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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Akira Sakata: Artist Deep Dive (Day 2)

The second, and final day of our Akira Sakata deep dive. We begin with a second opinion on Iruman...

Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico: Iruman (Mbari, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Interestingly enough – especially when you listen how easy it seems to be for Sakata – he has never played in a duo with a pianist before. It seems even more surprising that he does it now with Giovanni Di Domenico, a 37-year-old Italian musician who grew up in Africa and who has played with lots of the top dogs like Arve Henriksen, Toshimaru Nakamura or Alexandra Grimal. His album “Posh Scorch” with Nate Wooley and Chris Corsano was one of my favorite albums in 2013.

“Iruman” consists of ten mainly improvised tracks which combine traditional Japanese music, Western classical music and African influences as well as free jazz moments – but most of all some tracks remind of the music of Jimmy Giuffre.

“A Piece of Silence” sets the tone of the album, Di Domenico’s fragile tones almost show a relation to pianists like Colin Vallon, while Sakata’s bells and shakers sound like windchimes – you might feel like you are listening to an ECM production. Then, “Yellow Sand Blowing from China” presents Sakata on alto, his elegant sound contrasting Di Domenico’s hard touch on the piano. When Sakata plays the clarinet on “Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond”, “Water coming into Rice Field” and “The Peaceful Atmosphere of a Wood Sukiya-style Temple”, the Giuffre’s reminiscences are most obvious, the first one is the most beautiful track on the album being close to the border to classical chamber music, e.g. Brahms’ sonatas for clarinet and piano. When the musicians combine prepared piano sounds and percussion against Sakata’s chanting on “Voice from a Temple in the Deep Mountain”, which is very melancholic in contrast to his singing on “Arashi”, they show that their music is under constant change, all their different approaches are being displayed again and again. The final (and longest) track “Bud II” proves this: Compared to the elegant and subtle improvisations before, this is an aggressive back-and-forth conversation which is replaced by a cool-jazz-like middle part just to break free at the end again.

“Iruman” might even be called a romantic approach to improvisation, hardly ever has Sakata’s world been so accessible - flowing nicely in free structures as well as in an emotional atmosphere. A very recommendable album.

Listen to "Lotus Blossom in an Old Pond" here:

Akira Sakata, Fred Longberg-Holm, Ketil Gutvik, Paal Nilssen-Love: The Cliff of Time (PNL, 2014) ****

If you think that titles like “The Woman in the Dunes”, “The Dancing Girl of Izu”, “Face of Another” or “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” indicate another rather melancholic album like “Iruman”, you are totally wrong.

“The Cliff of Time” rather resembles “Arashi”– not only because Sakata teams up with Paal Nilssen-Love again, he is also augmented by Ketil Gutvik on electric guitar and Chicago scene institution Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Gutvik has won his spurs playing with Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit and with Okkyung Lee and Kristoffer Alberts, and Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love have been part of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Ballister, their marvelous trio with Dave Rempis (among a lot of other projects). This being said, the direction of this musical journey is pretty clear – straight and pure Chicago/Skandinavian scene free jazz.

The most obvious difference to the other two albums is the fact that Sakata abstains from singing and that he only plays the clarinet on one piece – where it also sounds angry and fragmented. He is rather a team player on this recording which gives the others a greater possibility to shine – especially Ketil Gudvik. His guitar displays various influences, from Sonny Sharrock, John Russell, Derek Bailey to James “Blood” Ulmer. Gudvik hits the guitar and tears with both hands at the strings creating a wall of splintering notes, and in combination with Lonberg-Holm’s cello, which is – as usual - very often put through the effect grinder. The result is a tightly knit carpet of unusual sounds, it is like watching glass splinters pouring down from a safe distance.

Sakata uses this background to sound like in his old days with the Yamashita Trio, fresh, iconoclastic, consequent and aggressive. The music here is a rollercoaster of emotions, played by excellent musicians who seem to have great fun. And the sound is transparent and crispy too.

You can buy these albums from

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Akira Sakata: Artist Deep Dive (Day 1)

Yesterday we posted a review of Akira Sakata and Giovani Di Domenico's Iruman. This weekend, we are taking a deep dive into more of Sakata's recent works.

By Martin Schray

Saxophonist Akira Sakata is a legend! From the 1970s to the 1990s it was pianist Yosuke Yamashita’s trio with him and Tateo Moriyama on drums which rocked the free jazz scene, particularly with spectacular performances at the festivals in Moers, Berlin, Montreux and Newport. Among others, their albums “Clay” (Enja), “Frozen Days” (Crown/Panam) or “Chiasma” (MPS) are absolutely recommendable. Sakata has played with the crème de la crème of jazz like Herbie Hancock, Sonny Sharrock, Peter Brötzmann, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Bill Laswell, but also with DJ Krush, Jim O’Rourke and Chris Corsano. All in all he has released more than 100 albums.

Fortunately, 69-year-old Sakata seems to be in good shape and has been touring and recording a lot recently. Last year he played the Berlin A`larme! festival with Michiyo Yagi (koto) and Tamaya Honda (dr), which was definitely a highlight of the program. It was a pleasure to see how Sakata, a very short but elegant and noble appearance, was roaming the location, and how happy everybody seemed to be seeing him. 

Akira Sakata, Johan Berthling, Paal Nilssen-Love: Arashi (Trost, 2014) ****½

On this album you can hear what a champion Akira Sakata is on the alto saxophone, his main instrument. The first track, “Arashi (Storm)”, presents a rather tender and reluctant Sakata, who is backed by Norwegian first class drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Fire! bassist Johan Berthling on double bass. But after only two minutes Sakata accelerates like a middle-distance runner in an Olympic final realizing that the tempo is not fast enough for him. This is classic high energy free jazz on an absolute top level, it seems as if all the three players have gone completely mad and angry. It is a relentless force of nature coming over you, it is –literally – a storm. All Brötzmann and Gustafsson fans will love it.

If you think that this could go on for the rest of the album, Sakata will surprise you – because on the next track “Ondo No Huna-Uta (Rower’s Song of Ondo)” he does what he is also famous for: He sings. Actually he gnarls, shouts, growls and barks, always being at the top of his voice – which is the greatest thing there is, because his voice seems to dance over Paal Nilssen-Love tumultuous attacks. If Yamatsuka Eye and Mike Patton listen to this piece they will get down on their knees.

And as if this wasn’t enough, Sakata has a last trump card on “Fukushima No Ima (Fukushima now)”, the final track: He plays the clarinet. And there is a tenderness and sadness to his playing which is almost heart-breaking, like a lament for the nuclear disaster which took place three years ago. It is a side of Sakata which he also presents on his album with Giovanni Di Domenico.

Listen to some excerpts here and available from

Friday, August 29, 2014

Akira Sakata & Giovanni Di Domenico - Iruman (Mbari Musica, 2014) ****½

Akira Sakata has been a standard bearer for free jazz in Japan for over forty years.  Giovanni Di Domenico, thirty years younger than Akira, is an Italian born, Cameroon raised pianist who operates in both improvised jazz and classical worlds.  Together they form a remarkable duo.  Akira has a deep, full bodied tenor sax sound, and Giovanni's percussive and classically informed playing (his influences stem from both Italy and Cameroon, where he was raised) complement each other in unexpected ways, tempering each other's moods, or fused together as one in their improvisations.  Their collaborative effort,  Iruman, is an outstanding work that inhabits both Eastern and Western cultures, deeply spiritual, and very creative. 

Outstanding tracks are "Bud I" & "Bud II"  (a reference to Bud Powell?), two blistering tracks that pulls and twists the listener's ears like taffy.  Akira fills a lot of the space with his bold playing, inhabiting the middle to lower register, while Giovanni's piano does the upper, and it is the progressive changes in the tracks that makes it interesting.  There is a high level of playing, as the improvisations are well conceived and executed -- one is always surprised by the changes in mode and mood.  "Lotus blossom in an old pond" is a classically influenced chamber piece, a mixture of late Eric Dolphy and early Chico Hamilton.  

Two of the most interesting tracks are when Akira uses vocals instead of his sax; "Papiruma" and "Voice from a temple," which are very theatrical; Akira's utterances like in Noh theater, mixed with chimes and a percussive piano accompaniment.  One should note that the titles for each track really do convey conceptually the music performed.  On the final track, "Yellow Sand blowing from China," they are able to convey the winds with a rolling flow of notes, undulating, hynoptic.  Iruman is a successful duets album, conceptually strong and expertly executed.  

Highly recommended.

Available at

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 3)

Rupp – Müller - Fischerlehner: Tam (Not Applicable Records, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Of all the Müller CDs reviewed here lately “Tam” is my favourite one. The band is Müller on trombone, Olaf Rupp on guitar and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Again Müller delivers permanent drones on the one hand and flapping helicopter sounds on the other, he spits, murmurs and puffs soundlessly, while Fischerlehner polishes his drum set with all kinds of found objects, clearly being a drummer in the tradition of Han Bennink and Paul Lovens. The grease between the two of them is Rupp - a marvelous guitarist who plays his instrument in a very upright position and whose fingernails look like claws crawling along the strings - who provides tremolos, superfast arpeggios and flageolets reminding of the great Derek Bailey but also of Thurston Moore.

The result is highly spontaneous music, zigzagging permanently between references to post-rock, Indian meditation music, free jazz elements and new classical music. The sounds condense, intensify and dissolve again, it is an intoxicating growling, pattering and buzzing,  just to be woven and reinterpreted into a complex and hypnotic whole that is both alien and attractive at the same time.
The musical approach on this album is even more about creating atmospheres compared to the other albums, structures and sounds fall apart and find together again, sometimes they connect, sometimes they don’t (in a positive sense). If improvised music is about free conversation and open-ended and self-generating processes, this album is an example par excellence.

“Someone might add a counterpoint, pick up a theme, or join in, and of course as a band you develop a sense for collective sounds and dynamic tension. It’s not really a question of deciding what comes next, but more like a development. A color becomes predominant and then suddenly everything spills into a new direction, or a sequence abruptly ends and suddenly something new is there. I can’t say for sure whether it’s purely intuition, coincidence, group dynamics, fleeting quantum events, or all of the above”, said Rudi Fischerlehner in an interview for the Saalfelden Festival.

My favorite moments on this album are the first part of the second half of “Pre”, where the music becomes very meditative and especially the drums sound like a wind chime which is supported by Rupp’s open, yet precise chords and tremolos, while Müller sets counterpoints sounding like a Wah-Wah guitar or a snarling animal (selectively), as well as the end of “Pei”, where the three play cascades of notes that sound like hailstones coming down on wooden roofs and “Tam”, a seven-minute exploration in drones and night-time jungle spookiness.

It is an album absolutely worth listening to.

You can buy the CD or the download here:

Look and listen here:

or here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 2)

The Astronomical Unit: Super Earth (Gligg Reords, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray
Compared to the almost classical free jazz approach of the Foils Quartet, The Astronomical Unit is much more interested in sounds and textures. Müller and drummer Christian Marien had been playing together for some time, before they were joined by jack-of-all-trades Australian bass player Clayton Thomas, who had moved from Australia to Berlin in 2007 to become a crucial member of the Echtzeit scene (just recently he returned to Australia, which is a major loss for the Berlin network).

On their second album (“Relativity”, the first one, was released by Jazzwerkstatt) the band immediately indulges in a labyrinth of drones. Especially Müller and Thomas, whose extensive use of material like license plates or metal rods which he puts between the strings, build up a really gloomy but also subtle and tense atmosphere. Sometimes they sound like a brooding volcano, there is a constant rumbling, a sensation augmented by Marien adding little dots of sounds, which he achieves by using a whole arsenal of different utensils. Müller is totally himself, snorting, steaming, puffing and chuffing, while Marien’s various drum sounds push the music forward.

Especially the second track, “Anti Matter”, lives from the contrast of Thomas’s bass buzzing (particularly his bowing), Müller’s circular puffing and flapping of single notes and Marien’s extended techniques (like the scratching of the cymbals), it sounds as if you were in the interior of a huge ship which scratches along a quay wall. The piece rattles and vibrates that it is pure joy to listen to. There is hardly any groove or pulse, only at the end of the track there is a deconstructed tribal beat which makes a nice contrast to the rest of the album.

The trio’s tightness, their homogeneity and their finely engraved way of playing make their approach to improvised music so unique, they combine the tradition of American free jazz and improv with the European structural focus.

A very interesting and challenging listening experience – I would like to listen to them in unusual locations like churches, caves or old industrial facilities. 

Listen to them here

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matthias Müller Days: An Artist Deep Dive (Day 1)

By Martin Schray

Trombonist Matthias Müller is a musician who is somehow underrepresented on our blog, although he is an excellent improviser and has been playing with lots of the usual suspects such as John Edwards, Mark Sanders, Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, Johannes Bauer, Tobias Delius, Olaf Rupp, Paul Lovens, and many more. In addition, he is also active in the field of contemporary music and he also is a member of Berlin’s highly prolific Echtzeit scene. We will review three of his current projects - Foils Quartet, The Astronomical Unit and Rupp/Müller/Fischerlehner - in the following days, but other band like Superimpose (his duo with Christoph Marien), his trombone trio Posaunenglanzterzett with Johannes Bauer and Christoph Thewes or Trigger, a project with Chris Heenan and Nils Ostendorf with which he has just played in south German caves (hopefully there will be a DVD), should also be mentioned.

Müller’s musicianship is outstanding, he commands his instrument extraordinarily well using all kinds of mutes and circular breathing as well as extended techniques like overtones and overblowing. The recordings reviewed in the following days have all been released recently.

Foils Quartet: The Jersey Lily (Creative Sources, 2014) ****

Matthias Müller’s latest album is Foils Quartet’s ”The Jersey Lily“ with Frank Paul Schubert (ss) – a musician I admire since I’ve heard him on Fabric Trio’s “Murmurs” –, John Edwards (b) and Mark Sanders (dr). Müller and Schubert have already worked as a duo under the name of Foils (they have released their debut on FMR) before they decided to cooperate with Edwards and Sanders, who have also worked as a duo before (e.g. on “Nisus Duets” on EMANEM) and who have played as a rhythm group for some of the most outstanding musicians of the English improv scene (like Evan Parker or Trevor Watts).

From the very first note “The Jersey Lily” is almost classical free jazz, music that lives from the excellent communication between the participants. The contrast between the various tone colors of soprano saxophone and trombone is both unusual and attractive at the same time, yet there is a lot to discover beyond this obvious contrast. In general the quartet’s playing is very homogenous and on a very high energy level, which – especially on the more-than-50-minutes-track “Eddie’s Flower” – doesn’t die down, the music remains concentrated and tight. It demands a lot of agility and flexibility from the musicians – like two table-tennis doubles playing on world class level. Edwards and Sanders put constant pressure to the reeds, which is counterattacked by Schubert and Müller with all kinds of structures and sounds. Both take turns – when one is into fast runs and swift lines, the other one delivers longer notes or they simply duel with each other, which makes a finely spun net of honking, squawking, breathing, flapping and sultry reeds sounds. That’s why the band’s approach might be described as rather textural than narrative, but it is absolutely not a mere mind game, though. Even if the music is sonically investigative and intellectually challenging it is also emotional and gripping.

Or – as Clayton Thomas has put it in the liner notes for the first Foils album:
On the surface, we might hear the echo of Paul Rutherford and Evan Parker, but listening closely, the tempos are all wrong, the durations extended to the point of breaking, the counterpoint incongruous with that generations thinking. Another language is being spoken here, one that hears with (eight) ears all that Berlin (and British) improvisers have achieved in the past 15 years integrated with musicality and empathy.  
Slightly modified this goes for the quartet as well.

You can buy it from the label:

Watch a complete concert of the band here:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Giacomo Merega, Noah Kaplan & Joe Moffett - Crows and Motives (Underwolf, 2014) ****

By Stef

Do you know Noah Kaplan (sax), Joe Moffett (trumpet) and Giacomo Merega (electric bass)? You may have come across them on ths blog as part of a quintet in Joe Moffett's "Ad Faunum", you may have come across Noah Kaplan's "Descendants" - unlike me - or you may have seen them perform in the broader New York area. In any case, they're not well known, and that's a shame, because they are good, really good.

On this intimate album the three musicians weave calm but intense sonic textures, with lots of emphasis and value on single tones, on shifting micro-tones which result in almost human voice inflexions, and an almost contemplative interplay. They describe it themselves as applying "traditional counterpoint to contemporary improvisation", and the result deserves to be heard to audiences outside New York.

The inspiration for the music came from the 15th Century composer Josquin des Prez' Missa L'Homme Armée, a composition that uses counterpoint and "mensuration canons", in which "each voice sings the same notes, but the length of time each note each note is sung differs", and we get a similar approach here with trumpet, sax and bass singing in layers of sound, creating a beautiful soundscape full of dark and melancholy undertones, full of human angst and despair. Not upbeat, but strange and beautiful.

Listen and download from the label.

Daniel Rosenboom Quintet - Fire Keeper (Orenda, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Readers be warned: the following album is firmly planted in the jazz-rock fusion category - though there is plenty of freedom to be found within these well crafted tunes...

Atmospheric melodies, biting guitar lines, driving complex rhythms all come together so seamlessly and fresh on Daniel Rosenboom's Fire Keeper that you might think the style was (re)invented here. Rosenboom is a trumpeter and composer from LA, he first came to my attention with his work with the woodwind master Vinny Golia a few years ago. We find him now starting the label Orenda and releasing this fiery album that pulls together often misused musical elements and puts them to good use.

The album kicks off with 'Leaving Moscow', which begins with the trumpet spinning an ethereal melody, but it is quickly picked up and inverted by Alexander Noice's incisive and crunchy guitar work ... and right here is where I throw in the cliche: it rapidly becomes some high octane music. The guitarist keeps the engines revved on the nervously twisting intro to the follow up track 'Seven on Seven'. Drummer Dan Schnelle and Bear Trax player Kai Kurosawa lock in tightly, keeping things moving along, even during the breakdown. Appearing about halfway in, the track splinters into free playing, and the guitarist delivers another combustible performance. Metallic touches from Gavin Templeton's flute also provides some nice texture. Deliberately primitive drumming and muted wailing trumpet change the album's direction a bit on 'With Fire Eyes', a track that digs deep into some heavy jazz-rock sludge. Other tunes, like 'Hush Money' starts off with a glam rock like intro only to find the stomping rhythm be festooned with knotty melodic passages.

It's not smooth, it's not forced, it's not free jazz and it's not really avant-garde, rather Fire Keeper is a wonderfully fresh take on the maligned f-word genre, and to my ears it's an album that shows how much life there still is in it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Moskus - Mestertyven (Hubro, 2014) ***½

This time they assembled in a 17th century wooden church, exchanged the grand for an upright and went for a recording session without much prewritten.  Them being Anja Lauvdal: piano; Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson: double bass; Hans Hulbækmo: drums.  Also known as Moskus.  And by their previous album Salmesykkel, nice word, which to those of the Norwegian persuasion among us might sound as Psalmbike.  And that kind of makes sense, there is the feel of psalms there and of a country ride on a bicycle.  Quiet joy.  

The new album is called Mestertyven (master thief).  It is altogether a different ride, still on a bike though.  The countryside has changed and their ears have taken them out on a more roving course, a sparse theme is conjured up out of nothing much (stolen), that theme sets up a drive, a context and over and in this context the theme is played in, out, over and through.  When much is said, all is done and we’re left with the subtle shading of a phial containing Nordic air.  

Titles are Yttersvingen (Outer circuit) which goes out around the bend, on broken rhythm, Leverpostei med Brie (Liverpaste with Brie) which could be too much of a good thing to anyone but it stumbles nicely through the changes here and manages to bring all to a timely end.  Most of the pieces are open ended explorations of the particular soundworld they find themselves in whether it be the pastoral sheen of Tradisjonskvelern or the hypnotic patterns of Tandem med Sankt Peter.  Glasblasern delivers an eerie  tinkling scene of free flowing faeries and manages to pull that off.  Jag har ett agg (I have a grudge) contains a patiently buzzing bumblebee, it is the flight of, but not as you know it.

Sound is used to intensify the silence.  Sounds taken at face value and used, stolen from Monk, Bley, Moondog, some Harry Partch, and shaped into little slips of something.  Quiet exhilaration. Thieves want quiet, not a barking dog.  They will move on to the next house.  The poet alone is capable of absorbing in himself the life that surrounds him and of flinging it abroad again amid planetary music  (James Joyce). Listen. (nice cover too)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baptet - Trash Nova (Brakophonic, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

Baptet is a Swedish jazz rock group whose music embraces the spirit of 70s era Miles Davis sound, with prog rock sensibilities.  Gunnar Backman, producer and composer, plays guitars and electronics, with Mike Lloyd on trumpet, Anders Berg on bass, and Peeter Uuskyla on drums.  Trash Nova, their debut album, is a nine track high energy jam session, that takes the Miles' jazz rock fusion era, and adds contemporary elements to it, such as samples and tape loops.  Backman uses these as a foundation for his free form compositions.

The opening track, "Gnome," is ethereal and dreamy, Backman's guitar spare and Lloyd's trumpet almost flute like, conjuring part far eastern influence and mid 70's Santana.  It's clear that this just sets the stage, because the next track, "Aspen," kicks the album off proper, with Uuskyla leading the charge with a funky and rocking beat, and Backman mixing synths, guitars and Lloyd's muted horn on top.  "Bon Bon" has a full out sonic drone with crushing drums, bass and guitars, but the focus, like many of the tracks, is on Lloyd, whose horn recalls Miles' technique, never over playing but accentuating and emphasizing space with minimum and efficient notes.  "Nova" goes even harder, as the sound becomes a rolling thunderous sheets of sound, everyone equally pushing each other as fast and hard as possible.  Rising above the din, the trumpet or guitar takes turns in soloing.  It's fast and furious, but coherent.  "Trash" starts of with a sitar-like solo, then Backman leading another sonic charge with a long lead improvisation, before settling down to Uuskyla's medium tempo and Lloyd's electronic enhanced trumpet playing.  It's the longest track on the album, and never short on imagination.

Trash Nova is an excellent album, mixing jazz and rock effectively, without being derivative.  Recommended.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pharoah & The Underground

Pharoah & The Underground - Spiral Mercury (Clean Feed CD, 2014) ****½

Pharoah & The Underground - Primative Jupiter (Clean Feed LP, 2014) ****

By Matthew Grigg

'Summit Meetings', 'All Star' groupings and much hyped ad-hoc combinations, the Jazz world has used these devises as marketing tools for time immemorial. Given this, Mazurek's approach to engaging with Free Jazz's first generation is to be commended. His association with Pharoah Sanders, the third such project he has undertaken (previously his Exploding Star Orchestra was joined by Bill Dixon and Roscoe Mitchell), stretched over a two year period and the resulting dynamic is a finely honed relationship showcasing the strengths of each horn, with both able to exert considerable influence on the direction of the music.

To accredit these releases to Pharoah & The Underground is somewhat of a misnomer as Mazurek is the lone compositional voice here, utilising thematic material from both the Sao Paulo & Chicago Underground in addition to his Pulsar Quartet, alongside new compositions. Stylistically they read as an extension of his recent work with the Exploding Star Orchestra/Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and a re-contexturalising/stretching of elements from both Underground projects, an approach not dissimilar to last year's excellent 'Skull Sessions'octet. Here Sanders and Mazurek are joined by Chad Taylor, the cornetist's foil in the Chicago Underground, Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado of its Sao Paulo counterpart, and Matthew Lux from the Pulsar Quartet, Mandarin Movie & Isotope 217. All four have been involved with recent incarnations of the Exploding Star Orchestra, their familiarity with each other is evident throughout.

Recorded live in concert at Lisbon's Jazz em Agosto Festival (August 11th 2013), the Spiral Mercury CD presents an unbroken 77 minute suite, which moves between high energy grooves, turn-on-a-dime themes, modal progressions and open, freely improvised areas. Mazurek & Sanders provide a carefully balanced dovetailing of approaches, the cornet often the more piercing and 'out', the saxes providing a softer, more melodic edge. When the energy of the music dictates, the septuagenerian duly matches it with patented screeches and penetrating tones, but throughout, his long velveteen lines dictate play as often as Mazurek's sharper blasts and flurries. That Primitive Jupiter LP opens with the ostinato of 'Spiral Mercury' (alongside 'Asasumamehn', one of the 2 tracks repeated across both releases) is maybe the only factor to recommend the CD over the LP, the way broken motifs from the theme are introduced in the closing moments of the preceding track is missing from the more judiciously edited wax incarnation. But for those with an interest in Mazurek's trajectory, or fans of Sanders' increasingly infrequent output, both are mandatory.

The combination of Taylor and Takara on drums and percussion ensure a pronounced rhythmic foundation for much of the performance, with a Latin edge lent to the propulsion, unsurprising given the inclusion of the Brazilian contingent. The perpetually bubbling bed of fractured electronics recasts the afro-futurist settings of Sanders' 'Thembi', and his work with Alice Coltrane, into the post-cosmic future-jazz nebula Mazurek has been navigating during recent voyages. Takara's use of cavaquinho ensures he never encroaches on the low-end register of Lux's territory, whilst giving ample space for Granado's keys to move in-between. Throughout, elements central to both Underground projects are in play but repurposed in this longer setting. In fact, the musical omnivorousness of these groups makes perfect sense in this context, here this approach is given the time and space to contribute fully to a larger whole. Whether devotional rhythmic grooves, searching abstraction or full-throttle velocity, the interaction between the musicians is never less than adroitly judged, simultaneously casting a glancing eye backward whilst straining for the farthest reaches of the cosmos. As The Art Ensemble would have it, "Ancient to the Future."

Given the length of their partnership, its not overly expectant to hope for more recordings of this caliber to surface. "Tell this to everybody, wherever they are… Keep watching the skies."

Pharoah Sanders - soprano & tenor saxophone
Rob Mazurek - cornet, electronics
Guilherme Granado - keyboards, electronics, samplers
Mauricio Takara – drums, percussion, cavaquinho, electronics
Matthew Lux – electric bass
Chad Taylor – drums, mbira

Available at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Led Bib – The People in Your Neighbourhood (Cuneiform, 2014) ***½

By Julian Eidenberger

Led Bib is usually considered a jazz-rock band, and while that’s a label that captures some aspects of the band’s sound, it is still a bit of a misnomer if not accompanied by further qualifications. Indeed, it’d take quite a bit of shoehorning to make the British quintet fit neatly into said pigeonhole: To begin with, there’s very little actual “rock” music to be found on The People in Your Neighbourhood (the band’s fifth full-length). Unlike many classic jazz-rock bands, Led Bib show an interest in jazz beyond Miles’ feverish Electric Jazz; nods to Modal Jazz, Bop and even Swing abound here, while the “rock” part of the equation is often only implied rather than acted out. This is also reflected in the band’s line-up: Instead of employing an electric guitar as lead instrument, the band features two alto saxophones on top of drums, double bass and keyboards. In the absence of this rock signifier par excellence, it’s up to the drums and keys to add a rock-ish feel to the proceedings.

This, of course, is not per se a problem, and the album really starts in a rather impressive way, with the first five cuts being particularly strong. Whether it’s the groovy, swinging New Teles, the kinetic This Roofus or the melodramatic Angry Waters – there’s hardly any reason to kvetch here. Finally, Recycling Saga caps off this impressive string of songs; it’s probably the highpoint of the entire album, moving slowly and elegantly towards a gorgeous conclusion, recalling Kind of Blue’s thought-out constructions in the process.

Unfortunately, though, The People in Your Neighbourhood is also an album that overstays its welcome; by the time Plastic Lighthouse comes on, the listener is already well-accustomed to the band’s modus operandi and starting to crave for some variation. In a way, one of the band’s greatest strengths – its sense of form – becomes its biggest weakness as the album nears its end; what seemed elegant in the beginning, starts to feel unwieldy and even bloated here. In general, the album’s second half lacks discord – in both the literal and figurative senses. There are hardly any “stumbling blocks” to break the routine and reawaken the listener’s interest. That being said, Orphan Elephants is – while short on surprises – nonetheless a strong way to end the record.

As it is, The People in Your Neighbourhood is a decent record, but it might’ve been a brilliant one had the band taken more chances.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Joe Morris - Perpetual Frontier - The Properties Of Free Music (Riti, 2013)

By Stef

There aren't that many books that deal with free improvisation. Not that there is not a great story to tell, but what can you write about music, and most of all, niche music for niche audiences, and then on top of this music that is so beyond any grasp of known descriptions, that any attempt is doomed to fail. Or is it?

In his "Perpetual Frontier", guitarist, bass-player and musical educator Joe Morris gives it a try, and a welcome try at that. Not much has been written about 'free music' as Morris likes to call the composed/improvised genre we are reviewing on this blog, and we can agree with the name. It's more than 'free jazz', and different from 'free improvisation'.

The book is more than welcome, because it offers a kind of foundational explanation of what 'free music' is, and then in an almost academic fashion. Morris presents "The Properties Of Free Music", a description of the constituents and building blocks of the music, with definitions of the known ingredients like melody, harmony, rhythm and their absence and their alternatives. He describes the conceptual methods and systems that musicians can use in establishing their sound, the essence of what musicians try to achieve, and they can do that through synthesis, interpretation and invention, by using known forms or by creating new ones. He writes about musical platforms, about interaction, about open forms, templates and layering, about melodic structure. He explores four theoretical frameworks of free form in a little more depth : Ornette Coleman's 'harmolodics', Cecil Taylor's 'unit structures', Anthony Braxton's 'tri-axiom theory', and European Free Improvisation.

The explanations, the definitions and the conceptual framework offered here will be of high value to students of music, but also to interested listeners, who will find here a great toolbox of ideas and explanations for what is possibly the least codefied of musical genres. Joe Morris is of course very much aware of this, and his text is a open-ended as the music, an offering of possibilities for musical creation.

Next to this academic first part of the book, he has had the great idea to ask individual musicians to answer a questionnaire and talk about their vision on the music they play. We get the insights of Marilyn Crispell, Rashid Bakr, Agusti Fernandez, Simon H. Fell, Mary Halvorson, Katt Hernandez, Joe McPhee, Nicole Mitchell, William Parker, Jamie Saft, Matthew Shipp, Ken Vandermark, Alex Ward, Nate Wooley and JackWright. Quite an impressive list of musicians, and what they write is a wonderful complement to Morris framework. Why? Because they write about the human aspect of making music, they talk about emotions, spirituality, being enriched through interaction, about the audiences with whom the music resonates, about intimacy, about the joy of making music, about the tension, about the magic of it, about the unknown.

The testimonials are sometimes elaborate, with the musicians apparently eager to tell their story, to tell their vision. Interestingly, all of them talk about instrumental skills and technique as essential but totally uninteresting unless it leads to great music.

Many of the musicians have different opinions, as much as they have different backgrounds, and influences, and musical concepts, but that makes it interesting.

As a non-musician, I found it all very revelatory, but what surprised me most was the limited attention given to the audience, to the individual listener. That's why I liked Nicole Mitchell's text so much : "I like stretching beyond the comfort zone to make discoveries of my own and to guide listeners to the other sides of themselves". I also like the way Jack Wright writes about it in his very personal story "Musicians would do well to ask themselves not whether they want to please people but how. Obviously you can please people by giving them what they expect to hear; the reward path for that is assured. But there is another kind of pleasure for people when they are not sure what they are getting and don't know how to judge it, who even enjoy being confused a bit". Yes, we, the listeners, can relate to that.

A very valuable book that will be of interest to many musicians and fans of free music.

To end with a quote from William Parker: "Theory in itself did not free people to reach into a deeper area of sound. It was those who altered, abandoned, and redefined the elements of music that got closer to the true source".

This books gives you the options ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Variable Density Sound Orchestra - Evolving Strategies (Not Two, 2014) ****

By Stef

In 2009, I wrote this review of Garrison Fewel's "Variable Density Sound Orchestra", out of love for the late Roy Campbell's playing. In the meantime, the band released its third album, after "Sound Particle 47", released in 2010. The band is Garrison Fewell on guitar, John Tchicai on tenor and flute, Roy Campbell Jr on trumpet, pocket trumpet and flugelhorn, Steve Swell on trombone, Dmitry Ishenko on bass and Reggie Nicholson on drums.

The band's name already suggests some of the music's concept, tightly arranged, almost epic themes are alternated with free and light-textured improvisations, floating above ground in contrast to the strongly tradition rooted themes. The great thing about the music is that all band members feel perfectly comfortable in both environments.

The album is book-ended by "Mystical Realities", a boppish and delightful composition by Steve Swell, for which the theme and the basic vamp offer a great springboard for the improvisers to do their thing, and they do it well, and with joy. It is equally joyful to hear the late Roy Campbell again, in the company of musicians he knew well. I am not sure when this was recorded, but one can only hope that even more material shows up with his soulful playing.

The next track, "Evolving Strategies", is more eery and open-ended, completely in free mode without any recognisable pattern, and it moves into "Return And Breathe", which starts with the same eery concept, with Tchicai on flute, turning into a mid-tempo rhythmic jazzy piece, on which the interaction between Swell and Fewell gets all the spotlights. This track is followed by another light-textured group improvisation in memory of and in tribute to Bill Dixon, that magically ends in a unison theme.

The central piece is "Voyage From Ra", a theme we know well from Fewell's and Tchicai's "Tribal Ghost" album, one of our preferred albums of last year, then called "The Queen Of Ra", a great composition that again allows for some great soloing by Tchicai.

Then comes "Evolving Strategies" again, the same light-textured affair, with sparse sounds, and primarily the horns interacting, with little bursts of support by guitar, bass and drums.

It becomes somewhat denser with the Tchicai composition "Heart Is Only A Part", first released on his "Musica Sacra Nova" album, and then it ends with the epic "Mystical Realities", with Roy Campbell now starring.

And Fewell in all this? He is the silent mover, or rather the quiet mover, more the coach of the band than the leader, guiding his band forward, trusting them in their skills, and using his jazzy licks and harmonic support to increase the depth of the overall sound.

So, the album's mirror-like structure, and the band's shifts through this reflection with changing approaches is really great, you get a journey through jazz history, without too much pretense, and with the absolute joy of interplay and technical skills that are all there to make the music sing.

Great band, great musicians, great music. Enjoy!

Available at

Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock - Whathefuckdoyouwant (Trost, 2014) ****

The first thing you realize is this guitar sound. It’s metallic, reverberating, icy, crisp. And there is this unusual use of a bottleneck slide guitar, the blistering speed, extremely high pitched notes, treble prone, right at the threshold of pain. We know it from Last Exit. No one sounds like Sonny Sharrock.

Apart from that seminal free jazz/rock formation, Peter Brötzmann (saxophones) and Sharrock(guitars) did some small duo tours in Europe in the late 1980s and although some of these performances were recorded then, only the “Fragments” LP was released in 2003 by Okka. Now the Austrian Trost label has made another bunch available and although the eleven tracks look like loose outtakes it is a great collection.

A surprising trademark of this album is the contrast between quiet, meditative, almost mellow passages which are confronted with brutal, distorted and wild parts like in Track 10, it’s an emotional back and forth that structures the music but also affords the listener’s permanent concentration. Another very unusual and exciting characteristic – especially of the first four tracks – is the fact that Brötzmann and Sharrock play harsh, minimalistic – almost hard-rock- like – repetitive breaks (sometimes in unison) which float either into real tunes (for Brötzmann standards) or angry outbreaks. 

Except the exquisite opening pieces, highlights of the album are Track 5, where Sharrock quotes Jimi Hendrix’s “Instrumental Solo” of the Woodstock performance (he tears it apart, actually) and Track 6, opening with a fragmented and fierce solo by Sharrock, who uses echo and feedback here and who is joined by Brötzman on bass saxophone using growling notes and repetitive lines which are then counteracted by Sharrock’s pattering notes. All in all, the track lives from the enormous differences of the instruments’ sounds which seem to dance around each other. Last but not least Track 8 presents Sharrock building a huge guitar chord wave into which Brötzmann dives head on mingling with these sounds so that it is hard to tell sometimes which instrument we hear.

What is so great about this album is the fact that we can witness how well both musicians seem to understand each other, how excellent their different approaches matched. As almost always with Brötzmann, “Whatthefuckdoyouwant” is a lesson in listening, a recording about communication, a real duo performance.

In his conversations with Gerard Roux Brötzmann said that he really liked Sharrock as a person and a musician and that he wanted to go on with the duo but then he “got a phone call saying that he just passed away” (in 1994).

“Whatthefuckdoyouwant” can be bought from

Listen to the album here: 

P.S.: The story behind the title is told by Brötzmann in the liner notes: “In the afternoon we met with our management Mr. X. Sonny had to discuss some business concerning a new band he wanted to set up and Mr. X had promised a lot of work for that. (…) The conversation got louder and louder; some verbal fight was on the way. Then, with a very fast move, Sonny took a razor blade out of the breast pocket of his sports jacket, unfolded it – all in one move – and shouted, “whatthefuckdoyouwant?, I slice you up, have done that before in Vietnam!” I never had seen before (and haven’t after) a face turning so grey and green, Mr. X — not used to exercise — turned around and started to run up the hill, the Obergrünewalderberg, quite a steeple chase, and never was seen again. The roadie and I had moved closer but before we could do anything the whole spook was over. We drove to the gig, finished the tour and Sonny was the gentle man he always had been.”

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ingrid Laubrock Octet - Zürich Concert (Intakt Records, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The Zürich Concert is a slowly unfolding and unpredictable album from saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. Recorded after a Südwestrundfunk (German public radio) sponsored opportunity to work with cohorts from New York and London, the Ingrid Laubrock Octet's Live in Zurich was recorded at a subsequent tour date. The group has a cast of musicians drawn from Laubrock's other groups like Sleepthief, the Tom Rainey Trio, along with others. Like these other combos, the octet works intuitively with each other - and with such a large group at her command, this doesn't seem like a small task to manage.  

The first three tracks, the short 'Glasses', the long 'Novemberdoodle' and the again short ‘Blue Line & Sinker’ seem to form a tenuous and deliberate first movement. The sound is dominated by Ted Reichman’s accordion and Tom Rainey’s melodic lines on the xylophone. The atmosphere of ‘Novemberdoodle’ is delicately punctuated by light plinks from the guitar, piano, and xylophone, with some melodic intervention from the horns. Laubrock's approach to the octet is to use the instruments in smaller units and leaving plenty of musical space between the players, and it's quite effective.

Changing the atmosphere, the track 'Chant' has guitarist Mary Halvorson with a long solo introduction. She is joined by the group at times to underscore the passages and add a bit of intensity - the scoring of the soprano sax, along with the sonority of Ben Davis’ cello, and the striking piano playing of Liam Noble is a delight. 'Matrix' begins with Rainey’s drums and Drew Gress’ bass creating a skittish foundation for some noisy blowing by Laubrock. Tom Arthur’s trumpet cuts a fine melodic line later in the track and a section towards the end of the track is both delicate and playfully frenetic.

The overall recording is a smart assembly of varying textures and approaches and the diverse instrumentation makes for a fascinating listen. This is an album to take in whole, spend the hour and fifteen minutes that it demands to follow the ideas as they slowly appear and cohere.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Daunik Lazro, Benjamin Duboc & Didier Lasserre - Sens Radiants (Dark Tree, 2014) ****½

By Dan Sorrells

For its fourth release in as many years, Dark Tree Records returns to the trio that launched the label in 2011. Portant Les Cimes Des Arbres was superior in almost every aspect one could consider: a powerhouse line-up, challenging, unorthodox performances, a pristine recording, and beautiful package design. In all those respects, Sens Radiants presents as welcome déjà vu.

Recorded at the Écouter pour l’Instant Festival in the summer of 2013, Sens Radiants showcases an hour-long performance of Lazro on baritone saxophone, Duboc on bass, and Lasserre on a stripped-down drum kit. In true European tradition, the trio has always presented a music that seems completely divorced from any of free improvisation’s jazz heritage. Like Portant Les Cimes Des Arbres, Sens Radiants is steeped in rhythm, though not of the toe-tapping, beat-counting sort. There’s something more organic at work, a subliminal regularity like breathing or waves. It’s music that feels mythical, spiritual, ritual.

Perhaps what Sens Radiants calls to my mind the most is the solemn, ceremonial air of Noh theatre music—its use of space and the obscure rhythmic groundwork that serves as a guiding principle. An incredible mastery of tone is on display throughout the performance. By tone I don’t mean the pitch or source of sounds, but rather the consistent, expressive quality that is particular to the performance, that is indicative of this trio at that moment in time. It never suggests anything less than total cohesion and command.

It almost goes without saying that the entire performance should be absorbed in one sitting, though a few highlights can be noted. It’s always remarkable to hear how much an extension of his own body Lazro’s saxophone is; in his moaning, screaming, humming performances he becomes one of the most sensuous, stirring hornsmen working today. Half an hour in, the music gathers from quiet corners into a colossal knot of friction, Lasserre’s scraped cymbals sounding like he’s tearing at the very air with his drumsticks.

Around the 37 minute mark, Duboc hits upon as virtuosic an arco soloas you’re likely to find in free improvisation. It reminds me of two great Italians: the stunning touch of the late Scodanibbio with a bow, and the tense, abyssal atmosphere of Sciarrino’s Sui poemi concentrici. Perhaps that hints at what feels so special about Sens Radiants as a whole. Many have difficulty discerning the difference between some modern classical music and improvisation. Here, we have improvisation that feels like a great modern composition: controlled and cohering, so certain of its own aesthetic that it’s hard not to think of it as Lazro/Duboc/Lasserre, Opus no. 2.

Available from Instantjazz.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tomasz Sroczynski & Marek Pospieszalski - Bareness (Requiem, 2014) ****

By Stef

We receive a lot of music, really more than any person can ever listen to, and more than any person would care to listen to. Sometimes, as we've had in the past, some music gets the attention because of its unique sound. This is one of those albums.

The duo is Tomasz Scroczynski on violin (already presented on his "Rite Of Spring Variation") and Marek Pospieszalski on tenor saxophone and clarinet (see also "Power Of The Horns" and on "Bandoleros En Gdansk" with the Gonzalez family).

The duo was recorded in a fifteenth Century church in Poland, and the space is like a third musician in the ensemble, and the studio afterwards even more probably ... and it works well. The sound is more like a soundtrack, the kind of music that sets a mood, that colors a story with effects that work quite directly on the emotions of the listener without you actually being aware of it. It affects you in a kind of unnoticeable way. It has its own aesthetic. The music is not inobtrusive, it is at times mesmerising, with raw outbursts once in a while, sometimes soothing, but more often than not inviting the listener into the strange cinematic universe both musicians create, one that is influenced by the great composers, ranging from Bach over Philip Glass to Zbigniew Preisner and John Butcher, and yes, maybe even Amon Tobin.

Needless to say that the music is beyond genre. But the dramatic effect is guaranteed.

Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985 (Rune Grammofon, 2014) ***

By Colin Green

Such is the dearth of decent (and readable) books on free jazz and improvisation that any addition is welcome. The author of this book – Johannes Rød – is a freelance art historian and conservator with a large vinyl collection, most of which I suspect is documented within its pages. It’s a slim volume (110 pages) elegantly bound and with crisp, vellum-like pages that it’s a pleasure to turn, providing a tactile experience that’s lost on a tablet.

As the book’s subtitle makes clear – “A Guide to 60 Independent Labels” – the focus is not so much on the musicians of this period, as an alphabetical list of the record labels on which the music appeared, which might explain the unfortunate absence of an index. These labels were mostly run by the musicians themselves and dedicated enthusiasts, committed to a wider dissemination of valuable music, but it does mean that significant recordings on “major labels” are absent (Rød offers a definition in his epilogue); none by John Coltrane on Impulse! and nothing on Blue Note, which released some influential albums by Andrew Hill, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor and Sam Rivers. An exception is made for Fontana’s Marte Röling series even though it was a subsidiary of Phillips (is corporate structure and distribution a particularly useful test?).

Rød does not purport to provide a definitive list of labels or complete discographies in every case. The labels chosen and albums listed are a personal selection of what he considers important. Inevitably, there will be quibbles over those that didn’t make the cut. I’d have lobbied for the inclusion of Denon Jazz, responsible for the Steve Lacy Sextet’s classic The Wire (1977) (the magazine was rumoured to have been named after it) and also a number of important albums hosted by prominent members of Japan’s free jazz scene, such as Masahiko Satoh and Masahiko Togashi. I’d also liked to have seen the Greek label Praxis, which released Cecil Taylor’s epic Praxis (1982) – a double album of a solo recital from Italy in 1968: so far as I’m aware, the earliest recording of Taylor solo – as well as albums by John Tchicai, Sun Ra, and Jemeel Moondoc. There would have been space to extend the list beyond sixty as many of the entries occupy only a quarter or so of the available space on the page.

There’s also the thorny – and ultimately, not very interesting – question as to what counts as free jazz or improvisation. Some of the labels released a broad range of music and Rød has chosen from those he considers fall within the scope of the title.

The book only covers recordings on vinyl (though a few ICP cassettes are listed) but this decision is not supported by a claim for the superiority of analogue – a hotly debated topic – but rather that the formative period of free jazz and improv just happened to coincide with music on vinyl. The cut-off date of 1985 – often observed in the breach -- is justified as marking the advent of the compact disc. Fair enough, one has to draw a line somewhere, but I’m not sure I’d agree when Rød says, in conversation with The Wire’s Rob Young: “the period from 1965 to the end of the seventies is in many ways the heyday of this music”. Certainly, the heyday of vinyl sales (of which free jazz formed a miniscule percentage) but of the music itself? As this blog bears witness, in terms of numbers there are now more recordings released and a larger audience than there has ever been. The introduction of compact disc enabled a number of the labels in this book to produce more albums than they’d been able to afford on vinyl. Perhaps Rød means that the period was a sort of Golden Age for the music: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven!” Again, I’m unsure: we’re probably still too close to it, but as Mats Gustafsson – a well-known vinyl junkie -- states in his foreword, what can’t be disputed is that it was an extremely creative and innovative period in music.

This is music that I urge you to explore, not just because much of it is very good indeed, but one can hear traces and connections that might not have been so clear at the time, both with the past and what others were doing. Joining the dots can be rewarding and lead to a deeper appreciation of the new releases reviewed on this blog. For all the anti-establishment attitudes of the time, no music takes place in a vacuum and a tradition of sorts was established, which continues to exert a strong influence.

As to the information provided: each entry has a brief history of the label, usually a paragraph or two but in the case of particularly significant labels such as ESP, FMP, Incus, ICP and India Navigation, there’s a longer narrative. Some of this is very useful – at last, someone has made sense of the various sub-labels and relabeling on Hat Hut – but I wonder what benefit there is in listing the six different addresses from which ESP traded between 1964 and 1975. Not all facts are created equal.

Beneath the label history, information about each album is divided into three columns: record number, artist/title and year of release. That’s not much. I always find the year of recording of more interest than when it was released, and there’s no information about the musicians on each album, an odd omission given that this is collaborative music par excellence. Indeed, one wonders for whom the book was written. According to the foreword by Rune Kristfferson, owner of the publisher: the Rune Grammofon label, it “...might not be a definitive overview for the hardcore know-it-all collectors, but more of a guide for the ‘normal’ collectors and those looking to expand their musical horizon...”.

By way of comparison, although not all the recordings listed in this book appear on the Discogs website, it’s an astonishingly comprehensive database of albums, and an invaluable resource for information about the recording: the date it was made and released, the musicians and what they play, recording location, engineer and producer, together with cover art. Following hyperlinks provides listings of recordings sorted by label or artist. There’s also the European Free Improvisation site, which contains much valuable information.

It may be churlish to judge what is essentially a book of lists as something it does not pretend to be, but as a “guide” it resembles a series of street names with no map to assist the inquisitive around them. There’s an awful lot of music listed here, but why not include a couple of pages suggesting useful starting points, or what would form a good beginner’s collection? Naturally, there are as many such compilations as there are advocates of the music but I don’t have a problem with preferences, and something like this would have been useful.

The centre of the book contains colour reproductions of selected album covers. As Rød says, the artwork often reflected the labels’ limited budgets – none at all in some cases – and we’re unlikely to see books of free jazz cover art, as with Blue Note and ECM. There are notable exceptions however, such as Steve Lacy’s Trickles (Black Saint, 1976) with a painting by Kenneth Noland, and the distinctive style of Marte Röling’s covers for Fontana. I can see Rød’s point when he says about FMP that “they’d think it would be better to package it in a paper bag” but there’s actually something rather appealing about the deliberately home-made, cut and paste style to many of them. Peter Brötzmann, also a talented artist who designed a number, was probably an influence here and they must have been a healthy antidote to the ubiquitous Che Guevara silk screen prints, posters of a tennis player scratching her backside, and maps of Middle Earth that adorned student accommodation and bedsits at the time. Very much proto-punk.

So: assuming you’re not a mere train-spotter, what can the “normal” collector do with this book? The first issue is whether you want to stick with analogue or are content with digital. A number of these albums were re-released on CD, though in limited quantities which can be as rare as the original. Some labels, such as ESP, have issued their major recordings on CD, but a significant number of the albums listed never made it to digital and at this juncture probably never will, due to the demise of the label, lost or dissolved master tapes, or just free jazz economics. If you’re insistent on the black stuff, very occasionally albums from the period will be re-released (Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity and the Joe McPhee’s CjR years are recent examples) and there are record fairs – the author and publisher first discussed this book on their plane journey back from Utrecht: “the mother of all record fairs”. Otherwise, the best place to look is probably the Discogs site. Prices can vary considerably and the usual caveat emptor applies. For example: the Cecil Taylor Unit’s Nicaragua: No Pasaran - Willisau 83 Live – the sole release on the Nica Records label (unsurprisingly, not included) – is currently shown at prices from £250.00 to $600.00, plus p&p, and you’ll be lucky to find albums on Sun Ra’s El Saturn label for less that £100.00. The original often requires deep pockets.

The fact remains, a lot of these albums are very rare. To take an extreme example, there are believed to have been no more than ten copies pressed of Don Cherry and Bengt Nordström’s Psychology (Bird Notes, 1964) – good luck in finding that. Also, although there’s been a resurgence of vinyl in recent years, they tend to be virgin 180g pressings. The quality of those released during the period covered by this book varied considerably, usually dependent on the price of oil (vinyl is a petroleum product). Sometimes, the pressings were wafer thin or with a lot of recycled vinyl and other impurities mixed in. You don’t have to be an audiophile to hear the difference.

If you’re happy with digital – and in many cases you really don’t have a choice – quite a few FMPs are now available as downloads from the Destination Out store and surprisingly, there are some complete recordings of real rarities on YouTube. Otherwise, the only option is Inconstant Sol, a site with which many readers will be familiar. It takes a responsible attitude towards copyright infringement: the moderators will not provide links for an album that is commercially available in any format, and if it becomes available they will withdraw the link.  Most importantly, the downloads are good-quality rips in flac format, and are free, but no one is being deprived of money from sales as all the pressings sold out years ago. I doubt that second-hand retailers are much affected, as there will always be those for whom analogue and pride of ownership will justify purchasing a second-hand LP rather than listening to a digital rip, even if it’s free. Not all copyright issues are avoided, and I leave it to each person to make the decision themselves, but I’ve been using the site for some years with a clear conscience. Inconstant Sol is supported by a number of musicians: Paul Dunmall recently sanctioned the uploading of almost all of his Duns Limited Edition recordings, an incredibly generous gesture. For those who can’t afford the air fare to Utrecht, or some of the silly prices on Discogs, this is the only place to find many of the albums covered by the book – and a lot that aren’t – some crucially important. Perhaps ironically, given the ever diminishing copies of these LPs that are still out there, and that most hold little commercial attraction for re-release in any format, computer audio affords the only realistic means by which a great deal of this legacy can live on.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lester Bowie - The Great Pretender (Jazzwerkstatt, 2014) *** & ****½

By Stef

In 1981, ECM released the much acclaimed "The Great Pretender" by Lester Bowie and his band interpreting gospels in a contemporary and jazzy way, mixing tradition with humor and avant-garde outbursts.

Now, Jazzwerkstatt releases a double CD with the same title and with an almost similar concept. The first CD is fully in the same vein as the ECM album, with a band consisting of Fontella Bass, Martha Bass and David Peaston on vocals, Ari Brown on sax, Art Matthews on piano, Fred Williams on bass, Philip Wilson on drums. The live performance was recorded in Berlin in 1982. 

The concept is almost the same : well-known gospel songs and hymns such as "Jesus Loves Me", "He's Got The World In His Hand", "I'm So Grateful", tracks which are also played like you would expect in any church, without trumpet or sax, just piano and vocals. But then you have the other tracks, "Mother's Mode + Peace", which is a long and jubilant free jazz piece, "Tobabo, Tobago" with its fun Carribean rhythm, the slow blues "It's A Mean Old World", and the rock'n'roller "Let The Good Times Roll", and ending with the hair-raising "The Great Pretender". 

And you're right, this is a quick journey through the history of African American music, reverent, soulful, joyful and fun, and it will be a great addition to the fans of the ECM album. 

The second CD is a totally different thing, and you can even wonder why both albums are sold together, because they have absolutely nothing in common, and with absolutely, I mean absolutely. 

Next to Bowie on trumpet, we have William Parker on bass, and Philip Wilson on drums. The performance was recorded in New York in 1991, to my knowledge the only trio performance of Bowie, next to Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio album "The Ancestors Are Among Us". 

The CD starts with "Cool", a bluesy duet with William Parker that will please everybody for its beautiful and sad sound, and great pulse. "Philadelphia" is a very nervous improvisation on which Bowie's sound is raw and percussive even and soulful and inventive, a real joy to hear for fans of the master.  "Steel And Breath" has Wilson in a star role, thundering away on his kit, with Bowie taking up the challenge for some fantastic dialogues, reminiscent of their duo album. 

How record labels present and promote their music is often a mystery, and this is again confirmed here by Jazzwerkstatt (which is for any interested buyer an absolute disaster website to find information), but that should not deter interested fans. If you are a fan of free music, just download the second CD from the usual sites. If you are a fan of Bowie, buy the whole thing. 

Here is a nice example of CD1 with a similar band and similar sound.