Click here to [close]

Friday, August 30, 2013

Triptet - Figure In The Carpet (Engine, 2012) ****

By Stef   

You put on this music, and you immediately understand that this will be special, with wind chimes, sax and guitar creating a strange, rhythmic pulse, repetitive and ambient, dark and ominous. The trio is Michael Monhart on saxophone and electronics, Tom Baker on fretless guitar, theremin and electronics, and Greg Campbell on drums, junk percussion, and French horn. As the piece evolves, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize the instruments, as they get processed and repeated into a gloomy tapestry with the light wind chimes keeping up their spiel.

On the title track, the horror increases with a dark noise and slow percussive rumbling providing the background for equalised sax tones in clear pain. True, the electronics and latpop technology allow for lots of layers and studio possibilities, yet this is not the kind of nu jazz that we know from for instance Nils Petter Molvaer. The trio manages to create their own sound, their own vision of music, and this throughout the album. The result is a fascinating, sometimes hair-raising journey into madness and misery. Despite this, the music is very appealing, without needing to be in a state of utter depression to be able to identify with it, in a strange and undefinable way.

A strong achievement ... that could be better if even more radical in the future, without losing the vision. A challenge.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hunger Pangs - Meet Meat (ForTune, 2013) ****

By Stef   

Let's stay in Poland, with this great trio of Marek Kądziela on guitar, Tomasz Dąbrowski (Tom Trio) on trumpet, microKORG and balkan horn, and Kasper Tom Christiansen on drums.

The first line-up that I really got excited about with trumpet, guitar and drums was the Tiny Bell Trio, with Dave Douglas, Brad Shepik and Jim Black. And in fact, this music is very much in the same vein, raw and precise, incredibly rhythmic, full of changes within the compositions, and stylistically hesitating and shifting between modern jazz and its rougher variations in free jazz or jazz rock. Other influences or references might be "Der Rote Bereich" and "Hyperactive Kid".

Even in the slower parts, there is no polish (no pun intended), make-up or other cosmetics to be observed. Their reality is at the basis harsh, dark and straightforward, without the warmth of a bass or the soothing harmonic accompaniement of a piano, it is hard as rocks, hard as rocks tumbling down a rocky slope, hard as a stone floor to sleep on, yet out of this cold and restricted material universe this trio constructs something solid, structured, intelligent, and incredibly expressive, and sensitive too, and fun to listen to. Yes, maybe raw sensitivity and expressive intimacy describe this music well.

Judge for yourselves.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mikrokolektyw - Absent Minded (Delmark, 2013) ****

By Stef   

Just stepping from a plane coming from Warsaw, Poland, on a business trip, without having had the chance to see anything of the vibrant Polish jazz scene. Too bad! Luckily I saw this great Polish duo in concert some weeks ago in Antwerp. Artur Majewski plays trumpet and electronics, and Kuba Suchar drums and electronics. They are the first foreign artists to release albums on Delmark, the Chicago Jazz & Blues label.

I am not sure whether that's the reason, but both musicians have been touring with "Delmark musicians" such as Nicole Mitchell and Rob Mazurek, with whose Exploding Star Orchestra and São Paulo Underground they have been touring.

They appear on this blog with their debut album, "Revisit" (Delmark, 2010), and we find Majewski as a member of Foton Quartet with the exceptionally good "Zomo Hall".

What they perform here, is also good, again with musical references that go back to Don Cherry, with great joyful passages, with the modern-day influence of Mazurek's musical vision. This album is better than the previous one because of the quality of the compositions and improvisations, and what is even more important: the electronics have been mastered and subdued and have become functional in the overall sound, rather than just being a technical gimmick that boys like to show off with.

Some tracks appear to be purely acoustic, like the fantastic "Crazy Idea Of Jakub S." or "Little Warrior" with its crazy rhythm that reminds me of a Tom Waits track (but which one?) and with a trumpet part that reminds of Mazurek, other parts have more electronic influences, like the long and beautiful "Dream About The Mind Master", others are indeed almost Don Cherry tributs like "Sonar Toy", playful and joyous and somewhat African, and "Fossil Stairway" is both compelling and irritating.

It is indeed varied, and despite all the references mentioned above, the duo has its own voice, one that is more explicit than on the previous album, with all tracks of high quality and lots of ear candy ... both musicians play well and interact well. Despite the limited setting of trumpet and drums, Majewski and Suchar create a strong and exploratory album, that is equally welcoming and warm.


Can be purchased from Instantjazz.

Rodger Coleman and Sam Byrd - Indeterminate (Improvisations for Piano and Drums) (Nuvoid, 2013) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

Pianist Rodger Coleman and drummer Sam Byrd's collaboration is an energetic and succinct recording. Clocking in at a mere 35 minutes, there is not a scrap of waste on Indeterminate (Improvizations for Piano and Drums).

Captured live at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville, near where pianist Coleman is based, Indeterminate is a vibrant document of the collaboration between Coleman and Byrd, who have worked together in other combinations in Boston and New York. This concert recording is captured nicely, you can hear the attack of the percussion balanced with with the fury of the piano, it's dense music, but not without space.

Coleman's playing has elements of Cecil Taylor's approach, like in the percussive tonal clusters and strong rhythmic drive, all connected by tight melodic runs. Byrd, who seems to have integrated a rubber duck into his kit and is not shy about squeezing it, gives Coleman more than enough support to build on. Or, maybe it's the other way around, where Coleman's intensity provides Byrd with space to explore and rhythmic ideas to push around.

Towards the end of the short recording, Coleman works over and over a small melodic invention, and suddenly, sprinkles in some musical quotes. It's a wonderment how a quick refrain from St. Thomas sticks out, like a shiny object in the musical maelstrom. Overall, the music is exciting and the relative brevity of the recording is a strong point too, not letting the music run out of steam. An enjoyable listen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thurston Moore and Alex Ward - Live at Café OTO (Otoroku, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Cafe Oto, which was founded by Hamish Dunbar and his girlfriend Keiko Yamamoto in 2008, has a reputation that precedes the venue like a thunderclap, which is quite unusual for a place mainly supporting experimental music and free improv. It is actually a miracle that they have succeeded in running such a place (and the label they founded) with hardly any funding, even if last year the Arts Council England supported them with £20,000 and Oto has also won the new £25,000 Genesis prize for its work as an arts mentor.

This has now changed since they want to renew their equipment ( they need a new grand piano, for example) and their recording stuff so that they can record all the shows properly. In order to collect some money artists like Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost (among others) donated items for an auction, John Tilbury played a free concert for them and both Fred Frith and Christian Marclay and Thurston Moore and Alex Ward released limited edition vinyl album to support them.

Alex Ward, who is on clarinet and amplifier here, has known Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore for almost 15 years when he worked with him and Derek Bailey. On March, 20th in 2012 they closed the first part of a set (which started with poetry reading by Moore and Tom Raworth) with a monstrously glaring performance. Moore started rather reluctantly with his guitar in his lap delivering feedback and sustained sounds (he used different metal equipment for it) for Ward’s meandering clarinet, before he stood up contributing the Sonic Youth noise sounds we all love so much. The result is a weird free jazz/klezmer/noise rock bastard, which is not far away from Mats Gustafsson’s and Thurston Moore’s “Play some fucking Stooges”, that brought the place to the boil.

“Live at Café Oto” is available as a single-sided limited edition of 100 LPs. It is incredibly expensive (£100) but actually it is worth every penny. Paul Lovens once told me that in such cases I should buy two albums just to sell the second one in three or four years because then the expenditures for both would have amortized - but I don’t want to speculate with music. There are some copies left. Don’t hesitate (if you can afford it).

Listen to an excerpt here:

You can buy it here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Adam Lane goes traditional

By Stef   

Last month I was wondering what Adam Lane, great bassist, composer and arranger was up to. It had been some three years since his phenomenal "Ashcan Rantings" had been released, and then all went quiet, apart from his work as a sideman in various line-ups. Luckily I am the kind of maniac who looks for new music by scanning all new iTunes, eMusic and other possible sources of music relentlessly, not relying on the promotional capabilities of either musicians and labels to get all relevant new releases.

Luckily I also found these two new Adam Lane releases on CIMP via iTunes. The two albums below do not feature on the label's website, and they are not announced as new recordings on Lane's website either, or rather to be found as if they were his first two recordings in his discography.

Both albums have the same line-up, with Lane on bass, Avram Fefer on tenor, Roy Campbell on trumpet, and Vijay Anderson on drums. And both albums are equally easy to recommend. Both also have the same concept: they bring old blues, American traditionals and gospel tunes by a typical free jazz unit, and the result is, as can be expected, moving, touching, heart-rending, bringing the old tunes to a new life, beautifully arranged and played. Apart from the songs' historical value and universal resonance, they way they are brought to you here makes you weep and laugh at times, the former with the great bass intro and then how the band kicks in on "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning", the latter with for instance "This Train" because of its compelling beauty, or with "Go Down Moses" for its moving intro and then berserk explosion ... to give just a few examples.

You can only wonder why they were not released as a double CD, since they form such a great unity.

This is music that is deeply rooted in the origins of jazz, sucking the emotional sap out of a century of musical adaptations and branches, and Adam Lane is possibly the best placed to bring those songs in a modern context, having demonstrated his talent for free-spirited sensitive arrangements in all his previous releases, now expanding it, broadening it, giving the material back its originally intended pain and awe and spirituality, all in a new form but while keeping the roots intact.

His deeply resonating and bluesy bass coaches this quartet into a warm and soulful restoration of tradition. Lane himself shines, and so does the rest of the band, and Roy Campbell's playing on most tunes can be described as absolutely stellar, not only because of his technique, but because of the feeling he gets across in his equally bluesy soloing, while Fefer does some equally hair-raising soloing of the more extravert kind, greatly supported by Anderson.

Absolutely great stuff!

Adam Lane Quartet - Blue Spirit Band (CIMP, 2013) ****

"Blue Spirit Band" was recorded in 2007, and brings such well-know songs as Looky Looky Yonder, Follow the Drinking Gourd, House Of The Rising Sun, Peace Like a River, Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, Old Time Religion, and Myrtle Avenue Blues. 

Listen and buy from iTunes.

Adam Lane Quartet - Oh Freedom (CIMP, 2013) ****

"Of Freedom" was recorded in June 2009 and brings the following songs : This Train, Hold On, C-Line Woman, Go Down Moses, Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Wayfaring Stranger, Cotton Eyed Joe, and Oh Freedom.

Listen and buy from iTunes.

We can only look forward to Adam Lane's upcoming trio album on No Business, with Darius Jones and Vijay Anderson.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Trumpet and Piano

By Stef   

We're being spoiled again, us lovers of trumpet and piano duets. Earlier this year Brian Groder and Tonino Miano released "Fluidensity", last year Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura released "Muku", and now we get even more. Most of these albums share the same common features of chamber jazz, offering a kind of eclectic mix of classical music with jazz, a light romantic sensitivity, often with reduced nervous tension, stripping jazz of its hyperkinetic dynamics, shifting the mood into a more cerebral, contemplative one, which requires serious listening, because notes and interactions are precious, not sprayed around in abundance, no, quite to the contrary, they are rather selected with precision and care, and worked into clear tones and stretched notes, shimmering over sparse piano chords. 

So, I know that musicians absolutely hate to be compared with other musicians, and definitely so if the approach sounds similar, yet is of course totally different. I apologise for that. 

Thomas Heberer & Achim Kaufmann - Knoten (Red Toucan, 2013) ****½ 

Thomas Heberer on trumpet and quartertone trumpet, and Achim Kaufmann on piano, go back a long way. They studied together, played lots of music together, then moved in different geographical directions, now meeting again for a fantastic album. Most tracks start with some idea of what is going to happen, yet then both musicians turn the material into fabulous excursions of calm nervousness, or restrained tension, really going beyond the boundaries of genre or style. Is this jazz? Is this modern classical music? You can wonder.

What you know is that each piece has its own precise musical character, sometimes moody, sometimes joyful, often both at once, sometimes contemplative and sometimes jubilating. What you don't get is repetition, patterns or other solid foundations to stand on, what you get is permanent surprise about what's going to happen, wondering which ways the notes will go, and strangely enough both musicians know, because they move together as one, away from your expectations into new realms of wonder. You can wonder how the notation took place. Yet they explore, they take a journey in their own music, building on the ideas, and expanding them, keeping the original character all the time.

The result is one of refreshing drama, clever sensitivity, precision in rawness, disciplined invention, and this with a broad and open-minded vision on music.

The most amazing thing about the album are the incredible varietiy of ideas, the shifts and changes, and the overall coherence. Of all the albums reviewed in this post, it is without a doubt also the most adventurous, going at times sonically beyond the natural voicing of each instrument, yet without overdoing it.

For sure one of the most interesting albums of the year.

Mirio Cosottini & Tonino Miano - The Inner Life Of Residue (Impressus, 2013) ****

We've reviewed Italian trumpeter Mirio Cosottini before, with EA Silence, on "Flatime" and "Cono Di Ombra E Luce", and with pianist Tonino Miano (again!) on the equally excellent "Cardinal", the latter two albums getting both a five-star rating. Cosottini and Miano had one duo album before, "The Curvature Of Pace", which was quite avant-garde stylistically.

Not so with this one. The two superb musicians give us references to the cool jazz of the 50s, both sonically and harmonically, yet they transform the grammar into today's mode of speech, while adding the eclectism of modern classical music and elements of free improvisation. The approach is calm, minimal, with incredible attention for tone and pace.

As they write in the liner notes "From strictly notated ideas, to graphic scores, verbal suggestions to one another, but always with only one condition in mind : to avoid binding the sound with a specific stylistic gel. That is why, in our opinion, the music is both "out" and "in", "lyric" and "harsh", "smooth" and "coarse", "linear" and "non-linear", it is the act of orbiting the object of our investigation and gaining new perspectives at each passing". Lots of contradictions? The absolute essence for great music.

Some pieces are so beautiful that it hurts.

Ralph Alessi & Fred Hersch - Only Many (Camjazz, 2013) ****

Two other absolute masters of progressive jazz are Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Fred Hersch on piano. After having played together for many years, they release their first duo album, bringing a set of fourteen tracks, of which two covers, Thelonius Monk’s "San Francisco Holiday" and Paul Motian’s "Blue Midnight".

Alessi and Hersch have a kind of natural musical fit, both being extremely gifted on their instruments and with an exceptional ear for interplay, with lots of reverence for jazz tradition while pushing this heritage into today's context without pushing it too far. Their music remains accessible to wide audiences - although that's also relative. It would be too easy to categorise the music on the album as romantic ballads - which they are essence - but both musicians are way too clever not to make this interchange captivating and interesting, developing the themes and structures into sensitive improvisations, full of melancholy beauty, and sometimes even adding some fun into the process, like on "Some Digging In The Ground", or on the playful Monk composition.

Not specifically of high natural interest to the readers of this blog, but lovers of great musicianship 'tout court' will love this.

Tom Arthurs & Richard Fairhurst - Postcards from Pushkin (Babel, 2012) ****

In continuation of "Mesmer", their first collaboration, Tom Arthurs on flugelhorn and Richard Fairhust on piano, bring their sonic aquarels, now inspired by the literature of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The music has this tranquil approach that mixes jazz with classical music, even ridiculing genre definitions completely. The music is fragile, romantic in its sensitivity but modern in its lack of explicit themes and structures, like floating abstractions, and the quality of the playing is excellent.

Can be listened to and downloaded from Bandcamp.

Kirk Knuffke & Jesse Stacken - Orange Was The Color (Steeplechase, 2011)***½  

One of the downsides of this blog is that we get far more CDs than we can ever review, even with a great team of passionate contributors. This one fell through the cracks of our review system two years ago. And not surprisingly in a way, considering the more mainstream approach of both artists. After having covered the music of Ellington and Monk on "Mockingbird", and other jazz luminaries on "Like A Tree" (with Kenny Wollesen on drums), Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Jesse Stacken take on the music of Charles Mingus, in a kind of setting that sounds unnatural for the bassist's music, yet it does work somehow, offering an excellent performance and an interestingly fragile rendition of Mingus' physical music, elucidating elements that you would not have expected in the originals.


Some of those albums can be purchased from Instantjazz.

Tomasz Stanko’s New York Quartet - Wislawa (ECM, 2013) ****½

By Troy Dostert

For fans of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, this double-CD release is a welcome treat.  And for those who haven’t yet sampled the riches of this veteran of European creative jazz of the 1970s, this recording would be a great place to begin.  While Stanko has mellowed just a bit with age (although he still has some fire to his playing when the occasion demands it—see below), he remains a searching, dynamic player who is always guaranteed to produce memorable music.

Part of the key to the success of this recording is the new group Stanko has assembled, consisting of pianist David Virelles, bassist Thomas Morgan, and last but not least drummer Gerald Cleaver, who’s seemingly been playing with everyone these days, as his long list of recordings seems to grow by the week.  Stanko has always chosen well in selecting his musical partners, and these guys continue that legacy, as they’re able to anchor the music in subtle and gentle ways, something particularly essential for the gorgeous ballads that are now Stanko’s stock-in-trade.  The album’s title track, “Wislawa,” for example, is built around a breathtaking but very deliberately-paced tune.  Only a group committed to putting the beauty of the music before their own egos could offer the support needed to make this music really sing, and Virelles, Morgan and Cleaver are certainly capable of it.  But what separates this record from some of Stanko’s more recent work is that these players are also willing to stir things up a bit—by injecting some energy and drive to a number of the tracks.  And in the process, they spur Stanko to some of his punchiest playing in recent years.

Take, for instance, the second track of the album, “Assassins,” which begins with a relatively straightforward post-bop head, only to quickly morph into a groove-driven off-meter vamp that allows Stanko to take his horn into the upper register for some truly invigorating playing, while the rest of the group keeps things going with a feisty rhythmic charge.  Or for another example, “Faces,” near the end of the record, provides another glimpse of the quartet working together on another upbeat number, which again coaxes more spirited playing from Stanko and the others as well.  Along the way, Virelles, Morgan and Cleaver strike the perfect balance between order and freedom, as they support Stanko unfailingly, but not in a confining way.  Especially on the more up-tempo tracks, there’s more than enough openness to allow Stanko’s bandmates to explore their own ideas independently, as they do brilliantly on “Shaggy Vandal,” where after several minutes of fantastic group interplay during the middle of the track while Stanko takes a breather, the trumpeter just can’t help himself, and eagerly jumps in with some passionate contributions of his own before it’s too late.  Special credit should go to Gerald Cleaver as the rhythmic center of this group, as his diversity as a percussionist is really showcased to fine effect here.  When providing soft brushwork on some of the ballad tracks, Cleaver is as understated and careful as one could hope for; but when it’s time to let loose, he brings a muscular presence that allows the more adventurous tracks to take flight.  Hearing such a forceful and unpredictable drummer work with Stanko is one of the special delights of this record.

As a document marking the continuing legacy of one of the legends of improvised music--still going strong in his eighth decade!--this is a very fine release.  And with Stanko’s new colleagues continuing to inspire his creativity, here’s to hoping that there will be many more to come.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tim Daisy and Jason Stein - Bascule (Peira, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I think that the opening track 'Calumet' is the sound of the bascule opening. The  introduction to Tim Daisy and Jason Stein's duo recording begins with the lowercase sounds of air but the mood is soon punctuated by random musical chatter and finally it all gives way to a steady and strong rhythmic bass clarinet and drums stream of consciousness -- which is all to say, it's pretty damn good. Stein's bass clarinet moves effortlessly through the octaves and Daisy's percussion, whether providing atmosphere or rhythmic support, feels flawless.

The intimacy of their conversation also takes on an air of urgency in the follow up 'Center Pier'. Then, the title track begins with Stein's trills and Daisy's rumbling toms. The track becomes almost stressful at times, as the knotty and complex lines of The evolving melody jumps through hoops of its own making.

Stein and Daisy are stalwarts of the Chicago free jazz scene and this duo recording showcases thier talents with delightful clarity. As I write 'highly recommended', the clarinet is reaching an apex of tormented beauty. Good stuff indeed.

Listen, buy, have fun at the label's website.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hungry Cowboy - Dance (Prom Night, 2013) ****

According to the label Prom Night's web site, "hungry cowboy performs Jacob Wick's graphic compositions loosely based on the emotional landscape of Cormac McCarthy's Southwest novels."

I was introduced to author Cormac McCarthy in an undergrad American Literature class as the new - or most recent - Faulkner, or something like that. From the darkness of No Country for Old Men, to the post apocalyptic bleakness of The Road, to the flowing All The Pretty Horses, Brooklyn based 'hungry cowboy' has chosen a deep well to draw inspiration from, and they certainly seem up to the task. Comprised of Jacob Wick on trumpet, Briggan Krauss on saxophone, Jonathan Goldberger on guitar and Mike Pride on drums, the group creates it own images of dusty Western plains, dry cracked river beds, and menacing skies.

The opening track 'Gleam' begins with an abstract call and response between the quartet, but the sparse and spacious score begins to fill in with a hopeful tune, and ends with a foreshadowing of the gathering storm. It arrives in 'Dance,' a heavy guitar driven track that finds Goldberger and Pride locked into a deadly march across the parched landscape. The closing track, 'Clear', features the austere legato of the horns locked in repetition over clattering percussion. The guitar scratches and buzzes around with bad intent as the tension builds into a wrenching climax and unresolved, but again hopeful, ending.

I listened to Dance for a long time before I was aware of the McCarthy connection but find my imagination piqued by it. Regardless, this is a solid and inventive album that is a visually suggestive as it is musically compelling.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal – Aquarius (Delmark, 2013)****
Nicole Mitchell – Engraved In The Wind (RogueArt, 2013)****

By Tom Burris

Some folks might get misty-eyed over the Cubs or the Bears, but for me Chicago is Jazz. 
Is there a more fertile ground for free improvisational music than Chicago?  Since the inception of the AACM - I know Sun Ra started there earlier, but it seems disrespectful to say his professional beginnings were in Chicago rather than Saturn - the city has been the birthplace of so much free music of towering importance it boggles the mind.  It's had its lows and highs over several decades, but the city's free sound has remained influential for roughly fifty years.  While Mitchell has moved to the west coast to accept a teaching position at the University of California, Chicago remains at the heart of her music.  All of the other members of her quartet, Ice Crystal, are still based on the shores of Lake Michigan.  In its typically unfussy, down-to-business Midwestern fashion, Ice Crystal has nothing other than the creation and execution of incredible music as its objective. 

The band's members are all influential within other conglomerations, including their individual work as band leaders, and the sound of them uniting with such precision under one umbrella is never less than thrilling.  And the results are never less than surprising.  The first crazy turn happens a mere thirty seconds into the first track, where the full-scale attack that began the disc slows to a funkier groove, repeating the theme from the beginning and providing a cool surface on which Mitchell's flute and Jason Adasiewicz's vibes solo and dance. 

I should point out that a sonic reference throughout the album is the Hutcherson/Dolphy “Out To Lunch” axis, but only texturally.  Melodically and harmonically, Mitchell and Adasiewicz are a very different duo, as exemplified by the wintery chord structure Adasiewicz sets underneath Mitchell's fluttering on “Today Today”.  When Frank Rosaly joins in with cymbal-happy movement during free section of the track, it adds a solar warmth to the icy feel of the vibes and flute. 

The centerpiece and title track begins with a four-note descending pattern, followed by a sublime bowed bass solo by Joshua Abrams.  The track appears to be loosely structured on the surface, but is, like everything else here, actually a fairly tight composition.  The interplay here is nothing short of amazing and when Rosaly gets a solo spot that becomes interspersed with unison blasts from the band, it will knock you off your feet.  Incredible stuff.

Abrams and Rosaly are especially adept at the whole swing-but-straight-on thing and “Adaptability” is a perfect example of it.  It's a mid-tempo groove with some delay and reverb (tastefully) added to Mitchell and Adasiewicz.  The knob tweaks are another strange & wonderful surprise – and so is the turn at the end of “Diga Diga,” where the band sounds like a free jazz approximation of Indonesian street music. 

The album closes with an elegy to Mitchell's mentor and friend, Mr. Fred Anderson, another Chicago legend.  Words of love are spoken by Mitchell's husband, Calvin Gaant, but the spirit of the music says it all anyway. 

On Engraved In The Wind, Mitchell sets sail for her first (to my knowledge) entire album as a soloist.  As expected, her technique is brought to the fore here.  Her control dazzles throughout the recording, and there are plenty of technical marvels to consider.  For example, how on earth does she make that flute play four notes simultaneously on “Making of Rose Quartz”?  There is, of course, a fine example of singing/blowing into the flute on the title track.  And although this is a solo recording, it's not always “live,” as there are a few instances of overdubbing two or more flutes onto a track. 

Even though this is something of a recital recording, I prefer to listen to it with my left brain turned down – which is probably the highest praise you can give to a solo recording.  There is so much beauty and warmth here that to focus too much on the execution actually takes something away from the listening process.  Adding more musicians to these compositions would likely have the same effect. 

Nicole Mitchell has performed quite a balancing act with these two releases.  On Aquarius, she leads a formidable quartet through music that focuses primarily on her compositions and yet remains open enough to allow the musicians to interpret the music in surprising ways.  On Engraved, she must deliver everything herself.  She does so by contributing material that is so perfectly suited to the task that she makes it seem that her way of executing the material is the only possible option.  As a player and a leader, she's got the goods.  But on both of these discs, as well as on last year's ambitious Arc of O, she shows that it's her compositional skills that are the true center of her art.

Can be purchased from Instantjazz.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sophie Agnel, John Edwards, Steve Noble – Meteo (Clean Feed, 2013) ***½

By Dan

There are few greater pleasures in the free music world than the subversive piano trio. I think of some of my favorite music from the past few years—albums like RED Trio, Eve Risser’s En Corps, Hexentrio, Cousin It (also with Edwards and Noble)—and what unites them is not simply their choice of instruments, but their complete evisceration of a classic format. Not only is the piano unseated from its throne, it’s liberated from its sheltered, well-tempered existence.

Meteo settles in nicely with this group, in that it doesn’t really settle very nicely at all. Bill Evans this is not. Hell, it’s not even Cecil Taylor or Matthew Shipp. Meteo is a 38 minute performance from the 2012 Meteo Festival, but it feels more like tuning in to some cosmic broadcast already in progress, a weird aural rendering of the crunch beyond an event horizon, the swirling compression of history, instrumentality, and virtuosity as music approaches a singularity.

This is a music of heat and friction, entropy and order reborn, a reminder of the sturdy, physical fact that is a hand on an instrument and a sound against the eardrum. It’s an exhilarating and fully engaged set. If only it were a bit longer! Edwards and Noble are a common pairing, although the way they lock together is far beyond rhythm section tropes like keeping time or swinging. They work in grating scrapes and beating, pulsing drones, blasts of emphasis and dense piles of sound. Agnel is comfortable in this world; she works the piano inside and out, at once the blazing point of focus and the immense backdrop all else is set against. The dissolution of a foreground and background is key in Meteo.

Clean Feed selects a slightly different image, describing the trio as a circle, rather than the more traditional triangle. It’s true: Meteo can’t be reduced to simple geometric angles. It’s something more akin to calculus, the curve approaching infinity, or the kaleidoscopic complexity that blooms from an endless fractal. Or better yet—maybe it’s the boulder tossed in the reflecting pool, warping and disrupting the delicate image of piano trios past.

Can be purchased from Instantjazz.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Deep Listening Weekend - Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert & Gerald Cleaver - Book Of Three - Continuum (2012)

Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert & Gerald Cleaver - Book Of Three - Continuum (2012) (Relative Pitch, 2013) ****
By Colin Green

 Book of Three comprises Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), John Hébert (double bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Their eponymous release from 2010 was a study in quiet intensity, played with a faultless sense of tone and scale. Bynum’s fragile – sometimes, almost frozen – lines (accentuated by the use of cornet and flugelhorn) were suspended over Hébert’s lean bass and Cleaver’s delicately shaded drumming, to produce a set of solemn, but eloquent conversations. The performances on this release – recorded some two years later – retain that character, but with the addition of improvisations based on composed material on four tracks.

 On occasions Bynum’s playing is so soft it resembles nothing more than coloured breath, in music that is stripped to the bone: an exercise in how much can be eliminated without compromising musical substance. In Open City Cleaver restricts himself to mallets over which Bynum’s smeared and fractured phrases – hung in stasis – carry on an intimate dialogue with Hébert’s arco bass At the end a sort of resolution is achieved with a simple drum pattern and col legno rhythm accompanying a tiny melody on cornet.

 Jim Hobbs’ Aware of Vacuity (first heard on the Fully Celebrated Orchestra’s 2002 release: Marriage of Heaven and Earth) begins with slow motion allusions to the theme, stretched over bowed bass and brushes before the simple six-note tune is quoted in full on the bass. The trio return to literal statements of the tune between excursions into more extreme areas.

The title: Continuum, suggests a development from the previous recording, but perhaps also a lineage from earlier jazz. To my ears, the thematic improvisations – and even parts of the freely improvised pieces – share an approach pioneered by the Miles Davis Quintet of 64 – 68, what Wayne Shorter has brilliantly described as “working with the DNA of a tune”. Many of the features of that great quintet (particularly in live performance) are present in the opening number – Bobby Bradford’s jaunty Comin’ On – in which phrases are contracted and expanded over Hébert and Cleaver’s metrical shifts and slides. Hébert comes at the tune from an oblique angle during an extended bass passage (“solo” would misrepresent the trio’s dynamics) where what is omitted or implied, is as important as the actual notes played. Similarly, in Jamila, by Salim Washington, the trio shifts in and out of tempo, stable then floating. Journal Square Complications is a free improvisation, but there are clear melodic cells, gestures and contours, subjected to Bynum’s fiercely focused playing, particularly in the closing minutes, spurred on by the propulsive rhythm section.

In Cleaver’s "Henry", bass and drums weave a web of detail around the slow, mournful theme: as if two different, but related sound worlds have been drawn together. The tune is reprised at the close of the final piece, over a soft cymbal wash, etched in spare phrases from Bynum. With masterful playing throughout, this is strongly recommended, and as a bonus, there’s a live performance by the trio – from the night before the recording of their first release – at Bynum’s website.

Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert & Gerald Cleaver - Book Of Three - Continuum (2012) (Relative Pitch, 2013) ****½

By Stef   

In my review of their first album "Book of Three", released in 2010, I tried to capture the "unbearable lightness" of this trio's music, and their approach is still the same, one of unhurried and gentle sensitive freedom, very welcoming to the ears due to the traditional use of the instruments, ie without extended techniques, yet totally open-minded to themes and collective improvisation.

The trio is Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, John Hébert on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, names who need no further introduction, and the fact that Ho Bynum restricts himself to only one horn on this album, even increases the coherence that was already strong on the previous album.

And it is jazz, very much so, in its sound, its sense of pulse, even if slow at times, in its harmonic dynamics, in its very sound. Three tracks are based on compositions by other artists, Bobby Bradford, Jim Hobbs and Salim Washington.

The first track, Bradford's "Comin' On", still has this boppish feel to it, but then in a very stretched out way, full of bluesy sensitivities, with the three musicians keeping the main theme as the anchor point, but then straying away from it - rhythmically, melodically - without losing sight of what they're playing, and as on the first album, the overall sound is truly a trio effort. The cornet may have the clearest voice, but the actual sound and evolution of the track is a real group thing.

The second track "Aware of Vacuity" comes from the "Marriage Of Heaven And Earth" album by the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, one of the many successful bands to which the cornettist contributed, bringing a somewhat faster and less tribal rendition of the original. It starts with moaning arco by Hébert, with the muted horn offering some distant echo, slightly introducing the theme, and then the tempo increases and the theme really kicks in. Of all the tracks on the album, it's possibly the one that is easiest to recognise because of the long repetitions of the theme.

"Henry" a composition by Cleaver is a more abstract ballad, originally on his "Detroit" release, and in my opinion closer to the trio's musical vision. Cleaver's playing is Motian-like, creating a percussive space, emphasising, leading, contrasting, without actually explicitly setting a rhythm. Over his and Hébert's foundation, the cornet weaves slow and sad phrases.

The fun in my opinion really starts with the trio improvisations. "Open City" is the first one. It starts with low rumbling on the toms, a few high pitched squeals from the cornet, echoed by the arco bass, then when Cleaver increases his volume, the bass goes to the lower regions, dragging the cornet to the same register for some intense soundscaping, leaving lots of open spaces for their music to resonate.

"Jamila" by Salim Washington has a boppish base and harmonics, but the trio again gives it so much space and breath, changing rhythm and tempo along the way.

The best tracks, however, are kept till the very end. "Journal Square Complications" is a wayward piece, as free as it gets, with intense interplay and some angry growling by the cornet, and lots of space for bass and drums, one that again shifts in tempo and approach, with all three musicians moving as one.

"Precoda" starts with all three instruments playing sustained tones in a minimalist way, barely audible at times, creating an ominous atmosphere of suppressed tension, the soundtrack to a horror scene, before Cleaver's "Henry" gets a reprise, calmer and even more abstract.

In sum, this is an album you don't want to miss, played by three artists in the best of forms, offering an interesting and jazzy take on modern music, or redefining jazz in today's world, sensitive, artful, thoughtful, extremely well-paced and in the end also very accessible. No musical evolution by creating shock waves, but by taking what exists a step further into a sound we really want to hear more of.

Can be purchased from Instantjazz.

Listen to "Comin' On"

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pandelis Karayorgis Roundup

By Paul Acquaro

Boston based pianist and composer Pandelis Karayorgis' recent set of recordings on his label Driff Records feature a diverse set of players ranging from his home town of Boston, to the Chicago free jazz scene, and all the way to the Netherlands. The music is as varied as the configurations, ranging from compositions for a quintet, to interpretations of Steve Lacy, to improvised trio pieces. Throughout, the focus is not Karayorgis' piano, rather it's the talent and collaboration of all the instruments into his musical vision.

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet - Circuitous (Driff, 2013) ****½

Starting with what has proven to be my favorite recording (perhaps), Circuitous, it's easy to feel Karayorgis' influences within his fresh and exciting music. Drawing on the still contemporary style of Thelonious Monk and rich legacy of Steve Lacy, Karayorgis' composition serve as complex and knotty frameworks for some sophisticated and accessible improvisation.

In addition to Karayorgis' piano, the quintet is Dave Rempis on sax, Keefe Jackson on sax, bass and contrabass clarinet, Nate McBride on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. The players all have their own space to build upon the composer's vision. Sticking pretty much with traditional instrumental roles, the music is free, inventive, highly melodic and unpredictable.

The opening 'Undertow' features an unison melody that breaks into an angular piano solo, and just digs in deeper and deeper as the song progresses.  Other tracks, like 'Swarm' seems to draw upon snippets of Monk themes, and at moments, I even picked up what I can best describe as a 'Mingus circa Changes One' compositional vibe.

The Whammies: Plays the Music of Steve Lacy Vol. 2 (Driff, 2013) ****

My introduction to Karayorgis was through the first volume of The Whammies . Like the first volume, the music here is a playful but serious exploration of saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy's catalog. The angular melodies, jarring interplay and top notch musicianship result in a highly listenable album.

The Whammies is an international cast, drawing from Chicago, Boston and Amsterdam. In addition to Karayorgis' piano, there is Driff label co-founder Jorrit Dijkstra on alto sax and retro-synth the lyricon, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Mary Oliver on violin and viola, Nate McBride on bass, and the venerable Han Bennink on drums.

The melodies of 'Skirts' and 'Lumps' are sort of irresitable and catchy (in an avant garde sort of way) and the introspective playing of the ensemble on 'Art' is sublime. Now, I'm starting to think that this one just might be my favorite of the bunch.

Pandelis Karayorgis Trio - Cocoon (Driff, 2013) ****

So, here the piano is front and center. A traditional piano, bass and drums trio, Karayorgis' angular Monkish melodies are front and center, deftly supported by Jef Charland on bass and Luther Gray on the drums.

For brevity's sake, let me jump halfway into this excellent album to 'Sideways Cacoon'. Karayorgis' striking chords and Charland's pulsating, yet restrained, bass make for a delicate yet grabbing underlayment to the accessible and convoluted melodic lead. This is followed up by 'Settling,' a more dramatic and rhythmic piece featuring the bass and driving percussion.

More traditional in its instrumentation and approach, the Trio is a wonderful showcase for Karayorgis' knotty and enjoyable compositions.

Gregorio/Swell/Karayorgis - Window and Doorway (Driff, 2013) ****

I saved the toughest one for last. Almost opposite the trio recording in terms of accessibility and composition, this trio of Karayorgis, trombonist Steve Swell and clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio makes music that is sparse and spacious. The program contains a mix of pure improvisation juxtaposed with compositions from each group member.

Staring with the first track, Swell's 'Texture 5', the trio's approach to meshing composition and improvisation is on display. The track begins with a legato clarinet and supportive phrases from the trombone that are lightly underscored by the piano which grows more assertive as the tune progresses. Their abstract call and response has a certain hopeful melancholy binding the three musicians together. Eventually, Karayorgis is front and center, the roles reversed. The track ends with the trio engaged in some very energetic free playing, an intensive payoff for the patient listener.

Gregorio's clarinet is the first sound heard on the evocative 'Curves and Angles' which at first I thought must be one of the composed pieces, but is in fact a group improvisation that sees each member complimenting the other seamlessly. Actually, you may be inclined to think the whole album is composed, as pieces like Karayorgis' 'Liftagowy' or Swell's 'Nu Blu', which beings with a harsh dissonance, all contain an infectious free spirit.

These four recent releases from Karayorgis' label are really excellent examples of the intersection of composition and free playing. The different combinations of instruments and approaches showcases the pianist's influences and exciting musical ideas. Great music, check it out at

You can also purchase from Instantjazz

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Joey Baron - Just Listen (Relative Pitch, 2013) ****

By Stef   

In 2006 Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell issued "The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers", a nice album of guitar and drums interplay, led by a drummer, although suffering a little bit from a lack of musical coherence, ranging from clean - though adventurous - banjo playing to heavily distorted guitars and electronics, making the listener shift from intimacy to wall-of-sound approaches. 

This duo performance between Joey Baron and Frisell is of a different nature. Baron is the leader, as was the task of the performers at the Forum festival in Bonn, Germany, in 2008 : "the point of view is that of the drummer. The drummer's special musical form is the theme of the festival : structuring, refracting, driving, pulsing, grooving (most important, grooving)"

Baron was invited and asked Frisell to join him. And the result is one of those little gems of jazz. The music does not break boundaries, nor does it create subliminal listening experiences, yet the sheer quality of the playing, the incredible skills of both musicians, and the incredible joy resulting from the interaction, make this a wonderful album. 

The fun of the musicians is infectious and the audience reacts enthusiastically, as we all should. The first track starts with a duo improvisation that gradually shifts into Benny Goodman's "Benny's Bugle", indeed a real grooving tune that allows Baron to shine. Then, interestingly, the second track brings an almost avant-garde exploration for guitar and percussion, with light touches of sound percolating from space evolving into an abstract theme. 

Despite their excellent musicianship, both artists have this kind of natural sentimental mellowness in their compositions, which is usually not my kind of thing, but luckily they don't overdo it on this album. Yes, there is the slow "Mood" by Ron Carter, or a bluesy "A Change Is Gonna Come", on which Frisells turns this sweet tune into overdrive at the end of the track, yet it's intimate and straightforward (without the sugar and cheap sentiments).

The real treat is to be found in the more groovy tracks, like "Cherokee", or in Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes", on which Baron again demonstrates how subtle drumming can be. On the last track, Frisell lets go of the intimacy of the previous tracks and goes berserk on John McLaughlin's "Follow Your Heart", switching on all his pedals and turning op the volume for some boyish delight. 

Pure fun! Great fun!

The album can be bought from

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Digital Primitives - Soul Searchin' and Lipsomuch (Hopscotch, 2013) ****

By Stef   

For those who do not know : The Digital Primitives are Assif Tsahar on sax, Cooper-Moore on his self-created diddly bo, twinger, mouth bow, fretless banjo and Chad Taylor on drums.Their two previous albums are also easy to recommend, the first self-titled CD and , "Hum Crackle & Pop", which was released four years ago.

This is a trio to experience in a live setting, but this double album captures their art extremely well. It is one long rhythm fest with soaring sax, indeed building on everything that's primitive in us, but then in the best sense of the word, no nonsense, no polish, no self-glorification ... but the raw and fun enjoyment of rhythm and soloing.

It funks, it blues, it jazzes, it weeps,  it crazies and it mads, it hollers it stomps it shouts it screams. It souls it rants it explodes it suprises it sings it trances it dances.

It captures the essence and even the raw reason of music to begin with, the communal joy of totally free communion with sound and rhythm, to go beyond the self and interact with the senses and emotions and some thinking and then go beyond what is known, in a free act of joint creation, hear and see something come out of nothing, and then feel that unnamed thing inside you physically laugh. That primitive!

And man, can they play!

Down Beat .... the Poll

By Stef   

Every year, Downbeat, the leading jazz magazine, has a readers poll and a critics poll to nominate the best bands, the best albums, the best musicians by instrument, the best labels, etc.

You can vote too : here is the link.

I was shocked out of my senses when I read the suggested names for each category. True, Downbeat is an American magazine, and their nature is more mainstream than progressive, but even then, when you look at the list of musicians suggested, it gives the impression that outside of the United States nothing of value is produced, neither by musicians nor by labels. Roughly the calculation is that 90% comes from the US, the rest are some scraps taken left and right for reasons of diversity (I hate the word, it's the opposite of quality).

Just to give you some idea of the categories :

Musician Of The Year : 64 suggested musicians, with 3 non-Americans (Anat Cohen, Hiromi, Rez Abbasi) who all happen to be based in the United States. Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa are both US citizens, despite their Indian ancestry.

Jazz Group Of The Year : 79 bands suggested, with 4 bands of non-Americans (Atomic, Enrico Rava, Bobo Stenson Trio, Die Enttäuschung).

Big Band Of The Year : 52 bands, with 7 bands from outside the United States.

Jazz Album Of the Year : 127 albums, of which 13 are by non-US nationals (but again, with Mahanthappa, Ivo Perelman as clear US residents).

Historical Albums : 34 of which 3 are non-Americans (Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Albert Mangelsdorf).

... notice too that most non-Americans are typically on ECM.

... and I can go on

Trombone players of the year : 49 suggested musicians, of which 4 are non-Americans.

Clarinet player of the year : 44 suggestions of which 10 non-Americans (great : 20%!)

Tenor saxophonist of the year : 56 names of which 8 non-Americans.

Guitar players : 41 names suggested of which 3 non-Americans

Drummers : 53 names of which 3 non-Americans

Composers : 66 names of which 2 non-Americans

Record labels : 94 suggested names of which 12 non-US

Piano players : 54 names suggested of which 9 are non-US citizens

Trumpet players : 53 names of which 12 are non Americans.

I could go on for all categories, but I guess the message is clear. Is Downbeat blind, ignorant, or deceiving its readers?


- either Downbeat should rename its poll into : "78th Downbeat Readers Poll Of US Jazz Musicians"
- or evolve into a less US-centric attitude
- it could also be that Downbeat is totally unaware of what's happening outside the United States, in which case we'd love to invite them to Europe, Japan, Australia and other places with a vibrant jazz scene. Being ignorant of what's happening of real value in its core competence, is really bad, I would think.

We are not against the names of the musicians suggested by Downbeat, but a more knowledgeable list would have served their readers' interest and would have been more balanced in terms of actual musical value. Readers should know what's of real value, rather than getting a list of the name of friends.

The very nature of jazz is that it's universal. Most musicians and bands referenced on this blog are playing with like-minded musicians from around the world, regardless of nationality. Quite to the contrary, they actually look for new collaborations, to push boundaries, to have refreshing new ideas and challenges.

It's shocking that a leading jazz magazine has such a parochial attitude, in total conflict with the genre's essence.

Has Downbeat never heard of ..

- RED Trio
- Okkyung Lee
- Scott Tinkler
- Thomas Heberer
- Susana Santos Silva
- Axel Dörner
- Sei Miguel
- Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky
- Jean-Luc Cappozzo
- Tom Arthurs
- Alexey Lapin
- Alexander Hawkins
- Lisa Ullen
- Eve Risser
- Magda Mayas
- Agusti Fernandez
- Rodrigo Pinheiro
- Marc Hannaford
- Steve Beresford
- Anto Pett
- Achim Kaufmann
- christian Wallumrod
- John Tilbury
- Nobu Stowe
- Sten Sandell
- Syvlie Courvoisier
- Michel Wintsch
- John Tilbury
- Dominic Lash
- Hernani Faustino
- Pascal Niggenkemper
- John Edwards
- Benjamin Duboc
- Johan Bertling
- Paul Rogers
- Nick Stephens
- Simon Fell
- Joachim Badenhorst
- Frank Gratkowski
- Waclaw Zimpel
- Gianni Mimmo
- Mikolaj Trzaska
- Xavier Charles
- Jim Denley
- Paul Lytton
- Raymond Strid
- Ingar Zach
- Edouard Perraud
- Joe Hertenstein
- Günter Baby Sommer
- Didier Lasserre
- Pawel Szpura
- Eddie Prévost
- Samuel Rohrer
- Klaus Kugel
- Steve Noble
- Mark Sanders
- Angharad Davies
- Martin Küchen
- Lotte Anker
- Mikolaj Trzaska
- Achille Succi
- Ilia Belorukov
- Gianni Gebbia
- Alexandra Grimal
- Alex Ward
- Paul Dunmall
- Rodrigo Amado
- Liudas Mockunas
- Urs Leimgruber
- Frode Gjerstad
- Alexey Kruglov
- Martin Küchen
- Daunik Lazro
- Marc Ducret
- Stian Westerhus
- Pedro Gomes
- Ivar Grydeland
- Kim Myhr
- Mark Solborg
- Burkhard Stangl
- Raphael Roginski
- Otomo Yoshide
- Luis Lopes
- Conrad Bauer
- Circulasione Totale
- Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra
- London Jazz Composers Orchestra
- Not Two
- No Business
- Ayler
- Sans Bruit
- RogueArt
- Jazzwerkstatt
- Trost
- Loose Torque
- Red Toucan
- Rune Grammofon

... to name but a few ... yet all musicians who delivered stellar music last year ... and I'm missing a lot of musicians, including US musicians who were probably too good or progressive for Downbeat to include .... where are Nate Wooley and Peter Evans? Kirk Knuffke? Where is Ellery Eskelin? Hamid Drake?

... and my personal apologies if I have not mentioned all great musicians. This was a fast reaction to François Carrier's post on Facebook, who is luckily mentioned among the non-US sax players (congratulations François, a real feat!).

My proposal : if you vote, vote for the great musicians for whom any group identifier is meaningless, go for musicians with open minds, open hearts, open visions on how individuals can collaborate to create new and captivating and international collaborations.

You can vote till August 15 .... do what is right.