Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee - Human Encore (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Stef

In the past years Swedish saxophonist and bandleader Martin Küchen has made quite a name for himself, with the much acclaimed band "Angles", with his solo performances, with his more funky expansive "Exploding Customer", with "Looper", with "Chip Shop Music", with "All Included", and probably some more, but equally with the great "Trespass Trio", a real trio with Per Zanussi on bass and Raymond Strid on drums. I write a "real trio", because even if the compositions are mainly Küchen's - and familiar from other albums - all three musicians contribute equally to the sound and where the music goes.

Now the band expands with nobody less than Joe McPhee, whose phenomenal powerful and tender tenor sax sound fits perfectly well with the overall sound of the trio, but his musical vision strongly matches it too. Sorry, McPhee of course also doubles on pocket trumpet - his first instrument actually before he learned to play sax - and this sound is as welcome as the tenor in the trio's open embrace.

Like with Trio X, McPhee is comfortable with slow, bluesy music that freely improvises around set themes, as is the case here. McPhee himself adds three compositions himself to this live performance, and it is obvious that the trio delivers their best efforts in the presence of their honored guest.

Küchen's repertoire becomes familiar, here with "Bruder Beda Ist Nicht Mehr" and "In Our Midst", two grand compositions, yet we get new material too, with "Xe" and "A Desert On Fire, A Forest", again inspired by the intolerance of nations (tribes?) fighting each other, with the latter referring to Palestine in 1948.

And the music? It is heartfelt, passionate, with four musicians giving their very best, getting the audience clearly on the edge of their chairs, or at least with ears wide open if there were no chairs on this memorable date in Salão, Brazil in June 2012, the music is warm, welcoming and especially fierce and more uptempo in the middle part of the album, when McPhee's pieces are being played, but also then, the sound matches well, the emotions flare up in the heat and intensity of the playing, offering Zanussi also his solo moment and Strid the chance to energise this great quartet.

Fans of Trio X will love this album, as much as fans of Trespass trio, confirming again that great musicians can find each other blindly, as long as they share the same musical vision, which is clearly the case here.

Available at

Friday, November 29, 2013

Lama + Chris Speed - Lamacal (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

A little while back I reviewed Lama's Oneiros. It was a fantastic album, subtle and nuanced, but also with some more aggressive moments. Revisiting my last review, every word still fits this new live recording featuring guest woodwind player Chris Speed:

The pieces fit together so tightly that there's hardly room for a wasted note, beat or breath as the musicians move gracefully through the set of songs, nimbly riding the contours between structure and freedom.

Lama is Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn, Greg Smith on drums and electronics, and Gonçalo Almeida on doublebass, effects and loops. Joining them on this recording is woodwind master Chris Speed on sax and clarinet. Recorded during the 2012 Portalegre Jazz Festival, this electro-acoustic ensemble sprinkles in the electronics perfectly and with Speed's thoughtful playing, Lamacal is another treat.

Kicking off with the slow building 'Overture for a Wandering Fish', the tentative lowercase introduction gives way to increasingly louder fluttering and sputtering as the tension mounts between the horns and rhythm section, becoming quite driving. But, restraint is also a motif throughout. The next track, 'Lamacal', also begins quietly with Almeida's solo bass. Then, Speed joins in with fractured melodic snippets, which Santos then returns and plays off of, making for a fiesty interchange. The track 'Moby Dick' is also a real pleasure to follow. The solid but minimalist bass line moves along with fills and textures until the elliptical unison melody comes ultimately to a slow boil.

A great recording, check out this video below ...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Susana Santos Silva & Torbjorn Zetterberg - Almost Tomorrow (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

The trumpet-bass duo is a format I like, as I have said before, the brass and the wood, the high and the low tones, both instruments able to resonate well in closed spaces, not requiring much volume, the intimacy of conversation without disruption ... Paul Smoker and Dominic Duval, Jean-Luc Cappozzo and Joëlle Léandre, Itaru Oki and Benjamin Duboc, John Corbett and Nick Stephens.

And now we get Portuguese Susana Santos Silva, the trumpeter of Lama, and Swedish bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, reviewed before on this blog with various Swedish bands, who met at a jazz festival in Portugal, then recorded this fully improvised session somewhere in the north of Sweden, in winter, with snow and cold outside, and the warmth of the music and the intimacy of closed space to come up with this riveting and moving dialogue.

Both musicians manage to find the perfect balance between strong musical character, pushing the envelope of sonic phrasing, with short bursts and extended techniques, yet alternating with more welcoming lyricism of the more traditional kind.

To give some examples : the beautiful "Notskalmusik" with long and yearning phrases, is followed by "Head Distortion Machine", a very fit title for the abrasive arco and the growling trumpet, full of misery and unwilling submission.

The most beautiful pieces are "Columbus Arrival At Hajerdalen", a long and deeply emotional improvisation emerging from Zetterberg's arco, with Santos Silva playing some absolutely heartrending and moving phrases, capturing the mood and intro perfectly, and the title track, "Almost Tomorrow", which has some references to Coleman's "Lonely Woman".

Other tracks are more experimental, like the short "Action Jan-Olov", in which Santos Silva adds a dialogue on her own between muted and unmuted, with shifting embouchure, over stagnant staccato pizzis from Zetterberg, or "Flocos De Mel", a longer more minimalist improvisation with sparse sounds creating an ominous and menacing atmosphere.

Highly recommended for fans of intimate avant-jazz dialogues.

Available at

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sealed Knot & Ist

The Sealed Knot – The Sealed Knot (Musica Moderna, Reissue 2013) ***½

 The Sealed Knot – Live at Café OTO (Confront, 2013) ****

Ist – Berlin (Confront, 2013) ***½

Two new albums on Confront (and a forthcoming reissue of an older Confront release) provide an interesting opportunity to look back on the past decade of improvised music. The lenses are two overlapping groups, each with a foot in London and Berlin, two major centers of what was emerging as a new music at the start of the millennium. Ist, the London-based group of Simon H. Fell on bass, Rhodri Davies on harp, and Mark Wastell on cello, is captured during a 2001 concert in Berlin, presenting a slowed-down, “reduced” music to a receptive audience, one that had perhaps been groomed by recent developments in their own local scene. The Sealed Knot brought a little bit of Berlin back to London, with German percussionist Burkhard Beins replacing Fell in a trio with Wastell and Davies. Their self-titled debut was recorded in West London in 2000, and is now being reissued by Musica Moderna some 13 years later, coinciding with their latest, Live at Café OTO.

It may be instructive to consider the most recent recording first—doing so underscores how much ground was covered in a relatively short span of time, and how, in hindsight, labels like “New London Silence” or “Berlin reductionism” never really marked new, enduring genres, but transitional steps at best. As Beins once noted in a Point of Departure interview, “the specifics of a group aesthetic are usually emergent rather than designed.”

Live at Café OTO was recorded in 2009 following the release of that year’s And We Disappear. What’s immediately striking is the depth of sound—and the intensity. Already, the group has moved away from the sound of the album whose release they were gathered to celebrate. Here, Wastell has traded from cello to bass to tam tam, and all three members have brought electronics heavily to the fore. Within minutes, the playing space becomes distended with a complex din, the sort of sustained, harmonically rich sweep of sound that calls to mind thousands of cicadas in the late summer trees, or the imagined hum of a trillion subatomic particles blazing at the speed of light.

What began as part of the “New London Silence ultimately leaves no room for silence. Live at Café OTO  is not an improvisation of selective soundings, with instruments pinging the invisible, silent medium, testing its resiliency, feeling out the ways it eventually swallows everything up.  Rather, any “reduction” feels temporal: one long moment rather than a run of rapid, discrete ones. Perhaps the mark of “silence” that’s endured with the Sealed Knot is really a certain stance toward sound and activity. What is often meant by silence is space, the duration between actions, and here the frenzied improvisational swarm is usurped by the mass of slow accumulation, like thickening layers of ice. In the glacial motion of the performance, the Sealed Knot keep a drone in the air, redrawing its contours, adding layer upon layer without ever breaking its continuity. What remains from the group’s formative meetings is the pace, an unhurried consideration of the sounds that best fit the moment, rather than the headlong consideration of everything all at once.

And looking back, the first Sealed Knot recording surely is more in line with the new silence—the band plays all acoustic instruments, with much more space between them. The focus has been there from the start, though the approach has remained in flux. The Sealed Knot emphasizes attack and decay: though the gestures may be subtle at times, they are clear, distinct units of action, packets of information sent up into the emptiness to battle or merge or refract before fading away. It’s a great document, however different from more recent recordings, and though you can still relate many sounds to their instruments of origin, a sense of the future is there, one in which these musicians will have arrived at a methodology that results in not just a “cello sound” or a “harp sound,” but purely sound, freely-floating aural ephemera that needn’t drag along the timbral associations of this instrument or that.

Again, silence is here, but so is drama and volume. The whisper of Malfatti and others rings softly in their ears, but the Sealed Knot resists being pulled into such extremes, like Malfatti’s ever-growing ouroboros, eating more and more of its tail until one day, simply nothing will remain. And anyway, they were engaged in a different sort of power struggle: as Davies remarks in a 2005 Wire article, their shifting approach to improvisation “was never a criticism of other people’s playing so much as of our own.”

The Ist performance dates from roughly the same period as The Sealed Knot’s first album, though Ist had been established since the mid-to-late 90s. The delicate, barely-there sounds of the trio seem commonplace now, and it’s easy to forget that this music had emerged as a part of a “new” fin de siècle so to speak, and was hardly well-established or embraced on the improvisational scene. The three string instruments give Ist a slightly different flavor than The Sealed Knot, though there are times in the converging microtones where tiny seeds of the more dramatic drones of the future can be heard. The 30 minute performance is met with stunning applause, thicker and more vibrant than what one typically encounters after a free improv performance. But as Fell remarks in the liner notes, the “musical permafrost” was cracking, a stasis was being interrupted. If the raison d’etre of improvisation remained unchanged, musicians’ attitudes towards their own practice and their relationship to each other were undergoing revisions. Hearing Berlin in 2013, that familiar vitality is there, the egoless openness that fuels so much current improvisation and collaboration, and that we perhaps now take for granted.

Together, these three albums give an illuminating overview of some of the modern movement in European improvised music. Berlin and The Sealed Knot show the shift away from “free jazz” and “plinky plonk” that was beginning to take hold in the early 2000s, a shift that would become incredibly influential as other like-minded subgenres began to be stitched together. Decades worth of explorations in the compositional world were finally being digested by improvisers who were feeling boxed-in, and musicians found new solutions in the face of the increasing entropy of free jazz, which felt more and more like a flailing, fruitless dissipation of energy into the void. In Live at Café OTO, we can see, in less than a decade, the expansion of “reductionism” as it merges with electro-acoustic improvisation, drone and noise music, even the structural ideals of minimalism and the compositional concerns of Scelsis and Feldmans and Sciarrinos.

Taken all together, these three albums amount to less than an hour and a half of music. But, despite such brevity, they prove to be essential documents for anyone interested in the development and trajectory of 21st century improvised music.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Frank Gratkowski: Artist Deep Dive

Sometimes you come across an artist by chance. Although I (Martin) heard about Frank Gratkowski before, I haven't seen him live or bought one of his albums. But since I go to all of the concerts Peter Ernst organizes in his seminal Nigglmühle (a spectacular location in Bernbeuren, a small village in the Alpine Upland, which presents only two concerts a year) I got the chance to see Gratkowski's quartet. To cut a long story short: It was simply marvelous!

Gratkowski is a musician with a lot of different talents. As a composer who tries to explore and expand the sound possibilities of his instruments he combines written elements with collective improvisation and as a reedist who is obviously influenced by Steve Lacy and Evan Parker he uses multiphonic and microtonal techniques. On top of his excellent musicianship there is also a very immaculate clarity and purity of his tone. Gratkowski is a prolific musician who produces several albums each year, we have selected three that have been released recently.

Frank Gratkowski Quartet: Le Vent et le Gorge (Leo Records, 2012) **** 

Gratkowski's most interesting project might be his quartet with Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Dieter Manderscheid on bass and Gerry Hemingway on drums.

At the center of their latest album "Le Vent et le Gorge" (The wind and the Canyon) there is the 8-piece-suite "Harm-Oh-Nie" (a pun referring to "harmony" and "nie" - the German word for "never") which discusses the possibility of harmony and organized chaos. The first part is pure harmonious unison playing, as if real harmony seems to be possible - but obviously the composition sets us on the wrong track because there is an abrupt change of atmosphere and structure in part 2, a dissonant composition which reminds of a vivid, heated discussion with all four musicians involved. This is almost classical free jazz at its best. After a weird meditative interlude with the saxophone in front of warped loops, the band throws in three short pieces based on jazz/funk staccato riffs. Sometimes they are open for chamber music intersperses (part 4), and then the riffs are so harsh that they remind of heavy metal breaks (part 5) or they serve as a tight background for a wild sax solo which is almost going berserk (part 7). These pieces are only interrupted by a large, concentrated sound exploration (part 6) before a very short solo by Manderscheid - like an aftermath - finishes the suite.

The other central composition is the title track, "Le Vent et le Gorge", actually program music imitating wind in a canyon. First the music seems to describe craggy mountains, wild, untouched nature, and then the wind soughs through (especially Wierbos and Gratkowski seem to exhale breath into mouthpieces and other parts of their instruments). 

Live it was particularly interesting to watch the band play this track, they were focused on the compositional parts just to get lost sooner or later as if the wind came in through an open window blowing away the sheet music so that they were thrown back on collective improvisation.

As an introduction to Gratkowski's work this is a great start.

Watch them live at the jazz festival in Ulrichsberg: 

You can buy the CD from the label.

Frank Gratkowski, Philip Greenlief, Jon Raskin: All At Once (Relative Pitch, 2013) **** 

Gratkowski's work on 'All At Once', as the title would imply, is hard to single out. With three saxes blowing, all at once, it's hard to pinpoint an individual voice.

Gratkowski, along with Phillip Greenlief, and ROVA's Jon Raskin push, pull, poke and prod each other - with tracks starting out slowly and evolving organically, growing, twisting, and becoming songs drawn from thin air. It may be that there is a seed of an idea that the three agree upon, but like a conversation, each one takes on its own tone, twists and turns. The trio call, respond, laugh, argue and agree without missing a beat - or perhaps entirely without a beat. Rather, they follow a pulse as they lead the listener on a journey through sound and emotion, in all of its intertwining complexity and beauty.

Gratkowski and his partners deliver a fascinating recording, and even when the listening gets tough and extended technique takes the helm, the interactions and textures that they create something far beyond each individual voice. Like Relative Pitch's other albums in its growing discography, it's a challenging combination that grows stronger and stronger on each listen.

Watch the trio here: 

Achim Kaufmann, Frank Gratkowski, Wilbert De Joode: Geäder (Gligg Records, 2013) ****

On this album Gratkowski (clarinets, alto sax) is joined by the German pianist Achim Kaufmann and Dutch bassist Wilbert De Joode, a group that has existed since 2002 and which has released three CDs - "Kwast" (Konnex), "Unearth" (Nuscope) and "Paläe" (Leo). The music of this trio has always been instant composing, there are no prearrangements or rehearsals, although some parts seem to be written out in detail. Albeit their instrumentation seems to refer to the legendary Jimmy Giuffre Trio their approach rather reminds of the Schlippenbach Trio (although that trio has Paul Lovens on drums instead of a bass player, of course). "Geäder" (which means "veins" in German) is very ramified indeed, yet it is also very transparent and energetic, spontaneous and unpredictable. Especially when Kaufmann plays the interior of the piano or when he throws in broken chords the pieces are very close to new classical music. Gratkowski, who is a perfect team player in this line-up, is able to display his complete spectrum of impressing techniques here. 

Like on the other two albums there is a lot of space for the music, timbral explorations mingle with fierce outbreaks, there is a collective, poetic unity. Discursive strategies are in the focus (as well as the quartet and FPR) and the communication and listening among the musicians are excellent. Favorites are the chamber-music-like "Involute" and the wild "Mettle" representing both ends of the musical spectrum of this splendid trio.

Watch them live here:  

So, if you have the chance to see Mr Gratkowski in any kind of collaboration live, don't hesitate. He is also a very funny musician, it might be possible to watch him integrate the putting-together of a clarinet in a composition or sometimes he throws in awkward dance acts. Above all, you can't go wrong with any of his albums. Further recommendations are all his albums with German pianist Georg Gräwe (especially "Quicksand" with Paul Lovens on drums), his album with Hamid Drake (Valid Records, 2010) or his alto quartet "Fo(u)r Alto" (Leo, 2012).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Objeto Amarelo & Rob Mazurek - Eclusa (Submarine, 2012) ***

By Stef

Objeto Amarelo is the solo project of Brasilian sound artist Carlos Issa, who also performed as a member of the Rob Mazurek's octet on "Skull Sessions".

Issa plays guitar and electronics, Mazurek cornet and electronics. This 7" EP lasts only thirteen minutes, and offers a diverse sound collage of shifting colors, ranging from abrasive electric guitar, smoother meditative moments on muted cornet, with deep contrasts of noise and lyricism, of rock and jazz idioms and sensitivities, of assertiveness and hesitation, of chaos and structure. It's short duration doesn't allow for a high star rating, but fans of Mazurek will clearly want to check out this collaboration too.

You can order direcly from the label.

This ends our three day round-up of new releases by Rob Mazurek.

Rob Mazurek - Episodes (Wapapura, 2013) ****½

By Stef

Chicago cornettist Rob Mazurek is a man of many ideas and many styles, ranging from the jazzy small ensembles over big band over "nu jazz" to radical avant-garde or more intimate solo work, and this always in a very personal and innovative way, taking the listener by surprise and creating musical experiences you'd never heard before.

And so here he does it again, with this solo album for piano and cornet duo, both played by Mazurek himself, and then please forget all the notions you have had about trumpet-piano duets, because as you might expect, this is different, even if both instruments are played purely acoustically without electronic alterations or distortions.

If anything, it does sound like his "Abstractions on Robert d'Arbrissel", with wind-chime-like piano-playing, seemingly not going anywhere, with chords and arpeggios that keep repeating endlessly, with slight variations, just like the tinkling bells in the morning breeze, full of lightness and hopeful expectations for what the day may bring. The sounds come from a distance, with the mikes set far away from the Bosendorfer grand piano itself, capturing the sounds as they resonate in the empty room. The cornet too, seems to come from far away, muted often, adding little touches and phrases to the piano's eery and relentless progression through shifting chords and spontaneously arising melodies and themes, or dark rumbling in the instrument's interior, offering a warm and intimate effect of welcoming the late-arriving listener into the room where things had already started some time before, and this late arrving listener is now waiting at a distance, probably close to the door of the perfomance room, eager to enter, and surrendering to beauty. 

Buy from Wapapura and donate to the Tarahumura Relief Fund.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exploding Star Orchestra - Matter Anti-Matter (RogueArt, 2013) ****

By Stef

In particle physicsantimatter is material composed of antiparticles, which have the same mass as particles of ordinary matter but have opposite charge and other particle properties such as lepton and baryon number. Encounters between particles and antiparticles lead to the annihilation of both, giving rise to varying proportions of high-energy photons (gamma rays), neutrinos, and lower-mass particle–antiparticle pairs. Setting aside the mass of any product neutrinos, which represent released energy which generally continues to be unavailable, the end result of annihilation is a release of energy available to do work, proportional to the total matter and antimatter mass, in accord with the mass-energy equivalence equation, E=mc2., according to my friend Wikipedia

The first disc is called Matter, and with reason, because what we hear has the density, the power, the themes and the drive of other Exploding Star Orchestra recordings, although this is one is clearly not on the number one spot. That being said, the music is still phenomenal in its concept, raw and intense in its delivery, with a band of today's most acclaimed musicians, playing Mazurek's expansive and grand compositions, compelling and sweeping in their drive, boundless as the universe itself, and overwhelming and crushing because of its voluminous density. Of all the larger bands to be heard, this one definitely figures in the top five. 

The band is : Rob Mazurek cornet, electronics, Roscoe Mitchell: alto & soprano saxophones, Nicole Mitchell: flutes & voice, Matana Roberts: alto saxophone, Matt Bauder: tenor saxophone, Steve Swell: trombone, Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone & tubular bells, Kevin Dumm: electronics, Matthew Lux: bass guitar, Mauricio Takara: cavaquino & percussions, Guilherme Granado: samplers & marimba, John Herndon: drums, Mike Reed: drums, Chad Taylor: drums, Damom Locks: voice

The second disc is called Anti-Matter, and offers a totally different perspective. We only hear Mazurek on electronics, not exactly my field of preference, interest or knowledge. The sounds are eery, distant, like you would expect these nasty antiparticles to do, annihilating matter with their opposite charge, giving birth to high energy, possibly present but clearly inaudible, yet these antiparticles are more than just white noise, doing their work in the layers upon layers upon layers of what, shifting and shimmering in the shrieking shadows of darkness.

Available at

Saturday, November 23, 2013

São Paulo Underground - Beija Flors Velho e Sujo (Cuneiform - 2013) ****

By Stef

Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek stayed for a while in Brasil and created his spin-off from the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet, called the São Paulo Underground, a band - sometimes quartet, now a trio again - that has a more frivolous and joyous sound, more nu jazz with high density and rhythms with lots of overdubs and electronics.

The trio is Mauricio Takara on percussion, cavaquinho and electronics, Guilherme Granado on keyboards, synths, sampler and voice, and Mazurek himself on cornet, evolver, ring modulator, analog delay and harmonium.

The music would at times almost be danceable, if the rhythms and tempos didn't change so often and without prior notice, and of course they do, taking listener - and dancer - by surprise, whose only other option is to keep listening in wonder to this fantastical and phantasmagoric journey in retro-psychedelia and innovative nostalgia with "Over The Rainbow" including bar room piano, up to Latin rhythms, tongue-in-cheek fun, soaring trumpets, and self-destructive beats turning into electronic noise, shapeshifting into beautiful melodies, tropical exuberance invaded by mystical space voyagers, and other stuff that somehow gets thrown in, not to check whether it works or not, but making it work, making it sound good, by adding, subtracting and why not, why not add some Indian singing in the background, we have not had that before, gives some more exotic fun, and hey, let's pause here for a moment, yes, we can get back into the groove now, back into volume and the magic of multiple sounds and crazy inventiveness and grand themes, pumping away like ancient fanfares and marching bands and wedding bands catapulted into a new era of sound of beats and electronics, full of warm tropical breezes and physical sensuality countered by intellectual derailers and sonic excursions into territories unknown, screeching sounds and maddening rhythms and jubilating cornet.

You can buy as a download, CD or vinyl at Bandcamp.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Badland – Six High Windows (Bug Incision, 2013) ****

By Colin Green

Improvised music is often recorded at venues with a relatively dry acoustic, such as a recording studio or in small clubs. (In the studio, the ambience of the famous ‘ECM sound’ is in fact, mixing desk reverb.) When the opportunity arises however, the flexibility of improvising musicians allows them to explore the interaction of sound and environment. The saxophonist John Butcher’s Resonant Spaces (Confront, 2008) for example, was recorded at various locations in Scotland and the Orkney Islands, including a cave, ancient stone circle, and even inside an oil tank. 

This recording by Badland – the trio of Simon Rose (alto saxophone), Simon H. Fell (double bass) and Steve Noble (drums) – was made at St. Bride’s Church in Liverpool in 2005. While not quite the cavernous acoustic of the nearby Anglican Cathedral, the church’s narrow nave and high stone walls give it an enveloping reverberation not conducive to the filigree detail and fine grained textures of the trio’s previous recordings, such as The Society of the Spectacle (Emanem, 2005), recorded at London’s Gateway Studios some two years earlier.

In response to this, as Fell’s Bruce’s Fingers website puts it: “…one can very clearly hear the musicians trying different styles of playing and combinations of textures to find those which will work most effectively within the space.” The sound of that space is enhanced by a microphone placement which captures the interface of instrument and acoustic and the large, broad stroked canvas on which the trio is forced to work.

This is a continuous performance, but with occasional pauses that allow sounds to hang in the air. As is often the case, we hear improvisation in which the creative experience is not a goal, but a regenerative cycle in which value emerges from the process itself. Noble is his usual versatile self – rhythmically restless – and the glue that binds the trio together as they model and refashion the material between them.

Although the acoustic naturally amplifies the sound of Noble’s percussion, and adds a bloom to Rose’s saxophone, it’s not entirely kind to Fell’s bass, which is often swamped by the expanded boom of the drums and can be more felt, than heard. Apart from quieter moments and when he plays alone towards the end, Fell’s plucked lines lack any real definition. To accommodate this, he tends to restrict himself to strummed chords and his bow. There are times when his bass sounds like an extension of Noble’s kit or an echo of Rose’s alto. Given the dominance of the acoustic, during the climaxes all three instruments are on the verge of merging in a single, coagulated mass.   

The album is available as a CD-R, but limited to an edition of 100, which will probably have sold out by the time this review appears. It can be downloaded as a FLAC file however from Bandcamp, so you can convert it to WAV and burn your own CD.

All but the first fifteen minutes of the performance can be seen below, in slightly muddier sound to that of the recording, but with the advantage of seeing the contribution of Fell’s foot!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Okkyung Lee - Ghil (Editions Mego, 2013) ****½

By Stef

It isn't noise, it's something else, growing from the inside, something incredibly physical and emotional at the same time, like extreme bodily tension and nervous stress mutually reinforcing each other, with strings tight as tendons, muscles wired by the electrical discharges of neurons, full of anger and confusion, it's visceral and intense, hoping somehow for relief yet there is only one alternative, to build up more energy and more hypnotic dynamics of raw abrasiveness, of making bow and strings collide and tear and fight to express the thing that cannot be explained, that cannot be understood even, yet that needs to be said and brought out in the open, through wood and guts and hairs in fierce contempt for all that came before, giving birth to sounds that never touched air and ears before, like yawns and rumbles and shouts, screams and whispers, powerful and soft at the same time, fingers hammering and carressing, ....

.... in sum, she pushes herself and her instrument to the extreme, like the Jimi Hendrix of the cello, reinventing the instrument and its language.

An incredible statement, so radical that you either love it or hate it, but next time you'll listen to other conntemporary cellists, like Ernst Reijseger, or Erik Friedlander, or Vincent Courtois, or Daniel Levin, or even Fred Lonberg-Holm, you risk to find them too tender and traditional ....

Listen to "Meolly Ganeun", one of my favorite tracks on the LP.


Available at

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pauline Oliveros – Solo Concert 2001 (Deep Listening, 2012) ****½

By Tom Burris

I forgot how to listen to Pauline Oliveros.  First of all, this recording is exactly what you think it is.  It's Pauline, droning on the accordion unaccompanied.  Initially, I put it on and started making some notes.  Horrible notes.  The first thing I jotted down was “Debussy colors, Feldman spaces.”  Okay, feeling the impressionistic vibe at the beginning...  Then as I started thinking I was going with the flow, I wrote “Static in motion.  Blinking (anti-)polka dots.”  Oh, cutesy faux cleverness is so much more important than actually listening to the music you're supposed to be reviewing...  It got worse.  I'll spare you the details, but it ended with an accidental (I swear!) haiku of pretentious awfulness that said “slow moving box cars move / across the fields at night / under Rothko skies.”

I forgot how to listen to Pauline Oliveros!  I forgot for the first half of this disc – and then it happened.  Any visualization I had, any thought that could be explained with the written or spoken word, any distraction at all from the sound of notes and chords being played left my mind completely.  It was just the music.  I wasn't even there!  In that moment of ego-less samadhi, time stood still and the only thing in existence was the gently surprising music of Oliveros' lone accordion. 

The disc lasts 51 minutes.  The first 25 minutes felt like an hour.  The last 26 felt like five minutes.  Then I went back and played the entire disc again.  The second time the entire thing seemed to take about five minutes.

This music is not about the sound or the notes.  The music itself isn't the most important thing about this recording – or most of Oliveros' recordings.  It's all about the listening experience itself.  This music serves the highest purpose of any music you will likely encounter.  For 51 minutes, you cease to exist as a human being – as you become music yourself. 

Leave your thoughts at the door and give your mind a good cleaning.  Learn to receive this music as the priceless gift it is.  It's worth every ounce of effort.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nate Wooley Sextet - (Sit In) The Throne Of Friendship (Clean Feed, 2013) ****½

By Stef

Music fans who are familiar with Nate Wooley's latest releases will be surprised to hear the other side of the trumpeter's musical vision, one that is less focused on sound and technique, but more on composition and arrangements, and with equal success I must say.

The band is actually an extension of Wooley's quintet that released "(Put Your) Hands Together", with tuba-player Dan Peck as the new member, next to Wooley on trumpet, Josh Sinton on bass clarinet and baritone saxophone, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Harris Eisenstadt on drums.

The music is as inventive and varied as on the first album, yet taking even a step further, making it more memorable in that sense, maybe more complex, more compelling, with solos that just go a notch deeper and stronger, in such a way that you want to listen again and again, because even if all sounds are quite easy to get into, and are welcoming and warm from the first listen, the compositions and arrangements develop in unpredictable ways, with lots of tempo and rhythm changes within each track, making it an almost mandatory gesture to push on the start button again, just to make sure you understood what was happening, and especially how it all fits together and how it works out so nicely.

The album opens with the magnificent theme of "Old Man On The Farm", so beautiful and moving, that you wonder whether this is truly Wooley you're listening to, but then the theme collapses in absolute free improvisation with great duets between trumpet and bass clarinet, spiralling upwards, in absolute frenzy, then move back into the unison theme with Swiss clock precision.

The album also gives us a grand tour of jazz history, with boppish moments as on the second track, "Make Your Friend Feel Loved", on which Dan Peck plays a lead role, with deep intro growls from his tuba gradually picking up rhythm, Eisenstadt and Moran joining soon, then Wooley Sinton Opsvik bring the theme, things change into hesitant stalling chords, going nowhere at all like a track stand in cycling, full of built-up tension, only to be released by a boppish "walking tuba" underpinning for a great solo by Wooley, full of joy and anger at the same time, things come to a halt again, the theme resurfaces and Sinton shouts through his baritone for his solo part.

"The Berries" offers Moran the stage for a long solo moment in between a jubliant unison theme that is fun although somewhat too mellow for my taste.

Things get better again with "Plow", with odd thematic counterpoints as beacons in an otherwise open-ended structure, with solos for Opsvik  in the first part, and some weird trialogue between trumpet, vibes and bass clarinet in the second.

"Executive Suites" is a strange animal, with changing themes, rhythms and moods even, varying between funny and solemn, with complex arrangements and sudden surprises.

"My Story My Story" is a melancholy piece that starts rhythm-less with muted trumpet tones over slow vibes which sound like church bells in the distance, and with bass and tuba adding darkness in the lower tones, over slowly changing ascending chord changes, then halfway an explicit slow blues emerges with Wooley unmuting his horn, playing some astonishing fully voiced multiphonics, then sounding like Lester Bowie in "The Great Pretender", heartrending and deeply emotional.

"Sweet And Sad Consistency", has a contemplative beginning which evolves into a stomping uptempo 7/8 juggernaut with Sinton blowing some hair-raising howls out of his baritone sax, in stark contrast to Wooley's warm introduction, while bass and drums are more of the headbanging kind, but when the band is at full throttle, the thing stops for some side conversation of the low volume kind, all this in sharp contradiction with the track's title.

The album ends with "A Million Billion BTUs", a composition built around several themes, one more sweeping, the other interestingly accelerating, with changes of tempo throughout and great solo space for Wooley, Sinton and Moran.

So, now listen to this album, and again and again. To describe it in a few words is hard, as you can understand from the above, but here is a try : a warm and heartfelt album, full of inventive compositions, building on various elements of jazz tradition, yet moving it a step further into the future, performed with superb musicianship and equally warm and tight interplay.

Play it again!

You can find a copy at

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mark Dresser - Nourishments (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

In a very recent interview with Avant Music News, bandleader and composer Mark Dresser explains that the origins of his new album Nourishments began with a musical / culinary exchange between Chef Paul Canales and one of Dresser's groups, Trio M, that included concerts with Canales cooking for the audience for between-set-dining.

Suffice to say, Nourishments kicks off in a most fulfilling manner. Melody, rhythm, and harmony are all a part of the spread, and with Denman Maroney at piano, Michael Dessen on trombone, Michael Sarin on drums, Rudresh Mahanthappa on sax, and Tom Rainey on drums, at the table, you know the conversation is going to be good!

The opening track, 'Not Withstanding', is an uptempo modern jazz composition that feels at once comfortable but never predictable. There is plenty of edgy playing to grab and challenge the listener, but at the same time, the solos, melodies, rhythms play off of accessible patterns. A hint of prepared piano adds some spice as well. Track three 'Para Waltz' begins with the muted piano and Rainey providing atmospheric percussion, and when Dresser comes in, a delicate ballad starts evolving. Enticing harmonies carry a theme that moves unhurriedly along, with solo voices rising and receding in the flow. Dresser's bass solo is incredibly tasty, employing a certain extended technique to give his sound a metallic edge, adding the sour to the sweet. However, it's the title track -- the main course, if I may -- that is the most delectable. Evoking a Latin feel, the catchy rhythmic qualities play against the melodies inviting, and when the two horns play swirling melodic solos at the same time, it stretches the ears far and wide.

Nourishments is an excellent acoustic jazz album that skirts modern and free jazz, hitting all the right notes.

Check out the group from a Vision Festival appearance a couple years back ... it's a bit more aggressive than the album here, but just as captivating:

You can find a copy at

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mario Pavone – Arc Trio (Playscape, 2013) ****½

By Troy Dostert

On this terrific piano trio record, veteran bassist Mario Pavone unites with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver for a live outing from Greenwich Village, allowing us to gain a fascinating glimpse into the levels of musical collaboration possible between three masters of their respective instruments.

The album leads off with the powerhouse “Andrew,” with an infectious groove from Pavone developed in sharp rapport with Cleaver.  Pavone has cited Andrew Hill’s Smokestack as an inspiration for the album, and it’s not hard to hear that influence on the opening cut, as Pavone and Cleaver echo the chemistry on Hill’s record between bassists Richard Davis and Eddie Khan and the propulsive drum work of Roy Haynes.  And Taborn is also in top form on this track, with some dazzling two-handed piano runs and, even more fundamentally, an irrepressible rhythmic quality to his playing which only intensifies the groove.  When he locks in with Pavone and Cleaver at the 3:15 mark, generating an array of percussive bursts, the effect is intoxicating.  The only drawback to the track is that we don’t get to hear a proper ending to it, as it fades off on the recording.

The rest of the tracks are similarly superb, albeit somewhat more cerebral and abstract.  “Eyto,” the second cut, is built around a challenging rhythmic figure that eventually settles into another well-defined groove, providing an ideal vehicle for Taborn’s explorations.  Cleaver is the real star of the show on this one, as he manages brilliantly to remain both in the groove and outside it at the same time, offering enough flexibility to allow Pavone and Taborn to range freely as they see fit while still staying in conversation.  “Not Five Kimono,” the longest track, is a slow cooker, building simmering intensity as Taborn uses insistent repeating chords in the left hand while offering a variety of subtle statements on the melody with his right.  And Pavone gets plenty of opportunities to shine throughout the record as well: witness the way in which he uses rapid-fire staccato punctuation to accompany Taborn’s lightning-quick passages on “Box in Orange,” all the while staying in sync with Cleaver’s constant pulse; or the way he shadows Taborn on the sixth track, “Alban Berg,” providing running commentary on Taborn’s ideas that is unfailingly intelligent and creative.

In addition to its many other virtues, it’s a well-recorded album too, as we’ve come to expect from the folks at Playscape.  Indeed, although it’s a live record, the crowd isn’t heavy in the mix, which almost makes it feel like a studio recording at times.  Part of this is due to the precision of the players, who are so attuned to each other’s moves that they must have seemed to be the only people in the room.  But that’s all to the good, as the results are so consistently stimulating and inventive.  All in all, this is a great reminder that the piano trio format, in the right hands, is still one of jazz’s most exciting contexts for creative improvisation.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Caspar Brötzmann/Marino Pliakas/Michael Wertmüller - Nohome (Trost, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

When I think of Caspar Brötzmann there are always two things that pop in my mind: a short article in the German SPEX magazine including the phrase: “When Jimi Hendrix died Caspar Brötzmann was there and ate up his body”; and Jens, a friend of mine, who was at a concert of Brötzmann’s band Massaker in the 1990s with me and who was terrified and apparently tortured by their brute force, stammering: “This must be the soundtrack for the bombing of Sarajevo”.

And there is some truth in both statements indeed. Brötzmann is deeply influenced by Hendrix, in a way that he even plays a left-handed Fender Stratocaster (although he is right-handed) and that his sound is an art-metal variation of Hendrix’ Woodstock version of “Star Spangled Banner” – which brings us to my friend’s quotation since Hendrix then had deconstructed the American national anthem by imitating and integrating sounds of war.

Brötzmann goes even further and creates an atmosphere of enormous brutality but also of  breath-taking energy and strange, fascinating beauty with his guitar. The band’s wall of noise reminds of Napalm bombs detonating, jets overhead, air-raid warnings, buildings crumbling down, even the cries of humans in pain.

The album consists of four tracks, simply titled “One” to “Four”, and it presents a consistently conjugated set of the above mentioned elements in which the musicians (the rhythm section are Full Blast’s Marino Pliakas on bass guitar and Michael Wertmüller on drums) succeed in building up an almost monstrous, intimidating soundscape which smothers the listener with excessive drones.

Compared to his old band Massaker, Nohome is even more refined. Pliakas’s distorted bass does not only deliver a magnetic pulse but also serves as some kind of rhythm guitar, while Wertmüller’s drums are a constant barrage and therefore an ideal background for Brötzmann’s feedback orgies. His guitar howls and screams in sheer torment, apparently deeply hurt, as if it has seen the bottom of an abyss, the heart of darkness, the hell of war.

Of course this is not jazz, it is rather free rock in the tradition of Sunn O))) or experimental Sonic Youth stuff.

Caspar Brötzmann has slipped of my radar working for theatre productions in the past few years, it’s good to know that he is back (there are also rumors about a new Massaker album).
Play it loud, of course.

Listen to them here:

You can buy the album from the label:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Looper - Matter (MonotypeRec, 2013) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

Ingar Zach, Martin Küchen and Nikos Veliotis make up the trio known as Looper. If I've read correctly this is their 4th album together - which includes an album in collaboration with UK pianist John Tilbury. To call this music understated would be an understatement! Being very minimal I ended up listening on headphones to make sure that I was indeed listening to the record, and not the ambient sounds around me. It is certainly a music which needs your whole attention, probaby the perfect record for very early in the morning, or last thing at night when surrounding world sound is at its lowest. 

Minimal music (*) such as this is always an interesting listen I find. The musicians create an intimate sound world that needs attention, a little like someone who speaks softly whilst explaining something, it would be interesting to hear/see how music such as this works live. The detail the three musicians put into each piece is fascinating, and also very delicate. Although it's difficult to pin-point exact instruments Ingar Zach's soft bass drum, or the fluttering of Küchen's saxophone pads clearly come through from time to time. The cello of Nikos Veliotis like his role in the drone string trio of "Mohammed" is somewhere within the sound of the ensemble, but trying to identify it may be more difficult. On "In Flamen" (tk2) I found myself comparing the sound of the trio to that echoing through the corridors and passages of the London Underground, a sort of fully realised ambient live performance. Everything is slightly blurred, yet you clearly hear all the details.  

Another very interesting point in the music is the amount of rhythmical detail the trio creates. Track three "Alignment", like "Slow" (tk1), uses very subtle - I guess - saxophone key noise to create a sort of clickerty-clack (not unlike a train track) helping the music have a sort of subliminal rhythm. The only piece on the record that is louder than a whisper is the last piece, a sort of electronic drone "Our Meal" (tk4). Here, sounding like an oscillator orchestra, you get different frequencies rubbing together to create a crescendo. We hear the sounds of overblown sax, bowed/rubbed glasses, percussion clicks, cymbal sounds and ..?.. all played and mixed into a highly charged industrial soundscape. This final piece is well placed after all the delicate sounds beforehand, releasing the listener from the previous pieces which have up until now been like listening to the delicate sound of snow falling in the night.

Highly recommended!

p.s. Released on a vinyl LP, and you can find a copy at  

*= As an example check out Another Timbre's catalogue for an excellent representation of what you can do with modern minimalism.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kirk Knuffke and Ted Brown – Pound Cake (Steeplechase, 2012) ***½

By Troy Dostert

It seems that cornetist Kirk Knuffke, in addition to his many more adventurous projects, has made it his personal mission to document a good deal of the jazz tradition as well, through an ongoing set of recordings with SteepleChase.  (See the reviews on this site of his “tribute” discs with Jesse Stacken: his Mingus record, Orange Was the Color, and his Like a Tree, which includes compositions by Carla Bley, Ornette Coleman, and Misha Mengelberg.  Although unlike those other discs this one includes some originals, some of the standout tracks are the jazz standards, which include Lester Young’s “Pound Cake” and Don Redman’s “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You.”  Considered collectively, these albums aren’t destined to become Free Jazz Blog classics, as they’re considerably more mainstream than the majority of recordings we review. Nevertheless, they’re still quite compelling in their own right, as Knuffke manages to infuse them with enough energy and creativity to avoid having them become staid repertory exercises.

It helps that he has such talented bandmates: in this case, his senior partner Ted Brown, a longtime “cool”-styled tenor saxophonist who has recorded with Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz; bassist John Hébert; and drummer Matt Wilson, like Knuffke also a veteran of both outside and inside recording sessions.  Each offers his distinctive voice as an essential part of the collective whole.  Brown has a restrained yet self-assured tone, and his studied explorations of these tunes, including a number of his own originals, are consistently interesting.  Hébert can generate a nice swinging bass line when he needs to, but he’s also able to open things up a bit, using more space in his playing to give the others room to work.  Wilson is right there with him in this regard, as he can provide some punch when it’s called for, but he is typically willing to limit himself to occasional light snare and cymbal accents so as not to overwhelm the proceedings, especially on the quieter tracks.

For his part, Knuffke shows himself to be a virtuosic presence, ranging from impressive flurries of notes (particularly on the title track) to more careful, measured passages that are more subtle and spare.  While his technique is remarkable, he always manages to put it in the service of the music as a whole, and he’s particularly sensitive when joining in with Brown, as the two engage in some thoughtful interaction on a few of the tracks—a great example being “Swivel,” one of the two Knuffke compositions on the record, in which the two horns intertwine nicely during the last third of the tune.

Every now and then it’s good to hear a well-played mainstream record that does justice to the ongoing vitality of the jazz tradition, and this certainly qualifies.  I’m not at all sure how Knuffke manages to find time for all his varied projects, but this is a worthy one.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

John Zorn/Thurston Moore - @ (Tzadik, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

It is strange to write a review on an album by John Zorn and Thurston Moore shortly after Lou Reed has passed away*, all the more because the opening chord of “Jazz Laundromat”, the second track on this album, reminds me of “Venus in Furs”, my favorite Velvet Underground song. In general, the music of Velvet Underground, John Zorn (particularly Naked City) and Sonic Youth has always been like a New York soundtrack for me, and when I heard that Zorn and Moore planned to release an album I was really excited.

"@" actually is the first album of these two prominent figures of New York’s downtown scene, it’s a studio recording of duo improvisations - and let’s be frank: it is absolutely fantastic.

The album is bookended by two excellent pieces: “6th Floor Walk-up Waiting”, a twelve-minute-monster, which starts with Moore’s heavy, fragmented guitar explosions and Zorn’s typical angry saxophone screeches. It’s an emotional and musical rollercoaster ride in which both accelerate and slow down their intensity again and again. After a lot of feedback and guitar staccato hammering Zorn makes a U-turn and plays incredibly beautiful lines, as if another musician had joined the duo. Moore follows him with reverberating chords, creating an electrified wall of sound.  The last track, “For Derek and Evan”, on which both actually pay tribute to Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, maybe the most legendary guitar-sax duo in free jazz (interestingly enough Zorn worked with Bailey** and William Parker on the marvelous “Harras” album and Moore with Evan Parker and Walter Prati on “The Promise”), is equally great. At the beginning Zorn refers to Parker’s extensive techniques and Moore to Bailey’s flageolets before they slightly shift the piece with guitar tremolos and saxophone shrieks so that it becomes their own track.

In between – almost hidden – there are two more gems: “Her Sheets” is a real ballad with Zorn playing cool jazz lines while Moore delivers the edgy background. It is music for a New York film noir that takes place at 5 a.m. and in which the camera follows an exhausted protagonist walking through a deserted Lower East Side. “Strange Neighbor” also has balladesque moments but Moore’s guitar sound rather reminds of scratches, creepy cawing, drilling or distant howling, which creates a Kafkaesque atmosphere.

I guess Lou Reed would have liked this music if he had heard it, its abrasiveness, its harshness, its elegance, its sound, its diversity, its beauty (including the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable sometimes) and because it is on the threshold of pain sometimes. He would have played it loud so that every tone could cut like a knife through flesh.


* John Zorn has worked with Reed before and has expressed his grief via facebook.
    Zorn actually has no facebook site run by him but there is one which is approved by him
**Zorn also worked with Bailey on “Yankees” (with George Lewis) and on “Improvised Music 1981” (with Laswell, Frith, Sharrock, Noyes) and “Company 91”.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Angles 9 – In Our Midst (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

One of last year’s highlights was Angles 8s sprawling By Way of Deception, an album that introduced an expanded line-up and featured liner notes by Free Jazz blog founder Stef Gijssels. After two previous releases on Clean Feed, By Way of Deception showed that there was still room for bandleader Martin Küchen’s vision to grow, with pianist Alexander Zethson greatly expanding the group’s rhythmic foundation, and Eirik Hegdal’s additional saxophone further broadening the band’s sonic palette.

On Clean Feed’s latest venture into the LP resurgence, Angles has expanded yet again, adding trumpeter Magnus Broo back into the fold after his absence on By Way of Deception. (It should be noted the band has grown even more since this recording, appearing at Jazzfestival Saalfelden this summer as a 10-piece with an additional drummer). A single LP, In Our Midst feels like a quick update, an intermediate document that serves as a snapshot of the band as it continues to evolve.

In Our Midst opens with a new eponymous track, a smoldering piece that builds a typically wistful melodic theme over slow-motion afrobeat rhythms. Angles’ music has always been deceptively simple and completely unsubtle at first blush. In reality, it’s meticulously crafted, emotive music that’s continually reborn as the musicians explore the possibilities in songs they have become intimately familiar with (Küchen doesn’t write anything down—the group learns and internalizes the music through Küchen’s demonstrations). Angles has in spades what many improvising groups have trouble conjuring: visceral emotional impact. It’s a music that aims to deliver to the listener even the smallest notion of its creator’s incredible passion. Huge rhythmsand dulcet counterpoint, playfulness and humor juxtaposed with plaintive melody, the fact that all of their albums have been live concert recordings: all of these serve as direct conduits of music-making passion. An Angles tune is designed to elevate musician and listener together to a shared, ecstatic plane. Foremost, it is a music of feeling.

One of the many pleasures of following Angles over the years has also been hearing the wayKüchen’s pieces have developed along with the band. The overlap in tunes on previous albums continues here: In Our Midst’s other offerings include “Every Woman is a Tree” from their debut, and the title track from last year’s By Way of Deception. “Every Woman is a Tree” has a fairly standard jazz tune structure, and has served as one of few vehicles for extended soloing by Küchen. Here, it takes on an all-new intensity, beginning with an angular piano vamp before ramping up to the head. The band now has many more possibilities behind the long solo in the mid-section: first, a monstrous bearing-down on the hypnotic beat; then multi-octave rephrasings of the main theme; finally, out-and-out improvised mayhem. The song sounds more urgent and cathartic than ever before. Similarly, “By Way of Deception” feels far more primal, the band muscling through the first portion of the song like brutes on a rampage.

On one level, you could say In Our Midst is more of the same from Angles. To my mind, that will continue to be a reason to get excited. But it’s a sentiment that oversimplifies: these songs may be familiar, but like the very best musical acts, Angles makes them feel new each time they’re heard.

Check out video from the same performance featured on In Our Midst:

You can find a copy at