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Monday, June 30, 2014

Peter Van Huffel - Boom Crane (Fresh Sound / New Talent Records, 2014) ****½

By Antonio Poscic

Every once in a while I’ll start asking myself about what I expect from new music. Should each record try to break new grounds, establish various paradigm shifts, or is it enough to want more of the same, more of the music that I’m comfortable listening to? The great thing about albums such as Peter Van Huffel’s Boom Crane is that it brings a bit of both of those things to the table and makes me forget the question I was pondering over in the first place. It makes me just enjoy the great tunes.

Boom Crane is a frolic record and a debut album that any band could wish for. The trio of Peter Van Huffel on alto saxophone and clarinet, Michael Bates on bass, and Jeff Davis on drums indulge in an incredibly joyful, powerful display of a multitude of styles within jazz whilst also adding touches of their own in the mix. Something old, something new, something unexpected, “Boom Crane” is, at its best, an incredible explosion of sound and expression sprinkled with many twists and surprises. The musicians build and drive their music with sudden tempo changes and weird time signatures, while also playing with the most diverse jazz idioms which, in turn, results in a fusion of epochs and forms, from post-bop to swing. This is not free jazz in the strictest sense, but it surely does feel liberated. It’s also an intense record, for sure, with the intensity not diminished by hints of groove and catchy melodies which seem to emerge now and again (“On Equilibrium”), nor by the bluesy patches on some tracks which evoke and conjure romantic and pensive atmospheres (“Boom Crane, “Talk to Me”). Slower and faster bits intertwine, between wild freak outs you sometimes find a calm, introspective bass solo. As you listen to the relentlessly urgent “Fast and Furious”, you just can’t help imagining Tom & Jerry chasing each other through a maze. It’s a studio record, even though it sounds so alive. The performance is so vivid that you can almost hear the imaginary audience clapping between song sections, interrupting the musicians, and lavishing them with praise.

The trio might, at times, remind you of some other acts. A sentiment of humor and whimsy that fills the music ties them to Mostly Other People Do the Killing. On the other hand, the endeavor of trying to harness rock aesthetics inside of jazz, which threatens to explode and flow beyond its confines and boundaries, might lead you to think of Led Bib, The Lounge Lizards, or the The Bad Plus. To be clear, Peter Van Huffel’s trio doesn’t sound anything like those bands, but the attitude is similar. The musicianship is as top notch as the exhibited attitude. Finally, as is the case with most well made albums, all musicians enjoy an equal status: they are equally present in the mix, equally important in the sound, and even equally share writing credits. Even though Van Huffel’s saxophone might seem dominant in certain moments, it mostly comes down to its inherent sound characteristics. This is a balanced, well-rounded and exciting record with no serious flaws.

In a nutshell: eleven great songs, about an hour in duration, make Boom Crane a thrilling and constantly good record that gets everything right and offers a pleasurable listen. A most pleasurable listen.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

2 million visitors ... 3 million pageviews

2,000,000 visitors
3,000,000 page views

Two million unique visitors? It sounds like unimaginable, but that's what the stats show. Many of them probably lost on the internet, on the look-out for free - read "without paying" - music, and then being chased away again as fast as they came when the true nature of this blog becomes apparent.

Closer to the truth is that we have a solid basis of approx. 12,000 returning visitors on a recurrent basis per month, so these are the real individuals interested in free music, avant-garde jazz and free jazz.

In any case, on behalf of the entire review team, thanks to all readers for their ungoing interest and loyalty, to the musicians for their great music and to the labels for their unrelenting stream of new music.

Ideal Bread - Beating the Teens: The Songs of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform, 2014) *****

By Ed Pettersen

This is an ambitious and impressive recording.  Two CD’s dedicated to the compositions of Steve Lacy, particularly those from his five LP output recorded for the Saravah label from 1971 – 1977. Some of the earliest of Lacy’s compositions and therefore almost embryonic, Ideal Bread band leader Josh Sinton found, “There was enough room for us to be ourselves in this music”.  Known for their improvisational prowess, the NYC based band set out to transcribe note for note these Lacy recordings, including the drums, before rearranging and recording them.  The results are beautiful and brilliant.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the work of Steve Lacy you’ll be entranced by the music encapsulated over the course of these CD’s.  The music breathes, is given ample space and continuously titillates.  In fact, I found myself being pulled back in over and over again while listening even when I had it on for repeated listening as background while I tried to get other work done.  This album doesn’t make demands on the listener but it demands to be taken seriously and thus all the more beguiling and attractive.  One CD would have been impressive enough but 30 songs is a remarkable achievement and the songs are ingeniously arranged so that the music is revealed in layers even after many listens.

I would love to be able to catch this band live but in the meantime we have this fantastic collection to pour over again and again.  Mr. Lacy would be extremely proud.  Highly recommended.

All compositions by Steve Lacy.

Ideal Bread is:
Josh Sinton - baritone saxophone and (re)arrangements
Kirk Knuffke - cornet
Adam Hopkins - bass
Tomas Fujiwara - drums

Available from Instantjazz.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jason Roebke - Combination‏ (bandcamp, 2014) ***

By Stefan Wood

Jason Roebke is a Chicago based musician, a bassist, who studied under Roscoe Mitchell and Rodney Whitaker, and has been very involved in the contemporary jazz and improvised music scene from that city.  The album "Combination," is the debut of his new group -- Greg Ward (alto sax), Frank Rosaly (drums) and Brian Labycz (electronics and various percussion).  The album was recorded live, at the Hideout Club.  It was once a speakeasy and gambling house in the North Branch area, over the years it became a performance space, encouraging the growing independent scene of music, book and poetry readings, and plays.  It becomes an appropriate place for a group's debut, and Combination features a hard bop sound meshed with improv and electronics.

The opening track, "centering," is a firecracker of a tune, with Ward and Rosaly riffing and swinging, and Robeke and Labycz providing counterpoint, Labycz more prominently so, as the radio like shrieking and noise making does not detract but adds to the fury of the piece.  And most of the album seems to play on this notion of consonance and dissonance. Greg Ward seems to be channeling Jimmy Giuffre, with the lyricism of Stan Getz and Jackie McLean's hard bop tone (without the acidity), versus Labycz's industrial electronic sonics.  Some may be put off by Labycz's sound; at times it is like a gnat that you just want to swap away; but I think the purpose is to advance and dislodge the traditional jazz quartet, in this case replacing the piano.  When it works it provides energy, sometimes tension.  When it doesn't, it does become a bug that you want to squash.  It can detract at times. "ballad" and "scanning" are two other standout tracks, the former a quiet, solo piece for Roebke that evolves to something loud when the others join in; the latter another fine updating of the hard bop sound with electronics. "loose leaf" as well really showcases Ward's playing, who is outstanding throughout the album. "vapor" lacks direction, and "slow" seems like it should come from another album, it is conceptually different than the other tracks.

When it works Combination really stretches the possibilities of the jazz quartet, with a forward thinking collective improv sound.  When it doesn't it becomes cluttered and unfocused.  Still, the potential is very high for this group, and one looks forward to their next album to hear where they may go next.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lean Left - Live at Area Sismica (Unsounds, 2014) ****½

How hard is it to write an “objective review” of a record that has both The Ex’s incredible pair of guitarists (Terrie Ex and Andy Moor) and the magnificient duo of long time collaborators, free jazz and improv powerhouses, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and reed player Ken Vandermark? Hard, very hard. It is impossible to stay impartial and indifferent while listening to amazing musicians, practically legends, colliding together again in the form of Lean Left and making ridiculously powerful music which rocks, sparks, and thrashes. So buckle up, “Live at Area Sismica” is a wild ride!

And yet, the album is off to a rather subdued start with Terrie and Andy exchanging phrases in a sort of a dialogue, producing sounds which not many guitars out there dare to produce, while Nilssen-Love provides sporadic cymbal hits. Through these sounds, these noises, the basic structure of the music takes form. The buildup is rather patient and subtle, resembling a long-distance runner preparing for a final sprint. And oh boy what a sprint it is! Before long, Vandermark joins in and “Traitors Head” starts exploding and erupting, pulsating with an astonishing amount of energy. That’s the one, the only word that is needed to describe the essence of Lean Left: energy! Fascinatingly, the band keeps, more or less, the same level of intensity throughout the album. More or less, because they give themselves some resting moments, some time for reflective and quieter passages with an almost industrial feel (“Moti”). It is, let’s not forget, a live and uninterrupted performance. If you have ever been so lucky to experience a Lean Left show in the flesh, you know what an exhilarating and mind-blowing experience it can be. An experience that is difficult to capture on record.  “Live at Area Sismica” does a good job with that as it comes closer to the ideal of transferring a live performance to your living room than any of their records thus far.

Basically, the four men are on top of their respective games here. Nilssen-Love is drumming like there’s no tomorrow with his trademark part rock, part jazz style, Vandermark is blowing his saxophone ferociously, and the guitar pair from The Ex are creating some scorching, dissonant, and diabolical sounds. If there ever were any hints of disconnect between the guitarists and the free jazz rooted duo in the past, they are completely gone now - only a sense of tenaciousness and mutual understanding remains. The music and performance are tighter than ever, even allowing for some surprisingly melodic segments. This is a band with its own, unmistakable vision. Scratchy, twitchy post-punk rhythms propelled by Terrie’s and Andy’s guitars and by Nilssen-Love’s drumming intertwine with Vandermark’s melodic, free, and occasionally funky saxophone playing. There is a constructive struggle between the instruments which are all trying to be louder, stronger, and dominant. This results with Vandermark going above and beyond what we are used to hearing from him. His saxophone soars, producing awesome licks, like it is trying to break from a tar pit, and by doing so assesses its own sonic domination. Meanwhile, the guitars and the drums keep the rhythm rolling, but at the same time seem to exhibit qualities that we usually identify during solos. It’s chaos, beautiful chaos laced with subtleties and nuances that build the music’s firm structure. Gripping stuff and, overall, more than just a musical fusion. Rather, a philosophical amalgamation of great minds and approaches! It’s easy to tell why the musicians love this project, coming back to it time and time again.

Even though we can identify separate tracks here, with three longer and three shorter pieces, I feel this is an album that is best enjoyed as a single uninterrupted work. Indeed, we hear the audience for the first and last time just as the final note of the closing tune is played. They are ecstatic, they are cheering. When you’re done with “Live at Area Sismica”, you’ll be cheering too.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter - untitled (UgEXPLODE, 2012) ****

By Ed Pettersen

You know the old saying “be careful what you wish for”?  Well, in this case that wish come true is a really, REALLY good thing.

Last month I wrote a review of an album (North of Blanco) featuring Jaap Blonk with Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith and Chris Cogburn and wondered out loud what it would sound like if the musicians recorded without Mr. Blonk (who I admire and respect greatly I should add).  A few weeks later Mr. Smith contacted me via Facebook and offered this recording.  It is fantastic. Wild, broad-reaching, experimental, unabashed and exciting it boldly goes…aw, you know.  Seriously, this is a great recording.

Ms. Ewen has a unique style in which she mainly places the guitar on her lap and plays with found instruments; a metal bristle from a street sweeper, what looks like a dog’s hair brush, etc., and rarely employs pedals preferring to go directly into her Fender amp.  Mr. Smith also employs unorthodox techniques mostly involving playing behind strings with his bow and scraping above and behind the bridge but is also a skilled accompanist for many artists and Mr. Walter, in place of Mr. Cogburn, is not your father’s percussionist by any stretch of the imagination but it works on all levels obviously because they have a great deal of respect for one another and respond keenly.  No overdubs were employed and the only other sounds were field recording triggered by a laptop in real time.
I love this kind of imaginative improvisation.  This recording could serve as the best and most terrifying horror film soundtrack you’ll ever hear (though with a wink).   Highly recommended.

More on Sandy Ewen et al with a live video performance here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ingrid Laubrock & Tom Rainey - And Other Desert Towns (Relative Pitch, 2014) ****

By Stef

Two of the most fascinating musicians of the free improvisation scene are Ingrid Laubrock on sax and Tom Rainey on drums, partners in life and partners in music. Their musical universe is something special, one of resonance and emphasis, of intimate immediacy and deep restraint, rather than effects and spectacular outbursts.

Or to put it differently, the rawness of the duo setting is softened by the lyricism and accuracy of the playing. Laubrock's tone is warm and round as usual, while Rainey's playing is nothing short of brilliant, complex, polyrhythmic, always subtle and at times of a simplicity that lesser drummers wouldn't dare play. Despite the welcoming warmth of her sound, Laubrock is also a genius at building up tension and a sense of anticipation, keeping something unreleased, something untold in her playing, which forces you to keep alert and attentive for what's coming. And what the duo does a little more here in a duo setting that is to swing like crazy, and this as an integral part of the overall more subdued nature of the music, and tracks like "Scoff-Scoff-Face" have it all, dragging the listener back and forth between agitated boppish parts and slow sensitive playing. A real treat.

A must-have for fans of either musician, because they are captured here at their best.

Watch a whole show by the duo recorded last year.


Available from Instantjazz.

Ballister - Both Ends (Bocian Records, 2014) ****½

By Janus and Karl

 Every once in a while we meet in order to have some fun, listen to music, grab some beers (this really depends on your notion of the word “some”) and go to a concert. We don’t do this just for fun, it’s part of a bigger self-conducted and financed project called “Don’t ask what free jazz can do for you, but what you can do for free jazz”©™. In any case, in February 2012 we met at the Austrian-Italian border, Janus was driving our jazz mobile (a light violet 1974 Ford Capri, you remember) and we were heading east. Because each of us had got up early before met, we decided to take a quick nap in the car before we went on. Then we took the road again and after two hours we entered some thick fog, you could hardly see further than 50 meters.

Then we saw a traffic sign which said: Warszawa 50 km. “Warsaw?” Karl asked. “This is not possible. We must be somewhere in Austria. Warsaw is 1000 miles northeast.” We stopped at the next gas station. The cars there had Polish license plates, the people spoke Polish, even the newspapers were Polish. We then realized that also the two of us were speaking in Polish. Even if we kept on thinking in our respective mother tongue, and this might be the cause of our following confused memories. Janus looked at the headline of one and said: “Karl, unbelievable, Ballister are playing at the Powiekszenie club.” The man at the cashier said: “We have been waiting for them for such a long time. You must go there, the club is just 10 miles away. It’s easy to find.”

 The club was really close, we parked our car and joined the queue. The people looked strange, most of them were very pale, like zombies. Many wore T-shirts of the Bocian label or T-shirts with skulls and gore motifs. “I don’t know, Karl. Is this real?” Janus asked. “This is Kafka, Janus”, Karl replied. “Like in “Metamorphosis”. Janus tried not to give too much importance to the man in the armor sitting in a dark corner of the club holding a halberd. The club itself was rather fashionable, but dimly lit, the atmosphere was creepy, yet we did not feel uncomfortable.

We sat at a table close to the stage and soon after we had taken our seats the band entered the stage, Dave Rempis carrying a supersized bottle of Vodka which was already half empty. Rempis (alto and tenor saxophone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussions) looked horrible, their faces like empty canvases, their eyes hollowed, although it was not rather cold in the club they were sweating. Nevertheless they played a marvelous first set, just to drink more vodka in the break. Then, at the end of the second set, Lonberg-Holm stood up, twirled his cello around, and began to howl like a thirsty, wounded wolf along with Rempis’ sax lines. Additionally, he started a weird dance, as if he was in trance.

Soon after that the band finished the set and left for the dressing room - nobody has seen them again that night. “What the hell was that?” Janus asked. “I have seen them before, but nothing compares to this. As if hellhounds were following them, they played as if there was no tomorrow. It was like a rollercoaster ride, absolutely physical. I have never heard Paal playing such rock grooves, and I have never heard Dave bursting out the blues like that. He must be in real pain. Did you see how much they drank? And what did Fred do? As if he envisioned the apocalypse but instead of trying to hide he went into it head first. Hardly ever have I seen such an energetic gig”, said Karl. “Absolutely no rest in this performance” nodded Janus. “From the very beginning, with the bright and lone bass drum hit of Nilssen-Love, you’re swallowed by the tension and the vigor emanated by this trio. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a frantic crescendo or in a slower passage, they are just always uncovered and coarse, pure and immediate. What surprises me the most is the fluency of Longberg-Holm going through genres and approaches with no fraction or less authenticity, switching from guitar-like distorted waves of background noise to gipsy references up to clean coherent pizzicato phrasings, melting everything with a wise amount of electronics. Nilssen-Love is at his best, martial and energetic, plangent and connective. What Rempis can do with such a structure and stimulus is to totally enjoy every moment of the interplay. And this is what you really can feel from this session. He teases the crazy cello bowing or rushes while skins and plates chase him. There is a lot of joy here around, maybe some alcohol too, but more than everything it’s great music!” When we left the club we went to our car to get some sleep in a nearby hotel.

When we woke up, we were in our car again. “Where are we?” Karl asked. “What the hell!” said Janus, “we’re still trapped in the Free Jazz Blog …”.

Annotations: The episode with the vodka is true, if you want to know which events have led to that, you have to check out the liner notes. “Both Ends” is available as a limited vinyl edition of 400 (100 on yellow vinyl) and on CD. It’s important to underline how, in our humble opinion, Bocian is doubtless increasing the quality of recording and mastering of live acts as this one.

Available from Instantjazz.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bass duets, bass quartets ... and many more basses

There aren't too many bass-bass albums around. If you're interested, please check the "bass-bass duo" tag on the right of this blog and you come across some interesting albums.

Peter Frey & Daniel Studer - Zwirn (Creative Sources, 2013) ***½

Swiss bassists Peter Frey and Daniel Studer have been playing in duo settings together for many years now, and released albums in that format, first electro-acoustically, now primarily without electronics, but the vision of sonic exploration and the search for new dynamics of interaction remains at the fore of their work. The third player in their duo is the ambient silence of the space they work in, which can be gradually intensified through small alterations in the sonic void, or shred to pieces through some violent outbursts of energy. No need to tell you that this album requires open ears, and both musicians are so well attuned that the end result is a compelling listen.

Peter Kowald & Damon Smith - Mirrors Broken But No Dust (BPA, 2013) ****

One of the most spectacular of all bassists was the late Peter Kowald, a true revolutionary on the instrument, someone who brought the entire physical aspect of the instrument - and the player - into the game, a game that really had to go the extra mile, that required the utmost physical and mental and emotional efforts to break through the average and the mediocre, and to open ears to something new, something unheard of, unthought of. He is in the company here of Damon Smith, and the interaction is truly excellent, as you can expect from such a duo. The album itself is a re-issue, now on Smith's own "Balance Point Acoustics" label.

Peter Kowald writes the following on the liner notes :"Recently, I saw a drawing of Man Ray, "Broken Mirrors" 1932, the time of Cubism having been around for a while. I remembered the paintings (on flat canvas) seeing the subjects – often guitars – from different sides and angles at the same time. Broken mirrors don't reflect things with a straight or plane view, but rather in particles, from various angles, out of different positions and in different directions . . . and this is what we try to do with sounds, rhythms, particles of melody, all kinds of musical materials. The idea of dust/no dust on mirrors comes out of the Zen teachings, that is that. When Damon and I met in these days in April 2000 and played, it didn't feel like too much dust being around. I mean that not only because this music is always freshly made, but more even because it is just what it is, not more and not less. That, in this world of things lacking or been blown up so much, looks like a quite dustfree quality". 

You can listen and download the album from "Bandcamp".

Barre Phillips' Crossbows ‎– The Hunters (Gligg, 2013) ***½

Bass duets are unusual, but ensembles with only double bass players are even more rare. The ones that come to mind are William Parker's "Requiem", and then JC Jones' Deep Tones For Peace initiative, both highly recommended pieces of music.

On this album, American bassist Barre Phillips invited Clayton Thomas, Jiri Slavik, John Eckhardt and Sebastian Gramss for a concert at La Chapelle Ste. Philomène, Puget-Ville in France. The performance consists of twelve pieces, of which only three have all five musicians interact together. The other pieces are either solo bass improvisations - one for each musician - or duets, making this an incredibly varied and at the same time balanced album, despite the restrictions of the line-up.

In terms of music, you also gets lots of variation, from the quiet minimalism of Eckardt's "Phénomène" over the electroacoustic singularity of Clayton Thomas' "Forewarned Fox" to the more dense "Pack-A-By" performed by all five, yet it never gets wild, the music remains subdued, disciplined, contemplative, intense and free, and with a depth you can expect from both instruments and players.

Sequoia - Rotations (Evil Rabbit, 2014) ****

The double bass quartet consisting of Antonio Borghini, Meinrad Kneer, Klaus Kürvers and Miles Perkin has a totally different approach to music, more visceral, more direct and raw at times, which doesn't mean that it isn't very disciplined. The sounds of the individual instruments are extremely well captured and remain identifiable throughout, which allows for a clarity and sharpness of interaction even in the deepest plucked tones.

It's hard to say whether the music is composed at times, yet it is clear that some patterns emerge and that every track has its own character and vision, offering us incredible sonic experiences, not only in the long "Rotations", which gradually evolves from repetitive plucked and bowed phrases into absolute sonic mayhem, but also in the shorter pieces such as "Interlude 1", which sounds like little girls hopping in the street, to the more dark and ominous sounds of "Inside". 

The great risk about bringing like-minded musicians playing the same instrument in one band, is that you risk having music that is focused on the instrument, and that is a pitfall which is gloriously avoided here. The music itself stands at the center of the performance, but it could only be brought to live by having these instruments and musicians. Of all the albums in the review list here, this is possibly the one that will be most compelling to non-bass players. 

A great album. 

Sebastian Gramss Bassmasse ‎– Schwarm (Gligg, 2013) ***

To top it all, you get Sebastian Gramss Bassmasse, with no less than fifty bass players : Achim Tang, Alexander Linster, André Nendza, Barre Phillips, Bernd Keul, Carl Christian Weber, Christian Ramond, Conrad Noll, Constantin Herzog, Daniel Kress, Daniela Petry, David Helm, David Sanchez, Denis Arnold, Dieter Manderscheid, Edith Langgartner, Efstathios Diamantidis, Georg Wolf, Gerd Brenner, Gregor Schwellenbach, Hendrika Enzian, Jakob Kühnemann, Jan Oestreich, Jan Tengeler, Jochen Schaal, Johannes North, Jonas Lohse, Josha Oetz, Jörg Spix, Lukas Keller, Marcel Richards, Martin Burk, Martin Pofahl, Meike Krautscheid, Michael Büning, Nicolai Amrehn, Peter Malik, Philipp Stade, Reza Askari, Richard Eisenach, Robert Landfermann, Robert Schmidt, Sebastian Schaffmeister, Stefan Berger, Stefan Rauh, Svenja Doeinck, Tetsu Saitoh, Ulla Oster, Ulrich Phillipp, Volker Heintze and Zacharias Fasshauer. 

The composition consists of six parts, totalling a little more than half an hour. The fifty musicians are broken down into five subgroups, and the soloists are Barre Philips, Tetsu Saitoh, Achim Tang, Uli Phillip and Robert Landfermann. The overall result is probably less than expected, which may be the result of the impossibility to capture all these instruments perfectly by the sound engineer. Sure, there is lots to hear, with moments of obvious tension and drama, yet it comes across as if the gimmick of setting up a performance with fifty bassists seemed more important than the actual quality of the music. I'm sure that was not the intention.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Arto Lindsay – Encyclopedia of Arto (Northern Spy, 2014) ***

By Julian Eidenberger

To fans of experimental music, Arto Linday is something of a household name; as guitarist of the band DNA, he introduced fiercely abstract guitar noise into a punk rock context and became one of the central figures of New York’s short-lived no wave (anti-)movement. Starting in the mid-80’ies, however, Lindsay began to expand his approach beyond the willfully primitive Dadaist-rock of said trio. Increasingly, Lindsay explored the sounds and styles he’d been exposed to during a childhood spent (mainly) in Brazil – samba, bossa nova, tropicalia –, and ultimately, he even gained the opportunity to produce records by luminaries such as Caetano Veloso. This means that all those who – like me – primarily associate Lindsay with guitar “skronk”, (and maybe with John Zorn-collaborations) will be in for a bit of a surprise here, since the first volume of this sprawling double-disc set compiles tracks that are committed to light, electronics-augmented pop music with a distinctly Brazilian flavor.

Taken from various solo albums of Lindsay’s, these songs feature contributions by an impressive cast of guest musicians, including Brian Eno, Melvin Gibbs and Ryuichi Sakamoto, to name just the most well-known. Musically, two tracks sung in Portuguese immediately stand out: Propelled by samba-derived rhythms, and embellished with infectious melodies generated by guitar and/or electronics, Personagem and Combustivel won’t leave the listener’s head anytime soon. On the ten remaining tracks, however, Lindsay walks the fine line between “airy” and “bland”; in fact, the success of these calmer songs often depends on the guest contributions. Invoke, for instance, benefits greatly from a whining violin backing Lindsay; and in Ondina, Lindsay’s singing is underpinned by richly layered drums and percussion, while a relaxed horn melody provides counterpoint. However, in the absence of strong instrumental support, the music on this first volume can get uncomfortably close to blandness, since Lindsay’s singing voice, while not altogether unpleasant, lacks the expressiveness needed to carry a song by itself (Illuminated or Reentry).

The compilation’s second volume is radically different from the first one and brings back some of the unhinged guitar noise of Lindsay’s early musical career. Recorded, at least in part, live at Berlin’s legendary Berghain, it sees the unaccompanied Lindsay approaching twelve songs with voice and amplified guitar only. Song-wise, there’s actually very little overlap with the first disc, and the tracks that do reappear are altered significantly by this stripped-down and more aggressive approach – you would hardly recognize them if it weren’t for the titles. A rather bizarre highlight on the second disc is Lindsay’s deconstructive take on the Prince tune Erotic City; here, what little eroticism might have survived the beat-less and overall phlegmatic delivery is sabotaged by erratic bursts of guitar noise. Another standout would be O Mais Belo dos Belos, in which Lindsay dabbles in abstract feedback explorations reminiscent of Fred Frith.

Overall, this double-disc is, for me at least, a bit of a “mixed bag”; for every gem, there’s another track that seems hardly essential. In part, this may be due to the encyclopedic pretence of the whole enterprise and its lengthy run time of about ninety minutes; as such, it’s quite meritorious, and I don’t want to preclude the possibility that less biased listeners might be more appreciative of it than I am.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sei Miguel – Salvation Modes (Clean Feed) ****

By Chris Haines

I hadn’t heard of Sei Miguel before approaching this album, which now seems ludicrous as he’s been actively releasing albums of experimental music since the late 1980’s, with the likes of Manuel Mota and Rafael Toral coming through his ensembles and in the process becoming more well-known than their original mentor. Over the years he has trodden a very consistent stylistic path, which has naturally developed during the course of time and can be clearly heard when listening to music from his back catalogue.

 His early albums are adorned with pin-up style photos of himself which any self-respecting pop star would love to have, whilst the music contained inside is completely avant-garde yet also very personal in style. Throughout his career he seems to have built-up a very individual aesthetic that doesn’t appear to have deviated from his original focus.

 The music on Salvation Modes continues in this rich vein with the first piece ‘Prelúdio e Cruz de Sala’ starting very quietly and containing a lot of space within the music with different sounds gradually entering softly. Having carefully built this calm and relaxed soundscape an electronic buzz-saw type sound then gate crashes the scene completely cutting through the musical fabric in stark disparity. This contrast of sounds seems to be something that is part of his compositional principles where timbres are carefully chosen not just for their moment-to-moment dynamism but also for the overall shape and structure of the piece. Just as important within that strategy is the use of silence, which Miguel uses to heighten the effect of his music.

The other two pieces ‘Fermata’, which contains a ground of white-noise throughout and is the shorter of the three tracks, and ‘Cantata Mussarana’ apparently based on a Creole purification ritual containing the voice of Kimi Djabaté as a central focal point, round out the album and continue in the same stylistic trait as those familiar with Sei Miguel’s music would expect. As a trumpet player he seems to have devoted himself to the exclusive use of pocket trumpet over the years with a tone that’s not too dissimilar to that of Miles Davis, particularly through the use of his muted tone and short bursts of melodic phrases.

 The personnel used on this album are André Gonçalves (organ), César Burago (percussion), Ernesto Rodrigues (viola), his long-term stalwart Fala Mariam (trombone), Kimi Djabaté (voice), Luis Desirat (drums), Margarida Garcia (twin?!), Monsieur Trinité (Bandoneon), Nuno Torres (alto saxophone), Pedro Gomes (guitar), Pedro Lourenço (bass), Rafael Toral (electronics) and himself, Sei Miguel (pocket trumpet). These musicians are not employed on all tracks but appear in carefully handpicked combinations over each of the three pieces.

 I find Sei Miguel’s music very sensuous and highly emotive and even though it appears to have been thought through systematically and intellectually it is a very personal music, which is a natural extension of his life’s work so far. Salvation Modes is a great continuation of this style and the man’s artistic vision. Let’s hope that his first three albums, which are now very hard to find, get a reissue onto CD in the near future!

Available from Instantjazz.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Wolfgang Schmidtke Orchestra - Monk's Mood (Jazzwerkstatt, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

"Monk's Mood" is a loving and hard swinging tribute to the great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, a live session with two recording dates, in June of 1999 and December of 2001.  Featured are two veteran musicians who have imbibed Monk's music throughout their careers, continuing to promote his music as well as their own -- saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach.  Wolfgang Schmidtke plays alto and soprano sax, as well as bass clarinet, leading the ten person orchestra on a variety of tunes by Monk and by Lacy.  

The music is energetic and very fluid -- there are no ponderous or overly meditative moments.  Once the  performance starts, the band comes out charging!  Standout tunes are the opening track "Blinks," written by Lacy, a strong hard bop tune with great playing by either Lacy or Schmidtke, strongly evoking the percussive piano playing of Monk and his signature hesitations.  Monk's "Introspection" is a wild, almost free form version featuring Lacy or Schmidtke with a Coltrane like spiritual blowing that evokes Coltrane's Africa Brass.  Another Lacy tune, "Esteem," showcases von Schlippenbach as he provides Monk like odd key signatures and phrasings.   

Overall, one gets the feeling of a deep love for the music, as well as it being so ingrained and rehearsed that the tunes seem effortless, dynamic and fun.  The humor, quirkiness and intelligence of Monk is more apparent as a result, and everyone feels so loose that it feels spontaneous.  "Monk's Mood" is not just tribute album, but a celebration of innovative music.  


Thursday, June 19, 2014

East-West Collective - Humeurs (RogueArt, 2013) *****

By Stef 

Probably the hardest thing to explain or even share with somebody else is the esthetic beauty of sound. You can only experience it, and this album is a great introduction to that concept. Great improvised music is often played outside of fixed genres, looking for innovations and moving boundaries, while at the same time finding a common language for the musicians involved. Again, this album is a great example of this. The band is led by Didier Petit, who wrote all but one of the pieces, on cello and voice, with Miya Masaoka on koto, Xu Fengxia on guzheng and voice, Sylvain Kassap on clarinets and Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones.

The outcome is exceptional, because there is no such thing as continental cultural divides, no such things as incompatible instruments, while at the same time all musicians are true to their own voice and sound, even if that sound by itself goes beyond the tradition of their respective instruments. You can call the result magic, and that's probably what it is. The music flows slowly, with all instruments cautiously contributing to the overall sounds, weaving phrases together on a bright canvas of sky, full of respect for each other, full of carefully added touches of emphasis, finding their way through the roadmap that Petit sketched. As such, it is hard to speak of compositional structure, with themes or harmonic guidelines or repetitive patterns even. There is no sense of urgency, no sense of self even, no soloing, no sense of drama, just instruments beautifully contributing to the whole. The music flows, from one musician to the other, with phrases coming and going like waves on a stream, and all this with a deep emotional, or even spiritual, authenticity, full of fragile and sensitive moments while being at the same time direct and stubborn.

In sum, a great and coherent musical vision, with character and soul, and with wonderful mastery of the instruments, and much stronger than the excerpts you find on Youtube, even if the one below will gives you a perspective on what you can expect.

Available from Instantjazz.

If you like this music, I can easily recommend two albums also with Miya Masaoka and Larry Ochs, which received a five-star rating. 

Larry Ochs, Miya Masoaka, Peggy Lee - Spiller Alley (RogueArt, 2008)

Larry Ochs/Joan Jeanrenaud/Mija Masaoka - Fly Fly Fly (Intakt, 2002)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Akio Suzuki - Mu Ro Bi Ko (Senufo, 2014) ***

By Stefan Wood

Akio Suzuki is known as a sound artist, one who examines the concept of making sounds, how it is heard, and the relationships between it and the listener.  For over 55 years he has devoted his art to the desire and art of listening to sounds, and he has performed internationally at galleries and performance spaces.

Mu Ro Bi Ko is a live recording of a performance in Milano, Italy, playing the Analapos (an echo instrument that Suzuki invented), rocks, and a glass harmonica.  It is only 34 minutes long, comprising of three tracks.  Analapos, running over 11 minutes, is a very concentrated effort comprising of sounds, vocals, etc., that are painterly in their use -- the elements are not linear, but seem to come in clusters, break up, then reappear in a different form.  The use of silence is very important, as one becomes very aware of it in relation to the sounds, like positive and negative.  Stones at just over six minutes is percussion using stones.  Glass Harmonica, the final piece, at over 15 minutes, is the most interesting track, as Suzuki seems to cull from a history of Japanese percussive music with a battery of rhythms and sounds, delicate and loud.

Mu Ro Bi Ko as a sound performance piece is an example of an experienced artist at work, and for those who are interested in sonic art, this is a welcome addition.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chris Pitsiokos, Weasel Walter, Ron Anderson – Maximalism (Eleatic, 2013) ****

By Julian Eidenberger

True to its title, Maximalism is a trio recording adhering to a “more is more” aesthetic. It’s no surprise at all that a record of that ilk should issue from the hands of the three musicians involved: Pitsiokos is a young Brooklyn-based saxophonist who lists, among others, Evan Parker and the early John Zorn as influences – musicians who aren’t necessarily known for their restraint. Weasel Walter – who happens to be on Pitsiokos’ list of influences as well, and who handles drumming duties here – is probably one of the most notorious “maximalists” in underground music, playing Free Jazz, Death Metal or all-out Noise with uncompromising intensity. With the Flying Luttenbachers, his main musical outlet for many years, he had made it his goal to replace the soft-loud dynamics, popular in many rock and jazz idioms, with a “loud-louder” dynamic. Next to this duo, guitarist Ron Anderson is the odd man out here. Not that his music – for example the albums produced with his excellent math-rock outfit Pak – has ever lacked intensity, but of the three musicians responsible for Maximalism, he’s the one who’s most likely to leave the listener room to breathe. Here, however, his penchant for spacious melodicism is for the most part overruled by his collaborators.       

So, what we have here is a one-hour-plus recording on the gnarly end of the free improv spectrum. With the exception of the quieter second track, which hints at Roscoe Mitchell’s groundbreaking Sound as a possible influence, the music rarely lets up in intensity. Since this dogged insistence on a maximalist aesthetic is not going to appeal to many listeners beyond those who are already converted, it’s necessary to emphasize the fact that this particular record is in many ways a reminder of how much fun free improv can be. Quite often, it’s a delight to simply listen to the bizarre sounds issuing from the trio’s instruments; beyond that, the fun consists in trying to figure out what may happen next, and in being surprised time and again – as in an old Roadrunner cartoon – by the sheer improbability of the (non-)resolutions. It’s as though the laws of nature were suspended for the record’s duration. In other moments, though, Maximalism sounds menacing rather than cartoonish: The sprawling 17-minute piece that is track 3 proceeds in a volcanic manner, spewing out white-hot chunks of sax- and slide-guitar-noise while Walter adds ramshackle double-kick patterns that sound as though a Poltergeist had hijacked his kit. In the second half of said track, Pitsiokos trades his sax for electronics to produce chirping and hissing noises that recall an excited R2-D2.

It’s interesting to note that Pitsiokos lists, besides the more obvious choices mentioned above,   John Cage as an influence. This may seem to be an odd choice at first, since Cage’s music has never been – at least as far as I can tell – as aggressively chaotic as this record; on second thought, however, it starts to make perfect sense, as Maximalism is clearly fueled by an attempt to obliterate any remainder of traditional musical coherence. There’s no all-seeing composer or musical “subject” controlling and overseeing the proceedings, no narrative arc in which the sounds are embedded as in an organic whole. Of course, this attempt was (and is) certainly not completely alien to free jazz practitioners, but Maximalism goes beyond the relative freedom of even the freest jazz record, eschewing, for the most part, chords and melodies in favor of an emphasis on sound as such. In this respect, Pitsiokos’ approach is Cage-ian indeed; he’s “getting rid of the glue” to liberate listening from conventionally “musical” expectations.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Four with Tony Malaby - Mind the Gap (Self, 2014) **½

By Stefan Wood

The Big Four is a quartet founded and led by saxophonist Julien Soro, with Stephan Caracci, Fabien Debellefontaine, and Rafael Koerner.  They feature an unusual combination of instruments for a quartet -- saxophone, sousaphone, vibraphone, and drums.  The intent is to create different sonic textures than one would expect from a standard jazz quartet (tuba and vibraphone replacing piano and bass).  On the album "Mind the Gap," they are joined by Tony Malaby, well known NYC based saxophonist whose playing ranges from post bop to free improv.

The album starts strong with "Sound of Divorce", a Threadgill meets 60's Bobby Hutcherson era influenced tune, Debellafontaine providing the rhythms, Koerner delivering propulsive drumming and the others playing their instruments off one another.  Other stand out tracks are "Hymn aux lucioles,"  a very tender ballad, and the high energy track "Floating Head," featuring Caracci's vibe playing.  Soro allows for a lot of freedom for the other musicians to playfully improvise in and out of the confines of his compositions, which allows for a loose playing style, and also at times lack of direction.

There are a lot of confused moments -- a track that starts in one direction will suddenly pause and move elsewhere, unfocused or obtuse.  With the exception of Malaby, the musical chops don't sound very strong, as if they are not convinced or confident with certain pieces.  Sometimes the playing feels derivative, not distinctive.  When they are on, the group's personality comes through, a synthesis of post bop mannerism and free style improv, that acknowledges the past yet looks forward.  It's a decent effort, yet the flaws are too apparent.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tony Oxley - 75 Years (Incus, 2013) *** ½

By Colin Green

The British drummer Tony Oxley turned 75 in June last year. Apart from the inevitable head shaking, his birthday prompted the release of this celebratory CD by Incus, the label founded by Oxley, Evan Parker and Derek Bailey in 1970 as a means of releasing improvised music that the large labels had no interest in taking on. CBS had a brief flirtation with the music in the late 1960s, but dropped Oxley after two – now classic – albums: The Baptised Traveller and 4 Compositions for Sextet. (How times have changed: one wonders what the Incus founders would have thought if they’d looked into the future to this blog, where at least one new album is reviewed pretty much every day of the year – being less than half of those available – and all from independent labels.)

Oxley was a pivotal figure in the early days of British improv, having formed part of the Joseph Holbrooke Trio – along with Bailey (guitar) and Gavin Bryars (bass) – far from London in the outpost of Sheffield. That original version can only be heard in a brief rehearsal fragment, again a reflection of how recording technology and practices have changed. Not soon enough unfortunately, as large parts of Oxley’s music making – apart from his work with Cecil Taylor – have gone undocumented, at least officially. This CD – made from Oxley’s own recordings – fills a few gaps, but it’s in no sense a career retrospective; more of a snapshot of music from the years 1977 and 1993.

Apart from the presence of Oxley, if there’s a thread that runs through these recordings, it’s the use of electronics in improvised music. Oxley was a firm supporter from an early stage, miking up his kit to extend the range of possible sounds and more importantly, subjecting them to real-time manipulation. Perhaps the high water mark can be heard in the Howard Riley Trio’s Synopsis and Overground from the early 1970s where Riley, Oxley and Barry Guy each make extensive use of electronic enhancement, controlled by pedals. Yet it cannot be coincidence that all three – as well as musicians like Paul Rutherford – eventually dropped electronics; in Guy’s case in favour of focussing on the range of natural sounds that could be coaxed and cajoled from his instrument. One senses a dissatisfaction with the available technology, and the limited processes available. Certainly, the electronics can sound rather crude and less resolved when judged by the standards of later technology. This might also have been for practical reasons, however: the drummer Paul Lytton – an admirer of Oxley and another proponent of live electronics – simply found the logistics of carrying the extra equipment to gigs, too much. (Both he and Guy have taken up the more mature technology in Evan Parker’s Elecrto-Acousitc Ensemble but there, most of the processing is left to others.) 

Two of the tracks on this CD were recorded at about the time of the studio session that produced Oxley’s February Papers (Incus, 1977), and have counterparts on that album which explore very similar territory. The final track on February Papers is On the Edge, a recording of the amplified sound of Oxley drawing a violin bow across a knife blade, which produces a string of oscillating microtones and overtones similar to Evan Parker’s experiments with the soprano saxophone that he was beginning at the time (the piece is dedicated to Parker). On this CD, Times is similar in conception: the sound of what appears to be vibrating wood, amplified to produce waves at different speeds. This technique of opening out and getting into the microtonal structure of sounds is something that has been explored by others, such as Eddie Prévost and Gino Robair, with his “energised surfaces”. In isolation however, it can become a little too recherché for my taste. Like an artist’s preparatory studies, musical experiments can be useful to musicians, but are not necessarily for public consumption. At almost six minutes Oxley’s Times rather outstays its welcome; the shorter On the Edge is the more successful piece.

The Earth Sounds comprises the trio of Oxley (amplified percussion), Ian Brighton (guitar) and Philipp Wachsmann (violin), who produced the similar sounding – and titled – Sounds of the Soil 2 on February Papers. It consists of static layers of pure sound: scrapes, plucks and harmonics (natural and electronic) in which everything is ensemble texture. Again, the February Papers session – at about half the length – sounds rather more focussed.

The other recording from 1977 is Kelson, a duo with Paul Rutherford (trombone and electronics). As always with Rutherford, his trombone provides rapidly moving shapes and characters, never settling in one place for long, which add a genuine sense of drama against Oxley’s electronic washes and bubbling sequencer.  

The highlight of the CD – and the longest contribution – is two pieces recorded at the Bracknell JazzFestival in 1993, by a quartet consisting of the established duo of Oxley (unamplified drums and percussion) and Derek Bailey (guitar) with two performers from the next generation of improvisers: Pat Thomas (keyboards) and Matt Wand (sampler). Oxley said at the time that the younger pair spoke a language to which he and Bailey could relate and unusually, we have more evidence of their work than with other of Oxley’s projects: The Tony Oxley Quartet (Incus, 1993) and Tony Oxley/ Derek Bailey Quartet (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008). This was a band that fizzed and sparkled, and it’s easy to hear the technical advances in electronics in the intervening sixteen years. These are predominately sounds in themselves rather than a transformation of something else, and together Thomas and Wand provide a rapidly shifting mesh of pops, bleeps, thumps, screeches, radio blasts, and arpeggios. These compliment Oxley and Bailey’s fractured and angular interchange, with Oxley typically focussing on metallic percussion and high-pitched drums, striking sparks off Bailey’s hard edged, asymmetric notes and clusters.  

This can prove difficult music for listeners, and the reasons are obvious. The sheer range of activity produces something that seems to be in an almost continual state of flux, with no narrative progress, and where nothing stands still long enough to allow the ear to settle and gain a foothold, it can feel like trying to grasp mist. In part, this is as the result of Bailey’s conception of “non-idiomatic” improvisation, shared with many others – music purged of all familiar associations and references, and which has more in common with the sound world of the European avant-garde than American free jazz. This wasn’t a case of Bailey playing the stereotypical, curmudgeonly Yorkshireman, however; he was genuinely bored by the familiar, and relished the challenge of the unexpected. Even when playing alone, Bailey’s ideal was to avoid the habitual and try and surprise himself.

As a result, this is challenging music that does not deliver up its secrets easily, and requires patient and attentive listening, which many – even though musically sophisticated – are understandably, not prepared to undertake. I would be suspicious of anyone who claimed to be entirely comfortable with this music from the outset.

Yet I think there are ways of orientating one’s ear. This is abstract music, not just in the sense that all music is abstract, but because Oxley has always been concerned with articulating different kinds of musical space, and there is a possibly useful analogy with certain modern sculptors for whom movement in space and the changing relations between objects is a defining aspect of what they’re about. I’m thinking in particular of the mobiles of Alexander Calder and breakthrough sculptures of Anthony Caro.  Calder’s mobiles – best seen in motion as in the video below – consist of configurations that continually change their relationship to each other: intersecting, dominating and contrasting – graceful and complimentary movements in space.

The position is rather the reverse with Caro, whose heavyweight steel constructions do not move, but are intended to be walked around and seen from all angles, there being no “correct” viewing point. His first really great work – Early One Morning (1962, Tate) – presents a variety of different components, unified by the industrial red paint, in which the interest is not in the components themselves so much as the changing relations between them, the different vectors and planes in which the weight and force of each part in relation to another is altered depending on the view.  Caro himself likened the work to a piece of music.

I think these kinds of considerations are similar to what is going on in Oxley’s quartet. There are constantly evolving conjunctions of disparate sounds, whose very fleetingness and unpredictability provides part of the music’s charm. Things come together, sometimes briefly – such as the odd dialogues between drums and drum machine – and move apart just as quickly.  This is music of ever changing perspectives where not all of the musical parts need be given the same attention. Something at the periphery can move back into focus, and then retreat.  One element can remain fixed, such as a drum or guitar pattern – sometimes regular, other times disjointed – while other sounds move around it. Other times, the rhythm provides the basis for a composite texture built up by the group and then disassembled, or whipped into a climax by Bailey’s thrash chords. There’s a passage in Colour Fields where Thomas’ repeated treble pattern on the piano gives rise to repeated figurations from the others that produces a composite mechanical object, hobbling along on different sized legs. The texture is sometimes thinned out by way of contrast, or things slowed down, such as where Bailey’s plucked chords are accompanied by strange whines and a deep groan from Thomas and Wand’s electronics. Once one becomes attuned to this kind of music it can prove endlessly fascinating, while retaining an air of surprise.

Given the paucity of Oxley’s music making currently available this CD is welcome, but it would have been nice to see the re-release of his eponymous LP and February Papers on Incus, and Ichnos on RCA, though I know nothing about the availability of the master tapes. There’s also a lot of music Oxley recorded for BBC radio broadcasts – such as the Cercele trio, which never made an official recording – but again, I’ve no idea if the original tapes have survived, or the terms of their availability. Here’s hoping, however.

And finally, today is Oxley’s 76th birthday. Many happy returns, and (very) belated congratulations on last year’s quarter century.

A brief glimpse of the great Howard Riley Trio from Paris in 1972, playing Oxley’s Cirrus (sans electronics):

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ivo Perelman Roundup

Ivo Perelman is a creative monsoon. Never one to shy away from interesting combinations, the latest downpour from this monsoon is another trifecta of releases on Leo Records. Recently, it seems Ivo has fallen into a groove with Leo and is releasing 3 albums, twice a year in varying small group combinations.

By Josh Campbell

Ivo Perelman - Book of Sound (Leo, 2014) ***½

Book of Sound finds Ivo matched up in an old familiar trio setting with William Parker on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano. All members have worked together in previous combinations with Ivo and on record as a trio with Cama De Terra. The music is free flowing, with the entire album feeling as one long take broken up into bite size pieces. The magic between Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp is ever present, connected with the bass of Parker. The music twists and turns with Matthew’s stabbing chords catching up Ivo, directing the music and falling off into another direction. Its interesting going back and listening to the same trio from almost twenty years ago. Although this album does show more maturity in their playing, especially Matthew in this trio format, it doesn’t contain the excitement of Cama De Terra. Not a bad thing since Ivo’s entire philosophy revolves around staying fresh, this album definitely has a life and soul of its own.

Ivo Perelman - The Other Edge (Leo, 2014) ****½

First I will confess that I was a huge fan of his 2013 release The Edge with the same quartet including Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. Culled from a separate performance than The Edge, it is aptly titled given it’s opposing mood to the previous release. The trio performing with Ivo in this quartet are long standing and the telepathy developed shows. The interactions between Ivo and individuals in the band happen throughout and often. Ivo will mimic Bisio, stand in contrast of the trio behind him, turns Matthews chords in a new direction or simply talk with Whit’s drum set. For moments Ivo will let the trio breathe before returning with his unique and individual vernacular on tenor. And though, with the trio’s deeply rooted connection, you can feel Ivo start to work his way creating a true quartet sound. Given my affinity for The Edge, I had high hopes for this release but was also timid that my expectations could not be met. I am glad to say that those expectations were exceeded and this collection of improvisations resulted in an album that is my favorite from Ivo over the past couple years. Outstanding music that hasn’t wavered over multiple listens.

Ivo Perelman - Two Men Walking (Leo, 2014) ****

Two Men Walking was the one album I held strong reservations about. As a huge fan of Ivo and a fan of Matt Maneri, who here is on viola, I still was not sure what this duo would yield and if it could contain my attention for a full album. From the moment I hit play I realized two things. One, my reservations about the combination ware baseless and unfounded, and two, this is the most aptly titled album I’ve come across in a long while. From the onset of this album, Ivo and Matt play in unison, stepping and strolling together before running  some back and forth on part two. The interesting connection is inherent through out. From their ability to mimic each other or finishing improvisations on the same note, the duo pull off moments of magic over and over. One element that keeps things even more interesting is Maneri’s unique approach to the viola and playing the viola in new ways. His guitar-like approach at times is refreshing and keeps it interesting. Up and down together, Ivo and Matt are step for step so often it’s hard to imagine that these are two different people playing together unrehearsed. In the end its just two men walking.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Brio - Acid Cock (Long Song Records, 2014) ***

By Antonio Poscic

There is no such thing as an “improvised and free music” scene in Croatia. And yet, the duo Brio, consisting of brothers Gordan (guitar) and Neven (drums) Krajačić, has enjoyed quite a long career while also managing to garner some international recognition. Dealing almost exclusively with free improvisation in the past, their new album “Acid Cock” finds them at their most accessible yet. Instead of relying solely on noise and free jazz elements, the Krajačić brothers turn to a somewhat minimalist blend of various styles as a way of expressing their eclecticism.

In the process of moving from an acoustic, mellower, and rather inaccessible approach towards a more electric and extroverted sound, Brio have also become angrier. Indeed, gone is the carefully laid out philosophical rethinking of the world, gone is the use of silence as a building block for their music. Instead, aggression and noise prevail. This is especially obvious on the first two songs on “Acid Cock” which are both brooding and intense. “JFK’s Last Speech” and “It Must Be Painful When It Slides In” show a band that is pissed off and frustrated, enraged with the world, tired of everyday nuisances. That anger and bitterness pour through these songs, permeating their every sound. The repetitive and droning drums, the hopelessness expressed through a menacing-sounding acoustic guitar, the haunting backdrop provided by sparse sparks of an electric guitar, and the spoken word passages make you feel queasy and disconcerted while listening to the first song. It’s a tune that’s not merely postmodern in its atmosphere, it’s post apocalyptic! The second song marks a change in pace. It’s more energetic, akin to the music of Weasel Walter, with blazing tremolos, screeching, abrasive, and distorted layers of guitars, and twitchy, hectic drumming. This is the track that will be most appealing to lovers of improvised, dynamic music. You could say that the beginning of the album presents what is, stylistically, radical and free improvised music that owes a lot to raw punk and rock, moreso with regards to atmosphere and attitude than sound.

The first two tracks deserve to be singled out because they are the highlights of the album. On them, the band sounds comfortable in their own skins, the music is embellished with negativity but the songwriting does not suffer because of it. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. With the exception of the fifth song, “Descension”, which borrows from modern creative jazz (think Mary Halvorson), all the compositions which make up the middle section of the record are easily forgettable and unremarkable bluesy rock tunes with repetitive, corny, almost cheery themes that are in stark contrast with the previously displayed attitude and track titles. It almost sounds like the band is capitulating and waving a white flag. The album closes with “Yellow”, which sounds like a continuation of the first tune. We are left wondering which circle or story is “Yellow” closing exactly? The idea and general purpose of the album remain unclear. The impression of stylistic eclecticism without deeper meaning leaves a bad taste.

Brio have created a solid, but uneven record. They present themselves as chameleons playing with a carousel of styles, but instead end up resembling a “various artists” compilation. This is still an album worth listening. There are numerous exciting and very enjoyable moments that can be found scattered throughout the seven songs, but several shortcomings hold it back from being a stellar record. Brio’s got the talent, so I wish they would just leave the accessible and “easy listening” music to someone less talented. They can do much better... as I’m sure they will in the future.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nate Wooley, Hugo Antunes & Chris Corsano - Malus (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

By Matthew Grigg

"There are three reasons to walk into a minefield: ignorance that it exists, being naïve about the dangers therein, or curiosity about its true destructive potential. Ignorance and naiveté are essential parts of the third, curious reason. But, if you can find a way to limit their presence, that reckless curiosity can take you, and everyone around you, a long way toward a greater understanding."

So begins the 8th issue of Sound American (edited by Nate Wooley), in which he posed the question 'What is Jazz?' to over 30 musicians, each of whom have a musical relationship to Jazz. Two specific questions were asked; "What one thing HAS to be present (musically, socially, historically, whatever), in your mind, to constitute “Jazz”?" and, "Thinking in the same broad terms, what one thing CANNOT be present in “Jazz”?" The varied responses are worth reading in full, and whilst little in the way of consensus was reached regarding the second question, themajority of responses to the first said "some sort of improvisation. The way people chose to define improvisation varied…Certain ideas around rhythm, whether “swing” or a more abstract concept, were mentioned…as well".

The debate surrounding these questions was fresh in my mind as I approached 'Malus', which reprises three of the quintet found on last year's 'Posh Scorch'. Considered from this perspective, the LP almost reads as an allegory to the changing nature of the post 'bop Jazz landscape; opening with a composed tune which follows a head-solos-head structure, followed by a more obtuse but still traditionally dialectic piece, through increasing levels of abstraction into more textural freely improvised areas, before (d)evolving into noisy amplified squall. Finally, as if burnt out from the strain of its own forward momentum, it restates the approach of the initial piece like some Marsalis helmed/Crouch endorsed revisionism.

Shorn of the additional horn & Fender Rhodes of Posh Scorch, the overall sound is relatively spare with each player afforded plenty of space within the music. Corsano shines in smaller group settings (as those hipped to his duo with Joe McPhee will already be well aware), the increased headroom highlighting the subtleties in his fizzing polyrhythms and breadth of articulation in his kit's extended palette. In the more traditionally musical moments, Wooley's lines carry melody or punctuate with keening cries. At its most splintered, his rasps and smears add texture and rhythm in the pockets around the percussion, eliciting sounds which explore the furthest reaches of the horn's potential. Arguably, under-recorded Antunes makes the most productive use of the diffuse nature of the music. Afforded the first solo of the first side, the bass is never far from centre stage. Engaging and unconventionally melodic runs provide a sense of consonance as the music abstracts, his thoughtfully chosen phrasing underpins the music at its most full and galvanises at its most disparate.

Given the extremes Wooley has visited investigating the potential of amplified trumpet (see High Society with Peter Evans), the droning textures found on his previous trio date with Corsano (the second instalment of his ongoing Seven Story Mountain project), and Corsano's own regular associations with the more feral end of the musical spectrum, it is surprising just how straight the pieces which bookend this release feel, but it doesn't take long before more fractured, grittier approaches start to dominate. A considered use of space and empathetic interaction is apparent throughout, and lends a sense of skilfully negotiated poise to the set. Even at its most dissonant moments, measured restraint guides the trio from ever committing fully to the (sonic or rhythmic) fray, and ensures that the 'curiosity' here is never truly 'reckless'.

There are elements fundamental to this record which, to some, cannot be present for this music to be thought of as Jazz, but the foundations of 'improvisation' and 'ideas around rhythm', agreed upon by most Sound American contributors, are apparent throughout. So, if this is to be considered 'Jazz', then it serves to re-ask the question 'What is Jazz?'. Louis Armstrong's answer to which is still as pertinent today as when he gave it decades ago, "Man, if you have to ask you'll never know."

The LP is available from Instantjazz., and excerpts from the opening & closing tracks can be listened to here