Click here to [close]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

John Butcher, Thomas Lehn & John Tilbury - Exta (Fataka, 2013) ****½

By Stef  

As the label explains :"In ancient Roman religious ritual, 'exta' were the organs of a sacrificed animal offered up to the gods - the lungs, heart, liver and gall bladder; here, Exta is a selection of four pieces (one in two parts) carefully extracted from a long studio session". The trio are John Butcher on saxophones, Thomas Lehn on synth and John Tilbury on piano, three magicians of free improvisation presenting their art as a trio. 

And as can be expected, the result is stunning. As so often with the minimalist approach to music, building sparse sounds around silence, the listener gets shifted between the deception of calm and the illusion of darkness. Nothing you hear is predictable, yet you also know that it will not explode either. The result is an uncanny and relentless tension that starts the album and keeps haunting the listener even after the last sounds have ebbed away. 

John Butcher's sound is as multiphonic, vibrating and resonating as usual, like Tilbury's piano can either be played with a few clear notes or by scraping the inside of it. Lehn is something else. The synth and electronics are not my favorite thing, but Lehn is a master of control, adding the right level of depth and contrast to the sax and the piano, mixing in some white noise and ear-piercing high sustained tones, or some industrial harshness to the cautious sounds of his colleagues. 

"Pulmo" (Latin for lung) comes in two parts, as you can expect from an animal's anatomy. The first part is slow and barely breathing, in contrast to the second part, which is more lively, and extremely beautiful. What the trio brings here is absolutely astonishing in terms of joint soundscaping, and again, Lehn's control and suggested colors add a layer to the music, making it indeed more complete.  

On "Cor" (Latin for heart), the piece shifts from fragile high-pitched playing gradually and slowly, to a more voluminous, dense and tense center part, with rash electronics and heavy piano chords, then silence, but no ... something's still vibrating, pulsing, throbbing far away in the distance, brought to life again by a few carefully placed single notes on the piano, with the sax adding its typical vulnerable beauty. 

"Iecur" (liver) is built around Tilbury's piano introduction, with ominous open arpeggios, with Lehn gradually adding the faintest of sounds, replacing the silence between the piano keys. And like all minimalists, their great strength is the power of restraint, the discipline to let notes resonate in emptiness before a new note is played, at a pace that remains slow and controlled. It takes seven minutes into the piece before we get to hear the sax, nothing more than a faint whisper, then few ripples are made for a while, only to end in some cluttered tones, disoriented somehow, lost in the piece, but coming in structural harmony by the three instruments. 

The album ends with "Fel" (Lating for gall bladder), a short piece, but no less intense than the rest of the album. The tones are low, dark and eery. However generous the offering to the gods may have been with these four organs, the omens do not sound too good. 

Yet a very highly recommended album for fans of Butcher, Tilbury, Lehn, AMM and other minimal improv. 

You can buy from

Anthony Braxton - Echo Echo Mirror House (Victo, 2013) ****

A Deep Listening Review  - Part 2 (see part 1)

By Martin Schray

Yes, it is true, I was almost afraid to write this review because Anthony Braxton’s music scares me in spite of its beauty and the fact that I really like listening to it. Recently I saw him with his Falling River Music Quintet and it was a difficult experience, the music seemed very intellectual to me, I was not really touched emotionally. So when Colin asked me if I want to join him for a double review on this album I was indeed really reluctant.

Braxton has recently used and developed four main compositional concepts – Diamond Curtain Wall, Falling River, Ghost Trance and Echo Echo Mirror House. Diamond Curtain Wall includes intuitive improvisation with interactive electronics based on graphic notation. Falling River is a similar concept as to notation: the scores consist of large, colorful drawings (what I saw lately was based on a large blue spot and a golden circle), much smaller writings, and less musical notation. About Ghost Trance Braxton says that it is “a system of tracks, like a giant choo-choo train system that will show the connections, so where a soloist is moving along a track, that will connect to duo logics, trio logics, quartet logics.” Echo Echo Mirror House is his latest concept. In this ensemble, all the musicians (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone; Mary Halvorson on guitar; Jessica Pavone on alto sax, violin; Jay Rozen on tuba; Aaron Siegel on percussion, vibraphone; Carl Testa on bass, bass clarinet and Anthony Braxton himself on alto, soprano and sopranino saxes) use iPods in addition to their instruments, while meandering through graphic notation, which results in a fascinating combination of live performance and sampled sounds.

The seven musicians and their iPods are like three full orchestras simultaneously playing three distinct Braxton pieces at the same time. But if you expect chaos you are wrong everything fits perfectly well, because Composition 347+, the only track on Echo Echo Mirror House, is one of Braxton’s most fascinating compositions although it might also be intellectually challenging and difficult. It is like standing in an IMAX cinema where a huge Jackson Pollock painting has come to life. From the very beginning the whole band is in full activity, with Braxton’s alto as a very prominent voice and Halvorson’s guitar and  Pavone’s violin that are the glue that holds the diverging elements together. Especially Rozen, Braxton and Ho Bynum tear at the composition, in these moments there is even a connection to Cecil Taylor’s larger projects. Almost exactly after ten minutes there is a first I-pod interplay which almost functions as a shy swing orchestra sample, but for the next ten minutes the track is about to burst from all the ideas added (especially the piano that comes from the iPod) before it takes some breath again. The next iPod use is a children’s choir, it is only a short intermezzo before the band takes over again which ends in another spoken word plus piano sample added to the band. Towards the end there are opera voices and big band samples again.

When you are listening to Composition 347+ the acoustic perception of the variety of sounds and elements can increase to an extent which transgresses the form of the composition, which almost overwhelms the listener. But Braxton’s composition also tries to communicate the sheer beauty in its superfluity, it puts the listener on a cloud nine by captivating us with pure enchantment and rapture. Opening our ears and eyes, we get the deepest impression which is possible for our consciousness, it is a state where everything is slower and where sound colors begin to illuminate, pure sounds are lighter and go even deeper.

Braxton catches a light which is reflected on the listener who has to arrange the sounds in his inner ear which requires a high listening discipline wanting us to be part of the composition.

If this sounds too complicated, do not get deterred, listening to Echo Echo Mirror House is pure joy as well.

You can buy from

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Anthony Braxton - Echo Echo Mirror House (Victo, 2013) ****

A Deep Listening Review - Part 1

By Colin Green

What preparations should one make to listen to the music of Anthony Braxton? Initially, Martin was reluctant to undertake this double-review, as he was concerned that he had sufficient musical knowledge. In Paolo’s recent review of Braxton’s Sax Quintet (New York) 1998, he thought that it might not be possible to review or rate a Braxton release in the usual way, or at least that this would give rise to “some intellectual questions”.

Many find Braxton’s music intimidating, and I suspect this is often due to writing by, or about him. Take the liner notes on this release, to which I turned before listening to the CD: part of an interview that appeared in Downbeat’s March 2012 edition, from which the following is an excerpt:
“The “Echo Echo Mirror House” music is a trans-temporal music state that connects past, present and future as one thought component. This idea is the product of the use of holistic generative template propositions that allow for 300 or 400 compositions to be written in that generative state.”
I might be apprehensive too, if I actually knew what this meant.

Braxton is a complex figure, whose music (and writing) can produce a commingled sense of great insight, and utter bafflement. He is a breathtakingly accomplished player, with a febrile musical imagination, but with a predilection for gnomic pronouncements that make him sound like the leader of some strange cult.

Of course, composers and musicians are often not their best, or most articulate advocates, and many of Braxton’s more metaphysical pretensions can probably be disregarded when listening to his music, in the same way that one does not need to subscribe to Sun Ra’s cosmology in order to appreciate his music.

There’s no doubt that Braxton’s music is difficult, and requires – and deserves – careful listening, but complex ideas can be explained in plain, jargon free language, to the extent required to gain an appreciation of what’s going on in the music. To his credit, Braxton has said that knowledge of the more technical aspects of his music is not required, and that it is not only for music composition majors; but passages such as the above (which are not uncommon) do not do his listeners – or “friendly experiencers” as he insists on calling them – any favours. I’m also pretty sure that unless already well versed in Braxton’s unique lexicon, most music composition majors would be equally puzzled.

So: since this is a Deep Listening Weekend – and I ought to practise what I preach – I thought I’d attempt to explain what I consider to be the salient features of this music, and how best to approach it, subject to the proviso that I’m no expert on Braxton’s music.

First of all, Echo Echo Mirror House is a continuation of musical concerns that have preoccupied Braxton for some time; what Stuart Broomer describes in his book Time and Anthony Braxton (Mercury Press, 2009) as “…vast networks of possible connections, unlikely and unpredictable associations and confluences arising at every turn.”

My view is that this is in part derived from the modernist aesthetic in contemporary classical music – of which the orchestral music of Charles Ives is the earliest example – which embraces multiple discourses: music in which varied and contrasting musical ideas take shape simultaneously, or overlap, often characterised by contrasting instrumentation, textures and tempos; so that fast music, in a high register can proceed alongside slower music in the bass, with no common pulse to unite them. On occasions, connections between these groups, or layers, are highlighted. For example: in Stockhausen’s Gruppen (1957) for three orchestras – a work Braxton has cited as a continuing influence – brass chords bounce and merge between the orchestras.

One of the consequences of such music is that it is not tied to a linear, unified, progression: separate musical ideas can develop independently, or be crosscut, or be replaced by, or turn into something else. One of the dangers of course, is that the music can run away with itself, and descend into chaos, so that the most successful of such works, although often complex on the surface, are usually organised according to a relatively clear overall structure, such as Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra (1969) and Third String Quartet (1971) and Harrison Birtwistle’s Earth Dances (1986).

Braxton’s music has explored the notion of multiple discourses, or strands, for a number of years, but applied to a jazz and an improvising context, and to a much wider range of materials. More recently, he has exhibited a vaulting ambition in what to incorporate in his music – an ever-expanding inclusiveness that seeks to tick as many musical boxes as possible.

As the title suggests, the music is analogous to multiple refractions and after images, to an extent that it seems to be in a continual process of formation and deconstruction, like Lucretius’ swirling universe of atoms coalescing into new objects and dissolving into others. It’s a heady and exuberant mix, consisting of three or more separate strands at any one time, incorporating music both past and present. In addition to the musicians, and their various sub groupings, additional material is provided by the iPods each is credited with “playing”. These include older compositions by Braxton for flute and bass (and what sounds like the repeated chord sequences from his Ghost Trance Music), an orchestra, big band, choir, solo voice, largely indecipherable readings of what might be poetry, and a piano (although without a visual aid I was only able to attribute this to an iPod as none of the musicians is listed as playing one).  It is perhaps to this aspect of the music that Braxton is alluding, when he says in the Downbeat interview: “…it goes back to the old TV commercial: “Is it real or is it Memorex?””.

The musicians engage in dialogues not only with each other, but music of the past, such as where a clarinet plays along with an old jazz recording. (The recordings might all be selections from Braxton’s recorded output, but I’m insufficiently familiar with his vast, and diverse catalogue to be sure.) There are some magical moments, such as where foreground and background are switched, so that indistinct phrases submerged by slow, thick chords suddenly come into focus; and where a folk fiddle plays over the odd syncopations of various superimposed rhythms.

There are seven performers, including Braxton (they’re listed in Martin’s review tomorrow) – although it often sounds like double that number – which gives rise to another issue. Braxton has noted that once one has more than a few performers, there’s less scope for genuine free improvisation, and some kind of structure is required as an aid. He is not alone, and the problem of improvising in larger ensembles has been addressed in varying ways by Barry Guy, the late Butch Morris, the London and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestras, and many others.

Braxton’s solutions are often not readily apparent, however. In this performance it’s difficult to detect any long-term structure or significant recurrences: the music seems to consist of a succession of overlapping local events, which just happen to go on for the permitted duration of the hourglass that sits centre stage. There’s clearly a combination of fixed and improvised material, the former primarily by way of the recordings played on the iPods. Braxton also makes use of extended graphic notation – a sort of half way house between traditional notation and pure improvisation – and I suspect that within all this the performers are given options as to routes they can take, singly or with others, usually directed by hand signals. These are the “musical logics” to which Braxton often refers, but one does not of course, have to be aware of such mechanics: ideally they should work in the background so as to provide a measure of control and coherence to the unfolding events that one hears.

Much of what goes on is a response to the pre-recorded material, such as the driving rhythms of a big band, which the musicians adopt in different ways. On the whole, the individual strands have a sufficiently clear character to enable them to be identified: musical ideas that play out, some stuttering and broken, others consisting of long legato phrases; some are amorphous washes that fill up the background. There’s a particularly dramatic exchange between brass instruments around the 50-minute mark, which resolves into a beautiful alto solo, joined by muted cornet. 

Braxton has a knack of working with outstanding musicians, who are clearly committed to his music and inspired by the challenges he sets them, and in this performance they’re clearly having “fun” (along with “friendly”, a favourite word in Braxton’s vocabulary, possibly to counteract charges that his music is dry, and too serious). With lesser musicians, the whole thing might have fallen apart.

In this music, the listener in placed in a unique position, independent of the various strands on which the musicians are focussing, and having a more neutral perspective on events.  For my part, it’s impossible to maintain the kind of multi-tasking listening required to follow the various elements for the duration of a performance of just over sixty minutes, but this is to miss an important point as to how Braxton expects us to listen to this music.

One way in which his music differs from the examples of multiple discourses mentioned above is that Braxton incorporates not only performer choice, but also listener choice: each listener is an active participant in the performance, not necessarily focussing on the whole, but on individual parts, and making such connections as he or she will. The music is a labyrinth through which each can choose their own route, and which will differ each time. The music requires therefore, a quite radical reorientation from how one might normally listen. I think this is what Braxton means when he says:
“The new holistic models are multi-hierarchical formal states that allow for many different things to happen at the same time, and the friendly experience[r] can have the option of approaching the music in many different ways.”
For me, in this audacious work Braxton has achieved a synthesis of his various preoccupations far more successfully than in some of his other works for larger ensembles, and rather more clearly than in the performance of Composition No. 376 some six months later, with much larger forces (and it would seem, no pre-recorded material) that can be heard on Echo Echo Mirror House (NYC) 2011, available as a subscription download from the Tri-Centric Foundation.

I’d recommend you listen to this recording with as wide a bandwidth as possible. Initially, I listened to a transfer onto my iPod, and it was difficult to make sense of what was going on. It was only when I listened to the CD with the much greater resolution of my hi-fi that the various layers had sufficient space, and snapped into focus. It was a little like moving from grainy black and white to high definition colour, which is what this music requires.   

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Natsuki Tamura - Dragon Nat (Libra, 2013) ****

By Stef  

In contrast to his two previous solo trumpet albums - "Song For Jyaki" (Leo, 1997) and "KoKoKoKe" (MTCJ, 2004) Natsuki Tamura's third solo album is less experimental, but adds in maturity and refinement. 

Half the tunes are known from previous albums, and then specifically from his Gato Libre catalogue, with the titel tracks from "Shiro" and "Forever", "In Berlin, In September", from Nomad,  "World", also from Forever, "Dialogue" from Strange Village. 

Fans of Gato Libre will easily recognise the beautiful themes, yet Tamura has now stripped them to their bare essentials, even doing without the sometimes explicit rhythms that we know from the jazz folk band. Instead you get a gentle carressing of the music with the trumpet's warm tone, full of intimacy and sensitivity. At the same time, he dares go beyond normal voiced tones, urging high pressure tones with urgency out of his instrument when appropriate, to offer contrast, to break the linear development, to keep attention span, and all this with the right dosage and control. 

"Dialogue" starts with the most beautiful shifting tones, and is enhanced by the faintest rustling of chimes in the background, later followed by some light percussion and voicings. It is the longest track and the real pièce-de-résistance" of the album, if you can describe any of Tamura's subtle, light and warm playing as such. 

"Wunderbar" and "Dragon Nat" are new compositions. The former is jubilant almost, like a clarion of triumph, alternated with singing and percussion, turning the opening into a more spiritual incantation, then shifting it to theatre performance. 

"Dragon Nat" is a surprise, consisting of dark growls, almost spoken, then evolving in fierce and hoarse howls, the most experimental part, and reminiscent of some of the hair-raising sounds that we know from his duo and quartet collaborations. 

The lullabye-like "World" ... now finally gets its trumpet part, as on the original this was played by bass, guitar and accordion only. 

Tamura is a real world citizen of music, as familiar in traditional jazz, European folk, Japanse traditional music, as well as avant-garde. He has the amazing capability of integrating all these influences without diminishing any of the ingredients, but rather enhancing them, and all this while creating his own voice and sound full of artistic authenticity. 

The closing tune on the album, "Matsuri", says it all, taking the listener from the usual tender warmth over intense staccato moments to alarming pig squeals and back to normal. 


You can buy

Fire! - Without Noticing (Rune Grammofon, 2013) *****

By Martin Schray

I have seen Mats Gustafsson in various formations quite often this year - with Barry Guy and Raymond Strid as Tarfala Trio, with Thurston Moore (in a really reluctant, sound exploratory performance), or with Birds (his almost tender trio with John Russell and Raymond Strid) - and I liked all of them a lot. He simply is a very versatile and virtuoso sax player, a musician of exuberant creativity, who is always interested in expanding his capacities. But when I recently saw him with Fire! at this year’s Jazz Méteo Festival in Mulhouse/France I realized that I prefer when his playing is really muscular. In other words: when he lets the beast out.

The concert was very much like their new album, starting with Gustafsson on electronics, who prepared the audience for what was going to come. The first track “Standing on a Rabbit (without noticing)” is very much alike and has exactly this function, before the band starts the real thing with “Would I whip (without noticing)”: Jonas Berthling (electric bass) throws in a heavily distorted sixties-psychedelic-blues rock riff, Andreas Werliin (drums) gets lost in free beats and Gustafsson, who can use two saxes simultaneously thanks to overdubs here, spits the hell out of his body (live you could see his spit spraying in the stage lights). A similar track is “At least on your door (without noticing)”, in which Gustafsson and Werliin go berserk after a short introverted intro. These tracks also show three main Fire! elements: the rhythm section is deeply rooted in kraut and blues rock (especially Can and Cream), the execution is highly expressive, and Jonas Berthling is the man that puts the whole thing together.

So far this wasn’t spectacular, it is what Fire! have already presented on their previous albums. But here they also display a meditative side which goes exceptionally well with the underlying psychedelia. A track like “Tonight much more (without noticing)” starts with Gustafsson and Berthling playing a very slow and heavy blues riff in unison, underlined by Gustafsson’s organ and Fender Rhodes – producing an undercurrent that pulls the listener irresistibly in. Another new aspect is the integration of a “ballad” - “Your silhouette on each (without noticing)” -  which is obviously not a regular one but rather something that reminds of very early Black Sabbath (in this case without Ozzy, of course). The album ends with Gustafsson on electronics again which gives it a circular pattern.

The strange titles are a reference to Bill Callahan’s letters to Emma Bowlcut, which were recently published by the Drag City label. It shows how broadminded the trio’s idea of eclecticism is – it’s a thrilling bastard of free jazz, ambient, rock, electronics and even funk (unfortunately not on the album, but watch the clip below). I am really curious where their journey will take them next. Gustafsson called Fire!’s music “Swedish jazz classics from the future”. Maybe he was kidding but I think the future might prove him right.

“(Without Noticing)” is available on CD (incl. a download), vinyl and a limited white vinyl edition.

You can buy

Watch them live here:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mostly Other People do The Killing - Red Hot (Hot Cup, 2013) ****½

By Tom Burris

Yes, our heroes are at it again, mock-saluting - and sincerely saluting - every jazz movement in existence and naming songs after Pennsylvania towns.  This time the main focus is on the hot jazz of the 1920s, but pretty much every other sub-genre of jazz gets a shout-out.  You know the drill.  If Woody Allen ever went back to making the kind of comedies he wrote and directed at the beginning of his film career (it would be a self-conscious move of revisionism that would surely suck but), MOPDTK's “Red Hot” would make the perfect soundtrack for them.

Kicking off with “The Shickshinny Shimmy” (Hello PA!), the band moves in and out of the 1920s w/ characteristic speed and smart chops, featuring the super-hot rolling dixieland banjo strum of new member Brandon Seabrook.  The standard line-up is also augmented this time around by the magnificent Ron Stabinsky on piano and bass trombone star David Taylor.  The in-and-out pattern becomes fully established on “Zelienople,” which opens with a drum solo from the always astonishingly excellent Kevin Shea.  The decades crash into each other from 40 years apart, as Shea plays free underneath some good ol' hot jazz.  Sonny Murray plays with King Oliver for awhile and then Bill Evans shows up.  Then Bill Dixon joins in, courtesy of Peter Evans (who was also King Oliver, of course).  How this can seem like par-for-the-course for any band is beyond all logic, but this band calls it home.

The title track begins with electronic gurgles and blasts alternating with Seabrook's banjo.  Then the band joins in, full dixieland, full Jelly Roll, full fun.  These smart asses take the piss out of the earnest hot jazz revisionist groups so well, but there is a slight feeling of “sore winners” about it.  They're running past the other guys at the finish line and giving them the finger and laughing while they do it.  I'm not saying I don't approve; I'm just saying that's what it sounds like.

On “King of Prussia” Stabinski does a piano solo mash-up of various pianists / songwriters.  Scott Joplin and Joe Jackson stand out pretty obviously.  (He does a mean McCoy Tyner during “Orange is the Name of the Town.”  This guy can do anybody.)  The whole band plays a slow bawdy stomp while Seabrook bows his banjo through a reverb effect, giving the 1920s a touch of 1950s sci-fi.  Inexplicably, the track winds up in lounge jazz territory.

Band leader Moppa Elliot takes a bass solo at the beginning of “Turkey Foot Stomp,” which takes on a Foghorn Leghorn vibe as the music traverses through the barnyard carelessly and confidently.  The harsh, zero-sustain attack of a banjo lends itself well to the overall landscape, often providing relief when things get a little too self-conscious or serious.  On “Seabrook, Power, Plank” this tack goes so far as sounding a bit like Naked City at Dollywood.

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon opens “Gum Stump,” a traditional 12-bar blues (no foolin') with a whole bunch of over-the-top freakouts in it.  The 12-bar blues format is held steadily for over five minutes; and then it's back to business as usual.  Cross Cab Calloway with Django Reinhardt in a Shakey's Pizza in New Orleans and you get “Bird-In-Hand,” the album's closing track.  It also stands as the most concise piece of music on the disc; and in a perfect world it would be a hit single on top forty radio.  (Does that still exist?)

Red Hot is an irreverent tribute to 100 years of jazz masquerading as a take-off on 1920s dixieland.  It could have only been conceived at this time, where the “jazz wars” between the sub-genres are (finally!) almost non-existent.  I can't imagine any other band attempting such an idea, let alone succeeding in its execution and making it seem so effortless.

Watch the original quartet here:

You can buy

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Piano Trios

The amount of CDs and LPs we get is far too many to ever be able to listen to, let alone review them. Hence the reason to cluster music once in a while in overview reviews, somewhat artificially united by a theme, and this time it's the line-up, and the line-up is piano, bass, drums, one of the more "traditional" band formats, but let that not deceive you : creativity within given restrictions is possible, as the albums below testify.

Charity Chan / Damon Smith / Weasel Walter ‎– Improvised Music And Tentacles (Bug Incision, 2013) ****½

Now here's a trio that makes incredibly adventurous use of their instruments. You don't know what you hear, but it's fascinating. In essence, the three musicians, Charity Chan on piano, Damon Smith on bass and Weasel Walter on drums, make sound collisions, shooting of notes like mesons and protons shot through the Large Hadron Collider.

It is fascinating and the outcome totally unpredictable, probably even less predictable than quantum physics, including the non-zero energy state and the opening of opportunities for more dynamic and chaotic possibilities - freely stealing from wikipedia here - yet the music comes close to it, and in a sense becomes almost real, more realistic than the human sentiments that you can expect from the Bill Evans line-up. This is a raw, unfiltered vision on sonic possibilities, where indeed dynamics take over, creating realms of unpredictable possibilities. It is the total lack of compromise which makes this a great album.

Michael Wintsch, Weber, Wolfarth - The Holistic Worlds Of (Monotype, 2012) ****

We know Swiss pianist Michael Wintsch from his "Different Song" with 4Tet, but more especially for his work with "WHO Trio", with Gery Hemingway and Bänz Oester, now we find him back with the "WWW trio", with Christian Weber ("Six Feet Under" with Nate Wooley and Paul Lytton) on bass and Christian Wolfarth ("Circle and Line") on drums.

The trio brings their own take on the format, pushing boundaries without alienating the listener, and demonstrating creativity, subtle skills and open-minded thinking throughout the LP. The tracks are short to medium length, each with well-defined character and approach. The band is intense, alternating intimacy with abundance, yet every improvisation sounds so incredibly fresh and new, as if the concept of music itself was invented on the spot. The trio play with their heart and love for music and spontaneity, avoiding with dexterity all the pitfalls of having no boundaries, and focusing on the essence : great music, fantastic interplay, and at least one listener (me!) who enjoyed this albums many times over.

As the title suggests, they do create holistic worlds.

Dawn of Midi - Dysnomia (Thirsty Ear, 2013) ****

Three years ago, I was exceptionally touched by the debut album of "Dawn Of Midi", because of the intensity and the rhythmic hypnotism of the trio, consisting of Qasim Naqvi from Pakistan on percussion, Aakaash Israni from India on bass, and Amino Belyamani from Morocco on piano.

In essence, this album even reduces their approach to rhythmic hypnotism even more than on their debut album. The downside is that the piano is also reduced to a percussion instrument, with muted keys keeping the pace going forward, with only a limited number of notes being played. Hard repetitiveness kept on relentlessly, relentlessly.

Somehow their approach has become a kind of Philip Glass in jazz format, with minor changes gradually adding increasing complexity and rhythmic madness to the core material.

Although I prefer their debut album, the musical experience they present here is utterly compelling and strange.

Craig Taborn Trio - Chants (ECM, 2013) ****

After many years of mutual collaboration, the trio of Craig Taborn on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums has become a trio, releasing this formidable album on ECM. Taborn and Cleaver played their debut together in 1997, as part of Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory, and have performed together on each other's albums, of which a good part is reviewed on this blog. Taborn and Morgan are also part of Michael Formanek's quartet and of Tomasz Stanko's New York quartet.

Taborn's music is quite exceptional, in the sense that his compositions are quite challenging pieces full of rhythmic complexities and implicit anchor points to make the tempo changes, but as you can expect from such a rhythm section, they take all curves and bends with elegance and style. The compositions are dense and intense, with long improvisations and subtle interplay who keep a kind of paradoxical lightness and openness to the music.

The music is inventive and creative too. The opener "Saints" sets the tone well, with gradually increasing intensity, mesmerising left hand, with Cleaver going wild on the cymbals, and the way Morgan underpins it all is stellar."Beat The Ground" has a more pumping rhythm, offering the great context for a piano solo full of nervosity and speed. Yet also on the slower tracks, such as "In Chant", and "All True Night/Future Perfect", subtlety reigns, offering Morgan more space to solo, or as on "Crackling Hearts", where Cleaver can demonstrate how percussive subtlety can add to emotional anticipation in a piece that's really built around silence.

My favorite track is "Silver Ghosts", again an intense but carefully paced composition, with eery phrases full of wonder and suprise. Again, a great example of how restraint and control can actually build tension and even power. The last track "Speak The Name" is again a little gem of rhythmic madness, with both hands playing in different worlds yet in a strange conflicting and coherent way.

A truly beautiful and strong album.

Sophia Domancich, Avenel, Goubert - Upcoming Summer (Sans Bruit, 2013) ****

French pianist Sophia Domancich with Jean-Jacques Avenel on bass and Simon Goubert on drums. The trio has played together in various line-ups for many years, and that's obvious when you hear the music, which is crisp, fresh and open.

The music was recorded live in 2008, the day Johnny Griffin passed away, and the playing is again excellent, full of nervous tension as we hear on "DAG", her previous album with the same trio, from which all the compositions on this album come from : "As Usual", "Pour Vous", "Soliloques", "Surface De Réparation" and "Pourquoi Pas?".  The big difference is the increased intensity and the great space to keep improvising and developing the music. What was six to seven minutes long on the studio album, now become epic pieces of twenty minutes, adding energy and expansiveness to the compositions. In this live setting, it works really well, demonstrating the sheer joy of making music.

Busk - Nur Eins (Ilk, 2013) ***½

Busk is a Danish trio with Anders Filipsen on piano, Thomas Rehling on bass and Lasse Ehn on drums.

The trio's approach is gentle and minimal, with lots of built-in silence and well-crafted pace. The pieces are short and pleasing, quite open-ended at times. As Rehling describes it : ”First and foremost it’s a soundscape that is characterized by nature – a serious, but also liberating music, that we’ve worked on quite a while before recording. It’s filled with sounds that connect to forces of nature such as storm, wind, rain and sun, in a form that leaves much space for improvisation.”

And he's right and totally wrong too. The music sounds organic, light-textured and free, but there is no storm to be heard, and the wind is just a breeze. But that should not reduce the joy of listening to this album.

Nicolás Chientaroli Trío - ViajeraMente (Pan Y Rosas, 2013) ***

This Argentinian trio, led by Nicolás Chientaroli and with Carlos Alvarez on bass and Sebastián Groshaus on drums is jazzy and adventurous, occasionally quoting from Ellington, Coleman and Monk, and besides own compositions/improvisations, the album includes a cover of Dizzy Gillespie's Be-Bop. The music is quite intense and playful at the same time, and two quieter solo piano pieces give some breathing space to the listener, without actually releasing the intensity.

Novoa-Moreno-Prats - Bajo Cero (Femme Sutil, 2012) ***

This is the third album by Spanish pianist Eva Novoa, accompanied by Javier Moreno on bass and Ramon Prats ("Duot") on drums.

Novoa is an accomplished pianist, who studied jazz piano and composition in Barcelona and The Hague. She is active in both classical music and jazz. The album consists of twelve pieces, mostly short ones, in which an idea is presented and briefly expanded, with the execption of the very long "Medium Over The Water". The playing is good, with varying moods and levels of intensity, all very fluent, liquid even if you can say that of music, it is light without being sentimental. It's only her third album as a leader, and even if technically the music is strong, Novoa will still need to work on a more recognisable "voice", something truly of her own, that will make her stand out.

RGG Tio - Szymanowski (Fonografika, 2013) ***

Now for the even more impressionistic playing, for the real fans of traditional piano trios, this excellent piano trio from Poland, with Lukasz Ojdana on piano, who actually replaces founding member Przemyslaw Raminiak, Maciej Garbowski on bass and Krzysztof Gradziuk on drums, but they retained their original acronym for the band's name. On this album, they pay tribute to Karl Szymanowski, the great Polish classical pianist and composer, active at the beginning of last century. RGG turns his compositions into jazz. As I'm not familiar with Szymanowski's work, it's hard to judge how the trio uses the original material. In any case, the playing is excellent, although more mainstream than adventurous.

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette - Somewhere (ECM, 2013) 

Allright, I didn't think I would ever review an album by my old-time hero Keith Jarrett on this blog, and I won't. It's not bad, this album, technically brilliant, but then what? More of the same? But don't worry Keith, you remain very high on my deserted island pick list, yet not with this album.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Alipio C Neto-Jean-Marc Charmier 5Tet - Lilies For Ra (TerreSommerse, 2013) ****

By Stef  

Brazilian saxophonist Alípio C Neto is hard to pigeonhole, shifting between bop and avant-garde, at times warm and jazzy, at other times drowning the listener without compromise, yet the quality of the playing is always good, clever and authentic. Recommended albums are "The Perfume Comes Before The Flower" and the amazing "Paura - The Construction Of Fear".

We find him back now with a quintet, with Neto on tenor sax, brazilian whistles and cambodjian flute,  Jean-Marc Charmier on trumpet, pocket-trumpet, and flugelhorn, Joakim Rolandson on alto sax and cambodjian flute, Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass, and Paulo Bandeira on drums.

Their album "Lilies For Ra" is a strange blend of "traditional" free jazz with modern insights. Clearly there are some Ornette Coleman influences in the structures and the alternation between great themes and real free improvisation. But the real quality lies in the absolute refinement they bring. The compositions are great, the arrangements are warm and deep, the soloing is intense and sensitive, the balance between rhythmic moments and explorations is perfect, and the overall build-up of the album, the place given to each member of the band, the great production. Just listen "Arapu´", the first track below, and how it shifts from warm and welcoming to boppish mode and then how it dissolves into lose soloing with anguished undertones and then comes back to the unison lines of the beginning, and despite all the exploratory parts, the piece remains essentially coherent and focused.

The overall result is not visionary, nor ground-breaking innovative, yet the quality of the entire album is outstanding.


Nate Wooley/Daniele Martini/Giovanni Di Domenico/Hugo Antunes/ Chris Corsano: Posh Scorch (Orre Records, 2013) **** ½

By Martin Schray

Orre Records’ third release is a live performance by Nate Wooley (trumpet and amplifier), Daniele Martini (tenor sax), Giovanni Di Domenico (Fender Rhodes, electronics), Hugo Antunes (bass) and Chris Corsano (drums) at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels on May 27, 2012, the same place where Peter Brötzmann and Steve Noble have recorded their latest cooperation.

The most exciting aspect of this group is the clash of Wooley and Corsano, two of today’s most adventurous and interesting sound explorers (at least for me), with Giovanni Di Domenico’s blurred ethereal Fender Rhodes arpeggios. Di Domenico is a very versatile composer and musician, his trio album with Arve Henriksen and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto and “Ghibli”, his duo with Alexandra Grimal, are excellent albums.

The first half of Posh Scorch’s A-side reminds of a crude bastard of early Pink Floyd, AMM, and the Miles Davis of the Get up with it era. Di Domenico’s electronics at the beginning are a precision weapon, punctuating the track like flickering flashes at night.

While Wooley’s trumpet floats through space like a distant echo of solar music with Martini’s drone-like sax as a constant counterpart, Di Domenico’s Fender Rhodes and Corsano’s extended drums try to give them even more flexibility. The psychedelic undercurrent allows all musicians to sink deeper into their music, where they can delve into a new and innovative world of atmosphere and texture before Di Domenico lets the whole thing die down, leaving Hugo Antunes alone for a short subtle solo which is then joined by Wooley – maybe the most intimate moment of the performance. The last part of Side A is pure, classic and wild free jazz in which Wooley and Martini can wrestle in front of a tight rhythm section.

Side B also starts very gloomy with a Corsano/Di Domenico duo where you can see what a spectacular drummer Corsano is. Then the band goes further into abstraction, constructing an intensely fragmented and ominous atmosphere that bring to mind the aforementioned psychedelic Miles Davis album, only that Corsano and Martini do their best to sabotage this impression with wild, free interspersions. The result is that the track is always growing and changing and defying expectations.

I came across this album by accident, my record dealer recommended it to me. So – thanks again, Ernst.
It is a real gem.

The album is available on vinyl, which comes with a download voucher including a video of the whole concert, for a very fair price.

You can buy instantjazz.comor download it from Bandcamp.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO - Occupy The World (TUM, 2013) ****½

By Stef   

If anybody received all possible kudos on this blog, with five star ratings galore, it's definitely Wadada Leo Smith, trumpeter, composer, visionary artist. He's equally restless, working on new sounds, new formats, new variations, new line-ups. There is musically hardly any comparison with his Tabligh, or with his duets with drummers, or with his more funky earlier work. Smith keeps reinventing himself, and only for that he deserves lots of credits. 

I hesitated to give his previous "Ten Freedom Summers" a five star rating, because the style of music is clearly not my natural taste, but then I did, because it was truly exceptional, daring, moving, and yes, as a reviewer, you can challenge yourself too. 

"Occupy The World" takes his orchestral concept a step further. Smith and John Lindberg, his long-term companion on bass, and a fantastic musician, meet the TUM Orchestra, consisting of musicians all close to the Finnish label, with many already appearing in reviews on this blog. 

The band ; Verneri Pohjola on trumpet and electronics; Jari Hongisto on trombone; Kalle Hassinen on horn; Kenneth Ojutkangas on tuba; Juhani Aaltonen on flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo; Fredrik Ljungqvist on  tenor and sopranino saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet; Mikko Innanen on alto, soprano and baritone saxophones; Seppo Kantonen on  piano; Iro Haarla on harp; Mikko Iivanainen on electric guitar; Kalle Kalima on electric guitar; Veli Kujala on quarter-tone accordion; Terhi Pylkkänen on violin; Niels Thorkild Levinsen on violin; Barbora Hilpo on viola; Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine on cello; Ulf Krokfors double on bass;  Janne Tuomi on drums and marimba; Mika Kallio on drums; Stefan Pasborg on drums. 

As the title suggests, politics and activism for a more humane world are the driving force and subject of the music. In five long pieces, this double CD delivers Smith's manifesto, one of struggle, conflict and clashes which are on almost equal footing with solemn, majestic and jubilating orchestral developments, of shifting nature and with lots of room for sudden individual changes for one or the other instrument, sounding almost like multiple natural identifiable individual sounds or voices emanating from a jungle or from a crowd or from an angry mob, but barely then disappearing again in the drone-like back-drop, to leave the place for the real voices on this album, the trumpet and the arco bass, with Wadada Leo Smith's soaring as the voice of the individual human, liberated, singing or suppressed and cyring in anguished and despair. 

There is no real theme to be discerned, not on any track, just layers of sounds moving forward in the same direction, like a broad stream full of swirls and twirls, sudden rapids and cross-currents and slower moments and movements full of intensity. It is never calm, there is always action going on of some sort, hard to describe, hard to grasp, hard to identify. 

And maybe it's this fluidity that makes this album so hard to review. I like being among the first to review worthwhile albums, but the words are lacking to even start to capture what I hear and feel while listening. On the surface, it all sounds pretty easy and straightforward : an orchestral backdrop supports the long trumpet solos. Or for John Lindberg, whose arco on "Mount Kilimanjaro" is as stellar and gripping as you can expect, played against a quiet orchestra that gradually starts gaining momentum and power and chaos, with the drums driving the screeching behemoth forward. But it's not that easy. The album has been in my car CD player for months. It's been on my computer audio for months. Listening, trying to get my arms around it, my ears around it. 

"Crossing On A Southern Road" has three ensembles playing different things, moving to foreground and background, crossing each other and coming together in full force near the end. Smith plays his magnificent tones on top and in line with the intersecting sounds. 

The title track is the longest one and ends the album, which contains two "black holes", "where the musicians collectively enter uncharted territories and are asked to find their way forward around the rim of the black hole", as the liner notes describe it. 

"Occupy The World" is not as sparse or spiritual as "Compassion", or as intricately complex and jazzy as "Tabligh", or as bluesy as "Kulture Jazz", or an ode to life like "The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer". 

It is ambitious, it is epic, it is without compromise, and it is at the same time heavy-handed, somber, full of drama and bombastic and grandiose sounds, designed to impress and to crush the listener. In that sense it reminds me of Beethoven's "heroic" period, with dark and overpowering sounds like his fifth symphony. It has a mission, rather than being the natural joy of sounds. Sure, I am not a Beethoven fan for that same reason, and probably that's the subjective hesitance I experience with this album. Yet Beethoven's fifth as a comparison, that's not bad. 

The double CD comes with a very extensive booklet and although we seldom mention the artwork, this one looks really great, a painting by Leena Luostarinen, reflecting the music's spirit quite well. 

Can be purchased from

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dunmall, Hanslip, Gibbs and Ricart: Weeping Idols (FMR Records, 2013) ****

Reviewed by Joe

"Weeping Idols", a new CD out on FMR features two tenor saxophones: Dunmall and Mark Hanslip, and two guitars, Philip Gibbs and Ed Ricart(*), what a line up and what great music! I must say I didn't (to my shame) know the two guitarists, but I'll be looking them up after hearing this one. Mark Hanslip has been on our blog on a couple of occasions, look him up to get a better idea of his various projects which range from an excellent drum/sax duo to a larger mainstream project known as the Twelves. Paul Dunmall needs no introduction, I hope! 

As for the music on the album, well it's a winner all the way through. For such an oddly grouped quartet of two guitars and two saxes the music is incredibly balanced. There's four tracks of varying lengths, the longest being "4 Souls, 8 Eyes" comes in at 20 minutes, all have a variety of approaches and musical ideas. One of my favourites is the second track "Bhutan" which starts with wonderful guitar arpeggios played by hammering on the frets and treated guitar playing together. There's an ethereal quality to the piece, probably why it's called Bhutan. Whilst the guitars do their thing Mark Hanslip's multi-phonic sounds build up creating a new wave of sound letting Paul Dunmall find another layer higher up in the musical spectrum. If you listen on headphones you really hear the four musicians as four separate voices. It's hard (at times) to comprehend how the musicians made such dense music without standing on each others musical toes!

Another highlight is the wonderful opening tenor sax chase on "Better than Words". Hanslip and Dunmall duet like two greyhounds flying out of the traps. They chase each other around for several minutes before letting the guitars in on the fun, here the pace changes to a more abstract style. The last track "Weeping idols" could be a Beefheart tribute (almost), hard hitting guitars scorching away in atonal freedom for an intense duet, maybe a response to what happened before .... and interestingly a horn free ending to a fine album.  

There's much one could say about this record as it's full of delightful playing and surprises. The guitarists have a wonderful complicity, I'd like to know who does what - one works with an almost straight dry sound, whilst the other plays through what I imagine is a delay system (?). Dunmall and Hanslip compliment each other perfectly, both playing in different styles which blend very well. In fact from the sound of "Better than Words" it could even be a starting point for a duet record for two tenors?!

A highly recommended release that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes chamber jazz mixed with free improvisation with real bite. For anyone interested you can try either contacting Mark Hanslip, or via the FMR site.

* = I'm not sure whether Ed's surname name has been misspelt or not, but I've been told that the spelling on the cover is incorrect and should be Ricart not Ricard. However, I've left the album title as it's written as that's what you'll need to look for.


Monday, September 16, 2013

González, González & González

Type "Dennis González" in the search engine on the right of this blog, and you will find more than fifteen albums reviewed. Somehow he dropped away from our attention lately, not because he stopped releasing albums, but possibly because we're always looking for new stuff. González is great, with a kind of warm signature sound on his trumpet and with compositions that are equally identifiable as his, because of their melancholy nature combined with rhythmic drive, with an accessible sound that's progressive at the same time : "avant-garde neo impressionism" in his own words. Apart from his music, he has two fantastic sons with whom he appears to have a very close relationship and whose role in their trio "Yells At Eels" - apart from their other musical projects - becomes increasingly dominant, with Stefan on drums and Aaron on bass, a tight trio that's open to invite new musicians on their albums.

Dennis González - Bandoleros En Gdansk (1 Car Garage Records, 2012) ***

"Bandolieros En Gdansk" is a vinyl 12" 45 RPM collaboration with Polish musicians Wojtek Mazolewski on bass and Marek Pospieszalski on tenor. "The Polish Spirit" is vintage González, a slow piece with yearning Latin phrases in the trumpeter's solo, yearning Polish frases in the sax-player's solo and solid rhythmic underpinning. The title track is a short piece with changing tempi constructing as a kind of collage, with both horns dialoguing over the frenzy of the basses and drums. The final track is almost swing era fun, with the tenor and trumpet again engaging in really great dialogues.

Dennis González - Wind Streaks In Syrtis Major (Tree Fall Sounds, 2012) ***

We find the same quintet back on a 7' vinyl release of performance recorded at the same period. The music consists of three short tracks of intense interaction, full of self-confidence. It is intenser and somehow more in a free mode than "Bandoleros". The album is equally enjoyable and fun. Again, it doesn't add much new musical journeys to the trumpeter's overall output, but it all sounds so much more liberated and solid. You can only wonder why the two short releases where not put into one longer album, but I guess the mysteries of record production are as bizarre as anything else in this world.

You can listen and download from Bandcamp.

Dennis González & Yells At Eels - Colorado At Clinton (Ayler, 2013) ****

We find González father and sons back on this excellent album with now Aakash Mittal on alto saxophone, a former youth friend of drummer Stefan in elementary school in Dallas whom they lost track of when the family moved. But it's a small world, and many years laters they reconnect, with Mittal having studied with Rudresh Mahanthappa, and no better way of celebrating the reunion than by playing music together and recording it.

The album is great, among the very best of Yells At Eels, with the typical sweeping themes, the rock-influenced rhythm section and the expanded soloing. All tracks are new, with the exception of the third "Wind Streaks In Syrtis Major", which also appeared on the vinyl with the same title. "Shadows" is a slow piece, offering the saxophonist space for contemplative soloing, with subtle accompaniment by the brothers.

The real treat is "Shades Of India", in which Mittal really demonstrates his skill and his apprenticeship with Mahanthappa, with soaring soloing in Indian scales. The composition starts slowly, with bass and drums, then Mittal leads the ever intensifying phrases, shadowed by Dennis in non-Indian scales for a long intro, then half-way the rhythm picks up, the volume increases and we move into full improvisation mode after a few repetitions of the unison theme.

"Constellations On The Ground" is slow and extremely beautiful, with trumpet and sax creating sensitive interweaving of sounds, with Aaron's bass on the foreground, first pizzi, then arco, offering depth and this touch of magnificence which the piece requires.

But it is not the band's style to end in melancholy, but with high intensity powerplay. Stefan very much leads this end track, "Dokonori Shīīto", demonstrating some sustained high energy playing, over which first Mittal, then Dennis González then Aaron play expansive solos, with the whole structure nicely coming together again at the very end.

In short, a well-balanced album, reinforcing the band's quality, with again the added value of its openness to guest musicians and new sounds. The band has its own easily identifiable voice, yet again there are differences.

Can be purchased from

Mazolewski González Quintet - Shaman (ForTune, 2013) ****

On this latest album, we find Dennis González back in Poland, without his sons, but again with Marek Pospieszalski on tenor and Wojtek Mazolewski on bass, and with Joanna Duda on piano and Jerzy Rogiewicz on drums completing the quintet.

The first track, "Suite", is a fantastic piece, tribal, reminding us somewhat of Art Ensemble of Chicago freedom and vision, with ambiant sounds, spiritual and compelling. The second track is one of Polish master composer Krzysztof Komeda, and then also one of his best known pieces, "Astigmatic", of which the theme offers the introduction to some sequenced improvising by the various musicians.

Two tracks are penned by González and known from previous albums, "Matter At Hand"(also on his "Dance Of The Soothsayer's Tongue" and "Boston Project") and "Hymn For Julius Hemphill" (also on "The Desert Wind" and "Boston Project"). The two other tracks, "Sztandar" and "Pushing The Car" are written by Mazolewski. The interplay is really strong and the improvisations excellent, and the best results are to be found on the more open pieces, despite the value of the compositions.

In overview, you could get the impression that Dennis González, now that he has created and solidly established his sound, his kind of music, which is more than most musicians can say, rather than further exploring or deepening it, he's in a phase of sharing and supporting others, exposing his music to other influences and broadening it. Both are viable options of course, and the albums above are obviously worth looking for, but my preference still goes to his more epic albums "Nile River Suite", "Dance of The Soothsayer's Tongue" and "Hymn For Tomasz Stanko".

In any case, excellent music and fans will not be disappointed.