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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jim Baker & Sarah Ritch – Articular Facet 5.3 (Pan Y Rosas, 2014) ***½

By Tom Burris

I was unfamiliar with Sarah Ritch until encountering this recording, but Jim Baker is someone whose work I have admired for awhile.  Basing his subtle explorations around the keyboard - specifically, the piano and an old school analog synthesizer with a large patch-board attached to it – Baker excels at adapting his own particular, and never obvious, ideas to his collaborations.  His most accessible gig is a weekly performance with Extraordinary Popular Delusions at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago.  He also released a brilliantly understated solo improvisational recording on Delmark almost ten years ago called “More Questions Than Answers” that is still available and comes highly recommended.
Ritch is a classically trained pianist and cellist whose work ranges from notated classical composition to improvisational noise.  She was matched with Baker for a performance at the Empty Bottle in Chicago as part of a series of concerts called “Articular Facet,” which happens to be the performance captured on this disc.  I’m not sure if this is their first collaborative effort, but their sonic union is certainly worthy of this release.  Ritch plays cello, keyboard and guitar for this date; Baker plays his trusty vintage synthesizer.

The disc opens with a synth drone and a bowed squeak that often sounds like a plastic flute.  I have an immediate flashback to the 80s, particularly sound collage cassettes, and specifically to a band called Crawling With Tarts, whose balance of acoustic and electronic sounds – and recordings of nature – I have always found exotic, beautiful, and comforting.  Ritch’s overtones are menacing and sweet simultaneously; and Baker’s washes of synth distortion provide alien counterpoint.

For awhile things get a bit trance-like, with Baker modulating tones over Ritch’s eighth-note march.  It veers into a new age territory for a short while and you’ll empathize with them while they try to find their way out of it.  Eventually they find their way to freedom in the form of modulated guitar feedback and synth bubbles, on which they float out into liberating oblivion.  It takes them over half of the set to reach it, but when they do – it’s game on!   Kinda like Sunn O))) or Boris teaming up with Richard Teitelbaum before riding into Eye Yamantaka’s sun.

See Stef's review of Articular Facet 5.3 / Download the album from the label.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fushitsusha & Peter Brötzmann - Nothing Changes, No One Can Change Anything, I Am Ever-Changing Only You Can Change Yourself (Utech, 2014) ***

By Martin Schray

For the Enjoy Jazz festival in 2008 Peter Brötzmann’s Full Blast trio - a mind-blowing hardcore band itself – was augmented by Peter Evans, Mars Williams and Keiji Haino, who added even more power and brute force to the original line up. As you might imagine the audience was packed with fans who knew what to expect when Brötzmann hits the stage. But even for quite a few of them it was too much when Keiji Haino started playing (or rather attacking) his guitar and shouting into the microphone – some just left the gig. It was a borderline experience, painful but also challenging.
So I was pretty excited when Utech announced to release a 1996 recording of a full concert (three CDs!) by Haino’s band Fushitsusha, which consisted of bassist Yasushi Ozawa and drummer Jun Kosugi plus Brötzmann on reeds. But, frankly speaking, it is an ambiguous album.

Particularly disc one is really strange, it starts with erratic, lost single snare drum notes and chiming bells as if it was part of an amateur, soundcheck-like spiritual introduction to the show. It takes twelve minutes (which is really tiring) until Ozawa joins Kogusi with his distorted bass guitar – however, the music still seems aimless, as if you were listening to one of these boring solos of early 1970s rock bands when they allowed bass and drums to step out into the spotlight. Only after 20 minutes the full band is finally ready, led by Haino's guitar and spaced out voice and all of a sudden the music gets much more focused. Fushitsusha is a free rock band in the tradition of the Stooges’, Jimi Hendrix’s and Sonny Sharrock’s excursions into freer regions and the second part of the first CD proves this, it is a huge feedback rock orgy, monotonous, massive, meandering, and 40 minutes long.

Brötzmann joins the band on the second disc but before he does that  Fushistsusha presents a 17-minute art rock performance - “Layer Upon Layer of Missing Answers” – that tries to beam Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” to the end of the 20th century. Only then “Swirl in Circles Speaking to me” introduces the great saxophonist with one of his typical solos which is backed by tribal chanting which sometimes sounds like bomb alert. “Still You Ask Why?” they say” propels the music into a hellish sound world, with Haino’s vocals becoming more and more frightening when he battles with Brötzmann’s sax. Moving towards an almost funky structure led by Brötzmann’s sax and then in a duet with Haino’s guitar, the music switches to become immensely harsh – it’s the best part of the album with the two of them together playing in perfect unison.  Eventually, the performance falls back to a more relaxed, rather cool-jazzy sounding piece which leads to the first piece on disc 3, “Now Able to Know Fear”, where the quartet continues this rather melancholic approach, Brötzmann just adding calm clarinet notes. Drums and bass only intersperse weird bell sounds and reverberating Bill-Laswell-like bass notes, Haino sings meditatively –compared to the rest of the album this is ambient music - before Brötzmann takes on the sax again and in combination with Haino’s guitar the atmosphere gets a bit rougher again. The piece is a welcome change to the furor the band has delivered so far before they indulge in the storm again. On “Can We Become More Exalted Than the Gods?” they switch the whole thing to a very heavy and deep blues rock drone which sounds as if Blue Cheer were jamming with Sonic Youth and The Swans and with Haino’s voice squealing and mewling like a starving animal, until “Since They Have Stopped in Place” ends the concert – a classic garage rocker, bumpy and psychotic.  The closing minutes drift into free jazz again since Brötzmann joins the band for a final outbreak.

As a conclusion, Nothing Changes … is a bit too much. It has its moments, especially the ones with Brötzmann - whenever he joins Fushitsusha it reminds of the great Last Exit. The best moments on one CD would have been a great release. All in all, I would only recommend it for die-hard Brötzmann fans. For fans of Fushitsusha it is a must, I guess.

Nothing Changes, No One Can Change Anything, I Am Ever-Changing Only You Can Change Yourself is a three-disc, three-hour document of a single epic concert, recorded at Tokyo’s Hōsei University on April 26, 1996 and has been mastered by James Plotkin. The tri-fold booklet includes liner notes by Alan Cummings. It’s being released in a limited edition of 1000 copies.

There are song titles listed but each disc is indexed as a single track, so you have to guess which track is which.

You can buy it from Instantjazz.

Listen to an excerpt here:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stephen Gauci, Kirk Knuffke, Ken Filiano - Chasing Tales (RelativePitch, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sometimes I compose my reviews while driving. No, I’m not typing and driving, rather I’m taking advantage of the wild world of text-to-speech and as we all know, what comes out is sometimes so wonderfully dinged up by the Internet that it becomes something rather unique. Case in point? My review of the excellent Chasing Tails by the trio of Stephen Gauci, Kirk Knuffke and Ken Filiano. My review began:

"There's a certain post-bop sensibility to Chasing Tails. The sax, cornet, and bass line up is a bit unusual,” - so far, a little clean up needed but ok, but then - "but you track like ghosting, cheese saxophone play keep a steady pulse”.

Did I say that? No, I'm hardly that poetic ... Ok, now seriously folks:

The aforementioned instrumentation is indeed unusual, but it works quite well. Perhaps it is Filiano’s percussive bass plucking and Knuffke's rhythmic comping on the cornet that keep things bouncing along so well, but right from the first track, “Epee”, where Gauci has a fantastic run on the sax, you know this is a special album. The same can be said for “Ghosting”, the second track, which begins with a delightfully melodic solo from Knuffke. The interplay between cornet and the bass is incredibly precise, and when Gauci joins in and the conversation turns into a dialog between the sax and the bass, things really get cooking. The next track, “Boogaloo", begins with abstract counterpoint between the sax and cornet; however, as 'out' as the music gets, the songs never lose their melodic bearings.

The interconnectedness of the three musicians on this album is just great, there's a lot of breathing room in the tunes even as they intertwine quite precisely. Fiiliano's bass playing is exceptional - his pulse, his note choices and his solos are exceptional. The same really could be said for both Knuffke and Gauci, there are no missteps or empty stretches in the music, the ideas just keep coming track after track.

Half improvised, half comprised of compositions from the three members, there is a lot to dig into and enjoy here. And indeed, that ghosting saxophone keeps a steady pulse!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Intergalactic Beings: Xenogenesis II (FPE Records, 2014) ****½

By Matthew Grigg

The mission statement for Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble "is to inspire the human spirit with thought-provoking beauty and to present a positive, healthy and culturally aware image of African Americans", the group having been named Black Earth to "honor the feminine source that our lives depend on—Mother Earth." Intergalactic Beings manages to both achieve this goal and present an alternative vantage point to consider these ideas. Inspired by the science fiction writing of Afro-futurist author Octavia Butler's 'Xenogenesis' novels, Mitchell's second suite based on these texts seeks to "express the perspective of intelligent extraterrestrials that look with horror at our human contradictions", and tells a journey (both physical and emotional) of "a lone woman in this strange place far from Earth".Mitchell is best known as a flautist, regularly topping Downbeat's Critics Poll, her command of her instrument (C, Alto & Bass flutes in addition to piccolo and occasional vocal contributions) has seen her figure prominently in ensembles led by Anthony Braxton and Rob Mazurek, as well as leading her own groups. However, on Intergalactic Beings it is her compositional strength which takes centre stage.

For this recording (captured live April 30, 2010, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago) the Black Earth Ensemble's ranks are swollen to ten, the only personnel changes from the first Xenogenesis suite are the addition of Renée Baker on violin (from Mitchell's Black Earth Strings), and Jeff Parker on guitar replacing Justin Dillard (piano). In contrast to the positivity usually associated with her writing for the  BEEXenogenesis II deals with some bleak subject matter, often utilising dark and brooding sonance to frame the tumult of the story. The resulting suite is almost Third Stream, albeit with the incongruous palette of a post-Cageian sound world, rather than Schuller's sweeter conception. Mitchell's command of instrumental voices at times feels like Gil Evans twisted by pernicious forces, although tempered by a sense of hope and wonder. The recording comes with supporting text detailing the events portrayed, and whilst this is illuminating to the listener it is by no means required reading. The music stands on its own merit, the words providing further context from which to consider the suite, rather than a crutch required to support it.

Whilst much of the piece is through composed, there are areas within its structure for group improvisation, although within a predetermined sonic framework. When the occasional solo does occur, such is the strength of the compositional narrative that the lead voice sounds like an extension of the narration, rather than purely that of an individual. Clearly the long standing musical relationships Mitchell has with each musician ensures that their voices are ideally suited to her compositional style (it isn't a stretch to suggest that passages have been conceived with that particular musician in mind, rather than just their instrument), and in turn an awareness of the aims of the composer is readily apparent in the suite's more improvised areas, although individual brilliance is always afforded its place. Throughout the instrumental colouring is as central to telling the story as Mankwe Ndosi's often wordless vocalese, careful combinations and interplay rendering the emotional complexities of the subject matter through the creaking of a bass clarinet, rummaging percussion or ring modulated guitar. Mitchell's writing for  strings is particularly affecting (she began life as a viola player), and her use of interconnecting themes and instruments brings the cinematic best from the ensemble.

Whilst Mitchell's Xenogenesis works utilise ominous overtones which are not a facet of other BEE recordings, there is nonetheless an adherence to the idealogical foundations of the group. An alternative perspective of 'Mother Earth' is offered, holding a mirror to the ruinous potential of a dystopia future we appear to be walking blindly toward (a concept common to much science fiction writing). However, it is the sense of wonder and the resilience of the protagonist which best realises the BEE ideas of positivity. In the engaging musicality of this lovingly rendered composition there is much to "inspire the human spirit with thought-provoking beauty."

Nicole Mitchell: flute, composition 
Mankwe Ndosi: vocals
David Boykin: tenor sax, bass clarinet
David Young: trumpet, sralai thom
Renée Baker: violin
Tomeka Reid: cello
Jeff Parker: electric guitar
Joshua Abrams: bass
Avreeayl Ra: percussion
Marcus Evans: drumset 

Available from Instantjazz.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Agustí Fernández & Zlatko Kaučič – Sonic Party (Not Two, 2014) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Sonic Party continues Not Two’s recent documentation of Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič, this time in a duo with the formidable Agustí Fernández. Kaučič has been an established presence throughout Europe since the 70s, though his recorded output has really only picked up in the last decade or so. This is a happy development: Kaučič is a wildly creative player with an nearly endless array of clicks and dings and patters. On Sonic Party his rapid articulation—at times not unlike drummers such as Paul Lytton or Raymond Strid—is well-matched against Fernández’s frantic stream of ideas.

The album opens with two pieces of traditional (for lack of a better word) free improvisation: blistering runs on the piano and flying hands and drumsticks. “Sonic Party” steadily accelerates until it’s difficult to believe Fernández’s fingers will stay attached to his body. At its boiling peak, it levels off into a expanse of ringing notes, which eventually dwindle to silence. What’s never lost on Sonic Party is a gleaming clarity, no matter how much steam it picks up.

But for all the clattering, roiling pieces of improvisation, the duo forms the strongest bond when the pace is slowed down and Fernández enters the interior of the piano. On “Lonci” and “Mondze,” his preparations and experimentation with dampening and stretching the piano strings bring him much closer to Kaučič’s sonic wheelhouse, and the two blend into a single sound source, one that eventually builds into a thundering, frightening ambience that threatens to overwhelm the senses.

“Sirob” begins with a long Fernández solo that swoops and circles around an insistent dance of two notes. He’s soon focused on a cluster of high notes, which sound wistful and serene after the preceding tumult. But when Kaučič finally enters, the tone changes dramatically: suddenly what’s conveyed isn’t tranquility, but great tension. It’s a remarkable lesson in context and the ways small musical decisions can powerfully redirect a performance. “Free Nest” is yet another reminder of the force Fernández can generate with his piano: like a crushing vacuum, he can suck all the air out of the room. The piece ends abruptly in full crescendo, and a few people chuckle nervously in the audience, breathless and overwhelmed.

“The Hug” closes the album with an intense workout in the lower octaves of the piano, like arms wrapped around you that are slowly squeezing tighter and tighter. Eventually the grip loosens—it was all in good fun!—and the performance ends with faint cymbals and the soft clicking of keys, the piano strings no longer making a sound. It’s a nice encapsulation of what Sonic Party represents as a whole: a virtuoso stroll through the halls of improvisational history, from the most raucous free jazz to the lightest of reductionist touches.

Available from Instantjazz.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ches Smith and These Arches - International Hoohah (For Tune, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ches Smith's These Arches has released a live recording of a 2012 appearance that is more than just a document of a great gig by his all-star These Arches group, it also contains new music specifically composed for the Warsaw show that comprises International Hoohah.

Recorded after the group’s debut Finally Out of My Hands (which was my very first review on this blog, so long ago), but before 2013’s fantastic ‘Hammered’, the songs already feel more fleshed out, like the ‘Finally Out of My Hands’ theme, which starts with the familiar elliptical melody from only to smash into a distorted wall of chord. Another highlight is ‘Anxiety Disorder’, a song that has shown up in several incarnations, but kicks off this recording with some bite.

The standout track amongst standout tracks is the title track, ‘International Hoohah', which begins with a somehow familiar syncopated figure that hinges on the interplay between Andrea Parkin's accordion and Smith’s drumming. As it builds in intensity, the energy of the track spirals outward spawning an exciting collection of driving solos. Then again, can you really expect not to be floored by the tandem sax work of Tim Berne and Tony Malaby, mixing it up with the musical prowess of Halvorson? In between these powerful moments, ‘One Long Minute’ harnesses a different type of energy, perhaps still charged by electricity of the preceding numbers, the group delves into an exploration of tones and textures.

International Hoohah is an excellent album, but most of all, this nicely recorded live date documents the group’s growth as an improvising unit, exploring both familiar melodies and introducing new material.

You can catch Ches Smith and These Arches on Oct 1st at the Stone in NYC during Smith’s residency week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Whammies - Play the Music of Steve Lacy vol. 3: Live (Driff Records, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

The Whammies are a specialized jazz improvisational group. As the title of their albums obviously indicate, they are a group dedicated to the music and spirit of Steve Lacy, though they are not slavish to the compositions. In a way, they do for Lacy what Lacy himself did for Thelonious Monk: taking their love of jazz, of its wide ranging abilities and possibilities, integrating it into their own sensibilities, and presenting it to a new generation of listeners.

This is an all star group of musicians: Han Bennink, Jerrit Dijkstra, Pandelis Karayorgis, Jeb Bishop, Mary Oliver, and Jason Roebke. Like the other two volumes, the tracks comprise mostly of Lacy's compositions, allowing for one Monk composition. What is different here is that this is a live session, earlier this year in Padova, Italy. The music is well executed, tight, and jubilant. Bennink has a firm hand on the tiller over the rhythm section as they charge through the album's eight tracks, keeping everything lively and everyone on target.

"Bumpers" is the dynamic opener, revealing the group's large band sound, certainly larger than one would expect from a sextet. It is a bouncy, free form swinging track, having echoes of Monk's early works. "Snorts/Papa's Midnite Hop" is more aggressive, the group swinging their sounds round and round like a hammer throw, though instead of an inevitable release they pull back and switch gears, moving from swing to free bop. Dijkstra and Oliver really shine here, Dijkstra with a bold, alto tone, and Oliver with a precise and exacting violin sound that percolates on top of the others.

If Bennink has the tiller, Robeke has a firm hand on the bottom, his bass navigating through the torrents and shifting winds of the brass and violin. "Letter/Palermo-Orgosolo" is a moodier piece, alto and violin working together as they evoke a contemplative mood over Karayorgis' relaxed piano playing. "Stations" is a love letter to Monk, a vibrant, off key and jagged rhythm piece with Dijkstra fluidly leading the charge, alto more biting and angular than Charlie Rouse, but no less effective. "The Kiss" has Dijkstra utilizing the lyricon, an electronic wind instrument, and in this work it falls almost on the same register as the violin, as the two engage in some very abstract playing. Bishop's muted trombone and Karayorgis' accented piano playing lends to the minimalism of this piece. "Revolutionary Suicide" is solid hard free bop, with Karayorgis's piano being showcased, with a strong solo at the beginning then maintaining with the bass and drums a hard driving pace for Dijkstra and Bishop to play on top of. "Sublimation"(Tribute to Sun Ra) is a blast off into outer space, lyricon charting the stars, violin the ship, and the rest being the interplanetary music. It is the outstanding track on the album.

The album ends with "Hornin In," the lone Monk composition, with Bennink leading with a Blakey like drum solo, followed by Oliver and Karayoris with the theme, emphasis by Dijkstra and Bishop. Running just under an hour, and feeling much quicker than that, The Whammies' Play the Music of Steve Lacy vol 3:Live is a fun, well played romp that not only pays tribute to jazz masters past and but also is a celebration of what jazz can still offer today. Recommended.

Watch a recent concert date of the Whammies:

You can buy this album from Instantjazz

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet – 2 Altos (Steeplechase) ***½

By Chris Haines

This is a bassless quartet of guitar (Samo Salamon), 2 Alto Saxophones, (Loren Stillman, John O’Gallagher) and drums (Roberto Dani).  It might seem a bit obvious and irrelevant to say that the bass isn’t missed as an instrument within this sound, but in the context of the music it is well covered for, especially by Salamon’s guitar.  Needless to say that Salamon’s role within the group quite frequently is that of a supporting role, although there are solos and lead breaks where he stretches out or experiments with effects.  He is a wonderful guitarist and I enjoy hearing him play freely within a group setting, which he still finds the time to do within this music outside of the stricter supporting role.  This is particularly noticeable in the piece “Mr Cynical” where his guitar roams freely during a solo making the sounds that every great free jazz guitar solo should.

The album opens with solo guitar playing a cadenza-like interlude, but before any other music has been heard.  The horns then enter producing overlapping question and answer phrases in a linear piece with three clearly defined sections whilst the music gradually becomes a little freer in texture, but with Salamon providing a clear harmonic support.  The first couple of pieces seem a bit restrained at times and on first listen I wondered if this would set the tone for the whole album.  Thankfully though there is more room for manoeuvre in some of the other pieces, which allow the musicians to experiment a bit more and take a few more risks, as mentioned afore “Mr Cynical” being one of these pieces, and “Imperfections” another, where apart from the themes there is a loose improvised feel to them that allows them to breath more naturally.

At times, but not often, Salamon liberally uses some effects on his guitar sound with “Man of Mystery” being an obvious example, the sound being heavily processed to produce an electronic sounding object that appears as an introduction to the rest of piece which has a funky vibe to it.  These little moments do stand out and give the listener something different in contrast with the rest of the album.  “Flux of Silver” sees the guitar playing with delayed effects, which produces a pleasant and slightly minimalist repetitive accompaniment to the alto melody, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to develop into anything more than that.

It took a while to fully appreciate what is on offer here within the music of the album.  All I can say is that it creates for an interesting listen and the sound seems nicely balanced with some fine playing from all the musicians.  However, I do feel that at times some of the pieces do feel quite restrained and the most successful moments are when the music is much freer.  If you haven’t heard a Samo Salamon album yet, then I’m not sure this is the best place to start and I would recommend his album “Two Hours” which I feel is a much more consistent affair than “2 Altos”.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Battle Trance - Palace of Wind (NNA Tapes, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The saxophone quartet Battle Trance is the vision of tenor saxophonist Travis Laplante. The catch here is that the quartet is one that features Laplante, Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and Patrick Breiner all on tenor. A unique concept, with a unique sound, Palace of Wind is a fascinating recording with a cover image and title that references the fantastical architecture of the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur.

The album begins with the saxes abuzz like a bunch of bees in a swarm. Pulsating, vibrating, and throbbing, their tones overwhelm the senses. Eventually, slowly emerging from the intense drone and circular breathing, a melodic line rises up exuding a certain calm. Then, suddenly the group breathes a collective breath, slowly, and the tone changes.

Floating seamlessly into the second track, the texture gives way to counter melodies and references to hymnal or somewhat medieval sounding harmonies. However, not for long, as growing dissonance increases the intensity of this slowly shifting musical mass. By the final third of the track, more individual motion appears as melodies rise and float above the already hovering background. Towards the end, the dynamics shift and the tension grows as the group builds back into the menacing buzz.

Palace of the Wind requires dedicated listening. It's subtle, with minute technical movements and slight tonal shifts, and it's brutal too, with broad dynamics and moments of dissonance and tension, and they all work together to shape the album's otherworldly and hypnotic sound.

 Take a listen:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Gate with Tim Dahl & Nate Wooley – Stench (Smeraldina-Rima, 2014) ***

As a recovering metalhead (it never fully goes away), The Gate peaks my interest. The trio travels in improvisational circles while toting the sorts of imagery and language found in the metal world. Previous albums had names like Vomit Dreams and Destruction of Darkness, and their website and merchandise is splattered with disemboweled corpses and inverted pentagrams.  While we’ve seen other improvisers dabbling in metal lately (e.g. Nilssen-Love/Marhaug/Pupillo’s You’re Next, Slobber Pup, Jon Irabagon’s album with Mick Barr, etc), The Gate seem committed to being all evil, all the time. 

The group’s earlier efforts certainly lived up to the “doom jazz” label. If you could write sludge riffs for a horn trio, the band—Dan Peck on tuba, Tom Blancharte on double bass, and Brian Osborne on drums—came as close as you can get, all while mixing in some free improvisation and creepy ambiance for good measure. But imagery and a steadfast devotion to heaviness are where most of Stench’s similarities to metal end. Stench finds the band bulked up to a fully electric quintet (with Tim Dahl’s additional bass and Nate Wooley’s amplified trumpet), and the sound invoked is more in the lineage of the darker noise groups of the late 90s and early 00s: Wolf Eyes, Skullflower, Yellow Swans, Aufgehoben—one might look even farther back and find the reckless spirit of Borbetomagus.

This means Stench is incredibly loud and incredibly noisy. “Bated Beast” takes no time at all exploding into a vortex of fuzzed-out everything and distorted caterwauling. I think if the title character in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” had been in a improvised noise group, this is exactly what his hyperdimensional, demon-repelling music would have sounded like. If you have the stomach for it, it’s bracing stuff.

The intensity carries across side A, but for a moment of respite at the end of “Induced Mutation” with gentle bells and the faintest of acoustic bass. Side B opens with “Axe of Death,” a dark, unstoppable wall of depressed, dragging sound. Eventually it breaks down, bleeding into eerie feedback and distorted bass sawing that almost sounds like backwards Satanic voices (if you’re disposed to hear that sort of thing). 

In a way, Stench embodies a strain of aural nihilism that most metal bands should be jealous of. There’s no neat chord progressions or blast beats or perfectly rhythmic tremolo picking. Convention is simply suffocated in its relentless, unbounded force. Stench closes with “Swögen,” which, with its sounds of drifting buoys and foghorns, brings to mind the title of a Wolf Eyes track: “Dead in a Boat.” As the improvisation picks up speed, it morphs into something even harder to describe—like slow motion Jew’s harp or a malfunctioning carnival ride. It’s decidedly less evil than the preceding pieces, though it still rests comfortably within the bleak, uncanny realm that’s just on the other side of The Gate.

Say a prayer for deliverance and then listen on Bandcamp:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jonas Kullhammar - Basement Sessions Volume 3: The Ljubljana Tapes (Clean Feed, 2014) ****½

Recorded in 2013, Jonas Kullhammar's "Basement Sessions volume 3: The Ljubljana Tapes" is a live concert, featuring Kullhammar, Jorgen Mathisen on tenor, Torbjorn Zettberg on bass, and Espen Aalberg on drums.

"Basement," composed by Mathisen, is a high energy track that gets everyone hitting on all cylinders, Aalberg and Zettberg providing a solid, toe tapping hard bop rhythm, with Kullhammar and Mathisen synchronizing the lead. It is very spiritual, and evokes mid 60's Coltrane. "Allting kan ga itu" is a Kullhammar tune, very Dolphy esque, the saxophones going up and down the keys, before moving into a Zombies "Time of the Season" rhythm with saxes playfully on top of the beat. "Master of What" is a more contemplative, slightly somber tune by Zettberg, with the group establishing a theme, then Kullhammar or Mathisen alternating solos, each doing variations of the theme, then playing together. "Fresk Baglaens" is a funky hard bop tune, Zettberg providing a deep bottom with the bass, a sax keeping the rhythm while the other does a free improv solo. Toe tapping ear candy goodness, with a nice drum solo by Aalberg. "Rough 2" has that old Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers swagger, a medium tempo, low key swing that, once the theme is established, passes off to long stretching solos by each horn player, then back to the theme. Very old school, yet refreshing. The album ends with "Sekar Jepun," a low key mood piece that again evoke's Coltrane, spiritual yet somber.

Kullhammar's group has really taken the music from the past and made it contemporary, evoking, yet never imitating. Their own personal cultural heritage, as well as incorporating modern improvisation esthetics, have helped to create their own sound. One surprising thing about this album is how short it is -- less than 43 minutes. That may be a good thing. It does leave you wanting for more -- but that problem is solved by going back to the other two volumes in this series. Another fine effort by this group.

You can buy this album from Instantjazz

Kenny Wheeler (14 January, 1930 – 18 September, 2014)

By Martin Schray

We have just read the sad news that the great trumpeter and flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler has died. 

Mr. Wheeler was born in Toronto and after studying harmony and trumpet at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto in the early 1950s, he went to London. There he became a founding member of the new wave of British free jazz in the 1960s, when he joined the Spontaneous Music Ensemble where he met people like John Stevens, Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley and Evan Parker. He later worked with the experimental composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra, the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble and was also part of Azimuth, a trio with Norma Winstone and John Taylor. 

Wheeler was a very modest, even shy man who will always be remembered for his warm and lyrical sound as well as for his big band compositions.  He played on seminal albums like SME’s Karyobin (Island) and So What Do You Think (Tangent) and also released a lot of marvelous albums as a leader like Gnu High (ECM). My personal favorites have always been Angel Song (ECM), his drummerless quartet with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland, his composition Ana for Alex von Schlippenbach’s Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra (also released on ECM) and his collaborations with David Sylvian (Nostalgia is one of my all-time-favorite pop songs).

Wheeler died after a short period of frail health at a nursing home in London on 18 September 2014.  His death is a terrible loss.

Listen to one of his compositions and hear Norma Winstone and Evan Parker talk about him here:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Abdullah Ibrahim - Mukashi ( 2014) ***

By Antonio Poscic

What can you say about Abdullah Ibrahim that hasn’t already been said one million times? A true jazz legend, one of those musicians with such a rich discography and many, uncountable collaborations with some of the world’s greatest jazz artists. Ibrahim’s music, often tied to the so called South African “Cape jazz” scene, has always evoked the sensibilities of his friend Thelonious Monk and mentor Duke Ellington while also carrying a note of African musicality and being fuelled by personal, at times harsh, life experiences. With all this in mind, a question arises nonetheless: After so many years making music, can an artist sound fresh and motivated?

What I am certain of is that Abdullah Ibrahim is still enjoying making and playing jazz. “Mukashi” (“Once Upon a Time” in Japanese) is a charming album and clearly a work born out of love. It is a relaxing, ethereal piece of music uninhibited by any preconceptions or expectations. It’s got nothing to do with free jazz, it’s devoid of any notable improvisations, and it would be a stretch to define it as even remotely adventurous. Perhaps, those are exactly the points that contribute to its appeal. The incredible simplicity and evocativeness of the sixteen tracks on the album feel natural and not at all forced. Strictly speaking, “Mukashi” falls into the category of what is usually called “chamber jazz”, but in reality it eschews categorization. As far as inspirations go, and beyond the aforementioned nods towards Monk and Ellington, there’s an easily identifiable thread of African rhythms and melodies as well as something that is most easily described as an eastern sense of calmness. The resulting fusion of all of these characteristics brings music that is quiet, full of air, but never dull.

There’s a beautiful sense of serenity expressed through spirituality and transcendence on “Mukashi” that bring visions of a wise, old man sitting on his porch during the evening of a stifling summer day, recollecting his memories about a long and fruitful life filled with stories. This atmosphere is highlighted by the soft and gentle piano, the articulate and colourful reeds (most often flute or clarinet), and the suggestive and romantic sounding strings. Even though solo piano tracks are to be expected (“The Stars Will Remember”), it’s a bit surprising to hear how often Ibrahim’s piano falls into the background, allowing the string instruments and woodwinds to lead the way (“Dream Time”). While songs like “Peace” are representative of the general mood of the album, it’s pieces like the “Krotoa” trilogy or the joyful and playful “Mississippi” and “The Balance” that provide a contrast and show an uplifting and dynamic side to the music. Another thing worth mentioning is that all the musicians, Cleave Guyton on saxophone, flute, and clarinet, and Eugen Bazijan and Scott Roller on cellos, along with Ibrahim himself create a close-knit sound that still lets each of them feel like an individual voice.

Age hasn’t hurt Abdullah Ibrahim. He has avoided the trap of delivering an album that would feel as a rehash of his older works or as a tired and shallow attempt of catering to his audience. Instead, “Mukashi” as a whole turns out to be a nostalgic and quite enjoyable album that, in the larger scope of things, will not move mountains, but is nevertheless a worthwile, sincere, and intimate record.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mark Turner Quartet – Lathe of Heaven (ECM, 2014) ****

When it comes to finding his niche within the music world, Mark Turner has admittedly faced challenges.  As a saxophonist, he’s not a fire-breather like Brotzmann or Gustafsson, or particularly stylistically adventurous, which means he’s not going to be getting a ton of attention on blogs like this one.  Yet he’s not a crowd-pleaser either, as his rather airy and abstract improvisational voice is a far cry from the accessibility of folks like Sonny Rollins or Charles Lloyd.  And I have admittedly not always been a huge fan of his work myself; I was less than impressed by his playing a couple years ago on Billy Hart’s All Our Reasons.

But on this recording, Turner’s first as a leader since 2001, we have a terrific example of a situation in which Turner’s bandmates really bring out the best in him.  In particular, havingtrumpeter Avishai Cohen on hand as a second horn player seems to lend some additional edge and spirit to Turner’s playing; and the first-rate rhythm section of Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums is also critical to giving Turner’s complex compositions the firm pulse they need to really come alive.

Turner’s solos are consistently thoughtful and intriguing, and although I still find myself wanting to see a bit more dynamic variation and punch from him at times, as he can be relentlessly patient and even-handed in the development of his ideas, here his melodic vision largely predominates, leading to some spry and stimulating solo moments on all six tracks.  Again, having the impressive Cohen on hand is the perfect asset for Turner, as some of the best moments on the record are those in which their intertwining lines create the kind of mutual intensity that brings out another dimension to Turner’s playing.  The record’s closer, “Brother Sister,” is an especially good example of what Turner can do in conversation with another horn player, as Cohen’s fine upper-register playing leads Turner to elevate himself as well.

Martin and Gilmore are just as essential to the success of the project.  Martin’s bass playing isn’t flashy; at times he reminded me of having a Charlie Haden-style “less is more” approach, withwell-chosen and spare undercurrent rather than fireworks, although with occasional rhythmic variations in his lines that always add interestAnd Gilmore is just superb, with a skittering, relentless searching of his drum kit: always in motion, providing a rhythmic foundation for the rest of the band, but not without the willingness to change direction and tempo when it’s required.  As a rhythm team, they pull off the always-difficult feat of being strongly in sync while still sounding loose and fluid.
All six tracks on the record have a memorable melodic structure, yet with plenty of space for opening up the tune for exploration.  Highlights include the title track, which features an especially impassioned solo from Turner, building gradually in intensity throughout; the above-mentioned “Brother Sister”; and “The Edenist,” with an addictive noir-ish feel due to a terrificbass groove that draws out some inspired playing from Cohen, and Turner as well.

It’s definitely one of the more interesting and rewarding of ECM’s recent releases.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Period – 2 (Public Eyesore, 2014) ***½

By Julian Eidenberger

Period really facilitate the music scribe’s task of finding a good starting point, since the impressive musical credentials of everyone involved provide a more or less self-evident jumping-off point. Formed a couple of years ago by ubiquitous drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Charlie Looker (formerly of Extra Life, a band that is more or less unclassifiable but very highly recommended), Period have become a more band-like proposition over time, as vocalist Chuck Bettis (formerly of noisy punks The Meta-Matics and Tzadik recording artists Brown Wing Overdrive) has joined them. On this new album – yes, it’s the second one –, the trio is expanded into a quintet with the sometimes addition of Sam Hillmer on tenor sax and Darius Jones on alto saxophone, both of which have an impressive pedigree of their own: Hillmer as the bandleader and sole constant member of Zs (also unclassifiable – although “chamber-rock” might give you a pretty good idea – and very highly recommended), Jones as both a sideman – for William Hooker, among others – and as a composer with the noise-jazz group Little Women (do I need to mention that they’re highly recommended?).

So, yes, this is a super-group of sorts, and if I had to judge this album on past achievements alone, I’d award five stars and be done with it. Indeed, in terms of musical style, 2 has the fingerprints of Period’s members all over it, with an overall approach that draws on various avant-jazz and avant-rock sub-genres also mined in the better-known projects of the five musicians. On top of that, there’s a distinct punk/metal feel present in many of the album’s tracks. Alas, the considerable talent behind this record isn’t always translated into the expected greatness. Opening track Two is a case in point in this respect; it sees Looker (on baritone guitar) and Pride improvising without assistance from the other members. For almost 17 minutes, they’re propelled by a stoic, pummeling beat – the sort of beat Swans have built almost their entire career on – with Looker injecting his trademark “ice-pick” riffs and Pride indulging in hyperactive fills. Since this is basically an improv project with different premises, it may seem a bit unfair to compare this to Looker’s old band, but at the same time, it’s hard not to – the similarities are there. While quite powerful, it ends up sounding more like a sketch of an as yet unreleased Extra Life song than genuine improvisation.

Period fares better when Jones and Hillmer provide back-up. On album highlight Nine – which is actually the fourth, not the ninth track – they help steer the band into a more unhinged avant-jazz direction by adding ear-splitting dissonance and employing some extended techniques. Alongside Bettis’ creepy howls and growls, this adds up to a monstrous track that recalls Painkiller in its bludgeoning intensity and metal experimentalists Kayo Dot in its scope.

In general, intensity is the album’s main redeeming quality; at times, it makes critique of the record’s flaws seem almost ridiculous. Still, the band is seemingly at a crossroads, caught between a tendency towards constructing (quasi-)songs and an inclination to reckless improvising. All told, it’s a good, if somewhat flawed record and hopefully a harbinger of great things to come.

Listen and buy at the label’s homepage.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Piotr Damasiewicz Project - Imprographic 1 (ForTune, 2013) ****

By Stef

Sometimes it takes a while before music comes on our radar screen too, even if the records have been lying here for months on end, sometimes going back to the previous year, as is the case with this album. And that's a shame really, because this quartet deserves attention, as does this double CD, called "Imprographic 1", a title that holds the promise for more.

The quartet is Piotr Damasiewixz on trumpet, Gerard Lebik on tenor, Gabriel Ferrandini (yes, from RED trio) on drums and Jakub Mielcarek on bass. They play free jazz in the best of traditions, freely, openly, and if there are any references to give, possibly Other Dimensions In Music, or the Tribute To Albert Ayler Band come to mind, two bands with almost identical line-ups, creating beauty, density and space on the spot, often without clear rhythmic patterns, yet with a steady implicit pulse, not really soloing, but creating coherent sonic textures of long and extended phrases, weaving a tapestry of sound, and quite contrary to the liner notes, in my opinion the music is much closer to American music than to European free improvisation, because of its soulfulness, the less cerebral approach, the band is more constructing than deconstructing, and somehow still respectful of traditional concepts like repetitions in phrases, with lots of sustained and flowing moments.

These are excellent performances, recorded live at three venues in Poland, the Alchemia, The Falanster and Cofeina. My kind of jazz, open, free, coherent, technically excellent, with solid interplay and creative interactions.

I hope we get Imprographic 2 soon.

Piotr Damasiewicz Quartet – Mnemotaksja (ForTune, 2014) ****

Damasiewicz released another album earlier this year, again with the same line-up, with himself on trumpet, Gerard Lebik on tenor and contralto clarinet, Maciey Garbowski on bass, and Wojciech Romanowski on drums.

This is not free jazz in the strictest sense - but what does that mean? - because of the strong structural and compositional basis of the nine pieces, and its solid rhythmic foundation. You could qualify the music as modern jazz, with a very open attitude to soloing and shifting structural elements.

I  know it's always risky to draw comparisons among musicians, and even if Damasiewicz' trumpet sound is not comparable to that of Dennis Gonzalez, his music is, because of the unison themes, the sense of drama, the deep melancholy and epic content while retaining this overall sense of freedom and expansiveness.

A really strong album, and one can only conclude that Damasiewicz is an artist with many stylistic possibilities, and he is possibly strong in all of them, including the even more epic work with "Power Of The Horns", one of my favorite albums of last year.

So, being more adept of absolute freedom, my personal choice would be with "Imprographic", but "Mnemotaksja" is obviously more accessible while being equally of high quality.

Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 - New York Concerts (Elemental, 2014) *****

By Stefan Wood

There are reissues that can reintroduce a body of work to a new generation of listeners, and then there are reissues that completely alter established musical history, of an artist and a genre. Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4's New York Concerts fall into the latter category. It is a 2-disc set comprised of two concerts in 1965, during a stretch of 7 or 8 years where there has been no recorded documentation of Giuffre's work.

The 1961 sessions, "Fusion" and "Thesis," originally recorded on Verve and later reissued by ECM, were considered landmarks of early free improvised jazz, brilliant works of group interplay and of space, using silence as an essential part of the music. With Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, the drummer less trio was structured in such a way as to be forced to be more interactive with one another, emphasizing counterpoint. On the New York Concerts, the drummer is back, with Joe Chambers, who was already making a mark for himself with his excellent collaborations with Bobby Hutcherson on Blue Note. Richard Davis replaces Swallow, and this trio, recorded live at Judson Hall, explodes where the earlier trio shimmers.

"Syncopate" is jaw dropping, as Giuffre unloads, with terse and weighty interplay from Davis and Chambers, a fierce torrent of notes that is unexpected as it is aurally exciting. It's short of sounding like Brotzmann, more lyrical, but it carries tremendous weight. Chambers is equally brilliant here, accenting the notes with a brief machine gun flurry, and Davis darting in between both musicians with notes that emphasize the space where the others don't inhabit. It is one of the most riveting and intense compositions I have heard from Giuffre. "Crossroads," an Ornette Coleman tune, again shows Giuffre's dexterity and fluidity, driving through the complicated series of notes with ease, even better than Coleman himself. He squeals and squawks with an intense focus, never overblowing, but in decidedly chosen moments that emphasize a positive and negative space. Chambers responds with thundering drum rolls, and Davis again provides an essential point of focus, providing a link between the sound and silence with accented notes, not so much providing rhythm but atmosphere. "Drive" is more boppish, with Giuffre providing a strong lead, moving from sweet notes to harsh atonal bleats, with Davis having counterpoint with a soft but intense solo.

The second disc is from an earlier date of the same year, at Columbia University. Joe Chambers is still on drums, but Giuffre is accompanied this time with Barre Phillips and Don Friedman. Four of the six tracks are similar as on disc 1, but the interaction is different, mostly because of Friedman's inclusion. On "Syncopate," Friedman's piano echoes and plays off of Giuffre's lead, then going off on his own, at times percussive, others very freely played, similar to his musical explorations on the Prestige albums at that time (think "Metamosphosis" & Dreams and Explorations"). The leader baton gets passed between the two, with Chambers continuing to provide a heavy accent on drums when needed. Phillips is less compelling than Richard Davis, perhaps because the dynamics of the group are different, but is still effective. The moments when the group explodes into free improv are breathtaking, because they are so brief, but the power is there. "Quadrangle," twice its length here than on disc 1, is a highlight on the set, an excellent work that exemplifies Giuffre and his group's use of silence and space, where four musicians interact, pull apart and play separately, then return. Phillips' playing is at best here, plucking and bowing at times to really give the listener a sense of atmosphere, tension, and placement between the musicians. "Quadrangle" flows right into "Three Bars in One," another long tune which takes the statement made from the previous piece and shoot it into the stratosphere. On "Cry, Want," Giuffre plays clarinet, and, while no one will mistake his sound for Eric Dolphy's, is introspective and as freely played as anyone from that time. It anticipates a wave of playing done in the 70s and later decades. Again, the dynamics are mostly between Giuffre and Friedman, who trade off tonal and atonal notes as if having a conversation. "Angles" showcases a lot of percussion from Chambers, who drives the others to a fast pace, with the others taking quick pauses then firing off salvos of notes at each other.

New York Concerts is an incredibly valuable document, not only for the artist, as it fills and informs a big gap in his recorded discography, but also how Giuffre anticipated a style and dialogue of playing that informed and influenced generations of free improvising musicians that followed. This easily is the reissue of the year, and gets my highest recommendation.

You can buy this album from Instantjazz

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Han Bennink & Jaak Sooäär – Beach Party (Barefoot, 2013) ****

By Tom Burris

Beach Party is the result of a March 2012 concert of percussion legend Han Bennink in a duo format featuring Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooaar.  They have a fairly rigid format for a couple of free wildmen, which is “let’s have a bunch of fun and improvise until we feel like playing a standard we both like.”  You’d have to be a real party pooper to not have a good time here.

It is a thrill to hear Sooaar playing without a bass line in the way, sounding a bit like Sonny Sharrock doing Charlie Christian on “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.”  They follow this up with another improvisational outburst that rolls into “I Got Rhythm” with a Misha Mengelberg composition thrown in at the end.  Bennink swings like hell and is his usual entertaining, brilliant self; while Sooaar’s playing has a sharp rockist edge to it, matching Bennink’s carefully reckless choreography with enough well-placed distortion to make the Zappa nerds cry.

“Tartuu Marss” is an Estonian traditional piece of music that is preceeded by a bit of early 70s Miles wah-wah stomps.  Bennink is definitely in his element.  They manage to smash two composed pieces together, matching Monk’s “Pannonica,” on which Sooaar plays gorgeously, with the lone original composition here, the funky butt-kicking “Beach Party.”  They attack “Darn That Dream” in total free-jazz mode, which in breaking the improv/standard formula becomes a bit of a mash-up.

Not surreal enough for ya?  They play “O Sole Mio” with a straight-ahead groove that somehow comes off sounding like the White Stripes!  This is followed by a monster freakout that leads into another Estonian standard called “Pistoda Laul,” a beautiful piece of melancholia.  Short Attention Span Theater possessed by genius.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Luis Vicente, Pinheiro, Faustino & Franco - Clocks & Clouds (FMR, 2014) ****½

By Stef

You can rationalise it any way you want, but some people just have 'it', and this 'it' is the unnameable gene of musical sensitivity, the undecipherable element of sonic quality, the unfathomable depth of creative art, the enigmatic possession of sound, the ineffable mysticism of spontaneous interaction, the puzzling poetry of polychromatic pointillism, the baffling blasts of beatic beauty, the hermetic harmonies of hoarse hymns, the syncretic swing of soaring songs. You get it. These guys have it. In spades.

Who are they? Luis Vicente on trumpet (yes, again! as in Fail Better), Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano and Hernano Faustino on bass (yes, again too, both from RED Trio), and Marco Franco on drums, unknown to me but now no longer.

They meet, they improvise, and they create music with one voice, and this on each piece, as if rehearsed : coherent, solid, well-paced, deep, full of subtle interaction, full of respect and openness to each other without moving away from the core concept, keeping the focus intact, yet free to move, to explore, to challenge and to be creative. Does it sound difficult? It is difficult. They not only move as one, and sound as one, but the music has this inherent emotional beauty that is not a sought effect, but an integral quality of these artists' skills, yet one that can only appear through interplay with like-minded artists having the same skills, the result of their love for sound and music, and that love, that is far beyond demonstrating skills, or virtuoso pyrotechnics, is probably the core essence of 'it', this mysterious marrow of musical magic, this enigmatic essence of expressive aesthetics, this brilliant expansiveness of breathtaking intimacy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

François Carrier, Michel Lambert & Alexey Lapin - The Russian Concerts, Vol. 1 (FMR, 2014) ****½

By Stef

I love listening to music while driving my car, as I did yesterday between Paris and Brussels, and when somewhere north of Compiègne the entire motorway was blocked, for reasons I will never know, but can only fearfully guess, the trip suddenly turned into a four-hour snail-paced procession. A good moment to listen over and over to this beautiful album, exactly the music I needed to lift my spirits.

A meeting between Canadian musicians François Carrier on alto and Michel Lambert on drums, and Russian pianist Alexey Lapin, three musicians who have performed together before, as you can read on this blog in earlier reviews.

The performances on this album date from 2013, recorded during two consecutive days in Moscow, first in the DOM Cultural Center and the second at the Nikitskaya Jewish Cultural Center, which explains the titles of the songs.

All pieces are improvised, even if you may have doubts at certain times. The trio is a formidable match of like-minded musicians. As mentioned before, Carrier is an incredible lyricist, a saxophonist with a warm and buttery tone to his instrument, able to conjure up beautiful and sensitive phrases that soar high above the world of us mortals. As mentioned before, Lapin is an incredible lyricist, someone who joins creativity with openness and sensitivity. Michel Carrier is of the same breed, who in the best tradition of Paul Motian, acts as the third soloist, creating sound, depth, texture, intensity, contrast and emphasis with his drumkit.

When the three come together, magic is in the air. They have the expansiveness of a Coltrane, creating music of high skies, far horizons and space that can be filled, or rather space that is created through sound, that is expanded through sound, that opens up limitations, that breaks barriers and constraints, that musically delivers all the promise that is contained in the word "freedom". It has some references to the post-boppish style of Jarrett's New York quartet, yet more modern, more free and open in its approach.

This is music of great beauty. And even if you are stuck in a car somewhere abroad, when you listen to music like this, the world opens, and even if you move at the pace of a snail, you feel like an eagle, flying along like the music, out there in the open skies, where nothing, absolutely nothing, hinders your flight.

Thank you François, Alexey and Michel for making this a memorable drive back home!

I can't wait to hear Volume 2.

Anthony Braxton, Tomas Fujiwara, Tom Rainey – Trio New Haven 2013 (New Braxton House, 2014) *****

By Julian Eidenberger

In what is perhaps a somewhat unexpected move, Anthony Braxton is treating us to an impressive string of concerts and releases to celebrate his 69th birthday – I say unexpected not because this occasion doesn’t warrant at least some fuss, but because most people would’ve waited another year to open the vaults in such a way. However, if you’re a seasoned Braxton-follower, you’ve learned to expect the unexpected from the legendary saxophonist/composer, and if you have some knowledge of his writings, you’ve probably figured out already why he’s celebrating his 69th birthday as though it were his 70th. It’s no mere quirk of Braxton’s, as it’s a number divisible by three, which in turn plays a central role in his philosophy. While I’m not familiar with his “Tri-Axiom” writings, the information available on the internet suggests that this preoccupation with the number three results from Braxton’s aversion to simplistic dichotomies (such as “composition vs. improvisation”): In quasi-Hegelian fashion, he’s attempting to undermine such oppositions by introducing a third term that lies in between (in the above-mentioned musical dichotomy, that term would be “intuition”).

In light of this, it’s safe to assume that the release of a trio recording is no mere coincidence. That being said, the recording to be reviewed here – featuring drummers Tom Rainey and Tomas Fujiwara alongside Braxton – is not only in this rather superficial way related to the philosophical concepts just mentioned. An aspect that shouldn’t be omitted here is the fact that Trio is the outcome of a very specific music-making method dubbed “Falling River Music”. The basic idea behind this Braxtonian method or “musical system” is that the musicians play from large abstract paintings, with only a minimum of graphic notation providing more traditionally “musical” orientation. On Trio, this approach results in a music that is “in between” indeed, music that is neither completely free (improvisation) nor rigidly constructed (composition, classical music), music that feels both deliberate and mercurial. It’s uncannily life-like, with ad hoc structures emerging and then collapsing, only to give way to new ones.

This renders futile any attempt to describe the four compositions – each of which is about an hour long – by employing the usual music-crit tropes (or maybe I’m just not up to it). It seems more appropriate to focus either on the general approach of the three musicians or to single out some particularly interesting passages or details. Something that’s immediately striking is the playing of Tom Rainey and Tomas Fujiwara. A record so heavy on drums certainly runs the risk of becoming monotonous, especially if it’s four hours long, but Rainey and Fujiwara are true wizards who manage to invalidate such concerns within a few measures. Here, they employ a wide variety of approaches, ranging from the meter-less “pulse” of classic free jazz to “melodic” playing that fully exploits the timbral possibilities of the drum kit. At times, their playing even seems oddly “visual”, eschewing a sense of forward motion in favor of audible quasi-shapes. The way they interact is also noteworthy, as they don’t always play in tight lockstep, but frequently opt for what could be called “inter-independence” – giving free rein to each other, yet somehow managing to stay attuned to what the other does. 

Likewise, Braxton does his best to keep things from getting stale – he runs the gamut from sopranino down to contrabass (!) saxophone, omitting only the tenor sax. Throughout the entire recording, he alternates mainly between disjointed abstractions and the kind of fluid high-register runs that no one else does quite like him – with some vaguely folk-ish themes cropping up here and there, too. A high point comes on in the last few minutes of Composition No.364A, when Braxton indulges in trilling sounds that wouldn’t seem out of place in a particularly virtuosic birdsong. Still, the percussive pyrotechnics of Rainey and Fujiwara often steal the show from the jubilarian; in what is perhaps my favorite passage on the entire recording – roughly the first quarter-hour of Composition No.364F –, they allow their playing to become as fluid as water, starting out with quietly gurgling sounds but growing increasingly louder and more voluminous – like shallow brooks and pools during torrential rainfall –, until the drumming washes over the listener in a tidal wave of pure sound.

As you can probably tell by now, Trio can be an exhausting listen – it’s certainly too much to take in one sitting –, and it does meander a bit from time to time. Still, to award anything but five stars would be philistine considering the scope and overall quality of this recording – even though five isn’t divisible by three.

Listen and buy at the Tri-Centric Foundation’s homepage.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Baloni - Belleke (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

Baloni is an improv trio comprised of Joachim Badenhorst (bass clarinet, clarinet & tenor sax, worked with Han Bennink and Tony Malaby), Frantz Loriot (viola, played with David Ware), and Pascal Niggenkemper (double bass, played with Frank Gratowski).  Belleke is their second album on clean feed, their debut Fremdenzimmer garnering accolades for their unique brand of music, part chamber jazz, part surreal improvisations inhabiting classical trappings.

"Belleke" opens the album with the clarinet and strings combining for a low volume and, evenly paced, like gliding across calm waters, but with the feeling of some tension.  "Building Nothing Out of Something" is where each instrument is pushed out of their familiar trappings; the clarinet squeaks like a rusty swing, the bass like an industrial machine being stressed with weight, and the viola a high pitched feedback wail.  Chamber industrial noise abstractions.  An outstanding track is "Feuertreppe," meaning Fire Escape Staircase.  The viola and bass bow and pluck from a slow simmer to a burning frenzy, deftly managing both high and low registers, before fading into the clarinet solo, where later joined by the strings in a Schoenberg like classical piece, before the three build up the tension, clarinet leading with all three in medium register, then fading into an almost minimal silence.

"Turning Inwards Like a Glove," is perhaps the centerpiece of the album, a soulful bass clarinet solo that is   then joined by a frenetic plucking of the double bass, with the viola bowing a little behind the two in a high register.  The strings provide the background for the bass clarinet to then gently float above, creating a very spiritually uplifting piece.  Tracks like "Heaving Hearts," "Casse Meditative," and "Snowflakes" all demonstrate the trio's ability to redefine the boundaries of how their instruments sound, in as of themselves and how they interact with each other.  The music never digresses nor is superfluous, the mostly sub eight minute works are succinct and clear.  "What Grows Beneath," the final track, alternates from free form blowing of the sax to minimal notes of the stringed instruments and back again, ending with the sax gently soloing over a soft toned but frenetic viola bowing.

Belleke is an excellent album of creative music making, defying convention and creating a unique sound that combines improvisations with classical sensibilities.  Recommended.

You can buy this album from Instantjazz