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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mohammad - Som Sakrifis (PAN, 2013) ****½

By Janus & Karl

J - Hey Karl, where’s my sacrificial lamb? I’m going to listen to the latest Mohammad’s record and you know that making an offering to the mighty Gods of Sound is very well-deserved in this case!

K - No more lambs left, my dear Janus! We just completely run out of sacrificial victims when you have slaughtered that chicken listening to Burzum two suns ago from now. Don’t you remember it? You have fully bloodstained my turntable!

J - This is not good…not good at all… revenge of the Gods will be great…   

Imagine a heavy storm is approaching the town you live in. The crows outside are in uproar, leaves are hurled against the windows, you close them immediately, you can see the dark wall of clouds coming closer, the trees are bent from the wind. By plain accident you are listening to Mohammad’s Som Sakrifis from your mp3 player (you ripped it from the vinyl version, or maybe you have a portable turntable). Then there is the first thunder and lightning and suddenly all the lights go out. It is an apocalyptic but also fascinating scenario.

If you research Mohammad’s new album on the net, you will trip over the following terms: drone, stygian black holes, low end of the frequency spectrum, monolithic, doom, slow-moving blocks of sound, daunting, monumental, monochromatic, glacial, darkness, trauma. All of these terms are correct, yet they do not do the music justice.

Mohammad consists of Ilios (oscillators), Coti K (contrabass) and Nikos Veliotis (cello) and the line-up and the former descriptions suggest that we deal with music at the interface of electric and acoustic classical new music and doom metal (indeed!). It is so slow that bands like Sigur Rós, Sunn O))) or Earth seem to play speed metal compared to it. Of course this massive bastard of early Black Sabbath and Morton Feldman displays elliptical and microtonal clashes which explore the dark soundscape-like shallows of drone. But there is more to this music, an almost meditative component. There are sudden abrupt stops, which confront you with unexpected silence and if you listen very closely to tracks like “Sakrifis” and “Lapli Tero” you can also recognize a ubiquitous shivering of the sounds created which make the music surprisingly fragile, an effect which is intensified by the absence of a pulse in these first two pieces. This might sound spooky but actually there is an enormous immanent beauty in all the tracks, a force which puts them close to the psychedelic compositions of La Monte Young or Indian ragas and remind us of the never forgotten Labradford. If you have the chance, take a close listen to a composition as Vildblomma, from the group’s first release Roto Vildblomma dated 2010, and imagine you’re just listening to the natural evolution of a song as Soft Return from the debut and (one of the) masterpiece Prazision LP by the American band.

Although the flipside track, Liberig Min, adds this pulse to the pure sound layers - a single forlorn note, as if a single bird in a forest was crying for help -, it does not deliver a meter (only an incongruent kind of structure).

Som Sakrifis is like a soundtrack to a dream in which you run in very slow motion through thick fog. It is the opposite of a nightmare, it is a wonderful experience - like bathing in liquid light. Play loud!

Som Sakrifis is available as a limited 140g vinyl edition, packaged in a pro-press color jacket which itself is housed in a silkscreened PVC sleeve with artwork by Kathryn Politis and Bill Kouligas, and that’s another release confirming that it’s always good to keep a watchful eye on Eli Keszler’s PAN Records.

We’re maybe focusing too much on the ageless, almost motionless and eerie component of Mohammad’s music. This record can be all but depressive and it will definitely sound great in a crypt or in a catacomb for a friendly sacrificial ceremony or during the building, block after block, of your personal pyramid.

J – Come one Karl! Can’t be like this! Can I have at least a Guinea pig, please?

K – Fine then, my bloodthirsty friend, let me grab the crossbow…*

Watch a video here:

Their stage performances, maybe for the austere turtlenecks the band wear, remind of Kraftwerk somehow.

*No animal have been injured reviewing this album. We support free-jazz and wildlife as much as wild-jazz and free life.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Formanek – Mirage (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Formanek. Sometimes just reading the names in certain line-ups sends one’s brain into paroxysms of excitement. Eskelin felt the same way as he pulled the group together in Baltimore—tenor saxophone, pedal steel, bass, and more notably, the personalities behind them—whatever the result, you’d be hard pressed to say it wasn’t at least interesting.

The pedal steel has been so heavily appropriated by the popular country genre that, at least for Americans, it’s difficult to hear the instrument without having your ears automatically retuned to country western frequencies. Susan Alcorn has done much to remind us that the pedal steel is more than just a splash of twang and color—she’s made the instrument truly non-idiomatic, to borrow Derek Bailey’s terminology.

But unlike Bailey, Alcorn’s concern never seemed to be avoiding idioms—only with fully exploring the potential of an instrument that’s often boxed-in. Eskelin and Formanek have never been overly concerned with perceived idioms, either. Those who care to might pin them to jazz, but they are both from what was perhaps the first generation of modern jazzmen who were more concerned with digesting and integrating a wide spectrum of creative music than where they were pegged on some jazz continuum. While Wynton Marsalis railed, they forged ahead.

Nearly thirty years on, the mix on Mirage is as natural as it is unusual. The group creates an interesting counterpoint; the three instruments are so dissimilar in sound, this isn’t a music of easily blended sonorities. Rather, they tend to form more of tripod that bolsters the improvisation, three distinct legs doing their best to hold up the billows and rolls of the work. Still, there are occasions when the three stretch to mesh their sounds together. In “Divergence,” Eskelin and Formanek do just the opposite, converging at the end into a low, richly resonant register.

“Meridian” starts slowly with a lovely bass and pedal steel duet, Alcorn’s guitar taking on a sour tone when it ventures into more dissonant territory. In “Absolute Zero,” she could almost be mistaken for some old-timey clarinet, and later on, steel drums, or early, whizzing synthesizers. Mirage was recorded mostly without an audience at Towson University’s new Fine Arts Center. However, the centerpiece of the album, “Downburst,” is a nearly 30 minute live performance, a vortex of shifting pitches that is easily the strongest display of the group’s synergy.Throughout, Eskelin’s breathy tenor brings a warm, lyrical quality to these freely improvised pieces, a beautiful foil to Alcorn’s haunting, melancholy abstraction.

Mirage makes the most of its unique palette of instruments and personalities. At this stage, we know well the high quality that can be expected of a project when Eskelin and Formanek are involved. And, though she’s certainly no stranger to some of the big names in free improvisation these days, hopefully this Clean Feed release will raise Susan Alcorn’s profile with fans of this music, too.

Can be purchased from

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cavity Fang: Urban Problems (Table & Chairs, 2013) ***

Reviewed by Joe

Here's Michael Coleman back with another one of his very interesting cross fusion projects. I've reviewed several different projects of Michael over the years and each one always has some very interesting stuff on it. The last one reviewed here was Arts and Science on Aram Shelton's Singlespeed label. This is another small label Table and Chairs, based I think in Seattle. They - the label - seem to specialise in a very interesting blend of modern/rock/jazz/noise, take a look at their website and bandcamp to get a better idea (and listen).

Meanwhile, the music of Cavity Fang is again a real collection of ideas that Michael Coleman successfully moulds together to produce some very modern sounds. If you like music such as Steve Reich meets Hendrix meets Mahavishnu but without any of the long solos then you'll definitely enjoy this one. In fact the record is very short but the music is intense and packed with ideas and melodies. "Koala and Joey" (tk1) is like an rubato anthem that lies somewhere between the Star Spangled Banner and ..? But by the next tune - "Dreamzz" - you're already in another abstract world, rhythmically complex lines meld together leading you into choppy riffs, which somehow reminded me of a Beefheart instrumental. The whole record moves along like this with new ideas and ambiances jumping out at each track. "Armadillo" (tk3) starts out with a soundtrack of jungle noises, but surely made by synths, keyboards and percussion. Eventually Jordan Glenn - drums and vibraphone - brings in a melody lines on vibes developing into a long repetitive line full of energy.

Some of the music reminds me of the way Fond of Tigers (what happened to them?) layered melodies on melodies to produce new lines. The other aspect that links the two bands together is the three drummers! You get to hear them work out together as they build up a very carefully constructed set of lines on "Prelude to Rara" (tk5) which leads into "Rara", naturally! Looping sax and heavily flanged guitar seem to set up the scene for even more relentless drumming. The last three tracks hang somewhere between garage band rock and sophisticated psychedelia with melodies that use flute and guitar on "This Will Be Your Bed" (tk8). "Droopy-Eyed Monster Shuffle" finishes the album with some grumpy sounding baritone sax riffing away before heading into outer space, exactly what it says it is a monster shuffle!

This is a long way from being a jazz album, but then again it certainly doesn't really fit easily into any category! Drop by the bandcamp website where you can take a listen to the album, see what you make of it or/and buy it: ::: here :::

Michael Coleman - keyboards and compositions, Ava Mendoza - guitar, Cory Wright - baritone sax and flute, Hamir Atwal - drums, Jordan Glenn - drums and vibraphone, Sam Ospovat - drums


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kaze - Tornado (Circum, 2013) ****½

By Stef 

In 2011, this quartet with Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Christian Pruvost on trumpet and Peter Orins on drums, got lots of kudos for "Rafale", on this blog, and elsewhere, and rightly so. 

Now, two years later they are back with the sequel, and it is equally astonishing. The first track already sheds some light on their approach. Two trumpets play a dissonant phrase in unison, interspersed by one of Tamura's horrifying voiceless sounds, then they increaese the speed and when piano and drums join, total chaos arises, with crazy angry dialogues between all four instruments, like fishwives arguing against each other, full of indignation and contempt, then Orins calls them somehow to order with some powerbeats, shifting the tone into a perfect calm ... but only for a moment ... then back to chaos, with Fujii's piano going totally berserk fully supported by the blaring trumpets and hammering drums, then the piano brings some pattern into the proceedings, phrases which gradually and throughout the madness get picked up by the trumpets and drums, ending in abrupt stop. In short : mastery of changes, mastery in language, mastery in execution. 

The second track is more accessible, with a strange odd-metered piano phrase underpinning the beautiful intertwinging phrases of the trumpets, fusing into perfect calm and esthetic refinement. 

The title track starts with an intense interplay between drums and piano, full of drama and foreboding, accentuated by Tamura's hurricane-like blowing, and when Fujii starts playing repetitive phrases suddenly both trumpets echo the magnificent theme in alternating phrases while at the same time bringing the composition to an unexpected halt and quiet,with only the slow extended voices of trumpets and piano growling and plucking quietly, almost animal-like at times, full of restrained intensity and anticipated calamity, and when you expect the main theme to appear again, instead you get a sweet and harmonic interplay between all four instruments, until Fujii starts hammering her keyboard and the magnificent theme does erupt like an explosion of force and jubilant power. 

There are two more tracks which I leave up to the readers to further explore. This just to illustrate what it sounds like, if possible at all : strong compositions with lots of changes of plot and character and suspense, as Eyal Hareuveni writes in the liner notes : like "stories", the listener is taken along for an exploration of a non-linear and unpredictable journey, full of surprises, moments of sweetness and moments of horror, and often at roller-coaster speed. This only works well because the four musicians indeed have incredible skills at interplay and incredible discipline to shift out of composed moments into improvised invention and back, often without any obvious clue. 


Can be purchased from

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Joe McPhee Trio - First Date - Live At The Third Annual Vision Festival (CJR, 2012) ****½

By Stef 

Trio X? My kind of band! 

I love all three musicians - Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval & Jay Rosen - for the unity of their vision, for their interaction and for the space they offer each other, and while soloing all three artists stick closely to the same mood and character of the piece they play. 

Like Albert Ayler, the trio has a deeply rooted origin in gospel and blues, but they push the sounds even further into dissonance, into adventurous sonic expressivity, while maintaining this deep emotional component that resonates with every performance. 

I have just - half an hour ago - removed their recent "Live On Tour 2010" from my car after listening to it for a while, another four disk overview of recent performances, and indeed they are at their best when playing live in front of an audience. 

The great thing about this disk is that it brings a performance dating from 1998, played at the Third Vision Festival, and actually performed two days before their first album "The Watermelon Suite" was recorded. It was the trio's first date, as the title suggests, and all three musicians were so thrilled about the performance that they changed their name into Trio X right afterward and started their well-known career. 

One of the most amazing discoveries is how the band's sound was already well-established from this very first recorded performance, not that they haven't evolved, but the core elements of total freedom, authentic feeling and reverence for tradition are already present. Quiet moments with lots of open space and room for interpretation and excursion by the individual soloists alternate by great moments of energetic explosivity. 

You also get a bonus track called "The Rochester Experiment", which dates from 2004. 

Without a doubt the discovery of the year. A must-have for fans of Trio X, and highly recommended to everyone else whose ears are connected to heart and soul.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Peter Brötzmann & Hamid Drake: Solid and Spirit (Nero’s Neptune, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

Solid & Spirit is the third duo recording of Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor sax, B-flat clarinet, and tarogato) and Hamid Drake (dr, perc) - in 2004 there was a self-titled album on BRÖ records and in 1994 there was the seminal The Dried Rat Dog on Okka. Apart from that the two have collaborated in many line-ups, especially in Die Like A Dog (with William Parker and Toshinori Kondo), one of my all-time-favorite free jazz bands.

While Solo at Dobialab – the record reviewed yesterday -  is a live recording (with all negative side effects), this album was recorded in a studio in New York City in April 2010. It consists of six free improvisations, all of them prime examples of intensity, inventiveness, passion, and authenticity, Brötzmann and Drake are simply a match made in heaven when we speak of co-operations between European and American improvisers, especially because Drake is very much interested in the sound of his drums (in this respect his style stands in the tradition of drummers like Sunny Murray).

The title track can be used as an example here, Brötzmann and Drake are almost dancing around each other and Drake’s drums are rather like a second solo instrument when he plays these dark African rhythms around Brötzmann’s almost elegiac sax lines (only at the end of the track they accelerate the pulse). Then again they turn this structure upside down in “Us Own Things” and “Strike and Fade”, the next tracks, with Brötzmann spitting out his typical fearsome (and sometimes overblown) sax chunks and Drake rather supporting him in a classical free jazz way here. In general the album is full of contrasts (Brötzmann often refers to himself as “a man full of contrasts”), there is even a real ballad, “Poppa-Stoppa”, which is the highlight of the album, because both musicians are very reluctant and tender in this piece, as if they do not want to destroy the very fragile structure of the track.

Throughout the whole album there is a spirituality that is much closer to Coltrane and Ayler than to Brötzmann’s blowing-to-pieces phase when he started in the late 1960s (he never liked the phrase anyway) and as well as in “Solo at Dobialab” there is a great awareness of his own works, for example when he decides to end “Us Own Things“ with the same 12-bar-blues scheme and melody as in “Dobia 1”. Apparently, around 2010 he seemed to have a crush on the “Master of a Small House” theme (it also comes up in “ADA Pat Thomas OTO”).

The pictures on the back of the record show the two musicians highly concentrated in action and after the last session, Drake obviously content and happy, and Brötzmann with his shirt drenched in sweat. It was hard work but every tone was worth the effort.

 Solid & Spirit is available on double vinyl. It can be bought from

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Peter Brötzmann - Solo at Dobialab (Dobialabel, 2013) ***

By Martin Schray

After one of my last reviews, a commentator suggested rather negatively that I regularly write about almost every Brötzmann release, suggesting that this is the only thing I care about and that I am ignorant to all other artists. Well, I had no problem writing about Brötzmann exclusively (albeit I would never ignore other musicians) since I consider him one of the most important artists in the last 50 years (sic!) and his titanic output is worth every line on this blog. Recently there were two albums, a solo performance in Italy and a duo with Hamid Drake, one of his favorite drummers.

“Solo at Dobia”, his tenth solo album, is an ambiguous listening experience. Brötzmann is one of a few who can captivate an audience with a solo performance (like Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell or Evan Parker, for example) and at the age of 70 he seemed to be at the peak of his art. On this album you get it all: his blues background, the wild and angry cries, his bellowing style, his deep musicality, his subtle way to include older compositions. Colin mentioned in an e-mail to me that he loved the way how the "Master of a Small House" theme from “Tales Out Of Time” (HatOLOGY, 2002)  is modulated four or five times, he used the phrase “resurfacing like an idée fixe”, which hits the nail on the head: for the first time it comes up  after six minutes in “Dobia 1”, then very briefly after seven minutes in “Dobia 2”, it is interspersed again after five and a half minutes in “Dobia 3” and after 11 minutes in “Dobia 4” – it is something like a leitmotif, but always meaning something different. “Dobia 1” even ends with a classic 12-bar-blues scheme (again with an allusion to “Master of a Small House”).

So why is it ambiguous if the artistic conception and the playing are so magnificent? The stage seemed to be in an open café and the IX Dobiarteventi festival booked Brötzmann for the opening event which is usually full of people - but only one half came to listen to Brötzmann while the other half came to have a chat or a drink there. The street and traffic noise (especially in “Dobia 2” and in the more quiet parts of “Dobia 4” where you can even hear scooters drive by) are really annoying (actually almost unbearable), but even worse are the people talking while Brötzmann is playing. I have no other words for it – it is simply disrespectful. Some listeners even try to shush the talking crowd down because the conversations are almost louder than the music!

The music on “Solo at Dobialab” is marvelous, I would rate it with four and a half stars. But the noise is a real bummer, the album sounds like a bootleg (one star), that’s why it is rated rather badly. Yet, if you don’t care about the noise, you will definitely enjoy it.

The CD is released in a digipack version with artwork from Brötzmann himself. You can hear Peter Brötzmann on tenor sax, alto sax, tarogato,  and B-flat clarinet.

It can be bought from

Listen to a sample of the album here:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jean-Luc Cappozzo & Géraldine Keller - Air Prints (Ayler, 2013) ****

By Stef 

French trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo and vocal acrobat and flutist Géraldine Keller bring a fascinating and unusual duo album. In this intimate setting trumpet and voice create a very human dialogue expressed through the use of the air in their lungs, finding new and alternate ways to interact, full of sensitivity and fragile openness to one another. The sounds touch and fuse and create a varied mix of pure beauty and daring sonic excursions, ranging between anger and love. 

Both musicians stretch the possibilities of their instruments creating resonance around silence, in a light and vulnerable way, full of surprise and wonder. Some tracks, like the short "Sur La Balançoire" (On The Swing), is playful and fun, and indeed moves back and forth. Actually, the picture on the cover is made by French photographer and co-blogger Franpi "Sun Ship" Barriaux, whose daughter's boots are waiting for her on the lawn while she is playing on the swing, as her shadow testifies.

Most of Keller's singing is wordless, with the exception of two poems - or improvised reciting, in French and German. For once - and this is pretty rare - I don't find the reciting of poetry artificial. That is the result of Keller's authentic voice, which is passionate yet devoid of the usual 19th century bombast declamatory style full of self-importance that we usually get in modern jazz poetry. 

Keller's flute-playing, as on "Le Chinois à Bicyclette" (The Chines on the Bike) sound ethnic, and is equally free and creative as her voice. 

The long title track that ends the album is by itself already worth the purchase to those with minds sufficiently open to leave the beaten track.


Can be purchased from

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bill Frisell - Big Sur (Okeh, 2013) ****

Considering the size of the city, Karlsruhe (the place where I live) offers some nice events every now and then. The jazz club does its best and sometimes great artists stop by - recently Bill Frisell’s Big Sur Sextet was here. The band was absolutely great but the audience was strange. A couple sitting next to me complained that the music was lengthy and boring (they left after the break), a group behind me acknowledged the musicianship but thought that they could let it rock more often. Well – what did they expect? It’s a string quartet plus guitar and drums (!) and no matter what these people said they had some great music in their luggage.

“Big Sur”, the album they played that night, is a collection of songs Frisell composed in ten days on the remote Glen Deven Ranch as a commission for the Monterey Jazz Festival, that premiered during the festival last September. He described the compositional process as “old-fashioned”, the music is inspired by the green valleys and the unspoilt nature, the pristine beauty of the landscape. You can find folk songs and dances (“Hawks”, “A Good Spot”), Rock’n’Roll stomps (“The Big One”), weird ballads (“Somewhere”), spooky ditties (“Big Sur”), melancholic tunes (“Cry Alone”) and characteristic Frisell-like Americana (“Far Away”). All the songs are prime examples of subtleness, fragility and tight tenderness, the typical Frisell elements – the tremolos, the vibrato, the trills, the twangs, the elegant lines, the light and airy tunes, the open chords – exude the atmosphere of earthbound blues, bluegrass vitality, and the joy and hardships of rural life. In general, the sextet sounds like a very sophisticated country orchestra, as if they were playing in an elegant Western saloon.

Apparently, “Big Sur” stands in the tradition of the outstanding “Good Dog, Happy Man”, of “Nashville”, “Ghost Town”, “The Willies” or  “Disfarmer”, albums on which Frisell has already explored the structures of American folk music. But what is new here is the compositional rigor, how he gives the melodic arcs the ability to breathe, the cross references in the structure. Everything is in the right place.

For this album Frisell has chosen both long time companions like Hank Roberts (cello), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Jenny Scheinman (violin) and new collaborators like Carrie Rodriguez (violin) and Rudy Royston (drums). Royston especially employs interesting contrasts that sound rather like another string instrument than a percussive one, he seems to be more interested in adding acoustic colors instead of obvious rhythmic elements (of course he is able to do that as well).

Live, the songs were expanded greatly as the band integrated them into a larger picture, which was even more interesting than the short forms on the album. It was a hot summer evening and you could see flies buzzing in the stage light (the location was half-open), the perfect atmosphere for this music. Frisell had a constant smile on his face, he was very satisfied with everything. So was I. A man who names a song “We all love Neil Young” can’t be wrong.

Listen to them here:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Art Brut - Art Brut (Pan Y Rosas, 2013) ***

By Stef 

There is no doubt that I love trumpet trios - more than any other trio format - and the reason is simple : I like the sound of the trumpet, whether voiced, muted, or even today's whispering and squeaking sounds.

The trio of "Art Brut" are Frank Wilke on trumpet, André D. on electric bass and Vasco Ribeiro Morais on percussion and voices. The EP contains three tracks, recorded in the musicians' countries of origin - Germany, France and Portugal - earlier this year.

All three musicians are self-taught on their respective instruments, even if Wilke had a classical music education on saxophone. The sound of the instruments is traditional and easily recognizable and in that sense the influence of tradition is present, yet the improvisations are anything but traditional, despite the obvious pulse and energy, the wailing trumpet, the hard-hitting drums - quite rock-influenced - and the fragmented bass phrases.

As the accompanying text says : "the music evokes the conversations of early humans. both their playing and their sound is free, intense and intuitive. a primal scream. a sound manifesto in which futile society’s game and fallacious parade are banished".

I wouldn't go that far, but it's pretty authentic, for sure.

The album can be downloaded for free at Pan Y Rosas.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Black Host / Slobber Pup: Required Listening

Black Host - Life in the Sugar Candle Mines (Northern Spy, 2013) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

It's not everyday that a new recording grabs you instantly. Sometimes, if it does, it's just a fleeting thing, a little infatuation, that comes on quickly and strong, but then just as quickly is gone. My most recent infatuation began when I became enthralled with a promo video to drummer Gerald Cleaver's new improvising group Black Host. I watched and then waited for the attraction to subside, but it didn't. Rather, it grew as I watched the video again. Then, I put on the album and I knew that this was going to be long term thing.

Pulsating and fierce, the music claws it way out and grabs you, and that's just the drum and bass -- wait for saxophonist Darius Jones to play and you'll be further drawn in. Piercing through the thick rhythms, his playing is vibrant and guides the group over peaks and through valleys.

A highlight, Cooper-Moore's piano kicks off 'Ayler's Children', rhythmic and pulsating with tonal clusters. The pianist blends fantastically with Cleaver's percussion and gives Jones a roiling foundation for his emotive melody. Guitarist Ryan Seabrook's solo mid-song features single note runs connecting syncopated chord fragments. The atmospheric 'Crimson Rose' features Seabrook's textural playing and interplay with bassist Pascal Nigenkemper, whose bowed bass adds some darkness. Really compelling music.

Lots of variety and texture on Life in the Sugar Candle Mine to keep the listener coming back for more.

Slobber Pup - Black Aces (RareNoise, 2013) ****

Slobber Pup has a dark turbulent nature. Aggressive, electric and unyielding, it starts off charging at you, a pounding feral beast of organ, guitar, bass and drums. However, beneath the snarl, there is something melodic and rhythmic. This is avant-garde metal jazz at its finest, expertly channeling its energy into the sonic unknown.

Slobber Pup has quite a pedigree too, being comprised of guitarist Joe Morris, organist Jamie Saft, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Balazs Pandi. Of course Morris, Saft and Dunn are no strangers to readers of the blog and followers of avant-garde jazz. Pandi, however, may be a less familiar name. The Hungarian drummer has a growing career with hardcore and avant-garde projects, working with Merzbow and more recently Mats Gustafsson.

The opening track is the monumental half hour 'Accuser' that begins with Morris' unadorned guitar and is underscored by Saft's reedy organ. The energy builds pretty quickly, propelled by Pandi as Dunn and Saft erect a sonic wall to be reckoned with. When Saft really lets go, there is no place left to escape, the listener is trapped for the rest of tumultuous ride. 'Black Aces', track 3, is a bit more minimal in its set up, but soon is given a swift kick by Saft and Pandi.

Because of the concentrated intensity of the energy, I'd almost suggest experiencing Black Aces in controlled doses ... almost.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Food - Mercurial Balm (ECM, 2013) **½

By Stef 

Having been a fan of "Food", the Anglo-Norwegian band since its first album, I was appreciative of "Quiet Inlet", their previous album on ECM, reduced to the core members of Iain Ballamy on saxes and Thomas Strønen on drums and electronics, with some guest musicians added. 

For "Mercurial Balm", they keep the same concept, now with - on a number of tracks, guest musicians Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset on guitar, Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and Prakash Sontakke on vocals and slide guitar.

As you can expect, the music is calm "nu jazz" with long and stretched soundscapes over which the horns play their meditative melancholy melodies, music for dreaming away with eyes closed. And it's probably fine for a few listens, but even then most tracks have this high level of predictability and lack of dynamics or tension that are needed for repeated discovery.

Prakash Sontakke's vocals are more of the long moaning kind rather than the rhythmic carnatic singing, but beautiful though yet with a really limited presence on the album.

In all, one can wonder what this album adds to the Food catalogue, as they seem to have less to tell than before, even with the expanded line-up, or to use a bad metaphor : without substance, Food becomes a consommé.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky, Ahsan, Kucherov - Around Silence (Leo, 2013) ****

By Stef 

The combination of trumpet playing and Indian singing is not new : Irene Schweitzer introduced it on "Jazz Meets India" - or was it Don Cherry? -  some years ago trumpeter Erik Truffaz gave it a try with "Benares", but the real master on the instrument, Russian trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky, whose technical skills as a classically trained fierce improviser have been praised before on this blog, now joins forces with Indian singer Niloy Ahsan and tabla-player Denis Kucherov, and the result is really fantastic, especially taken into account that I am not really a fan of carnatic singing.

The album consists of four long tracks, with music that shifts between slow meditative modes to high energy moments. You can call this the music of mysticism and religious spirituality, but in this case it is certainly not : the four pieces offer a joyful and playful interaction between the three musicians, with more often than not Ahsan leading the melodious parts and Guyvoronsky echoing him seamlessly, in a truly amazing fashion.

This is truly about the joy of making music, of joint improvisation, and this joy is maintained throughout the album. It's easy for the listener to join in the joy.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Magda Mayas, John Butcher, Tony Buck & Burkhard Stangl - Plume (Unsounds, 2013) ****

By Stef 

Although presented as a quartet recording, the album actually contains two trio performances. The first track "Fiamme" has John Butcher on saxophones, Tony Buck on drums and Burkhard Stangl on guitar. The second track, "Vellum" is improvised by John Butcher and Tony Buck, but now with Magda Mayas on piano.

As can be expected, both trios shape sonic intensity, with long moments when barely anything can be heard but wind and faraway rustling, a dronelike almost-silence that slowly waves back and forth in terms of volume and density, with a peak of Butcher's instrument being voiced halfway the first track, only to disappear again into the quiet soundscape.

The trio with Magda Mayas is more energetic, with the pianist playing mostly inside her instrument, actually joining the percussive effects of Buck. Butcher's playing has a more plaintive quality, or a sustained yearning if you want, shifting between distress and exaltation, coloring and shading his sounds, as the intensity grows. Strangely enough, by the end of the almost fourty minutes, a kind of reconciliation takes place with all three instruments - sax, piano and drums - sounding as they were originally intended to be, even if the music is far from what these instruments have produced ever before, and even then it is a heartfelt finale.

A strange album, one that you can listen to very often,

You can listen and buy it from CDBaby.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pat Metheny – Tap: John Zorn’s Book of Angels, Vol. 20 (Nonesuch/Tzadik, 2013) ***½

By Troy Dostert

One thing you have to say for Pat Metheny: he will keep you guessing.  For every record he releases of questionable new-agey smooth jazz, you’ll find a Song X, his astonishing tribute to (and collaboration with) Ornette Coleman.  For every commercially safe fusion-lite release, he’ll turn around and produce something like the head-scratcher Zero Tolerance for Silence, or The Sign of 4.  So it really shouldn’t be that surprising that he’s now made a contribution to John Zorn’s ongoing Masada, Book Two project.  Whatever one thinks of Metheny’s overall body of work, one has to acknowledge his relentless willingness to take risks and steer clear of the most obvious choices, even if it occasionally involves alienating a significant percentage of the fans who want him to stick with the schlock.

Okay, with all that out of the way: let’s get to the record at hand.  Does it work?  For the most part, yes.  It’s a series of six one-offs, with Metheny recording each track in his home studio during his spare time in between tours.  Metheny’s longtime associate Antonio Sanchez was added in to record the drum parts separately, but this is really a Metheny solo record, albeit with a lot of multi-tracking going on, since he plays what seems like nine or ten different instruments (I eventually stopped keeping count)—and a lot of electronics.  As a result of the way the recordings were assembled, there’s admittedly a bit of a distracting gee-whiz quality to a few of the tracks, as one tries to figure out everything that’s going on (e.g. how many different guitars is he playing at the end of the fourth track, “Sariel”?).  And unfortunately, Metheny just can’t seem to resist bringing in that godforsaken guitar synthesizer that he seems way too fond of (on the third track, “Tharsis”), and which is best enjoyed in small doses, to put it mildly.

But once we get past some of the technological artifices, it becomes apparent that Metheny’s appreciation for Zorn’s work is truly genuine, and that there’s a lot of heartfelt dedication to the music on these tracks.  Sure, some of it verges on sentimentality, especially on the fifth track, “Phanuel,” which features Metheny’s acoustic guitar.  But even there, Metheny’s lyricism serves to highlight the beauty of Zorn’s composition.  Metheny’s also loyal to Zorn’s idiosyncratic stylistic sensibility, as well, as there’s just enough off-the-wall stuff on each track to keep things interesting, be it the strange and disconcerting background noises on “Phanuel,” the abrupt and disjointed ending to “Sariel,” or the brief shout of Metheny’s daughter, Willow, at the close of the album.  And for those who appreciate Metheny’s talent as a guitarist, there’s some very strong guitar work on display: take for instance the spirited odd-meter opening track, “Mastema,” where Metheny engages in a seriously fuzzed-out guitar assault toward the end of the cut.  Even the piano work Metheny provides on the last track, “Hurmiz,” is pretty decent, with some spry drumming from Sanchez complementing Metheny to good effect.

No, it’s not a classic, and it probably won’t end up ranking with Metheny’s best work (or making him a featured artist on this blog, for that matter).  But on the whole, his sincerity and respect for Zorn’s music do come through convincingly, and at the very least this should do enough to keep everyone wondering what Metheny might try to tackle next. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Perry Robinson, Zerang, Roginski, Zimpel - Yemen. Music Of The Yemenite Jews (Multikulti, 2012) ****½

By Stef 

Performed at the Tzadik Poznan Jazz Festival in Poland, 2011, this band is pretty unique, with grandmaster Perry Robinson on clarinet and ocarina, Waclaw Zimpel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Raphael Roginski on guitar, and Michael Zerang on drums, frame drum and darabuka.

Apparently the Yemenite music is revived from archives dating back thousands of years ago. And the music is absolutely haunting and mesmerising, with Zerang and Roginski offering a repetitive trance-inducing rhythm on each long track, over which both clarinets intertwine in spiralling phrases, or with one leader singing in moaning melancholy, echoed with even sadder phrases by the counterpoint clarinet. And if the rhythmic patterns make your blood pump through your veins in synchronised empathy, contracting your muscles to force your entire body to move along, the beautiful clarinets wave by as free as the desert wind, as a breeze over warm sand and stories past.

The music is maybe of jewish origin, yet it doesn't sound like klezmer, and Yemen is close enough to Africa to have benefited from the continent's rhythms.

We all know the skills and talent of Robinson, Zimpel and Zerang in the meantime, they have been featured many times on this blog, yet guitarist Raphael Roginski is at the same high level, also featured on other recent albums such as Shofar's "Ha-Huncvot" and Sisters' "The Mono". His clean tone, his rhythmic approach and his stylistic immersion in the music, make it sound as if the electric guitar has been part of the Yemenite instruments of choice since the early days. A real achievement of control and expressive skill.

An astonishing and beautiful performance and adepts of Middle-Eastern music in modern form shouldn't miss this one.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Chris Abrahams/Magda Mayas

Chris Abrahams and Magda Mayas - Gardener (Relative Pitch, 2013) ***½

Part One The Understanding

Over the past six months or so I have come to appreciate and understand the vision of Magda Mayas more and more. I have also been tuned into The Necks (for which Abrahams plays piano) through a chance meeting with Tony Buck and multiple conversations with some Australian jazz musicians at local live music clubs. So armed with this information, I thought I had the appropriate knowledge to get my head around the vision of two great keyboardists in a duo setting. Gardener starts with a track that is just over a minute long. "Song of the pylon", had me more intrigued than riveted and was followed up with a 15 minute brain teaser "The changes wrought by the recurring use of tools" where harmonium, harpsichord, and piano are used to create an almost jack hammering effect where both musicians, who are credited with all three instruments, throw themes, fragments of ideas, and phrases at earth other at a dizzying pace. I needed to understand Abrahams more and as luck would have it, he had just released his third record in his solo series. The Necks are one thing but to understand one man's musical vision there would be no better place to start than with solo material.

Chris Abrahams - Memory Night (Room40, 2013) ****

Part Two The Unilateral

With this, the third recording of solo material from Chris Abrahams for Room40 records, preceded by Thrown and Play Scar, he continues into the electro acoustic vortex with this powerful and chilling landscape. Electro-Percussive may be a better way to describe whats going on here. The creative use of the beat is what keeps the opening track, "Leaker"  (which builds to an ending that is just completely barking mad) and the rest of the album for that matter, fused together. It is a tight and focused recording with four tracks and clocking in at just over 40 minutes. 

This album will play tricks on you. There are ghost sounds and adjustments to intensity that are sometimes subtle and some more that will test your listening threshold. Track two, "Bone and Teem", turns in an entirely different direction with bells and chimes and even when the electronic manipulations are still swirling around your head, he introduces his warm, acoustic piano for an earthy counterbalance. 

The remaining two tracks are also full of surprises, like the beautiful piano moment during "Strange Bright Fact". Here lies a complete, well devised, and brilliantly executed record.

Part Three The Undeniable

I personally prefer the compositional aspects of the Abrahams solo recording more than the improvisational aspects of Gardener. But with that being said, there is some greatness on Gardener like when their musical thoughts run parallel with each other such as on "Ash canopy" and "Surroundings" and thus making for some great listening moments. These really are two great and forward thinking musicians as well as working visionaries hence their output both individually and collectively should be listened to. I would humbly suggest listening to their back catalogs first and come to this one prepared.

Gardener can be purchased at Instantjazz and Memory Night from the label.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend: Just Not Cricket!

Just not Cricket! Three Days of British Improvised Music in Berlin (Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu, 2013) ****½
By Colin Green

In Britain, there’s a history (“tradition” is possibly too strong) of improvisers gathering together for performances over a number of days, during which they play both solo and in a variety of ad hoc ensembles. The roots go back to Derek Bailey’s Company Weeks, which he began in 1977. He invited musicians from mainland Europe and the US to join local improvisers, usually with a few wildcards thrown in – those from the traditional end of the jazz spectrum, as well as classical performers – who were keen to experiment in what he called “non-idiomatic” improvisation. Bailey wound-up Company when he felt the format was getting too familiar.

For many however, it has continued to provide a fertile environment, as reflected in these performances from Berlin. Back in London, there’s “Mopomoso”, organised by guitarist John Russell, that holds monthly concerts at the Vortex, and which each August hosts a three-day festival: “Fete Quaqua”, featuring home-grown and international players in varying combinations. Eddie Prévost, one of the drummers on this set, has held a weekly improvising workshop for some fourteen years (now adopted in many other countries) from which players have been drawn to play together in sessions just down the road from the Vortex, at London’s other major improvising spot: Café OTO. 

This outing to Berlin comprised musicians primarily from the London and Oxford areas (a full list appeared at the end of Martin’s review, yesterday). Frankly, the range and quality of improvisers in Britain is such that two or three other groups of sixteen could have made the journey, with similarly outstanding, and diverse, results.

As mentioned in Martin’s review, in organising this project, Antoine Prum wanted to ask the question whether there was a specifically British element in free improvisation. In a sense, the question was answered before a note was played, in the perceptive conceit that appeared in the festival programme. Each musician was allotted a construction-related object, which appears in an image adjoining the listing for each set, so that, for example: the quartet of Rhodri Davies, Orphy Robinson, Mark Sanders and Trevor Watts has a photograph of a hacksaw (Davies) balanced on a plastic bucket (Sanders), on which rests a hammer (Robinson) protruding from a PVC elbow pipe (Watts).  (I smiled when I saw that the two double bass players – John Edwards and Dominic Lash – both got bags of cement: quick-drying and general purpose, respectively). Assembling all the objects produced the splendid image used for the festival, which appears on the cover.

This is improvisation in which things are taken apart and reassembled in new and fascinating ways: “Does this fit with that; what would happen if these two things were put together, or if we took that away?” It is music in which the process of discovery – the inquiring mind – is the subject. One might perhaps, say that British improvisation embraces the pragmatic and empirical – artisan values – and a healthy disregard for anything redolent of “Theory”. As a number of the musicians comment – in the interviews with Stewart Lee (stand-up comedian, and Derek Bailey expert) that appear in the booklet – to play this kind of music requires a suppression of ego to facilitate co-operation. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that this is now something of a global approach to improvisation; and ultimately, as noted by Brian Morton in his festival essay: “It is probably impossible to define or even demarcate British improvised music in exclusively musical terms.”

All these performances repay repeated listening, and the construction site analogy shouldn’t be stretched too far. There are times when no voice predominates: everything is group texture (the rough-hewn opening to the quintet of Arthurs, Edwards, Hutchings, Sanders and Ward (on guitar)); sometimes combinations break off to pursue their own agenda (the duet between trumpet and tenor later in the same piece). Not all the conversations are polite: Bevan’s soprano and bass saxes and Hutchings’ tenor engage in a particularly robust debate in their quartet with Edwards (bass) and Sanders (drums); and in the quartet of Arthurs (trumpet), Brand (trombone) Lash (bass) and Ward (clarinet), there’s a juxtaposition between order and unruliness: a chorale followed by fireworks. At other times – as in the spare duo between Brand and Sanders – musical lines overlap with the delicacy of a Kurt Schwitters collage.

In some quarters, this kind of playing has been criticised as having become too codified (this was one of Bailey’s worries). During the interviews, some of the older musicians speak nostalgically of the more iconoclastic days of early British improv. Undoubtedly, those experiments carried out some necessary ground clearance and rebuilding, but it would be unrealistic to expect the music to have remained at that stage, and in the best of these performances there remains a restlessness and spontaneity, irrespective of how often the musicians have played together.  Improvisation is a rich musical resource, and with sympathetic playing (and listening) one doesn’t feel the ground has been plotted in its entirety, or that the music has resolved into a standardised set of musical gestures. These musicians still have plenty to say to each other, and us.

In fact, the vocabulary has broadened, and the music has become more inclusive, less conscious of what to avoid. As Alex Ward puts it: “…the nice thing about free improvisation is that is that it allows people who don’t have a shared language to collaborate”. In the short duo that opens the first disc, Ward (clarinet) is in celebratory mood, with what could be described as an improviser’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, to which Coxhill (soprano saxophone) responds in like kind, with a sort of “‘Round Midnight”.  

This is followed by Coxhill again, with Prévost, whose funky, melodic drumming is restricted to brushes for long periods. Coxhill is alternately upbeat – full of be-bop phrases – and sombre, and keeps returning to particular motifs and intervals, worrying away at them, with his inimitable, sweet and sour intonation. Sadly, this was one his last performances. He died in July 2012, aged 79: an inspiration to generations of musicians, and audiences; throughout this recording, his playing is full of wit and invention.   

Flipping the LP over to hear the above-mentioned quartet of Davies, Robinson, Sanders and Watts (one of the highlights) there is a wonderful passage in which, over ever-sensitive percussion from Sanders, and soft chords on Robinson’s vibraphone, Watts, on alto saxophone, plays a stunning, and perfectly judged solo, both beautiful and tragic. If British improvisation has lost some of its occasional perversity, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

And the title? It’s an expression meaning “not the done thing”, or “unacceptable”. This might be typically British irony, or simply a reference to a sport whose appeal is baffling to anyone outside Britain and her former colonies.

The box set (limited to 1,000 copies) consists of four beautifully pressed, whisper-quiet 180g LPs, and a booklet with interviews, an essay by Wolfgang Seidel and the original festival programme with text by Brian Morton, together with the code for a digital download (including FLAC) so you can listen on, or via a computer, or burn your own CDs.

Regular visitors to this blog understandably complain how our reviews are hitting their wallets hard. If you can’t afford this set, or don’t have a turntable, try visiting the collection of Mopomoso videos on YouTube. You’ll find over 400 videos of some first-rate improvised music – including many of the musicians heard here – in generally decent sound, and all absolutely free. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend: Just Not Cricket!

Various Artists: Just Not Cricket (Ni-Vu-Ni-Connu, 2013) **** ½

By Martin Schray

Saturday, May 25th in 2013 was a hard day for British football fans (for the Americans out there: when I talk about football it’s what you call “soccer”): Two German teams – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund – reached the Champions League final (which can be compared to the Super Bowl), both of them peppered with young players, but also with some older experienced hands. The first exclusively German final was ironically held in London’s Wembley Stadium which must have been a blow for the British fans considering the never-ending rivalry between British and German clubs, national teams and supporters, all the more because the British had to face an invasion of thousands of Germans. But invasions don’t have to be like that: For those Germans who like free improvised music the fact that the crème de la crème of British improvisers invaded Berlin to bring some of the finest music across the Channel was one of the concert highlights in 2011.

Now those who were not as lucky as the chosen ones who could be there can now listen to a well chosen selection of the performances that took place between 6th to 8th October  at the HFC (the former Hungarian House). What is even more, the music is presented in an exquisite box set that brings back memories of the legendary FMP releases (Cecil Taylor Live in Berlin 1988, FMP in Retrospect, Workshop Freie Music 1969 – 1978, Jazz aus der DDR) and the Total Music Meetings (TTMs). The connection here is Helma Schleif, who took over FMP from Jost Gebers when he decided to retire in 1999/2000. Unfortunately, the transition from Gebers to her did not go smoothly (actually it was an acrimonious argument and from my outside position I dare not say which one was right). In spite of dramatic financial cuts as to subsidies for the festival Schleif managed to organize eight more TTMs until 2008 but eventually she had to give up because the Berlin Senate stopped the support completely (considering that a left-wing council was responsible, it is a disgrace).

This festival Schleif curated with British saxophonist Tony Bevan and Luxembourgian film maker Antoine Prum (who made a very nice documentary about Sunny Murray and has started working on a film about the British free jazz scene). All in all they organized 22 concerts trying to bring three generations together – the first one around Trevor Watts, Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton and Eddie Prévost, the second one around musicians like Bevan himself or John Edwards and the new one with people like Dominic Lash or Gail Brand (you can see the complete list below).

You get an idea what the festival was about when you listen to the two quintets on the second LP. Both groups have a rock solid old school rhythm section consisting of Edwards/Prévost respectively Edwards/Sanders, the first group being a true old generation band (with Coxhill, Watts and Minton) while the second one presents the young guns (Tom Arthurs, Shabaka Hutchings and Alex Ward). And even if the classic group is absolutely great (I haven’t heard Minton in such excellent form for a long time) it is the young meeting the old which is the more fascinating one – you can literally feel the joy they had interacting, their constant state of surprise, like a young couple discovering their bodies, the feelings carrying them away. Imagine you are in the middle of a chase with ricocheting bullets (sax, trumpet) all around you, which are then torn to pieces by a relentless guitar. It is a sensual experience.

But basically the trios created the most interesting results, e.g. the one with Steve Beresford, Gail Brand and John Edwards in which the two veteran performers prepare a wide sound space for Brand whose lush trombone lines meander on tiptoes around piano sprinkles and bass pizzicatos.  Another highlight is the trio of Tom Arthurs, Steve Beresford and Matthew Bourne in which the young Bourne puts the interior of his piano through the mill with a water bottle, never touching the keys of his instrument but therefore spilling a lot of water while Beresford added electronic shredder. Tom Arthurs seems to enjoy the dialogue, he only contributes some sparse gargling which is just the icing on the cake. Finally, the heavyweight trio of two contrabasses and a bass saxophone (Bevan/Lash/Edwards) creeps in your bones like a monster in the dream of an innocent child. After two minutes they stop simultaneously to create a marvelous moment of silence only to come back even spookier. A track which definitely works as a horror film soundtrack.

There is a delicate note in the fact that the festival was not the centerpiece of the Berlin senate’s cultural funding but “only” a side project of a documentary. Prum filmed the whole festival and he used Luxembourgian public film funding to realize the project. He wants to ask the question if there is a specific British element in free improvisation and what the different generations might have in common. The festival created situations in which something new was possible, even failure was part of the concept. The LPs are already great – we are now looking forward to the documentary.

List of musicians:
Tom Arthurs - trumpet
Steve Beresford - piano, electronics
Tony Bevan - soprano & bass saxophones
Matthew Bourne - piano
Gail Brand - trombone
Lol Coxhill - soprano saxophone
Rhodri Davies - harp, electric harp
John Edwards - double bass
Shabaka Hutchings - clarinet, tenor saxophone
Dominic Lash - double bass
Phil Minton - voice
Eddie Prévost - drums, percussion
Orphy Robinson - vibraphone
Mark Sanders - drums
Alex Ward - clarinet, guitar
Trevor Watts - soprano & alto saxophones

List of projects on the LPs:
1 A:     Duo Coxhill/Ward
1 B:     Quartet Rhodri Davies/Orphy Robinson/Mark Sanders/Trevor Watts
2 A:     Quintet Coxhill/Edwards/Minton/Prévost/Watts
2 B:     Quintet Tom Arthurs/JohnEdwards/ Shabaka Hutchings/Mark Sanders/Alex Ward
3 A:     Trio Rhodri Davies/ Shabaka Hutchings/Dominic Lash
            Quartet Steve Beresford/Rhodri Davies/ Shabaka Hutchings/Phil Minton
            Quartet Tom Arthurs/Steve Beresford /Phil Minton/Eddie Prévost
3 B:     Quartet Tom Arthurs/Gail Brand/Dominic Lash/Alex Ward
            Trio Steve Beresford/ Gail Brand/John Edwards
4 A:     Quartet Tony Bevan/John Edwards / Shabaka Hutchings/Mark Sanders
            Trio Tony Bevan/John Edwards / Dominic Lash
4 B:     Trio Tom Arthurs/Steve Beresford/ Matthew Bourne
            Trio Matthew Bourne/ Mark Sanders/Trevor Watts
            Duo Gail Brand/Mark Sanders

Listen to some excerpts here:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wojtek Jachna & Jacek Buhl - Tapes (Milieu L'Acéphale, 2013) ***½

By Stef 

Last year I praised the Polish duo of Wojtek Jachna on trumpet and Jacek Buhl on drums for their skills, yet I thought they could do better in finding a more personal style and more coherency in their musical vision, and that's exactly how they have improved, as if they had read this blog, which of course might be the case. The only counterargument is that the music on this album contains a collection of older material, dating from 2009 and 2010.

Anyway, it is fun to listen to, innovative in its construction of multilayered sounds, with sometimes joyful trumpet phrases à la Rob Mazurek, lots of electronically distorted and looped sounds, carefully structured pieces, with the occasional high energy drumming and lots of "nu jazz" influences and sometimes weird but fun adventures in avant territory.

Despite the collection of loose recordings, the album brings a lot of variation and a strong unity of strange beauty, and since it is absolutely free, also in financial terms, the value offering is excellent.

My advice for the next album (if they read this), is to ask money for the download. The music is more than worth it.

Can be downloaded for free here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Nate Wooley - (9) Syllables (Mnóad, 2013) ****

By Paolo Casertano

Fine! What you see is not what you get, or I should say what you hear is not what it used to be, maybe. With an homologous set of his former solo efforts, the self-declarative Trumper/Amplifier (2010), the challenging The Almond and the obviously connected (8) Syllables (2011), Nate Wooley, alongside his flourishing musical action in various line-up, keeps on with his solid work of destructuration and transfiguration of the deepest nature of the most traditional among the brasses, focusing again on the nodal role of oral language intended as a compositional approach.

As in (8) Syllables Wooley works applying to the embouchure of the trumpet various positions of his tongue, lips and throat in relation to nine specific phonemes - as reported on the cover of the release utilizing a graphic representation of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) - giving consequently birth to a fifty minutes long suite divided in nine parts, one for each syllable. Starting from this conception he creates parameters of attack, body and decay for each sound. As Wooley has formerly explained “the idea has never been to control the elements of the embouchure, mouth, throat, tongue, but to allow them to operate in an environment of their own, separated from their typical roles in the production of sound”. The listener is then catapulted in a universe of layered textures, contrasting vibratos and undulating hues where every physical element of the instrument itself acquires a relevant role, from the ring of the bell up to the palpable movement of the mechanics of the valves.

Wooley’s purpose seems to be, more than the development of a composition, the ignition of a series of sound activities overlapping one on the other and interacting in a dramatic coexistence. Tones, hisses, sound shreds, scrapes, growls and groans are transformed into circuitous trumpet lines getting lost and winding up in unexpected peaks.

Another major aspect of the release is the interaction surfacing from the juxtaposition of the human output to its electric counterpart, the amplifier. The trembling, engine-like, perpetual background presence, the flux of buzzes, cackles and unpredicted clangs establishes the trestle for the ethereal sketches, the canvas for the brushes of the voice that moans and howls amid raucous outbursts.

Released as a limited edition CD or as very affordable digital format available directly from the label.

Can be purchased from

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gianni Lenoci Hocus Pocus 4 (feat. Taylor Ho Bynum): Empty Chair (Silta Records, 2013) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

Wow, feels like I've been transported back into the late 70s. Gianni Lenoci  plays something that immediately reminds me of the romantic type of music that Keith Jarrett's great quartet - with Redman, Haden and Motian - excelled at. Swirling melodies with unison sax and trumpet, piano underlining the chord structure, bass and drums play rubato as the group and harmony asks. Or at least that's how the record starts!

Gianni Lenoci has a fine group - Lenoci (piano), Vittorio Gallo (soprano sax), Pasquale Gadaleta (double bass), Giacomo Mongelli (drums) and as a guest Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet). The choice of Taylor Ho Bynum is a great idea, his playing is particularly well suited to this music. It's a context where  Bynum is able to use his extended techniques but also play melodic lines when needed. Lenoci is no slouch either, his piano playing is always fresh and like Ho Bynum he uses his instruments possibilities, sometimes percussively or at others its melodic qualities. 

The eleven tracks on the album are all of a really high quality. There are four - I guess - improvised duets which feature Ho Bynum and one of the group members; Reflective Darks (tk3) is a bass/cornet duet, Raw (tk5) drums/cornet, Sparrows (tk7) sax/cornet, and Ombra (tk9) is for piano/cornet. These duets give the listener an impression of almost eavesdropping on the musicians. The duets are all very creative and Taylor Ho Bynum's cornet is clearly inspired by each pairing, fine stuff!    

As for the longer pieces each one has a well constructed theme and solos that develop. This doesn't mean that you get a traditional theme-solos-theme set up, the group really lets rip on some of the material. As mentioned earlier the first track reminds me a little of early period Keith Jarrett, but the other pieces are far from there. "Empty Chair" (tk2) swings away although with a moving tonal centre. "Turning Cucumbers" (tk4) has Lenoci dampening (or prepared objects?) the strings to get a pizzicato effect before playing a more traditional role. On some pieces Vittorio Gallo blows some strange sounds using a home made instrument (?) sounding at times like a happy-hippo. "Graduale" (tk6) is a delicate piece that could collapse at any moment if someone makes a wrong move. "Reverse" (tk8) dances away with counter melodies from the two horns before some excellent free-bop New Orleans type of grove takes over. "Kretek" (tk10) is a turbulent piece with soloists riding the storm out as best they can!

Certainly highly recommended for all who enjoy open ended modern free music, but with a healthy respect for tradition. There's plenty of melodic twists and turns and never a dull moment. Each soloist manages to stay focused on creative ideas which fit perfectly in the style of the music.

Although there are no videos of the group (with Ho Bynum) I did find a few interesting links which you can follow up here:

- Excellent video of the group. They play one of the tracks "Empty Chair" from the CD here. 
- An hour long video of the band live here.
- You can listen to the album on E-Music just here