be-Bop confidence and rhythmic forcefulness are there, too, yet reached through the opposing sensibility of exaggerated pianissimos and small, subtle crescendos. Case in point: Versace gives that B3 ZAP chord every once in awhile, but he does this
  * s * o * f * t * l * y * -- as if using volume itself to make a rhythmic statement (?!)

Live:   Friday & Saturday, July 26th & 27th
  at Cornelia Street Café   (Reservations recommended)

Ellery Eskelin Trio New York: Interview


Can be purchased from

Monday, June 17, 2013

Peter Brötzmann Vinyl Reissues Round-up on Trost and Cien Fuegos

Globe Unity ‘75: Und jetzt die Sportschau 7‘ (2013; orig. released: 1975)
Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Einheitsfrontlied 7‘ (2012; orig. released: 1973)
Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Tschüss (2011; orig. released: 1975)
Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink: Balls (2011; orig. released: 1970)
Brötzmann/Bennink: Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln (2011; orig. released: 1977)
Brötzmann/Bennink: Schwarzwaldfahrt (2012; orig. released: 1977)
Brötzmann/Miller/Moholo: The Nearer the Bone, the Sweeter the Meat (2012; orig. released: 1979)
Manfred Schoof: European Echoes (2013; orig. released: 1969)
Alexander von Schlippenbach Septet: The Living Music (2013; orig. released: 1969)

                         By Martin Schray

Recently I was at Ratzer Records in Stuttgart, my favorite record store for alternative rock, folk, country etc. There was another customer who was buying the new Ceramic Dog album and we got into a conversation in which he told me that in 1977, when he was 16, a friend talked him into a concert of the Globe Unity Orchestra. He said that he was so fascinated by this band that he immediately sold all his Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin records, because rock suddenly sounded so boring to him (that went on for three years, he continued).

Now imagine you were such a young person and – let’s say - you preferred vinyl to CDs. Now you discovered free jazz because you came across –for example – John Zorn’s Electric Masada or Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet. You even find a lot of stuff but then you want to dig deeper and soon you find out that a lot of the great seminal albums are not available anymore unless you pay fantasy prices for second hand copies. Here the Austrian Cien Fuegos label comes into play. Maybe Konstantin Drobil (the man behind Cien Fuegos) was such a young man (at least he feels with them), he definitely wanted to listen to this music, he wanted to make it available for almost everybody who is interested in it.

Looking at these albums, we are talking about the hour of birth of European free jazz, the time when musicians started to emancipate from the American scene. In 1969 FMP released Manfred Schoof’s “European Echoes” and Alex von Schlippenbach’s “The Living Music”, both albums with larger ensembles, both groundbreaking for this new music, on both you can find all the alpha dogs: Brötzmann, Schlippenbach, Schoof, Bailey, Rutherford, Bennink, Niebergall etc. (the list on “European Echoes” is even more impressive). “The Living Music” is a typical Schlippenbach album of that time, there are the Monk-influenced phrases, the composed parts, there is the large and intense group activity. “European Echoes”, on the other hand, is structured differently, careening between group improvisations and solo performances.

From his beginnings in the 1960s Brötzmann’s has always had his own smaller and larger ensembles and his legendary trio with Fred Van Hove (p) and Han Bennink (perc, various instruments) was also epoch-making. “Balls” and “Tschüss” (the German word for “bye”) combine the group’s energy, their distinct individual style and their will to cross borders with an enormous, very often underestimated musicality. “Balls” is the rawer record with its four vital, radical compositions and even if Van Hove’s playing is sometimes light as a feather you can get a glimpse why free jazz and punk rock are very close. In contrast, “Tschüss” (indeed the trio’s goodbye album, they split after that) is the result of a rather private session consisting of miniatures. The title track is a popular German Democratic Republic hit where the three show their special kind of humor (including some singing along).

After that Brötzmann and Bennink released two highly appreciated, fantastic duo albums: “Ein halber Hund kann nicht pinkeln” (“Half A Dog Can’t Piss”) and “Schwarzwaldfahrt” (“Black Forest Ride”). The first one presents Bennink as the clown who fuels the improvisation with his drums but also with castanets, violin, hammering piano, saxophone or banjo, whereas Brötzmann is the serious bridge over troubled water. “Schwarzwaldfahrt” was recorded on a portable tape recorder in the open air in remote parts of the Black Forest in the winter of 1977 and it is absolutely unique, almost something like a field recording with the two exploring their unusual musical surrounding like children (Bennink does not even have a regular drum set, he uses everything available instead) and with the forest as a third improviser.

Later in the 1970s Brötzmann teamed up with South-African rhythm group Harry Miller (b) and Louis Moholo (dr) which was an important turn in his music towards more classical free jazz. Especially the title track of “The Nearer the Bone, the Sweeter the Meat” shows Brötzmann on bass-clarinet patiently at ease in front of Moholo’s barrage and Miller’s pizzicato pulse. This album was hard to get for years and thankfully the label will release “Open, but hardly touched”, the band’s other record, as well.

For the last two record store days Trost, Cien Fuegos’ distributor, released two rare and beautiful 7-inches. “Einheitfrontlied” is one of the most famous songs of the working class movement, it was written by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler. It is a typical example of what is referred to as Brötzmann’s “Kaputtspielphase” (which is difficult to translate, maybe “blowing-to-pieces-era” comes close), although Brötzmann has never like this phrase which was coined by Peter Kowald. This year Trost released “Und jetzt die Sportschau” (“And now the Sportschau”) by the Globe Unity Orchestra, in which the band puts the popular jingles of Germany’s sports and football TV institution through the mill. 

It would be presumptuous to rate these records, all of them are absolute classics. They have written music history (not only free jazz history). If you have the chance to buy them, don’t hesitate. The beautiful 180 g LPs are limited editions (you can buy them at or at, some of the music is also available on CD as well (e.g. “Balls”, “Schwarzwaldfahrt”, “The Living Music” and “European Echoes” on Atavistic). Cien Fuegos’ next releases will be Brötzmann’s “For Adolphe Sax”, “Alarm” and “FMP 130” and Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink/Mangelsdorff’s trilogy “Elements”, “Couscouss de la Mauresque” and “The End”.  The future is bright.

Listen to the “Sportschau” single (take 1) here:

And the “Einheitsfrontlied“ played by Brötzmann/Schlippenbach/Kowald/Lovens on Polish TV:

Can be purchased from

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Peter Brötzmann, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paal Nilssen-Love & Pat Thomas - ADA Pat Thomas OTO (PNL, 2013) ****

Peter Brötzmann, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paal Nilssen-Love & Steve Noble - ADA Steve Noble OTO (PNL, 2013) ****

Peter Brötzmann has been a more frequent visitor to London in recent years, primarily to Dalston’s Café OTO (he can be seen there during a residency in April 2011 with the Chicago Tentet in “Brötzmann - Ein Film von René Jeuckens, Thomas Mau und Grischa Windus”, reviewed here). Café OTO chose a recording from Brötzmann’s initial residency in 2010, with John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums), as the first release on its own label: the outstanding … The Worse the Better”, Brötzmann now tours regularly with that trio, and as a duo with Noble.

Like a number of his recent ensembles, the ADA trio is drawn from members of the Chicago Tentet (now sadly, disbanded) and consists of Brötzmann, with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and is named after its first recording, from Wuppertal’s Café ADA. In February 2012, they undertook a European tour, and at Café OTO, Pat Thomas (piano) and Steve Noble were guests on the first and second nights respectively. (The trio played alone before being joined by Thomas; I don’t know if they adopted this format with Noble.) 

Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love have been playing together since 1998, in various combinations, but the sonic texture of the ADA trio is to a large extent marked by Lonberg-Holm’s cello: impasto chords and searing lines, often heavily modified with effects and pedals providing a brittle, electronic glaze, which gives the trio a coruscating edge. Lonberg-Holm sometimes picks up an electric guitar, though it’s often difficult to tell when exactly, as the sound and phrasing of his cello frequently resemble guitarists such as Thurston Moore, rich in fragmented overtones, and can sound like a Harrier Jump Jet - taking off and landing. On both these tales of two cafes however, the guests are doing far more than just sitting in, and their contributions in each alter the dynamics of the ADA trio.

There has not been much recorded evidence of the piano in Brötzmann’s music since his great trios from the 1970s, with drummer Han Bennink and pianists Fred Van Hove or Misha Mengelberg. There’s “Hyperion” from 1992, with Marilyn Crispell and Hamid Drake; “Exhilaration” with Borah Bergman and Andrew Cyrille, recorded at the Knitting Factory in 1996/97; and more recently “Yatagarasu” with drummer Takeo Moriyama and veteran pianist Masahiko Satoh – the “Heavyweights” trio – an impassioned, but delicate weave between piano, reeds and drums. Brötzmann’s playing has developed since those early trios – it has become more focussed, and melodic – and I have the impression that he relishes the challenge of playing with pianists, and the new areas this opens up.

Pat Thomas is a well known member of the British improvisation scene, who uses electronic keyboards and samplers, but here plays piano alone, as he had done in a quartet meeting with Brötzmann during his first visit to OTO in January 2010, and also on a subsequent trio date with Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love in April this year, which included solos and duos. The full range of his pianism can be heard on his recent “Al-Khwarizmi Variations” (Fataka, 2013). He is not helped on this date by a piano that sounds in a poor state of health.

The quartet plays four untitled pieces, each of around ten minutes, and on the whole, it’s high-octane stuff. In the first piece, Thomas dives in, with Brötzmann’s familiar call to arms. Although the clusters and percussive runs in alternating registers inevitably draw a comparison with Cecil Taylor – as with pretty much every other free jazz pianist, such is the magnitude of Taylor’s innovations and pervasiveness of his influence – the wide-spaced chords and tremolo bass notes also bring to mind McCoy Tyner. Thomas is his own man however, and he is able to both expand, and disassemble melodic phrases simultaneously, as he and Brötzmann maintain a tight dialogue.

There are also moments of contrast and repose: there’s a furious pizzicato from Lonberg-Holm accompanied by breathless brush-work from Nilssen-Love; and the second piece ends with Brötzmann and Thomas exchanging melodic ideas, with a languid tenor tone and phrasing from Brötzmann that recalls Ben Webster, as Thomas comps behind him. In the third piece, after Lonberg-Holm’s slithering introduction, that suggests, but fixes on nothing particular, Brötzmann unfolds one of those long lines that seems to allude to a standards tune, before Thomas plays chiming chords in a clockwork rhythm. There’s a soft interlude from Nilssen-Love, with washes of cymbals, after which Lonberg-Holm’s cello, drenched in distortion, increases the tension, with Brötzmann’s furious saxophone adding sparks to the fire.

The fourth piece opens – and closes – with Brötzmann playing, in a rich vibrato, a variant of the plaintive five note motif first heard on “Master of a Small House” on 2002’s “Tales out of Time”, the first outing of what has since become known as the “Damage is Done” quartet. This lament sounds like a homage to both Coleman Hawkins and Ornette Coleman – whose “Lonely Woman”, which it resembles, Brötzmann has played solo – and is a melody used regularly in his recent music (it makes a moving appearance towards the end of “Icy Spears” on “Yatagarasu”) and which clearly has a special resonance for him. There are many sides to Brötzmann’s music, and along with passion, delight and anger, there’s no mistaking a deep-rooted sorrow. All these things can be found in those jazz masters who inspire him, a tradition to which he rightly regards himself as belonging – and extends.

Like Pat Thomas, Steve Noble is an established fixture on the British scene, though as with most of his compatriots, he spends a lot of his time playing abroad. His collaborations are many and various, and with John Edwards he provides a rhythm section of breathtaking flexibility (much the same can be said of the pairing of Edwards’ and his other regular partner, the drummer Mark Sanders). Simply compare Edwards and Noble’s playing with Brötzmann, and their work on Sophie Agnel’s new release: “Meteo”.

Noble and Nilssen-Love are both drummers with seemingly endless resources, but each has his own particular style: Nilssen-Love builds up complex polyrhythms, whereas Noble’s drumming is starker, full of quicksilver changes and responses (and I appreciate this might be doing both drummers a disservice). In any event, this date is probably not the occasion to make comparisons, since although they can be distinguished – Noble can be heard on the left channel, Nilssen-Love on the right – what they’re doing is building up and extending rhythms and textures to produce a cascade that is the sum of their respective parts. On occasions, what we have is Brötzmann and Lonberg-Holm in the one corner, and a wave of percussion in the other; sometimes Lonberg-Holm supports the barrage with low regular throbs; sometimes he’s pitted against it. The result is two unnamed pieces, the first lasting almost forty minutes - epic in its emotional span – and a short coda of some five minutes.

As on the previous night, it’s not all sound and fury however. After the initial tremors have subsided, there’s a crisp interplay between Lonberg-Holm and Noble, which picks up speed once Nilssen-Love rejoins. At about the thirteen and a half minute mark, at the height of a crescendo, Brötzmann introduces the achingly beautiful “Master of a Small House” melody – searing and elegiac – which pushes the quartet further and deeper. This is followed by a percussion duet, with Lonberg-Holm pizzicato, which rapidly gets out of hand. There’s a call to order from Brötzmann’s measured lines, and his soft voices prevails, moving into a duet with cello, which explores eastern phrasing and modes.
Brötzmann’s craft can be heard in his knowing when to add something complimentary, or nudge the music is a new direction, and when to put his foot on the accelerator. This he does in the final section after Lonberg-Holm introduces a rock-like riff on the guitar over a chopping rhythm, opened up as the polyrhythms multiply and Brötzmann’s tenor becomes ever more passionate, and ascends to a visceral intensity which I can only describe as terrifying. Brötzmann is not out to give himself, or the audience, an easy ride.

After this catharsis, the short second piece comes as something of a counterweight: a slow-moving and dreamy, middle-eastern sounding dialogue between cello and tárogató, underpinned by complimentary patterns on the drums.  As the music builds to something stronger, it is cut off, with a ringing bell. 
Having reached his threescore years and ten, one might have expected Peter Brötzmann to relax a little, and rest on his much-deserved laurels. Not a bit of it – humble, devoid of spurious sentimentality, but with a passionate and very clear view of what he expects from his music and his collaborators, there is strength, labour and sorrow in his music-making, rarely found elsewhere, for which we – and the musicians lucky enough to work with him – should be grateful. 

The Brötzmann/Edwards/Noble trio, joined by Jason Adasiewicz – the vibraphonist with whom Brötzmann is having such a fruitful association – have a two-day residency at OTO on 11/12 August.

Can be purchased from

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wheelhouse: Boss of the Plains (Aerophonic, 2013) ****

Two new releases from Dave Rempis' Aerophonic Records (Part 2)

To celebrate, and of course publicize, the start of a new label Aerophonic Records, we thought to place the first two releases on consecutive days (see yesterdays review). Anything that has such well thought-out presentation certainly gets a thumbs up from our side. On these first releases the attention paid to details in terms of layout and recording quality is a real pleasure which adds to the whole listening experience, whilst the CD packaging adds to the pleasure of buying it. If you check out their website (see below) you can get a look at the CDs and listen to some sound samples. 

Wheelhouse: Boss of the Plains (Aerophonic, 2013)

Reviewed by Joe

Dave Rempis is off to a running start with the first two releases on his new label. The other record also reviewed here is a continuation from his raunchy Rempis Percussion Quartet - their sixth album? Dave Rempis is not unlike his Chicago sparring mate Ken Vandermark, always developing a new project, or reworking older units, keeping his music fresh. The projects he's involved in are always creative units and often high energy, examples being The Engines, Rempis Percussion Quartet, or Ballister. On this new release, the second on the label, the music is of a more personal nature.

Wheelhouse is a co-operative group and "Boss of the Plains" is their first record. The music they make is as intimate as improvised music can get and I guess could be categorised as chamber free jazz. The direction and sound of the group, a sort of calm searching, reminds me a little of Jimmy Giuffre's trio. However, Wheelhouse's music has no themes, launching themselves into each piece they (I imagine) test-the-waters as they swim. Dave explains in the press release how the trio came about when Nate McBride "relocated to Chicago". The group originally playing compositions gradually moved away from this idea and developed their present improvised concept.

And the music? Well each tune has the word 'Song' in it. We have "Song Sex, Part 1", "Song Hate", "Song For", "Song Juan", "Song Heaven", "Song Tree", 10 pieces in all. As mentioned earlier it is chamber jazz, something to sit down and really listen to. Its intimacy is complimented by the way it's recorded giving the impression that you're sitting 'in' the room with the guys! Being in such close proximity is like watching someone step from stone to stone picking their way across a river. With no drums, the blend of vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), double bass (Nate McBride) and Dave Rempis's saxophones gives the music a chance to breathe.

The musicians take full advantage of this combination, playing off each other in a way that true jazz is meant to be played. Dave's use of either alto or baritone sax on the compositions adds different colours to the music. His playing reminds me at times of Ornette, a sort of strange melodicism, or is that harmolodicism? He also uses his sax in inventive ways adding different shades to the improvisations by over-blowing, multiphonics, or other extended techniques. Jason Adasiewicz and Nate McBride also stay equally inventive, constantly looking for other ways to use their instruments to make music in a creative and supportive way. There are many moments where all three musicians find a sort of symbiosis, seemingly thinking as one, "Song Hate" being a particularly good example.

Certainly a fine album and a group which would be well worth while seeking out live I imagine.  

The albums are available from June, 11th, but you can also order them from, On their website, you can listen to "Song Sex, Part 1" and "Song Hate".  If you're interested in buying a copy take a look at Aerophonic's 'about' section of their site to see where, and who, is distributing the records in your neck of the woods.

Can be purchased from

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx (Aerophonic Records, 2013) ****

Two new releases from Dave Rempis' Aerophonic Records (Part 1)

Following the contemporary trend of artist control and responsibility as to producing, releasing and distributing albums, Chicago based saxophonist Dave Rempis (The Engines, Ballister, Rempis Percussion Quartet, Vandermark Five) has founded Aerophonic Records, the platform on which the majority of his output will be released in the future. The debut albums for the label are “Phalanx” by The Rempis Percussion Quartet and “Boss of the Plains” by Wheelhouse, Rempis’ new group.

The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx (Aerophonic Records, 2013)

Reviewed by Martin Schray

A busker is playing his saxophone under a canopied entrance of an office building in the southern parts of Manhattan. It is around 9 p.m. and the streets are not as busy as usual because there is a thunderstorm coming, the clouds look frightening. You can see the first drops and suddenly the first hailstones are coming down. The people are looking for shelter. But the man on the saxophone just keeps on playing, battling against the pattering of the rain and the hailstones and the roar of the thunder. He is not afraid, he is actually enjoying the situation.

This is how Dave Rempis (saxes) must feel in his Percussion Quartet (a band originally formed for a house party!), which consists of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (b), Frank Rosaly (dr) and Tim Daisy (dr). Their new album “Phalanx” is a two-CD set of live recordings made in Milwaukee (CD 1) and Antwerp (CD 2) and it presents them at the peak of their art.

The first track, “Algonquins”, is a classical free jazz piece turned upside down. Usually a band needs at least a few seconds or even some minutes to find itself but here it feels as if you were put in a Formula 1 racing car, Rempis and his quartet are at full speed from the very first second, and it is incredible how the saxophone counters the rhythmic barrage. Only after seven minutes he pauses and when he re-enters, there is a different track dominated by a steady monotonous pulse set by Håker Flaten in front of African and Latin American rhythms. Rempis pulls out all the stops from Sonny Rollins lines to Brötzmann phrases and he prevails, just to reduce velocity and to end the track in an almost intimate dialogue between the musicians.

The other tracks also display this very raw and raucous energy based on the relentless powerhouse of a rhythm section combined with Rempis’ brave blowing. On the other hand there are also occasional moments of quiet, yet intensive exploration like the beginning of “Cream City Stomp” or almost absent minded solos (Håker Flaten in the same piece and in the 48-minute “Anti-Goons”), lost in thought duos (especially in the first part of “Anti-Goons”) and implied swing interludes and drum duo conversations (“Croatalus Adamantooths”).

The albums are available from June, 11th, but you can also order them On their website you can listen to ”Algonquins”.  If you're interested in buying a copy take a look at Aerophonic's 'about' section of their site to see where, and who, is distributing the records in your neck of the woods.

To be continued tomorrow with Boss of the Plains.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Williams, Haker Flaten, Daisy - Moments Form (Idyllic Noise, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

"Moments Form" does not need time to warm up, it just starts -- a solid stream of invention and drive. Could one expect anything less from free jazz stalwarts, Mars Williams, Tim Daisy and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten? All are experienced and hard hitting improvisors and this consistently engaging album certainly, at the very least, solidifies this perception. 

Williams' tone is bright and fiery and his initial flight in the opening moments sets the bar high. Deftly supported by the bass and drums, the saxophonist fires on all cylinders, delivering endless melodic snippets. Haker Flatens energetic bass solo, or rather dialog with Daisy's drumming, is intense, if a bit under mic'd. Over the course of 24 minutes, the song ebbs and flows, breaking down to individual voices at times, oscillating between density and spaciousness, often building from ruminative to driving.

"Galactic Ballet" begins with gentle rumbles of an extended percussion solo. Volume kept low, the intensity is maintained through taught rhythmic patterns and a range of textures. The track builds in volume until Daisy hands the proceedings over to the bassist for a short solo, and finally to Williams, who introduces a keening melody. The group coalesces around a steady tempo and the saxophonist  takes the slowly building improv to an intense climax.

The sounds that Williams wrenches from his instrument on a "Disjointed Stutter" are fascinatingly bleak and lay uncomfortably over an intriguingly disjointed groove. It's an aptly titled track, at least in the middle bits, before settling into a steadier, but still uneven, pattern. Daisy and Haker Flaten show an uncanny connection, creating a solid and unpredictable foundation.

Moments Form is an album full of passionately played free jazz that deftly skirts the edge between control and chaos. I had a bit of trouble scouring up much information about the release, but it is worth tracking down. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Correction with Mats Gustafsson: Shift (NoBusiness, 2013) **** ½

By Martin Schray

In Gaito Gazdanov’s marvelous novel “The Spectre of Alexander Wolf” there is a crucial scene in which the narrator contemplates his future lover Jelena Nikolajewna and wonders about her disharmonic physiognomy which he considers as almost deformed. But then she starts smiling and immediately there is an expression of warmth and a sensual charm which makes her appear in a completely new light. Out of the blue he is drunk from her presence and the longer he looks at her he feels that he is helpless against this emotion, he has lost any form of control. He closes his eyes and notices an opaqueness of his senses, for the first time in his life he perceives an inexplicable oneness of pure emotional and physical sentiment flooding his whole conscience, literally everything, even the remotest muscle in his body.

There is a similar sensation when you listen to “Shift” by The Correction with Mats Gustafsson. After the first six tracks you might wonder if the strange combination of the piano trio with the free jazz saxophone colossus fits (or not) but then you hear the title track, the last one on the album, and everything is different, the whole album is not the same anymore, there is the same inexplicable oneness the narrator in the novel feels.

My expectations were high when rumors were spread that Gustafsson was going to release an album with his fellow countrymen because in the liner notes to one of their former albums he said that he had “heard only a few new groups with this extremely generous, humble, and still very defined group activity”. But in spite of their mutual appreciation they are not an obvious match made in heaven. The Correction (Sebastian Bergström on piano, Joacim Nyberg on bass and Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums) is a very versatile band, they play almost everything from abstract minimalism, Monk-ish phrases and free jazz clusters that remind of Cecil Taylor’s seminal Feel Trio to poetic lyrical – and even swinging - textures which positions them close to bands like Craig Taborn’s trio with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver.

You can hear this in “Looking up. Birds” in which the band prepares a simmering stew of rolling bass lines, hard bop piano chords and staccato drum barrage which is augmented by Gustafsson’s wild R’n’B honks. Sometimes they sound like the Schlippenbach Quartet (“Four is a Sufficient Condition for Amendment”, “Correct This!”), sometimes like a new classical chamber music ensemble (the beginning of “Winters Within”) before the album closes with “Shift”, this incredibly dark and beautiful film-noir-goes-David-Lynch ballad that puts all these tracks in a different perspective. And suddenly there is true coherence in everything that might have sounded inconsistent before, there is a meaning in all the abrasive and fragmentary sounds, there is beauty underneath all that.

“Shift” is not an easy album indeed. Above all, it is definitely not a typical Gustafsson album (like the ones with Fire! or The Thing or his latest solo recordings). It needs several attempts to reveal its true nature but then it rewards the listener with hidden qualities and unusual structures.

The album is available on vinyl only and limited to 500 copies.

You can buy it from