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Monday, March 31, 2014

Wind? Woods! Breath? Brass!

Two horns interlocked in mesmerising dialogues, finding a common language, a common sound, challenging each other, pushing boundaries. Nothing like a duo of similar instruments to engage in a competitive interaction, one which forces the other musician to listen to what you can do, suck him in your universe and be challenged to venture in his - not "her" in this list unfortunately - sound world. Strangely enough the trap is to be focused on each other, much more than to create something simultaneously for an audience, as you would with two completely different instruments.

Evan Parker & Joe McPhee - What If They Both Could Fly (Rune Grammofon, 2013) 

On the first one European legend Evan Parker meets American legend Joe McPhee. Both meet full of respect for a fascinating dialogue on trumpet and sax, or mostly both on sax. The playing is fully improvised and because of the sound of the tenors, also a very warm album. The mood is relatively subdued, with lots of circular breathing, yet soulful, with some moments of increased power play, although these are few and far between. Both artists think about sound, and perform something together, rather than competing. It is solemn and highly recommended to fans of either musician, and of both of course.

Available at Instantjazz.

Ken Vandermark & Mats Gustafsson - Verses (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2013)

Another fascinating listen is this duo between the two champions of the tenor, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, two heroes of this blog, artists who've been shaping the form of improvised music and free jazz in the past decade, saxophonists whose names stand for power, creativity and productivity, two men who are also fascinated themselves by the shoulders they stand on, whose legacy goes back to Ayler as much as to respecitvely Giuffre or Bengt Nordström. Both musicians had played together before, but always in larger ensembles, with Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, or with Sonore, on joint meetings of their trios with DKV + Aaly.

Yet this is their first duo performance, with Vandermark on tenor, bass clarinet and b flate clarinet, and Gustafsson on tenor, alto and baritone, and they show us the myriad of possibilities of sound with these instruments, and even if they demonstrate a variety of techniques and skills, the focus is always on the music, which flows between soulful and quiet moments - as on "I Never Dreamed", to intense chatters ("Fortunate Rust") and powerful howls ("Beside Me, Images"), yet always, always subtle and full of nuance.

Listen to Ripolin

Available at Instantjazz.

Michel Doneda & Joris Rühl ‎– Linge (Umlaut, 2013)

The German French Joris Rühl is on clarinet, for his second album, in the company of the French soprano saxoponist Michel Doneda, who must be around his seventieth album by now. Of all the albums in this review, the overall atmosphere is the most minimalist, and one on which both musicians are focused on creating a common soundscape rather than enter into a dialogue. Indeed, both reeds create a longitudinal slow movement of sound, which quietly develops around a tonal center. This is a work of subtle finesse, of tonal refinement and precision that is totally different from the raw interaction of some of the other albums reviewed here, there is no call and response, no fierce dialogues or powerful howls, no, the mood is subdued and intense, less about expression of emotions than about the creation of a fragile beauty.

Lol Coxhill & Michel Doneda - Sitting On Your Stairs (Emanem, 2013)

On this album, we find the late Lol Coxhill in a duo with Michel Doneda, both on soprano for a really intense dialogue, so intense, that you often wonder whether they ever thought that anybody would have to listen to this, yet that being said, once you actually do listen, the result is pretty hypnotic at times, with both men doing bouts of circular breathing, or moving together in loud screams, bird-like calls, and then falling back to real fragile and tender musings, vulnerable. I am not sufficiently expert to distinguish who is who just based on their sound, which is remarkably similar, both in tone as in the timbral and musical dynamics. They are really on the same space when playing, equally technically skilled, equally free, at any time able to join the other artist on his wild flights while guiding him back if needed too.

Steve Swell & Kirk Knuffke - Feynman's Diagrams (Nacht Records, 2013)

There is a strange relationship between physics, mathematics and music. Think of references made to astronomy, particle physics, quantum mechanics and other theoretical physics references in albums by Agustí Fernández, Matthew Shipp, Rob Mazurek, and several more. Here we have Steve Swell on trombone and Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, engaged in great interactions, bouncing like particles in Feynman diagrams, some moving towards the future, some back in time. Here we are in a moment of full perplexity, again, as to what all this means. Nevertheless, Swell and Knuffke are great musicians, stellar artists, and their dialogue is interesting. They explore. They explore sounds, without any intensity, slowly, cautiously, interacting, reacting, co-creating a canvas of phrases and notes, more abstract than the mathematical equations underpinning the Feynman diagrams, and the result is great, offering a sense of wonder about individual tones, creating a sense of gentle surprise at the next thing happening. It's intimate, contained, minimal yet rich, full of small attentions and maybe also intentions, like notes offered like presents, generously, full of warmth and friendliness, in the icy cold and barren world of particle physics.

Vinny Golia & Urs Leimgruber - Empricism in the West (Relative Pitch, 2014) 

This albums offers duets of two masters of free improvisation, Vinny Golia from New York on bass flute, soprillo, sopranino, bass saxophone, Bb and contra-alto clarinets, and urs Leimgruber from Luzern, Switzerland, on soprano and tenor saxophones. And for the latter I have some regret about not having reviewed more of his albums on this blog. Again, this is an album of dialogue, yet one of ever shifting players, because of the frequent changes in instruments used, especially by Golia. Their musical universe is one of try-outs, one of spontaneous improvisation, one of experience, as its title suggests. You can theorise as much as you want, and as the title of the tracks suggests ("The Analytic And The Synthetic", "The Scientific Method, Logical Truths Are Linguistic Tautologies", "Matter Is The Permanent Possibility Of Sensation", etc.), it is not about science, it's not about organised systems with high predictability repetition of experiments, quite to the contrary, it's about the experience of the try-out itself, about organic beauty that cannot be captured by systems or logic or mechanics. You get a lot here, an open-ended creation of two highly specialised experts of their instruments, bringing lots of variety despite the limited line-up, demonstrating the experience of freedom and the demonstration of freedom that comes with experience. 

Available at Instantjazz.

Aaron Novik & Arrington De Dionyso (Bandcamp, 2013)

A totally different sound we get from two lesser known musicians, Arrington de Dionyso on voice, bass clarinet and percussion, and Aaron Novik on bass clarinet, electric bass clarinet, clarinet and percussion. On the first track they are joined by Eli Crews on electronic manipulation. Both reedists come from a more punk and rock-oriented background, iconoclasts and irreverent destructors of established patterns, with "trans-utopian world music for a world that exists in fever dreams and hallucinations" as we can read on de Dionyso's website, and we know Novik from his "Secret of Secrets" on Tzadik two years ago. 

The first track "Electric Duo" is an out of this world nightmarish vision, yet once they play their reeds acoustically, the universe changes. Don't expect sounds like the heroes in the other reviews, the approach is surprisingly a little nicer, with often some klezmer-inspired or balkan references. Yet, their music has indeed some shamanistic howls, some unusual approaches - luckily! - and it is fun, although you feel they not on their familiar ground here. Is it too nice? Check for yourselves.

Listen and download on Bandcamp.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bill Nace Round Up

Steve Baczkowksi, Bill Nace, Tamio Shiraishi  - Live at Jack. Single Sided 12" (Open Mouth, 2013) ****

Steve Baczkowksi, Chris Corsano, Greg Kelley, Bill Nace - Live at Spectacle. 12" (Open Mouth, 2013) ****

By Matthew Grigg

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will no doubt recall the Deep Listening treatment given to  BODY/HEAD's fine debut album 'Coming Apart'. Whilst many of you will have been familiar with Kim Gordon's prior output, the duo's other member, Bill Nace, has an altogether more subterranean profile. The more eagle eyed may also recall last year's blink-and-you'll-miss-it trio set with Joe McPhee & Thurston Moore Last Notes, one of the year's highlights and no doubt cherished by the 250 who managed to grab a copy. Like 'Last Notes', these two releases hail from Nace's own Open Mouth label, and are available in similarly limited vinyl editions (100 copies for '…Jack' and 180 for '… Spectacle').

Live at Jack is a single sided 12" featuring a trio of Nace, Baczkowksi & Japanese saxophonist Tamio Shiraishi (an original member of Keiji Haino's Fushitsusha). What the record lacks in duration it more than makes up for in intensity, unsurprising for a Haino affiliate, and given the nature of Baczkowksi & Nace's other documented exchanges. Here Baczkowksi provides the rumbling low end bedrock from which Nace's feedback & Shiraishi's wailing interlock, a perpetually moving yet static assault which savagely re-casts the anguished cries of Kaoru Abe in a more violent post-Japanoise landscape.

Live at Spectacle renews Nace's association with incendiary free drummer Chris Corsano, the duo having comprised Vampire Belt (and with the addition of Jessica Rylan - Vampire Can't), alongside saxophonist Steve Baczkowksi and trumpeter Greg Kelley. Mastered at 45rpm, this release also errs on the short side, however here the sounds aren't as pressure-sealed as they are on '… Jack'. The language is grounded in the scrapes and bleats more familiarly found within freely improvised territory, albeit utilised which more aggressive assertion here. Corsano's continual motion provides inner propulsion to a patchwork of carefully focused fiery turns which suggest a noisy vitality in a music more often associated with mannered middle class reservation.

Whilst it may seem somewhat futile to review releases which can physically only reach a relatively small audience, Bill Nace's output and the wider community served by Open Mouth are definitely deserving of an increased profile. On the back of Guitar Week, anyone with an interest in the textual and abrasive potential of the instrument would do well to keep an eye on Nace's work, which demonstrates real subtlety and deft interaction behind its serrated exterior. Of Open Mouth, it provides an entry point to a community of musicians working in the margins of freely improvised sound who often fall though the cracks as they produce work which is often difficult, unclassifiable and subsequently (to a wider audience) unmarketable. For those prepared for the additional leg work required to monitor their output, this interconnecting network generates a perpetual trove of interesting releases - the rewards of which are instantaneous and recurrent.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Evan Parker Interview

"It's about something that's beyond words so when you try to turn that attraction back into words you're bound to simplify or slightly miss the point." (Evan Parker)

Patrick Pulsinger & Christian Fennesz – In Four Parts (Col Legno, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

John Cage’s 1950 String Quartet in Four Parts is a quiet, folksy composition that’s stippled with moments of dissonant uncertainty—though the piece was wholly composed, its unpredictable turns point towards the aleatoric music of the future and the dalliances with chance and silence that would become Cage’s legacy. The “gamut” technique Cage used was designed to stifle any normal harmonic progression, resulting in a calm, very melodic piece of music that also behaves in ways that are difficult to anticipate. It would be one of his last “fully” composed pieces of music. Soon after, he would largely hand the reigns over to chance.

More than half a century later, In Four Parts was recorded live at the 2012 WIEN MODERN festival. Cage’s string quartet was reimagined for a duo of electronics: Patrick Pulsinger’s modular synth took on the roles of viola and cello, and the violins became Christian Fennesz’s guitar and electronics. I should clarify that In Four Parts is better described as “inspired” by Cage’s composition (the album’s subtitle is “A Tribute to John Cage”)—it really sounds nothing like Cage’s piece or even a string quartet. However, there’s a stunning depth of sound and cool, meditative air that’s certainly in keeping with Cage’s concerns. It’s easy to imagine being present at the live performance, experiencing total immersion in the alien swells of sound, which at times feel as divorced from human intention as any of Cage’s wilder aleatoric experiments.

What In Four Parts retains best is the gentle beauty of the original—even through its unanticipated curves, there’s something profoundly relaxing and ruminative about the performance. The second part begins with a bit of a pulse, a feeling of movement that’s at odds with the flat, static nature of the original composition, but eventually the piece moves into a strange state of suspension, a haze of modular synthesizer that’s punctuated by Fennesz’s electronics like awakening fireflies in the dusk.
Much of the dissonant tension and contingency in Cage’s composition arose from the use of gamuts: before he began composing, he developed a set of chords, each one associated with a specific note. When he then wrote the melodies for the quartet, each note was coupled with its previously assigned chord, resulting in a disjointed harmony that was completely unrelated to the melody, could not have been foreseen ahead of time, and created a slightly jarring, uncanny listening experience. Limited to two players, Fennesz and Pulsinger revive these dissonant patches not through recreating unusual chords, but by using the incredible flexibility of their electronic instruments to create changes in timbre, unexpected splashes of color against the lulling, resonant current that runs beneath much of the performance.

In Four Parts is surely a loose adaptation, but it’s an impressive performance nonetheless, in keeping with Fennesz’s experimental works with groups like Polwechsel or Pulsinger’s previous Col Legno release, the wonderful Besides Feldman.  The liner notes contain a quote by Cage, stretched out to just a few words per page: “to sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influence.” There’s no telling what you might channel while listening to In Four Parts, but its expansive atmosphere can’t be seen as anything but an open invitation.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Free Jazz Collective on Air

We're proud to share an exciting development at the Free Jazz Collective - our very own Martin Schray has taken our free jazz blog to the radio waves this week on the German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2). 

Martin joined host Julia Neupert on her show for an hour of Free Jazz talk and music.

A link to the show is available for on-demand listening for a week after the broadcast. Check out the announcement (in German) and use this link to listen on demand (also in German).

Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

By Chris Haines

This a very different sounding album from it’s predecessor City of Asylum.  Whereas City of Asylum contained more of a complex but colourful atonal texture, In Memory… is much more modal and linear with a clear forward direction.  The line-up this time is also a very significant part of the difference, as it is a piano-less quartet of alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass and drums/percussion.

The emphasis is much more on compositional thought than straight ahead improvisation, and the pieces have been well put together using solid compositional devices.  It is a lean and economical album, as one would expect from good compositional writing, with nothing extra added for the sake of it.  The pieces work well individually and as a collection with excellent playing giving them, at times, a simplistic and easy natured feel.  It is this point that gives the album its real strength, and as you would expect from the musicians that Revis has worked with in the past and continues to work with in the present the playing is excellent and effortless.

The music is interestingly syncopated at times and the melodies have great shape and character with the use of hocketing techniques & staggered entries creating extra rhythmic and textural interest in contrast with more straightforward unison lines.

The album starts with ‘The Tulpa Chronicles I’ with it’s beautiful sounding vibes creating a soft and gentle introduction to the album before launching into ‘Hits’, which is only one of two completely improvised pieces on the album.  This creates a good contrast to the start of the album and this interest is extended with ‘Son Seal’ with it’s rhythmically interesting melodic writing being engineered by the clever use of time signature changes flicking between a straight beat and a swung pattern with subtle changes in tempo.  This piece in particular just seems to get better with every listen.  These three pieces really set the scene for the rest of the album, which continues just as strong in both ideas and playing throughout, whilst ‘The Tulpa Chronicles III’ conjures up the notion of a modern take on a medieval square dance with it’s arco ground bass pattern and accented rhythmic percussion.

Overall there is a clear sense of structure to the album without it ever becoming derivative.  The written sections are interesting, and the improvised playing is strong.  There is great interplay amongst the instrumentation within the writing, which exudes the quality that is clearly on offer here.

Personnel: Eric Revis: double-bass; Chad Taylor: drums, vibraphone; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Darius Jones: alto saxophone 

Available at Instantjazz.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Joe Morris, Fausto Sierakowski & Nigel Taylor - Part And Parcel (Bug Incision, 2013) ****

By Stef

Describing music is impossible. Especially if it is of the more avant-garde style, where references are difficult to find. And luckily this is the case. If everything sounded like everything else, it would be boring stuff.

So here we have this trio with Joe Morris on acoustic guitar, Fausto Sierakowski on alto saxophone and Nigel Taylor on trumpet. Morris needs no introduction. Sierakowski was born in France in 1988 and graduated from the New England Conservatory in 2012. Taylor is from Canada and was also in Morris' classes at the New England Conservartory. And even if Sierowski is interested in music from the Balkan and Turkey, and if Taylor has had a classical music education, what you hear on this album is on the totally different end of the musical spectrum.

If an image comes to mind when listening to this music, it's the image of fire, with flames, hot flames emerging and disappearing or moving unpredictably, yet all in the same direction, like a dance of intense energy, emerging from a common source, warming yet dangerous, crackling, with sparkles flying in all directions, and never-ending, sounds that erupt, transform, mingle and rise, that twirl and circle and disappear to be replaced by similar sounds, endlessly, full of attraction and repulsion, you can't come close yet it's fascinating to watch, it's real and authentic, dynamic without changing places, intimate and spiritual, just like a fire is. It's weird, ever-modifying, unexpected and compelling.

It is like watching a fire. You can't get enough of it, and I've listened to this album dozens of times, yet it's hard to compare or even remember the various tracks. True, some are quieter, such as "Odds", yet most of the time, the raw, scorching sound is blazing with intense interactions.

Powerful stuff for fans with open ears.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Apophonics - On Air (Weight of Wax, 2013) ****½

By Stef

So were we not aware of this trio when we made this long "sax trio" overview last week? Yes, we were aware of this album, very much so. Yet it requires some special attention. The trio is John Butcher on sax, John Edwards on bass and Gino Robair on percussion (here described as "energised surfaces", which sounds OK too).

The album is the result of various performances given by the trio on the European continent and commissioned by BBC radio, which explains the title "On Air". The band's name is a pun on the word "apophenia" which means seeing patterns where there are none, a mental deficit which affects almost all of us.

What this trio does, is of course totally outside, or even beyond the concept of pattern. Their music emerges, evolves spontaneously, eddies around each other's interventions, flows forward in unexpected directions, and grows as much as it shrinks too at times, with environments changing from stretched tones to moments of short bursts of stuttering voices, intense mini-sounds to amplify silence, birds chattering as if at war, industrial sounds suddenly a welcoming change.

But again, these are images, these are ideas, thought patterns conjured up in the listener's brain. The real thing, the true thing, are just the sounds, unique, meaningless, patternless, unlinked except for the interaction of three men, and those three men themselves put themselves completely at the service of the sounds, vibrating, resonating, echoing, screeching, sizzling, scraping ... going through waves of intensity and volume.

The end result is astounding, because of its effect, its coherence, its inherent beauty.

For listeners with open and fine ears.

Available at Instantjazz.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Franco D'Andrea Sextet - Monk and the Time Machine (Egea, 2014) *****

By Hugo Truyens

Now I am very fond of my Monk themes and I call’m my themes because I’ve been working with them for years now, squeezing them out of my clarinet and seeing where they lead me (no audience allowed). I see them as small extraction tools, they serve as a nice lithmus test for the extent of your musicianship. And then their titles: Ask Me Later, Humph, Ugly Beauty. D’Andrea says in his liner notes: “ I take Monk as a pretext, a starting point to go and visit all the places of my way to see the music.” Many did exactly that before him, and they have given me several highlights in my life. Take Von Schlippenbach’s extremely quirky Monk’s Casino, take Eugene Chadbourne’s fight to walk the narrow line where ugliness meets beauty and take of course any rendition of any Monk theme by the inimitable and era-defining ICP Orchestra.

 It is no coincidence, to my ears, that D’Andrea quotes a Misha Mengelberg theme to set of his Monk and the Time Machine. I’m so sold. 'Into the Mystery – Deep Riff' the first piece is called and it does exactly that.  It pulls you in, pushes you away, teases you into this beautiful interplay where everybody’s tongue is firm in cheek, everybody’s abilities honed to impeccable freedom. When you listen, when you listen and you dig it,  can you dig it.  We have Franco D’Andrea picking out the keys with care and abandon, waiting for the empty space to appear to punch in the note it requires, enticing Daniele D’Agaro to take it away as a puppy takes away a towel too big for him, Mauro Ottolini underscoring, Andrea Ayassot exploring every alto between New Orleans and the Knitting Factory, living or dead, and Aldo Mella on bass and Zeno De Rossi on battery, the beating heart throughout this entire record.  When you have ever witnessed the murmurations of a flock of starlings you know exactly what I’m talking about.  “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”  They wear it extremely well these Italians, remember their names if you don’t carry them in your heart yet.  Oh the gentle way with which they pry open the gates of 'Light Blue', circumscribing, waiting for the notes to land but not forgetting to revel in them while they fall and emerging with a twisted lounge take, and this is only track 2 .

You might have surmised by know that I have grown quite fond of this record. I carried it in my ears (Classic Ipod) for days now, I’ve walked through Vienna, through woods, through my everyday hometown and they form the perfect companion to anything really and to nothing in particular.  Then suddenly being entered midship by the erupting angularity of 'Epistrophy', taking it quickly and surely to its extremes, leaping over the boundaries and shaping it into a joyous anthem.  Ending it in the so effective ICP way: tam te dem tam. Schluss.  D’Andrea born 1941, Zeno de Rossi was born in Verona, Italy in the year of the dog on Elul 9, 5730 under the sign of virgo. It was a Thursday.  Track 3 is 'Misterioso', need I say more, and is given the full treatment by the trombone, tailgating its way through the parade, leaping into those treacherous sevenths with trepidation but without fear, creating a wake for the others who get unmoored in, and merging into the oh so skewed swing you get when you break it up and reassemble it without glossing over the seams.  Monk would have donned his fez and started skipping around the piano.  Ottolini born in 1972, D’Agaro born in 1958 and of course of long standing in Centazzo’s Mitteleuropa Orchestra.  He played in a trio with Tobias Delius and Sean Bergin for god’s sake.

A rare curiosity unsatisfied throughout the years permeates this music.  Take 'Bright Mississippi' which is next and unleashes the full power of this band, bringing it right back to Dixie, to JASS, to a toewaggin and fingerlicking romp.

Then comes 'Monk’s Mood', conjured up from the deepest bass on the piano ( bass sustained by De Rossi and Mella throughout), delicately picked out of the strings and taken over and augmented by the clarinet, and once again listening trance is locked on , this thing can on eternal repeat ( hooded trombone always does it to me). And then they take you by the hand again and lead you around the bend, whispering all the time: wait there’s more, there’s 'Abstraction'.  Cleansing off the ears while being kept on your toes.  Then picking us up for one more track.  Bass solo. Slowly and patiently weaving a pattern out of preexisting threads, some cymbal waving in the background, bass not taking that and speeding things up, triplets, quintuplets, squeezing the strings and handing over to the piano again, Monk’s splayed fingers, no D’Andrea and wait there’s another theme to take apart, 'Well You Needn’t'. You're talkin' so sweet well you needn't, you say you won't cheat well you needn't, you're tappin' your feet well you needn't, it's over now, it's over now.

Monk often ended his performances with this.  They do too.  Meandering out never touching examining every involute never even fullout playing it, but as every mathematician knows, from the involute you can easily reconstruct the original curve. They leave me rapt (well you needn’t).
And that’s only one disc.  They still have 'Brake’s Sake', 'Locomotive', 'Coming on the Hudson', 'Blue Monk',  'I Mean You'. Don’t get me started.

In these ears it has already become a timeless masterpiece.  Monk reversed, tried out, worked through, enlarged, taken to new turns, between past and future the ongoing game. Up there with the above mentioned. Up there with the Melodious Thunk himself: don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by, some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do. Always leave them wanting more.    

Monday, March 24, 2014

John Zorn - The Hermetic Organ, Vol. 2 (Tzadik, 2014) ***½

By Brian Questa

It is an exquisite experience to hear John Zorn play solo, on any instrument. In The Hermetic Organ, Vol. 2, the command he has over his own improvisations is remarkable. His instincts lead him to a sensitive balance of colors and expressions. There are no awkward transitions, no embarrassing turns of phrase, nothing to suggest that, for Zorn, the risks inherent in free improvisation produce anything other than quality music. Here we have an array of Zorn's diverse toolbox: from torrential intervals raining down the pipes, to the ecclesiastical moments of modal prayer, to the restraint of a Webern-like simplicity. Zorn's performance is versatile, but unlike you might suspect of Zornian eclecticism, it is neither disjunctive, nor erratic; each piece is a concise poem, presenting a singular idea, reflecting in its own light unto a logical conclusion.

Zorn does not have full technical command of the organ. This is evident by the fact that he never employs more than two contrapuntal voices at a time. At most, one is repetitive, or static, while the other extemporizes. He keeps his ideas simple, possibly intentionally, and the variations on his motives do not have the virtuosity that organ improvisation is accustomed to. We read in the accompanying notes, “Performed at St. Paul’s Chapel at a time when the organ was undergoing extensive reconstruction, the limited number of stops available to him focused his imagination to new heights…” This added limitation promotes the subliminal message of the project: Zorn can make music on any instrument, with any tools.

The downtown maverick takes to the instrument most ossified in the classical cannon. The project is neoclassical, not only for its very existence as “composer-gives-organ recital,” but also for titles such as “Crucifixion” and “Communion,” and for its wealth of tonal themes. It serves as an intimate listen into how Zorn processes compositional ideas, like a Persian miniature of his compositional oeuvre. I can say with certainty it is must-have for anyone with a serious interest in his life and work. The fact that Zorn has released two volumes, years apart, tells me that this is an important project for him. Can we expect a third?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guitar Week: Solo guitar

By Stef

Once in a while, but not often, solo guitar albums are produced. They are rare in jazz, and even if the artists in the review below are connected to jazz or free improvisation, today, they have different things to offer.

Kim Myhr - All Your Limbs Singing (Sofa, 2014) ****

Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr is one of this reviewer's favorite artists, as is testified by the number of reviews we've dedicated to his music in the last few years, with a good intro here. Typically, his approach is minimal, using sparse sounds, often in intense ensemble-playing, yet keeping a lightness of instruments that is often in stark contrast to the darkness of the music.

What he does here, is almost the exact opposite. On the long opening track, "Weaving Into Choirs", his guitars are overdubbed in several layers, creating an almost orchestral feel, with an intense repetitiveness that reminds us of Reich or Glass, and that is often the backbone of his compositions, creating an overall mood that is much lighter, more optimistic, as the album's title and cover art would suggest.

His twelve-string acoustic guitar resonates, and creates space, for new sounds to enter. "Decent", the second track is more intimate, built around an arpeggiated eery chord. On "Blinky", he plays only one chord, but then in hundreds of different ways, with changing resonance, and power and speed. "Leaping Into Periphery" sounds like champagne bubbles rising up in a glass, small and intimate and fresh and tasteful. "Sleep Nothing, Eat Nothing" is again more symphonic, and the last track, "Harbor Me", is an achingly beautiful slow folksy composition, with again layers of minimal and repetitive sounds weaving a texture that evolves with minor shifts and changes.

Myhr manages to create a genre-less style, that applies techniques from jazz and folk and classical music, both on the instrument and his compositions, as the foundation for his own unique creative vision, one of subtle moods and shades of feelings.

Henry Kaiser - Requia & Other Improvisations for Guitar Solo (Tzadik, 2013) ***

Henry Kaiser is one of the founding fathers of free imrprov guitar, a musician who is as prolific as you might expect, with no less than 250 albums to his name, a unique guitar collection, and with a quite eclectic taste for various genres, ranging from film music to free improv, with everything from rock music to jazz in between. My preference still goes to his "Yo, Miles!" band with Wadada Leo Smith.

This album is something else. It brings us quiet music - as you can expect from requiems - both acoustic and electric. And his approach is at times unique, as on the long and beautiful "Requiem for Fred Lieberman", in which overdubbed guitars sound like wind chimes in a glorious and strangely contained jubilation.

Things get a little wilder on "Sun Ra, Stockhausen and Lieberman Walk Into A Bar On Saturn", which has a story-like development, with different genres mixed into a strange brew, ranging from acoustic eery chords to electric shredding and dissonance on badly tuned guitar.

And you get it all, a slow electric blues, "The Many Worlds Of Hubert Sumlin", a beautiful and quiet hommage on "Ships That Pass In The Night" (For Masayuki Takayanagi & Toru Takemitsu), with Japanese sounding scales, the calm acoustic piece "Charlie Appleyard", and the album ends with a more new agey thing, called "Blue Spirits" (For Randy California).

So? There is lots of stuff here, but no musical vision. And that was probably not the point either. The album offers a collection of guitar pieces, some really good and innovative, some boring or superfluous, often played in the style of the person to which it is a tribute to. But then so what? The better kind of entertainment? An exercise in style?

Noël Akchoté - Z​-​Joseph (The Joseph Solos Series) & John Cage - String Quartet In Four Parts & Orlando Di Lasso - Works Vol. 1 (Selected) & Machaut - Les Virelais (Selected) & Medieval Guitars

So if you think that Henry Kaiser played on lots of albums, nothing compares to Noël Akchoté, French guitarist, composer and actor. He releases albums in many genres, and this almost every week. He plays classical guitar, or medieval classical music on electric guitar, or fusion albums, or world music, or an acoustic tribute to Kylie Minogue, and this month he has already released three reggae albums, sorry four reggae albums, and a couple of others. He has albums with klezmer music, with film music, with jazz standards, with Indian music.

 Is the man mad? Is he obsessed with music? Does he have some compulsive neurosis? Or is he just plain creative and endlessly productive? If I count well (and I admit that I am not famous for my math skills), he has released fourty-seven albums - albeit digital ones - since last year. Yes, 47 albums, that is almost one per week, and if you subscribe to his email, as I do, you will get a notification every week about a new album being released, or maybe he's just digitalised and uploaded new material. Yet his playing is excellent, and his skills on the guitar are good.

He has performed with Henri Texier, Louis Sclavis, Daniel Humair, Jacques Thollot, Sam Rivers, Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Marc Ribot, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Tim Berne, George Lewis, Max Nagl's Big Four (Steven Bernstein, Bradley Jones, Joey Baron), Tetuzi Akiyama, Otomo Yoshihide, Julie Tippets, Mike Cooper, Wolfgang Puschnig, Linda Sharrock, Tom Cora, Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, Nobuyoshi Araki or Daido Moriyama.

 So about his solo works of last year, they're pretty classical, with Guillaume de Machaut, yes the same medieval composer as on Samuel Blaser's brilliant album "A Mirror To Machaut", but also Orlando di Lasso and Alonso Mudarra. Akchoté plays his own idiosyncratic versions of these musicians, transposing the original music to guitar, electric guitar even, in a somewhat raw rendition, yet working with the original material, in a very respectful and beautiful way.

 Yet he's not shying away from modern composers such as John Cage, playing his String Quartet In Four Parts on electric guitar, albeit in a strangely altered version. The Z-Joseph series is more ambient and electronic in overall sound, although also played on electric guitar.

 It is hard to say what to think of his music. It's everything and nothing at the same time. And in all honesty I think he doesn't care too much. I don't know him, but I guess he just loves music. All music. And just loves guitar. And then he decides to try everything out. Everything. And that's great fun. And strangely enough, despite the incredible variety and prolofic output, it's all Akchoté, authentic Akchoté, whether reggae or klezmer or medieval or jazz or dub or rock or fusion or ambient or ...

 Check him on out Bandcamp.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Guitar Week: Bushman's Revenge - Thou Shalt Boogie (Rune Grammofon,2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Is this the start of something new for the Bushman? The Norwegian power trio who has brought us such brutal gems as Jitterbug, A Little Bit of Big Bonanza and Never Mind the Botox seem to be merging some of their raw power with the textures of the Hammond organ, experimenting with new space and sounds on Thou Shalt Boogie.

This is not to say that the core trio has lost any steam, if anything the new instrumentation helps to accentuate the powerful moments in the music. The short opening 'I Am an Astronaut' demonstrates this to good effect, David Wallumrød's keyboards kicks off with an expectant chord stack, as Gard Nilssen's drums and Rune Nergaard's bass provide a solid foundation for guitarist Even Helte Hermansen to build a soaring melody.

Track two, 'Baklengs Inn I Fuglekassa' is a prog-rock epic. Starting with a spacious motif from the organ and guitar, the nearly 20 minute track just builds intensity, contrasting moments of atmosphere with pure rock. The following track, 'Waltz Me Baby, Waltz Me All Night Long' begins with certain lightness, the guitar playing the melody and the organ swelling below. The two play off each other expertly, working hand-in-hand to create a huge sound. Track four, 'Kugeln und Kraut' is classic Bushman's Revenge, it's tough, with heavy riffs, chunky rhythms. The last tune though is a real shocker, which I'll leave at that (no spoiler here).

While this progressive rock/jazz power trio has brought in a keyboard player on their latest, label mates, Elephant9, a progressive jazz/rock keyboard trio, recently brought in a guitarist for their latest album. I like the convergence, it's making for some great music.

Guitar Week: Levin/Torn/White (Lazy Bones, 2011) *****

Here is one that we really wanted to share... we hadn't realized that it came out in 2011, how time flies!
By Ed Pettersen

I would consider a life of crime to get this music on vinyl, my favorite format.  It’s that brilliant and thrilling.

Rarely, if ever, will you see me give a record 5 stars because I’m a picky, finicky, cranky old bastard (hell, I would only give “Kind of Blue” 4 ½) but this is the first in a very long time that I will without hesitation.  I’ve been a fan of all three of these musicians for as long as I can remember but getting them together, though the grouping may seem a bit odd to some people, is inspired.  How often can you say a record truly left you breathless and genuinely excited while you were listening?  This is that kind of record.  Every note stings your soul, hits your heart and forces you to listen.

Some folks will label this record “progressive fusion” or “prog rock/jazz” and you could understand that point of view from the first two tracks, “No Warning Lights” and “Ultra Mullet” but that would be shorting its scope and breadth.  It’s funky, jazzy, passionate, it rocks and most importantly it’s an inspiring collection.  How the third, and maybe my favorite track, “White Noise” could be improvised with its start/stops and superb interplay is beyond me but who cares.  It’s utterly moving.

Certainly each player’s pedigree is on offer here: Tony Levin with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, Torn with David Bowie, Tori Amos, numerous solo projects and soundtracks and of course the estimable Alan White with prog rock supergroup Yes among others however there are only echoes of the past and the music they’ve made here is fresh, wholly original and stands on its own.

Torn’s solo’s on “The Hood Fell” and “Brain Tattoo” are jaw dropping and easily identifiable.  You will not mistake Mr. Torn for any other guitarist making music today.  His sound, tone, feel, ideas and originality are special and unique and are fully forward on this album.  As a soloist/improviser her has no peer and who knew Mr. White was so funky? (We all know how funky Mr. Levin is and truly he is the rock of this record-also  its co-producer- holding it down, centering it and propelling it forward relentlessly on every song.  “Prom Night of the Centipedes”?  Bravo!).  Special mention should be made of Scott Schorr the other credited producer on this collection who somehow was able to cull these performances from various dates and studios and make it feel cohesive while adding some tasty keyboard work of his own.

My other favorites on this album besides the aforementioned songs are the atmospheric and futuristic “Sleeping Horse” and the last track “Lights Out”.

According to White, the band did some sessions together but also recorded most of the project virtually from various locations which may be why David Torn remarked to me “It was kind of a weird record to make”.  In a brief back and forth David Torn told me all but one song was composed beforehand (he was asked to “make one up on the spot”) but all the soloing was entirely improvised (According to David Torn all of his work was completely improvised and Tony Levin and Mr. Schorr were present during all of his work).  This makes sense since the most compelling moments on this record are the solo sections but the compositions as a whole stand on their own.  The mere fact that this album could be recorded remotely in a few different locations over a period of time and still be as strong as it sounds is quite an achievement but in no way subtracts from the power of the music they’ve created.  But don’t think it’s all sturm and drang.  There’s a lot of subtlety at play here.  After all, these gents are utter professionals and not interested in showing off.  They know there needs to be an ebb and flow and my guess is they weren’t even thinking about that.  It probably just happened which is what true artists at the top of their game do.  What do our British friends say?  Gobsmacked?  Consider me smacked (by gobs and gobs and…).  Get this album.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Guitar Week: Abraxas - Psychomagia (Tzadik, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

When I was 17 and learned to play the guitar I was fascinated by jazz rock and especially guitarists like John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Al Di Meola, and Larry Carlton because I was impressed by their technical abilities. My love for jazz rock or fusion didn’t last long, though, since I thought it was too often about displaying these skills instead of concepts, spirituality, subtle ideas and sound - as David S. Ware once put it (although I still like some early McLaughlin and Coryell recordings).

On the other hand I have always loved John Zorn and it was obvious that his idea of fusion was different and off the beaten paths. For Psychomagia he has used non-musical – in this case philosophical and cinematic - sources like the medieval Dominican friar, pantheist philosopher, poet and astronomer Giordano Bruno and avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (mainly known for his surrealistic western “El Topo”). Psychomagia is a part of Zorn’s Masada Book Two – The Book of Angels series, a circle for which he has composed hundreds of tunes, and which he has realized with artists as different as the Masada String Trio, the Ben Goldberg Quartet, Pat Metheny or The Dreamers. For the compositions on this album he has chosen Abraxas, a band including Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (b), Kenny Grohowski (dr) and Eyal Maoz and Aram Bajakian on guitars. It is their second album for Zorn after The Book of Angels Vol. 19.

What distinguishes Zorn’s tunes from ordinary fusion is his wild mixture of styles and his postmodern approach mixing surf sounds (“Metapsychomagia”), playful country miniatures (“Sacred Emblems”), heavy rock (“Circe”), references to his own works like The Gnostic Trio’s In Lambeth (“Squaring the Circle”), math rock and Moonchild echoes (“Celestial Mechanism”), psychedelic art rock (“Evocation of the Triumphant Beast”), mad jazz rock (“Four Rivers”) or almost sparkling new age textures (“Anima Mundi”). However, all these tracks are true Zorn compositions interwoven with Near Eastern melodies, western soundscapes and jazzy wackiness and Abraxas play these pieces with the abrasive, breathtaking energy of a monstrous jam session. The musicians never consider technical skills as ends in themselves, they always serve the compositions.

Psychomagia is a High Mass for guitar freaks, fans of the music of Frank Zappa and for those who like the harsher sides of Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot.

Watch the excellent ”Four Rivers“ video here:

Guitar Week: Lisa Mezzacappa Trio - X Marks the Question (Queen Bee Records, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Bassist and composer Lisa Mezzacappa has been delighting the writers here at the Freejazz blog with her Bait & Switch and Nightshade releases over the past few years. Here, the Bay Area bassist teams up with Brooklyn based drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Chris Welcome for an excellent album with composition credits shared amongst the trio.

I am particularly drawn to the track 'Ghost Dance', where the uptempo head takes off with an unusual melody and seques beautifully into a guitar solo of perfected abandon. 'Jazz Brunch' is a pretty tune, sort of a ballad with bite, on which Mezzacappa and Pride exchange freely in between the gentle melody. Pride's 'Potty Mouth' features a full on breakdown into acoustic atmospherics and 'The Deep Disciplines' features interlocking guitar/bass interludes that sound both tight and loose at the same time.

I could continue with the track-by-track but instead will just say X Marks the Question is an excellent album where free playing accentuates the compositional ideas and, in the spirit of Guitar Week, features some really nice fretwork work by Welcome. I was unfamiliar with his playing before, but really enjoy how he mixes a traditional jazz feel with freer inclinations.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Guitar Week: Salamanders!

It's not often you connect free jazz albums through amphibians... (and there are more salamanders in recent jazz – the first track on Alexander von Schlippenbach's "Vesuvius" (2005), the third track on Vinny Golia's "9 Pieces for solo Bb clarinet", the tenth track on Aych's "As The Crow Flies" (2012) ... so much for irrelevant information)

Dørge, Westergaard, Sorey, - Like Salamanders We Survive (TWMusik, 2013) ****½

By Stef

Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge is a real jazz veteran, with his roots in the sixties, and with his ears stretching around the world, incorporating African, Middle Eastern and Asian influences in his band's repertoire over the decades. His music is adventurous in a way, but within the boundaries of accessibility to traditional jazz audiences, with written and arranged music that goes beyond the genres, and is great fun actually. His Danish Jungle Orchestra has animal artwork as its signature : elephants, giraffes, crocodiles and camels.

Now the exuberance of his band is gone, the power of the jungle's giant animals forgotten for a moment, because Pierre Dørge meets the new generation, and on their turf, bassist Torben Westergaard and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who also plays some piano on the album, for a more intimate setting, the smaller world of salamanders, less exotic, but also not entirely domesticated either. And that's how the music sounds.

The result of this interaction is nothing short of mesmerising. Dørge seems to enjoy the freedom, the openness, the space that is created by the Westergaard and Sorey, who are both masters of precision, of sonic accuracy, doing what is needed to create a sound environment, but nothing more, no pyrotechnics, no decoration, no ornaments, just careful and sparse use of emphasis and pulse and mood.

Dørge is jazzy, and bluesy, quiet when needed, and not afraid to go berserk too, and even if it's not his intention, what a lesson he gives here to the younger generation of guitarists, and then on their turf, with wild ideas and sonic explorations. Listen how his guitar howls like a trumpet on "Ethnic (Uphill) Climb" (or is it something else?) over the funky restrained hypnotic beat that Westergaard and Sorey lay down. And as on his other albums, the ethnic influences appear here too, as on the Chinese sounding piano ballad that Sorey improvises.

What a gorgeous album, played by musicians who have nothing to prove, are not playing to create great art, but just to have a go at it, and use their incredible skills to offer us great music, coherent, captivating, and incredibly enjoyable. An album you will listen to a lot (at least I did, and still do). 

Peter Kerlin Octet - Salamander (Innova Recordings, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Peter Kerlin is a bassist (I know it's guitar week, but I'm going on the Salamander theme here) and composer and his music with an octet on Salamander is a mix of epic post-rock compositions and improvisation.

The bass lines are riveting - like actual rivets holding together the songs - groove driven but not funky - just rock solid. The songs move like giant blocks of melody through an assembly line designed by MC Escher. It is the insistent bass lines that keep the pieces moving along.

The tracks 'Cenozoan Warp' has an ethereal atmosphere generated by the marimba and percussion, until the bass comes in with a repetitive and uplifting melody. Violin and guitar add texture and muscle as the song builds layers upon layers. The track 'Wanna Let the Bell Tower Ring' starts out more intensely and then fractures into odd shapes and lovely passages.

The unusually bass heavy octet is comprised of Peter Kerlin, Taylor Bergren-Chrisman and Brent Cordero on bass, Sam Sowyrda and Cesare Papetti on vibraphone, Amy Cimini, Jessica Pavone and Karen Waltuch on viola, Emily Manzo on organ and Wurlitzer, and Mike Pride and Charles Burst on drums and percussion.

I've been poking at this recording for a while now and each time I put it on, I'm reminded of how good the combination of instruments and how unusual the approach to the composition is, and think why isn't this on my play list more frequently? I have no good answer except that it's quite rich and so absorbing that I must enjoy just nibbling at it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Guitar Week: Guitar & Drum Roundup

Guitar and drums ... even more elemental that the classic guitar, bass, and drum line up. Every note counts, every percussive splash, every strike of the pick ...

By Paul Acquaro

Ava Mendoza - Quit Your Unnatural Ways (Weird Forest, 2012) ****½

Sometimes you get lucky. I came across Ava Mendoza's Quit Your Unnatural Ways at a recent show and put in on in the car for my drive home. Enrapt, it barely felt like I was negotiating the construction ridden expressway ... even when the lanes suddenly shifted and an unexpected concrete barrier appeared ahead of me. Determined, I gripped the wheel with my hands, the speakers with my ears, and I hung on to each sonic splatter and unexpected twist - and lived to tell the story.

Guitarist Mendoza writes and plays with a certain logical melodicism, precise and circular at times, and enshrouded in some mystery. Quit Your Unnatural Ways is a duo album that sounds like a whole lot more. Mendoza's electric guitar, effects and loops, with Nick Tamburro's percussion, fill the tracks with humor, pathos, and a lot of muscle.

The figures and melodic shapes that Mendoza uses draws inspiration from rock, blues and folk to develop her expansive and slightly menacing improvisations. 'Quit Your Unnatural Ways' kicks things off with a loop that effortlessly jumps intervals and features a darkly humorous lead. It doesn't let up from there, 'First Time Shape Shifter' is a great example where the loops and effects build into a sonic backdrop for Mendoza's to build upon, making excellent use of contrasting effects and loops. Throughout, Tamburro's drumming is essential, locking in with the rhythmic loops and helping to keep them seem fresh and changing.

A couple years old but worth seeking out as a great introduction to Mendoza's guitar playing - something you'll be wanting to hear more of, I believe.

Hat and Beard - Reflections (Trio Recordings, 2014) ****

I love Monk. I love guitar. I love spare arrangements that lay bare tune's nooks and crannies. I love songs that have nooks and crannies. So with Hat and beard, a guitar & drum duo that plays Thelonious Monk, what's not to love?

Guitarist Ken Aldcroft and drummer Dave Clark released the excellent Hat & Beard Live at Somewhere There a few years back and Reflections is possibly even better. With a strong clean tone and some bite, Aldcroft plays it just right, letting Monk's delightful tunes breath.

Highlight include the title track, 'Reflections' – just listen as its austere and delicate melody winds around the implied pulse of Clark's drums, providing color and leaving the listener with just wisps of song. The following upbeat and full bodied 'San Francisco Holiday' is a great contrast. The melody is delivered with vigor, and the duo sounds incredibly full, even when deep into an unpredictable improvisation. The spirited playing on 'Five Spot Blues' is a show stopper, Clark and Aldcroft build to up to an irresistibly enjoyable fever.

So, another entertaining and delightful romp though the Monk songbook from Hat and Beard.

ROOM - La malédiction du M (bandcamp, 2014) ***½

ROOM is the collaboration of drummer Sam Ospovat and guitarist Serge Rogalski. This dark and mysterious album is culled from the duo improvising in the studio, and later overdubbing synthesizer. From the first track, it's clear that they have hit on something pretty intriguing.

'Où les zèbres dorment' creeps along with sinister intent, it's dark and sinewy guitar lines that wrap tightly around the percussion as the synthesizer added accentuates the dark corners. 'The birth of a superman ' is built around a minimal melodic statement, with the drums adding depth and texture in the background. 'A Marcel et Edith' is a melancholic statement, somewhat classical in it's structure - except for the challenging synth. Throughout, it is a haunting album that demands your attention, while at the same time lurks in the shadows.

Ospovat also works in duo with vocalist Lorin Benedict, they have an intriguing album also available on bandcamp.

Good Romans -  Open This Door, Never look Back (Finnish Explosions, 2014) ***½

This Finnish guitar and drum duo explore a diverse set of sounds and textures through slowly building soundscapes, such as the opening 'ode to spar' and the prickly rocking 'it's just that ... i don't love you anymore'. Drummer Jussi Miettola deftly supports guitarist Ilari Filander as they dig into the deliberate and swaying waltz in 'smiling no' and noisy electronics laden 'Moha Rave.' A really interesting and diverse record that shows just how much sonic territory two good musicians can cover.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guitar Week: Thumbscrew and eCsTaSy

For the second installment of guitar week, I am excited to be sharing some thoughts on recent releases from two great guitarists (oh hell, they're all great). From these two artists, the blog has most recently reviewed Raoul Bjorkenheim's Scorch Trio and Mary Halvorson's Ghost Loops... 

By Paul Acquaro

Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara-  Thumbscrew (Cuneiform, 2014) ****

This trio, comprised of guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara is real treat. Like on Halvorson's recent Ghost Loops, the trio format gives the guitarist's unusual chord voicing and intervallic leaps a big space to fill up. The group is tight, and as far out as they may go, they lock together tightly and deliver some exceptional music.

The opener "Cheap Knock Off" sets the stage with a lyrical opening passage and within five minutes, builds to a full throated roar. Fujiwara and Formanek create a strong foundation upon which the Halvorson builds a structure, and then proceeds to burn it down. The smarmily named "iThumbscrew" begins as a rhythmic exercise, the guitar connecting with drum's deep pockets with an arpeggiated melody. Fujiwara's drums playfully responds to Halvorson's more squirrely musical moments and deftly supporting the more muscular ones. "Fluid Hills in Pink" shows Halvorson's more subdued side, and places Fujiwara and Formanek in the spotlight for an extended and slightly mysterious sounding duet. Skipping ahead, the track "Still … Doesn't Swing" actually seems to swing as much as the other tracks. Generally, the tracks seem to be built off of composed frameworks with plenty of room for making it up as they go along, however, this one in particular, breaks down into down into some incredibly heated improvisation, with Halvorson pulling out all sorts of effects while the rhythm section digging into some deep syncopations.

Thumbscrew is a great trio, highly listenable and lyrical, but does not shy away from the tough stuff.

Listen awhile …

Raoul Bjorkenheim - eCsTaSy (Cuneiform, 2014) ****½ 

The eCsTaSy trio is a new all Finnish group from guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim. This new group encompasses the fire of the Scorch Trio and improvisational power of the Kalabalik Trio with some of the orchestral vision of the UMO Orchestra's Primal Mind. Comprised of saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Markku Ounaskari, it's not quite the size of an orchestra but the guitarist's compositions and arrangements think expansively.

First track, "El Pueblo Unido" kicks things off in a soaring fashion. The guitarists biting tone is big and rises above the rhythm section in a tradition that I would liken to Terje Rypdal's more rock oriented output. The arrangement makes the quartet sound quite full. The next track "SOS" is festooned with groove - the soprano sax juxtaposed with Bjorkenheim's low end riffs and rapid fire unison lines beautifully frame the fiery solos - especially from upright bassist Huhtala. "As Luck Would Have It" eventually turns into another barnburner, with Huhtala taking an extended solo and Bjorkenheim and Lyyntinen delivering complex intertwining melodies. Other textures and free-playing take over in "Threshold", which reminds me of the atmospheric fusion of early Weather Report.

It's great to hear Bjorkenheim, who has been delivering some excellent power trio based recordings, add some additional sonic elements. Each piece seems carefully composed to get the most out the instruments, but leaves plenty of room for the musicians to stretch out.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guitar Week: Kick off Roundup

By Paul Acquaro

Over the course of the years we have featured several round-ups of guitar centered free jazz albums, and last year, we presented the first "guitar week". This week we continue both of these 'traditions' with a new guitar week that kicks off round-up style.

Dom Minasi & Hans Tammen - Alluvium (Straw2gold Pictures, 2014) ****

Experimental guitarist Dom Minasi has recently released two engaging duo albums, one with guitarist Hans Tammen, the other with Michael Jefry Stevens. Both albums are restlessly searching and featuring Minasi's warm jazz guitar tone and signature rapid fire melodic streams.

Alluvium is the guitar duo with Hans Tammen. Using percussive strumming and non-standard chords as a baseline (not bassline), the two musicians set out on course where they dodge and weave around each other as snippets of melodic runs smash into tonal clusters. A recognizable guitar sound takes its time to even appear on the title track - rather we hear percussive hits on the instrument's body until the track heats up into a collage of textures and rhythms. The following 'Sand and Rain' finds the guitarists circling around a delicate tune - finger picked figures make up the background as a long form melody slowly unfolds.

Dom Minasi & Michael Jefry Stevens - Angel's Dance (2013 Nacht Records, 2013) ****

Angel's Dance finds Minasi working with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens. The album starts off quietly with a set of delicate chords from the piano and the guitar seemingly bubbling in the auditory distance - perhaps the very reason for the title 'Underwater'. The duo's improvisations suggest to me a sort of parallel play, where Stevens is nominally setting the direction that informs, but does not direct, Minasi's playing, and vice versus. Whereas some guitar/piano duo's may explore the sounds the instruments can make outside of their traditional roles, Minasi and Stevens engage melodically, creating deeply engaging passages with layers that unfold in repeat listens.

Overall, two really nice recordings of inventive guitar playing and musical interactions that keep the listener involved.

Jeff Platz - Past & Present Futures (Glitch Records, 2013) ****½

Boston area guitarist Jeff Platz's quartet album Past & Present Futures is both a clever play on words and a document of exemplary free improvisation. With the support of Francois Grillot on bass, Frederico Ughi on drums, and Daniel Carter on woodwinds and brass, the guitarist nimbly picks his way through the set with a classic jazz guitar tone and an expansive palette of sounds and colors.

From the opening seconds of the 'Present' the quartet is on solid ground with a strong guiding pulse. On the following 'Futures', things feel less certain, as the tune conveys melancholy and reservation. Mid-point in the track, Carter falls into a gorgeous passage on the flute over Grillot's undulating bass, then Platz seamlessly delivers a palette cleansing set of slides and swipes. Probing and pushing, it's lovely. Electronics - or is it a heavily processed guitar signal? - enter on the dark exploratory track 'Distance'.

A really nice set that for the most part eschews extended techniques and emphasizes strong melodic interplay.

Greg Cohen (w/Bill Frisell) - Golden State (Relative Pitch, 2014) ****

Here is a real treat - a music rumination on life against the backdrop of California's natural beauty. Golden hues, big trees, wide open spaces, gem stones and rolling hills can be heard throughout this duo recording, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell at his Americana best and the sublime bass work of Greg Cohen.

The blue gems that frame the cover image are Benitoite, and according to Cohen's liner notes are exclusive to St Benito, Ca. Like the crystals, Frisell's bluesy shimmers and folk-like melodies are unique gems that frame this recording. Frisell is steeped in the sounds of American music, and his playing here exemplifies its core melodic and harmonic elements.

The music is light, airy, and it glides along effortlessly. Moments of the track 'Severino' may remind listeners just a little of Gone, Just Like a Train, though Cohen eschews explicitly deep bass grooves, and leans towards counter motion and melodic suggestions. The ol' chestnut 'California Here I Come' has an extend solo bass intro before kicking in properly, and the track 'Benitoite Blue' gets a free jazz introduction before it slides into a rubato ballad.

While not a musical ground breaker, it is a fantastic journey with some inspiring views.

Dave Stryker - 8 Track (Strikezone, 2014) ***½

So, here's a blog rule breaker,  I'm crossing into mainstream jazz...

My defense here is pure guilty pleasure of CTI records of the early 1970s. One of the first jazz LPs I owned was George Benson's White Rabbit, and it was instrumental in my transition from rock to jazz (in the early 90's). On 8-Track, guitarist David Stryker pays homage to popular 70s songs like Curtis Mayfield's 'Pusherman/ Superfly', the Jackson 5's 'Never Can Say Goodbye' and Pink Floyd's  'Money' (also the strongest arrangement of the album). Vibraphonist Stefon Harris, organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter create a lush garden for Stryker's tasteful, and slightly biting, playing.

Please read that star rating in context of the blog - this recording goes down easy, as it should, it is pure enjoyment and masterful playing. It doesn't set out to re-wire the mind or condition new ears, rather, it's a set of tunes that are a pleasure to listen to, and I'm sure to play.