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Friday, October 31, 2014

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014)

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) ***

By Paul Acquaro

Mostly Other People Do the Killing is a group that has created an identity on creative parody, musical juxtaposition and incredible technical facility. Their albums have been given pretty rave reviews here … just going back a few years we covered the live Coimbra Concert, their take on smooth-jazz take with Slippery Rock, and the exploration of early jazz on Red Hot. Each time they quote, mash-up and generally celebrate jazz through deconstruction and proficiency. But with Blue, an uncanny remake of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, they seem to have reached the end of one possible path: an album that is one gargantuan quote. Or as the press materials indicate, the recording "draws attention to the aspects of music that are the hardest to talk about: timbre, time-feel, articulation”.

How do I feel about this album? I can honestly say that I don’t know. Blue seems like something that was an incredibly meaningful labor of love for the musicians. They have expressed a great deal of reverence for the album and the musicians who created it, however, how necessary it is as a recording will remain to be seen.

I haven’t really spoken about the music, which may actually prove to be my point in the end. The group, Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto sax), Ron Stabinsky (piano), Moppa Elliott (bass), Kevin Shea (drummer) are all top notch, versatile and creative musicians. The music needs no introduction here (if it does … hi reader, meet Kind of Blue), it's wonderful and timeless, and features solos that are worthy of being transcribed, studied, and played. But as a recording, my feelings are in line with what Greg Applegate wrote about the album on his blog “If you buy this one, it should not be because it is something new. It is most emphatically something NOT NEW.” Also, read the write up in The Atlantic as well, it gives some great context to the album. They say, "the joke is that no one has ever tried to recreate a record quite like this, but for the last six decades, musicians have performing music that sounds a lot like Kind of Blue and the other milestone records of its era."

In summary, I am going with my labor of love theory. It’s not an album that is pushing boundaries, but it is a piece made for discussion and for raising some fine existential questions about what is jazz and where does it go from here.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Blue (Hot Cup, 2014) **

By Stefan Wood

Let's cut to the chase:  Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Blue is a note for note reiteration of Miles Davis' landmark jazz album, Kind of Blue.  The bands members:  Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (alto and tenor sax), Ron Stabinsky (piano), Moppa Elliott (bass), and Kevin Shea (drums) have subsumed their own identities to recreate, in as exacting a manner as possible, the Miles Davis group that created the original album.  The question one might ask is -- why?  What is the point, especially if it isn't a reinterpretation, when one can just buy the original?  Anticipating this, the response can be found in the liner notes, which is an essay written by Jorge Luis Borges on Pierre Menard, an early 20th century writer who spent a good portion of his life recreating chapters of Cervantes' novel, Don Quixote.

Quoting from the essay:  “Thinking, meditating, imagining,” he also wrote me, “are not anomalous acts—they are the normal respiration of the intelligence. To glorify the occasional exercise of that function, to treasure beyond price ancient and foreign thoughts, to recall with incredulous awe what some doctor universalis thought, is to confess our own languor, or our own barbarie. Every man should be capable of all ideas, and I believe that in the future he shall be.”

The act of recreating the process that led to the making of the novel through the technique of deliberate anachronism and fallacious attribution.  Menard wanted to re experience the novel by channeling Cervantes through himself to create chapters of the book.  Are we to infer from this that MOPDTK, by channelling Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb, they have created Kind of Blue?  There is little need to describe the playing on the album, there are no deviations, no signature MOPDTK traits that appear.  It is as if one is listening to Kind of Blue.  But this is not to say that Evans is as good as Miles, or Irabagon Coltrane.  They aren't.  I don't think that is the point. There are differences in the subtleties of the playing; the life experiences are too different.  It is a testament to their skills as musicians that they do evoke the mood and the feel of the album.  This exercise is similar to Gus Van Sant's frame by frame recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."  But, as a listener and a potential buyer of this album, is it worth it?  My rating gives you my answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blaise Siwula, Harvey Valdes & Gian Luigi Diana - Tesla Coils (2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

When live electronics are well done the results are often unique and rewarding, which just so happens to be the case with exciting electro/acoustic trio Tesla Coils. Comprised of sax, electric guitar and laptop, these skilled and daring musicians bring to life the brilliant Tesla coil metaphor. Like cool blue lightening bolts trapped in a glass sphere - painless to touch but alarmingly responsive - the trio creates a contained tempest together.

Between the freely improvised interactions of the trio, Blaise Siwula's melodic saxophone lines, Harvey Valdes' crackling textural guitar playing and Gian Luigi Diana's thoughtful live sampled remixing, the music grows in the most unusual ways. Listening alone to Siwula, you can imagine a classic free jazz blowing session, to Valdes you hear noise improv and rapid fire single note lines, but mix it in with the laptop and you have a new thing altogether.

Highlights on the album abound but what is most interesting is how Diana creates a third instrument (or more!) through the juxtaposition the other two instruments. Listen closely in 'Secondary Coil' at how around the 5 and 1/2 second mark there now two saxophones bouncing off of each other, or the brittle crackle of the guitar at the beginning of “Discharge Terminal’. Through out the 3/4 hours of the album there is hardly a dull moment. If you get a chance to hear them live you won't be disappointed either - this is a crackling group.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mats Gustafsson & Albert Oehlen – Jukebox Series #1 Single (Trost, 2014) ***½

By Julian Eidenberger

To kick off their new “Jukebox Series”, Trost Records provide us with a single pairing up the jubilarian with German painter Albert Oehlen. It’s certainly a somewhat unexpected collaboration; but then again, Gustafsson is a restless soul, constantly looking for new challenges, constantly seeking to push the envelope – so why not team up with someone from the visual arts? Besides, Oehlen is no complete stranger to the world of music. In the 80’s, he was part of the Neue Wilde art movement – alongside enfant terrible Martin Kippenberger – which had close ties to German punk/NDW music. Moreover, he’s worked together with German free jazz musician Rüdiger Carl.

Here, Gustafsson and Oehlen find common ground in a “deliberately indeliberate” method; the single’s two tracks are the outcome of a somewhat inscrutable creative process, with the two collaborators warping each other’s contributions, sometimes beyond recognition. The only thing we know for sure is that Gustafsson plays (baritone?) sax, while Oehlen adds a violin’s violent caterwauling (some non-assignable extra noises such as percussion and hollering are thrown in, as well). The cleverly-titled Riot in Brain Cell No.9 is the first of these two tracks: True to its title, it eschews any semblance of sustainable structure, attacking the listener with a series of low-pitched saxophone honks and screeching violin. Intermittently, a martial (or carnival-like, depending on your interpretation) drum roll crops up, cheered on by background hollering. Three minutes in, the racket suddenly stops, but after only a few moments of silence, the violin grinds on for another two minutes. This is “rough music” in the truest sense of the word. On the flipside, Dirty G-String Boogie presents what appears to be a remix of sorts; some of the first track’s elements crop up once more, but this time, they’re half-heartedly incited to a dance by restrained electronic beats.

While it’s over before the riot can spread to the “entire prison”, this is nonetheless a fun record and a fitting way to celebrate Gustafsson’s “big” birthday (and Oehlen’s too, as I’ve just realized!).

Happy birthday Mats!

Listen to it here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Agustí Fernandéz & Mats Gustafsson - Constellation (Clamshell, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Apart from his power projects like The Thing, Mats Gustafsson has always been interested in working with pianists. At last year’s Konfrontationen festival in Nickelsdorf (where Gustafsson lives by now) he played with one of his all-time heroes: French free jazz icon François Tusques. The audience was enthusiastic, but in the end, the collaboration had some weaker moments, especially when Gustafsson switched to the bass saxophone. His own approach did not always match with Tusques’ way of music-making. However, his style perfectly complements the playing of Majorcan pianist Agustí Fernandéz, with whom he has already collaborated on a few occasions: They’ve played together in Barry Guy’s New Orchestra as well as in an energetic trio alongside Peter Evans, and they’ve recorded the superb duo “Critical Mass” (PSI, 2005) and the great trio album “Breakin’ the Lab!” (with drummer Ramón Prats).

The title of their new album “Constellations” is programmatic since the record comprises ten tracks, seven of which present both musicians as masters of extended techniques. Improvisations like Altinak or Ursa make you feel as if you were trapped in a huge pinball machine; the music is an emotional up and down, seesawing permanently between sounds produced by playing “inside” the piano and unconventional saxophone noises. Fernandéz uses various different materials to manipulate the strings of his instrument, creating eerie gurgling, rattling and scratching sounds which clash into Gustafsson’s high energy outbursts on the saxophone. At times, though, these tracks show yet another facet of the duo’s interplay: they sometimes become cut-up sound explorations, nervous and erratic, with Gustafsson’s playing reduced to little more than clicks, clacks and plain breathing – classic examples of this very “constellation.” Gustafsson and Fernandéz are playing mind games with the listener, constantly subverting expectations.

Another constellation is presented in the remaining three tracks, in which Fernandéz simply concentrates on the 88 keys of the piano – and these pieces are clearly meant as an homage to Cecil Taylor’s music. Fernandéz is obviously influenced by that pioneer’s style and technique, which becomes evident in the disconnected fast runs, arpeggios and the hard touch. Gustafsson is at his best when he can dance around these dense harmonic structures (he sounds like Evan Parker on Mintaka, for example). Listening to these tracks is like watching two bumblebees in full speed chasing each other.

“Constellations” is an excellent album; fans of both musicians (like me) can’t go wrong.

You can buy it from

Watch an older performance here: 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fake The Facts: Soundtrack (Trost, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

When I read novels I often do this with music on, usually just to have a constant background noise which helps me not to lose my concentration since I am easily distracted by other noises - from adjacent apartments, for example. At the moment I am reading Donna Tart’s new novel “The Goldfinch” and lately I chose Fake the Fact’s new album “Soundtrack” as background music. Parts of the novel take place in Las Vegas, especially on the outskirts of this city. There is a passage which describes the place like this:

I was not aware quite how eerie Canyon Shadows got at its farthest reaches; a toy town, dwindling out at desert’s edge, under menacing skies. Most of the houses looked as if they had never been lived in. Others – unfinished – half raw-egded windows without glass in them; they were covered with scaffolding and grayed with blown sand, with piles of concrete and yellowing constructing material out front. The boarded-up windows gave them a blind, battered, uneven look, as of faces beaten and damaged. As we walked, the air of abandonment grew more and more disturbing, as if we were roaming some planet depopulated by radiation and disease.

After a while, “Soundtrack” did indeed become a soundtrack to the pictures my imagination produced while I was reading – in this case to a somewhat David-Lynch-like film.

In the context of this “film in my head”, a track like Polyphony of a Metropolis functions as a close up of the life in the sand surrounding Las Vegas, the bugs crawling busily (guitar), the snakes winding their way through the deserted estates (baritone sax), the sun (computer sounds) burning down relentlessly on the whole scene.

The musicians (Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Dieb13 on turntables, Martin Siewert on guitar, and electronics) are like cameramen, bringing to life this scenery with the possibilities of analog electronic sounds. The opening track, Socks full of Sawdust, is like an echo of a lost civilization – full of tattered guitar static mixed with electric rubble, vinyl scratching and bar piano samples – but the hectic saxophone interspersions already cast the shadow of the future disaster.

As usual when he is more into sound explorations, Gustafsson hardly blows his horn; it is more of a dark gurgling trickle, while Siewert's guitar sounds like nerve impulses of the brain. Meanwhile, Dieb13 maps an electric universe – it‘s a cosmic playground of sounds stripped down to its bare bones. “Soundtrack” is indeed cinematographic music, in a fascinating and horrific sense.

Listen to it here.

Mats Gustafsson at 50

By Martin Schray and Julian Eidenberger

Mats Gustafsson is a maniac, a man of conviction, a crusader for free music. That’s what he has in common with people like John Zorn, Peter Brötzmann or Ken Vandermark – he just can’t help it (Alex von Schlippenbach recently said that he will have to play until his body refuses to go on and that this was clear from the very beginning when he started making music). Gustafsson even said that in an interview with Something Else webzine:

“I play music because I have to; I have no choice. In order to fight the stupidity back and to show new perspectives, new ways, new doors. Influences might be basically anything that kicks me — and that I can make into a personal statement. As long as you put your own personal language and voice into it, and not try to imitate or copy, you are cool, you are good. If you make music for other reasons, you ought to stay at home. I’m not here to entertain, as Ayler once said.”

On the other hand he has entertained us with dozens of projects and he seems to be on top of his prolific creativity at the moment, as his involvement in Fire! (and Fire! Orchestra), The Thing, Fake the Facts, Swedish Azz, Birds, Tarfala Trio as well as in duos with Thurston Moore, Agustí Fernandez or Paal Nilssen-Love (etc.) demonstrates. And, as if that weren’t enough, the dedicated vinyl aficionado is about to realize even more projects in the near future: Now that he has founded his own The Thing label, he is going to be increasingly active in label work as well, releasing new records and reissuing old ones (such as The Thing’s back catalogue on vinyl). As far as music-making is concerned, he has – allegedly – a whole batch of duo projects up his sleeves, and he is also said to be writing his first symphony. But whatever it is he’s currently working on, we are eagerly awaiting the outcomes.

Happy birthday, Mats. Keep on keepin’ on!

(We will be running reviews of Mats' recent recordings until Wednesday, which is his birthday)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy (Pi Recordings, 2014) *****

By Josh Campbell

Tyshawn Sorey has consistently released albums about every two years. With the every album he has changed the configuration of his lineups. His latest is Alloy, released on the Pi Recordings label, is a traditional piano trio configuration with Corey Smythe on piano, who also appeared on Sorey’s That/Not, and Christopher Tordini on bass, who previously appeared on Oblique-I. Anyone familiar with Sorey’s work will undoubtedly hear his fingerprints all over the music. For the unfamiliar, Sorey’s compositions tend to focus as much on space and touch, leaving you in a space of reflection and thought. Probably due to the lack of a brass or wind instrument on this album, Alloy reminds me most of his 2009 release, and one of my all-time favorite albums, Koan.

Given Sorey’s penchant for space in his compositions, the piano trio setting proves to be a wonderful avenue to display his sound. “Returns” begins with Smythe searching through the keys to find the right notes, as Sorey and Tordini lock in behind. As the searching increasing a mild chaos ensues only to return to a more melodic and contemplative tempo.  “Return” flows directly into “Movement”. Building on melody, Smythe weaves in and out of Sorey’s light cymbal play and Tordini’s steady beat. After two 15 plus minute tracks, the trio jumps into “Template”. Honestly, Template will either scare the crap out of you, or make you wonder if you cd player changed discs. The surprise of the album, 2 and 1/2 minutes into the track Sorey lays into a groove on his drum kit that will shock you and make you undoubtedly bob your head in approval. It’s so beautifully out of place I love every time it kicks in, and I’m never expecting it. Finally, Sorey ends with the 30 minute “A Love Song”, and returns to the meditative spacial compositions that Sorey specializes in. This album is already rivaling Koan as my favorite Sorey led album, and currently my favorite release of any artist this year. Released in the typical Pi Recordings digipak, This album has excellent sound quality with one of the most beautifully mic’d pianos I have ever heard.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Circum Grand Orchestra - 12 (Circum Disc, 2014) ****½

By Antonio Poscic

For a while it seemed that the big band format in creative and adventurous jazz was slowly fading into oblivion. The economic situation was and is not favorable (culture somehow always gets the short end of the stick) and there are various, often insurmountable challenges and problems when composing and creating music for such groups. For many musicians, the effort is either just not worth it or they feel that the needed inspiration and creative catalysts have been depleted. When two years ago Peter Brötzmann announced that he was retiring his Chicago Tentet, the future looked bleak. But here we are, in the final third of 2014, and a multitude of great big band albums have already been released in the past 9 months. Lille’s Circum Grand Orchestra, a sort of supergroup or collective comprised of musicians gathered together under the Circum label, make an interesting and fresh proposition with their new album “12”.

There are two guitars in this band, but before you get a chance to call it “rock influenced” or even “fusion”, you realize that the only thing borrowed from rock here are the energy, the bite, and some rhythmic patterns. Indeed, the electric guitar is used in a nuanced and clever way, sometimes hinting at fusion, but never crossing into kitschy territories. And this is only natural as the core of this record stems purely from free jazz and improvisational origins. Yes, the songs are composed because it’s hard not to have at least some sort of foundation when dealing with large groups. Yes, the band follows some predefined patterns and sections. But the structures are only loosely set, leaving a lot of space for the musicians’ improvisations and experimentations. Basically, it’s authentic big band (free) jazz with elements from various genres mixed in, performed with a sense of flow and joy.

Music that is not afraid to wear various motifs and influences on its sleeve. Circum Grand Orchestra take the middle road between accessible, easily enjoyable jazz and intricate, contemplative improvised segments. Especially striking are the duos and dialogs that take place between different combinations of instruments throughout the tunes. Even though it’s a large ensemble (two guitars, two basses, two drums, a piano, a five-piece brass section with saxophones, trumpets, flugelhorns, clarinet, and vocals), each musician has a distinct, individual voice, but it also completes and complements all others. There’s so much airiness and space in the music, pensive moments that makes you feel, at times, as if listening to merely a trio or a duo. The band works great whether everyone’s playing with full force or improvising within a smaller subgroup. What this dual paradigm means is that you’ll start following an infectious, swinging melody or a rhythm only to wind up in an improvised section carried on by two or three instruments and their sparse notes.

Bassist Christophe Hache, who takes over leadership and compositional duties from Olivier Benoit, claims that the compositions were inspired, peculiarly, by French chansons. This can be heard throughout the album, more on a subtle, structural and inspirational level rather than in the form of pure expression. Whether you’re listening to the opening “Tan son nhat”, that right away shows what the band’s capable of with a massive, imposing sound, or to a quieter track like “12”, the music is consistently captivating and beautiful. The highlight of the release probably comes on the aptly titled “Graphic”, a song featuring an awesome build up and groove, dissonant vocals, and a rather loose approach confined by composed parts. Yet, there’s a feeling that improvisations and solos build the structure of “Graphic”, not the other way around. This tune also shows Circum Grand Orchestra’s remarkable ability to remain cohesive during the busiest sections. But there are many surprise on the other tracks too, from giallo atmospheres on “Padoc” to songs dominated by rhythm (“Principe de précaution”) and noisy, Bailey-like guitar solos (“Hectos d'ectot”). Production is luckily great and makes the music shine even further. The sound is punchy, clear, and airy, regardless of the number of instruments playing concurrently. Really, the only criticism that I can think of comes from the fact that the musicians and the band as a whole don’t take many chances or risks and are often content to remain on the melodically and rhythmically defined “safe” side of things. Maybe not a record that will astonish you with something new, but a highly enjoyable and fulfilling accomplishment.

Standing alongside with releases such as Angles 9’s “Injuries” and Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra’s “Live in Ljubljana”, Circum Grand Orchestra triumphantly shows that the big band free, creative jazz format is alive and kicking. Highly recommended.

Circum Grand Orchestra are: Julien Favreuille and Jean-Baptiste Perez on saxophones, Christophe Rocher on clarinet, Aymeric Avice on trumpet and flugelhorn, Christophe Motury on flugelhorn and vocals, Christian Pruvost on trumpet, Sébastien Beaumont and Ivann Cruz on guitars, Stefan Orins on piano, Nicolas Mahieux on double-bass, Christophe Hache on bass, and Jean-Luc Landsweerdt and Peter Orins on drums.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ton Trio II - On and On (Singlespeed Music, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ton Trio II is Aram Shelton on alto saxophone, Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum playing drums, and together they deliver a showcase of musical dexterity and ideas that grabs you the moment the needle finds the groove, or the laser hits the disc, or the data streams to the player.

Vittum's pulsating drumming helps kick off the album with 'This Reminds Me'. Shelton soon enters with a simple but effective theme that re-emerges occasionally as the song develops. Building in intensity during his solo, Shelton plays it cool with precision and control. "We Were Told," track 3, begins with a deliberate tempo as Brown and Vittum provide delicate support to Shelton's plaintive melodic work. Brown takes his cues from the Shelton as he builds his solo, and when they are both freely improvising around the melody, the trio's telepathy is most acute. The music never let up, even through the last track "Turncoats", which begins with a folky melody but following a short martial drum passage, quickly becomes a driving affair.

On and On is a nicely balanced mix of composition and free playing. The restraint that the group retains throughout, and the time they take to develop the tracks, really helps to accentuate the melodies, the dynamics, and the general thoughtfulness of the playing. On and On is a nice ride from start to finish, free, composed, and otherwise.

Monday, October 20, 2014

François Tusques & Don Cherry - La Maison Fille Du Soleil (Cacophonic, 2014)

By Stef

A 7" single with a total of seven minutes of a piano and a trumpet improvising on a basic composition : 25£. Worth your money? Absolutely. With handmade sleeves, limited edition. The improvisers are pianist François Tusques and trumpeter Don Cherry. Too bad. It's out of stock! But the good news is : there's also a download version. On the second track Beb Guérin joins on bass. The music is sweet, beautiful, intimate, expansive ... and far too short.

But don't hesitate a second : you can listen to it and buy it too : here! ... and read more interesting stuff too.

Marc Ducret - Tower-Bridge (Ayler Records, 2014) ****

Review by Joe

For all of those who haven't heard Marc Ducret's Tower series, now is maybe the time to start. This record represents the last instalment of an incredible journey through many musical territories, yet with one musical thread tying them together, that of Marc Ducret's original musical thinking. Tower-Bridge is the fifth, and supposedly last part of the series (see below) which took as its inspiration Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada. There are copious liner notes - as liner notes throughout the various volumes - which give some explanations to the connection between the music and the book, but for this short review it is suffice to quote the Ayler Record's presentation which states, "[t]he music [is] composed to convey Nabokov's text complex structure and writing process"¹.

Although I reviewed several albums from the series - digital versions sent by Ayler records - so I haven't seen the covers.  However, I did get a hard copy of this latest record. I'll mention the music shortly but the packaging of this disc merits a detour. The album is made up of double CD, with triptych folding sleeve, a small booklet with extracts from Nabokov's Ada, and an interesting fold-out with some notes from Ducret - which include a score of his composition Real thing #3. A last bonus is quite a crowd draw, access to exclusive video content, a 23 minute film by Sylvain Lemaire titled Tower in the Mist. I won't tell you what's on the film, after all that would only spoil the surprise! So, what can I say except buying a 'physical' copy is well worth the money.

The music on the album is taken from two live concerts recorded in Strasbourg in 2012, producing around a 100 minutes of music over the two CDs. Like the previous albums, this recording re-examines pieces from the 'tower' series. An example such as sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1), has been presented in two formats. The first time was on volume two with Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Dominique Pifarély: violin and Tom Rainey on drums, along with Ducret on guitar. The second time was on volume four (an excellent album), where Ducret performed a selection of these pieces in solo format on acoustic guitar.² The appeal of Tower-Bridge lies more in the extended performances of these pieces, and of course the line extended up that performs them. The musicians, 12 in all, are the sum of all the albums in the series, forming a sort of mini big-band. This produces plenty of sparks and some fine music with powerful solos supported by tight ensemble playing.

If you haven't heard Marc Ducret's music before and you're open to rock meets free-jazz meets Zappa meets contemporary classical music, then you'll love this. There's plenty of dynamic interaction between the musicians. Ducret has a knack in providing action-packed pieces, his rhythmic concept often develops around tight interlocking contrapuntal lines to produce long melodies which have a logic of their own. He also loves to use dissonance as a tool, combining it with rhythm in a powerful combination.

There is so much on this record it would be impossible to delve into each piece. A few highlights include Tim Berne's inimitable alto leading the way on sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1). This track has a lot of information, a great theme, and plenty of muscular interludes with several gripping solos. The fantastical atmospheres conjured up in Real thing #1 (tk2 CD1) builds around a succession of duet/trio sections leading gradually to feature for the violin of Dominique Pifarély. Track 3 (CD1), real thing #2 has a wonderful strident solo from Kasper Tranberg (trumpet) who manages to ride over the heavy rocking ensemble, punctuated by powerful piano chord clusters. Softly her tower crumbled into the Sweet Silent Sun (tk1 CD2) flies out of the speakers like an angry neighbour shouting. The final track of the album L'Ombra di Verdi (tk3 CD2) produces a mysterious theme in the closing half which hangs somewhere between a film noir theme and a 6/8 rock ballad.

What else can we say about such a great record? I guess that if you haven't heard Ducret before this is a good place to start, there's fine compositions and performances all here. And, if you like this then you'll need no encouragement to look into his work even further. As for Marc Ducret fans, if you haven't got this one, buy it!

The website says this is a limited edition of 1000. 

Here's a video of the group live. The recording is more 'centred' sound-wise, but here you get some idea of the groups sound, and size. If you look for Ducret's Tower-bridge project on Youtube you'll find plenty of other examples. 

The musicians on this record are: Kasper Tranberg - trumpet; Dominique Pifarély - violin; Tim Berne - alto saxophone; Matthias Mahler - trombone; Fidel Fourneyron - trombone; Alexis Persigan - trombone; Frédéric Gastard - bass saxophone; Antonin Rayon - piano; Sylvain Lemêtre - percussion,vibraphone, xylophone, marimba; Tom Rainey - drums; Peter Bruun - drums and Marc Ducret - electric guitar

Other albums in the Tower-bridge series:
Tower, vol. 1, Tower, vol. 2, Tower, vol. 3, Tower, vol. 4

¹, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
² It's interesting to add that volume four is the only record that has pieces unique to that record. There are a few pieces which are re-examined from the other volumes, however, tracks: From a Distant Land; Sisters; Ada; ... A Distand Land; Sybil Vane, and Electricity (by Joni Mitchell), are to be found only on this album.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

Deep Listening Weekend - Day 2

By Dan Sorrells

Looking back, Patrick McGoohan’s TV classic The Prisoner marked the point where the anti-establishment rebelliousness of 60s counter-culture started to sour into the paranoia of the 70s. Over the decades the show has remained tremendously influential, while the sort of surveillance society that it railed against is increasingly realized in our current hyper-digital, globalized world.

The concerns of The Prisoner are interesting in the context of Max Johnson’s namesake tribute album, performed by a quartet of Johnson, Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri, and Tomas Fujiwara. As our anxiety grows about a modern culture that’s slowly warping into The Prisoner’s Village, we also live in a world that allows improvising musicians unprecedented means for inspiration and collaboration. As websites subversively build detailed profiles of all our likes and movements, The Prisoner’s musicians and I can go online and easily enjoy the cult British series made before any of us were born. As the NSA presses Google for warrantless information, Max Johnson can effortlessly send a promotional copy of his album to my GMail, and I can download it onto my computer within seconds.

But whatever the conditions for its conception, the music is what’s important. What makes The Prisoner a remarkable album is that Johnson’s loose compositions convey a certain narrative and drama all on their own, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the show that inspired them. And—just like the show—what they ultimately do best is imbue the listening environment with a sense of the uncanny, the queasy feeling that nothing is quite what it seems.

 “No. 6 Arrival/No. 58 Orange Alert” begins in a tentative, exploratory manner: low in volume, the music feels its way through unfamiliar territory, with long tendrils of strings reaching out through Laubrock’s hazy tenor and Fujiwara’s delicate percussion. It’s uneasy yet beautiful, slightly claustrophobic even as it picks up in volume and texture.  But before the piece comes to a close, the Orange Alert: Laubrock sounds a chiming alarm, and the music comes alive. It’s busy but short-lived, much like McGoohan’s first scuffle with the eerie Rover that can be seen chasing him across the album sleeve.

Elsewhere, “X04” has the jaunty swagger of the show’s jazzy interludes, while “No. 24 Hammer into Anvil” builds to a marching crescendo that erupts into a free improv workout. “No. 48 Living in Harmony” flirts with Alice Coltrane-style spiritual jazz, with some beautiful saxophone playing that calls to mind Pharaoh Sanders. Bolstered by Johnson’s thick, bowed double stops and Maneri’s skittering lines, the piece perfectly conveys the paranoid, suspicious nature of the show: beneath the placid melody, a dark undercurrent surges, the deep, uncertain flow that threatens the outwardly normal surface.

The Prisoner showcases music of many influences, but never blatantly declares itself to be any of them. The uncanny pseudo-familiarity is part of the fun. However untrusting No. 6 may have been of the others he enlisted in his escape attempts, Johnson can be assured he has a rock-solid crew of co-conspirators for his realization of The Prisoner. He’s proving to be a brilliant and surprising frontman as of late. To him I’ll simply say:

“Be hearing you.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness, 2014) ****½

Deep Listening Weekend - Day 1

By Martin Schray

The Prisoner was a cult British TV series created by Patrick McGoohan, which has inspired metal and punk bands as different as Iron Maiden, XTC or The Clash. The plot is about a secret service agent who finds himself a prisoner in an isolated village after he decided to resign. The village, in which the individual is reduced to a number (the protagonist is No. 6), is controlled by a mysterious No. 1, although nobody gets to see him. The village is guarded by an elaborate surveillance system, including security personnel and a mysterious balloon-like device that recaptures – or kills – those who try to escape. The village administrators are various No. 2s, who are replaced constantly because of their futile attempts to find out about No. 6’s real reasons to resign. Aesthetically the series is a weird stylistic mix of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s 1984 and James Bond films, but even 45 years after it was created you can still feel its claustrophobic and Kafkaesque mood.

New York-based bassist Max Johnson, a man who has collaborated with artists as various as Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, The Butthole Surfers, Vernon Reid and several bluegrass (!) bands, has been fascinated by this series since he was a kid. But when he decided to compose a suite based on the series he was obviously not interested in interpreting or using the original score, which rather reminds of classic 1960s spy movie soundtracks. Instead Johnson tried to capture the above-mentioned atmosphere.  Even structurally he tried to transform the concepts, the “intricate webs weaved throughout the show, [the] loose ends that never get tied up, and huge questions that are never answered” into music. The music has an episodic character: Johnson said that “some of the tunes represent little moments or episodes, while the beginning and end of the suite signify bigger parts of the story.”

And the album is indeed bookended by the longest tracks, “No. 6: Arrival/No. 58: Orange Alert,” and “No. 2: Once Upon a Time/No. 1: Fallout.”  The first one introduces us to the world of the prisoner and sets the tone for the album – it is a gloomy and oppressive world and the musicians use long, deep and dark tones to illustrate this. The long and almost ethereal beginning is destroyed with a siren-like call by Laubrock’s sax which forces the group to test out the boundaries of the composition – just like No. 6 trying to escape from the village. The latter closes the album with a two-part finale (like the series). Part one begins almost melancholic, as if there was a certain nostalgia in the face of the near end, but the final part (like the episode) flows into chaos with Laubrock and the strings battling wildly and Fujiwara soloing (one of the great moments of the album, since it represents the brutality and action of the last part of the show as well) before the whole piece evolves into a funeral march meandering in a classic bebop improvisation – a final hint to the series when the protagonists finally manage to leave the village.

These two tracks are like blueprints for the other compositions. “No. 12: Schizoid Man/Gemini,” an episode when No. 6 is replaced by a spooky look-alike in order to crash his self, focuses on Maneri’s viola and Laubrock’s sax stalking each other mysteriously. And one of the more brutal episodes – “No. 24: Hammer Into Anvil”, in which a paranoid, sadistic No. 2 has taken over – begins with a painful sax call, before there are high-pitched scratching and straining tones from the viola, which leads to a pure free jazz fight in its last few minutes. It’s my favorite part on the album.

One of the most famous quotations of the show—“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered”—is like a motto for Max Johnson’s music: It is hard to pigeonhole this music, it is programmatic and notated yet free and excessive at the same time. And with Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri on viola and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, he simply has a great band.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Solo Bass

Bass player on the way to play at a village festival, Serbia, 1965 
(by Henri Cartier-Bresson)
By Stef

The bad thing about being a fan of solo bass albums, is that I wait to long to review them, trying to bring them all in one article, but of course that doesn't work well, probably not doing service to the musicians, yet the good thing is that within the strict limits of this unwieldy instrument variation, beauty and adventure resides, depending on whose magic is at work.

Peter Jacquemyn - Dig Deep (ChampdAction, 2014) ****

The first musician on the list is Belgian sculpture, visual artist and bassist Peter Jacquemyn, who is a force of nature when you see him perform live, as the video below will testify. His playing is physical, direct, revealing an immediacy of thought and emotion, that is the foundation of further expansions, as if pushed by the moment itself. He himself uses the Spanish palindrome 'La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural', used by the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela : 'the road offers us the natural next step'.

The first track is a short introduction, but with "Low", a lengthy piece played arco, Jaquemyn demonstrates his skills and musical vision, evolving from intense repetitive bowing over deep drone-like scrapings to sensitive pizzi work.  On "Lower", he accompanies his playing by deep throat-singing, resonating with the bowing that keeps circulating around a low tonal centre, then the intensity increases with a more heavy attack on multiple strings, repetitive and hypnotic.

The music starts calmer on "High", in an amazing duet between bass and overtone singing, a sensitive and gentle exploration of timbre and glissandi, yet the rest of the track offers a contrast of noise and string multiphonics, possibly the result of two bows or prepared strings.

Peter Jaquemyn is the real thing, an artist without compromise, with a sound and a musical 'voice' that is incredible authentic and true to itself ... a thing of value, and great listening.

Mike Majkowski - Why Is There Something Instead Of Nothing (Bocian, 2014) ****

When playing this vinyl LP very loud on the turntable, my wife came running in wondering what was happening. The intense monotonous sound that shook her came from Australian Mike Majkowski's arco bass, who, on the first piece, manages to play a single note for twenty minutes, with slight variations that are sometimes deliberate, with the occasional plucked string in between the drone-like sound, but that are also less deliberate, as the result of sheer physical necessity to change the position of the wrist or the angle of the bow, and the amazing thing is that despite this narrow angle of approach, the music does change, and it is captivating and mesmerising.

The B-side is even more beautiful, with two repeated bowed notes piercing through a sea of silence, to be replaced in the second part of the improvisation with sparse but powerful plucked notes.

Margarida Garcia - The Leaden Echo (Headlights, 2014) ****

Of a totally different nature is this little gem by Portugues bassist Margarida Garcia, a 200 copies one-sided LP of seventeen minutes. The sound of her bass resonates like I've rarely heard a bass resonate, filling the space completely, with long bowed tones that make every nerve in your body vibrate in harmony, whether very deep or very high, it is sad, eery moaning and terrifying at the same time, hard to capture in words (luckily!). The second piece is played pizzi, but with the same calm and sober power, creating a desolate sonic universe that is compelling and unique.

I really and truly wish this album was longer, yet at the same time it creates a great sense of anticipation for more.

Tom Blancarte - The Shortening Of The Way (Tubapede, 2014) ****

Bass players apparently are into vinyl these days, and so is Tom Blancarte, who kicks off the first side with some ear-piercing ferocious bowing, that keeps its dynamics from beginning to end, relentlessly, resulting in an obsessive trance-like incantation, with deep undercurrents of pain and distress, creating wild multiphonics on the strings like several voices screaming to get some relief, to get some rest, to get some resolution, but guess what, they're not getting it at all, transposing the sense of anguish on the listener whose nerves become the instrument of the artist.

The second track is easily as intense, constructed out of quick bursts of sound, like furious scratches of pencil in a sketch, direct transposition of emotion to sound, without preconceived notions, without polishing, without ornaments, just the immediacy of sound as sound, abstract and tense, almost percussive at times, fast and hard-hitting.

Louis-Michel Marion - 5 Strophes (Kadima, 2014) ****

French bassist Louis-Michel Marion is possibly less known, and maybe because his art is a quiet one, an art of precision of sonic quality, of sensitivity to sound, of opening space for sound, yet in a gentle, elegant way. There is no screaming, no extended techniques, nothing obtrusive, no, you get well-paced bowed sounds, circling around a tonal center, with quiet repetitiveness, and intense deepening of the universe created. Even if he gives Joëlle Léandre and Barre Phillips as references, his music is something else entirely, often closer to modern classical music and minimalism than to jazz or free music. 

Ryan McGuire - Civilian (Bandcamp, 2013) ***½

Avant-metal bassist Ryan McGuire surprises with this solo double bass album, offering twelve tracks each with their own character and approach, played both plucked and bowed, and in contrast to what you wold assume, his style bears no relation with the avant metal of Ehnare. The music is varied, lyrical even at times, such as on "At Night", or on "Delicate Creatures", and especially in the middle of the album does he increase his explorations, as on "Quicksands", and "The Speaking Tree". I wish he would have given us some more of that. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Then there are some albums that were released in the past years, and which could also be of interest to fans of solo bass performances. 

James Ilgenfritz - Compositions (Braxton) 2011 (Infrequent Seams, 2012)

This album by James Ilgenfritz only now came to my attention. He transposes material from Braxton to solo bass, not a minor feat by itself, "integrating integrating well-known materials from Braxton’s quartet repertoire, trumpet cadenzas from Composition 103 (for 7 trumpets) and orchestral parts, with some of his numerous improvisation and structuring systems, including the Ghost Trance Music, Coordinate Music, Pulse Tracks, and Language Musics"

Shayna Dulberger - The Basement Recordings (Self, 2011)

Same thing with this Shayna Dulberger solo album, which is now available via Bandcamp.

The album brings us a lot of varied and fresh sounds, with lots of interesting ideas, one or more for each of the tracks, which remain somewhat undeveloped, making the total package sound like the nicely prepared ingredients for a sumptuous dish which you do not get, or just like here, the ingredients can be eaten separately as finger food, and will taste as delicious. 

Paul Rogers -  Solo (Bootleg, 1986)

One of the real masters of solo bass performances is Paul Rogers, whose playing stands on its own, in a different category of music. This bootleg was recorded at Tony Levin's home  15 September 1986, and can be downloaded for free from "Inconstant Sol". Even if sometimes meanders a bit, other pieces are absolutely stellar. He is inventive, lyrical, generous, warm, adventurous, deep, moving, complex, authentic, straightforward, sensitive, intense, ...

Yoni Kretzmer - Protest Music (Out Now Recordings, 2014) ****

By Ed Pettersen

This is the second record I’ve been asked by the FJB to review this month where I knew absolutely nothing about the artist beforehand but yet again it’s a revelation.  Every track bristles with verve, passion and creativity and Protest Music is the perfect title for it as each track urges you to feel something, asks you make a stand without making you angry or agitated.  Call it compassionate provocation.

Yoni Kretzmer is an Israeli saxophonist who currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.  He began practicing his particular blend of classical and free jazz in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and studied at the American School of Modern Music in Paris.  The band is only bass, drums and sax yet is excellent on this record and you’d think they had been playing together for ages though they’ve only been working for a short time (Mr. Kretzmer has a few units he works with since his move to the U.S.).  They are seamless and the interplay between them stellar, evocative and inspiring.  They sound like much more than just three pieces.  It strikes me that Mr. Kretzmer is probably highly influenced by Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and a bit of Sam Rivers but explores the lower registers of his sax more than those legends which is a good thing in my mind.  It would be too easy to mine the same territory in this style yet I found this music wholly original. The songs on Protest Music - This, Is, Our, Very, First, Album, Together - have a lot of variety for such a small band and though a lot is going on to propel the songs there’s plenty of room to breathe too.  None of the songs are very long, the longest is just over 9 minutes, but they hold your attention at every note and leave you wanting more.  Perfect.

The group is Mr. Kretzmer on sax, Pascal Niggenkemper on double bass and Weasel Walter on drums.  It was beautifully recorded at Park West Studios in Brooklyn by Jim Clouse.  Due to his classical studies he brings a unique sensibility to his craft and I think you’ll hear that classical influence in his songs.  He’s obviously found some very sympathetic players to his compositions.  This is terrific stuff.  I look forward to hearing more from this terrific young instrumentalist and composer.  I listened to this album at least four times while writing this review and will go back to Protest Music a lot more in the future.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - Bite My Blues (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The second track, 'What?!' is a heart-stopping, hard-hitting, kind of feels-good-even-though-it-kind-of-hurts type of thrash-jazz-rock, which is all fine and good if you have stuck around after the first track 'Chained' peeled some skin off your face. It's Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - a heavy jazz trio from Berlin and their latest album, Bite My Blues, recorded mostly live, has been burning holes through my earbuds for a while now. It seems that each time I press play, powerful blasts of energy jolt me anew.

While Van Huffel's alto sax channels fiery from the gut playing most of the time, there is also a great deal of melodicism in his playing. Between the typically short and catchy heads, his fierce playing arcs with electricity. The track 'Fast and Furious' is a good example - a couple of minutes into the tune there is a pause and drop in volume that gives the track a chance to change gears from blistering to reflective only to quickly return to even more blistering.

Van Huffel's band mates are Roland Fidezius on bass and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Their accompaniment is an indispensable element to the album - the energy and forcefulness is kept in check by a mindful and subtle restraint that helps focus the lightning strikes. They have an extended interlude on 'Skunk' that showcases their rapport and a good display of their power can be seen in the track 'Z'. The track's stuttering rhythmic drive propels Van Huffel's slightly overblown lines further and further, while at the same time holding it all back just enough to make the release mid-way all the more satisfying.

My only complaint, if you can call it a complaint, is that this is a beast of an album, it's a thrill to take in all at once, but it may leave you a bit fried! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Zion 80 - Adramelech - The Book of Angels vol. 22 (Tzadik, 2014) *****

By Ed Pettersen

Based in New York City, Zion 80’s mission is to expand the scope and framework of Jewish music and lead it into the 21st Century while paying homage to its forefathers.

If you’re not well versed in Jewish music its melodies have been prevalent in popular music maybe even without you consciously knowing.  Songs like “Nature Boy” and “Strange Fruit” for example are not only written by Jewish writers but contain key elements and structure of song passed down for generations.  What makes the Book of Angels vol. 22 so exciting is that Zion 80 carves out its own identity and territory while at the same time paying respect without hitting you over the head with it and the results are exciting and addictive.  This may be the best played, produced, arranged, conducted, mixed and recorded album I’ve heard in the last ten years.  I’m not kidding.  It’s that great.  Each song will make you tweak your head to one side, enticing you to listen closer, to think you’re hearing something, a note, a phrase, you might have heard before then takes you in a new direction that will both make you smile and titillate the mind at the same time.

For someone like myself, who is ¼ Jewish (yes there are Norwegian Jews; 892 were shipped from Oslo in 1940 to concentration camps by the Nazi’s.  Only 9 survived and returned after the war) these themes have been swimming in my soul for my whole life but you don’t need to be Jewish or have some ancestry to enjoy this work.  Do you like Indian music?  Do you relate to Middle Eastern scales?  Well then, that’s precisely what this is seen “through the lens of Afrobeat” (according to their website).  How this pertains to us here in Free Jazz land is that it’s completely original, wildly inventive, exciting, brilliantly played, passionate and filled with joy.  Lots of joy.  I’ve listened to it three times already for this assignment and I will listen many more times after my fingers are done typing.  I did not know of this group before being asked to write this review so maybe my exuberance is in direct relation to a new discovery but I think not (Disclaimer: I worked with Ms. Lurie on Giuseppi Logan’s 2013 release “And They were Cool…” but didn’t know she was part of this group until I researched them for this piece).

Nothing is perfunctory or forced on this record and the songs, 8 of them in total and perfectly sequenced, are not indulgent with the longest clocking in at just over ten minutes.  They are tight, taut, superbly crafted and endlessly thrilling.  No one takes a solo just because it is time.  When member Brian Marsella takes a superbly creative keyboard turn during the song “Kenunit” it’s not a jazz convention; it takes the song someplace new and ends the song perfectly.  The horns make you want to believe they are improvised as they grunt and howl but in the most musical fashion so it can’t be, can it?  They are too together!  I had a huge smile on my face during all three spins of this record and my wife laughed at me as she found me bopping across our living room floor with the volume cranked.  As a guitarist myself Jon Madof (the leader of Zion 80) and Yoshie Fruchter are my new heroes.  The interplay between them is brilliant and the solos and their tone are out of this world and the bass playing is tremendous.  Shanir Blumenkranz knows just when to kick on (and step off) a fuzz pedal and use phasers judiciously and they add quite a lot to those songs without being distracting or getting in the way.  For an album with so many players and complexities it’s a wonder that there is also a good deal of space on this record.  Nothing feels crammed in nor cramped ever.

If you can’t tell by now you really must get this.  You will not be sorry.  Hopefully, like myself, it will stick with you long, long after the music stops playing.  I can’t recommend it enough.

If we could give an album six stars this would be it.

Zion80 is:
Jon Madof – guitar
Frank London – trumpet
Matt Darriau – alto sax
Greg Wall – tenor sax
Jessica Lurie – bari sax
Zach Mayer – bari sax
Brian Marsella – keyboards
Yoshie Fruchter – guitar
Shanir Blumenkranz – bass
Marlon Sobol – percussion
Yuval Lion – drums

Videos and more here:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead (WARP/Rough Trade, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Every now and then the mainstream media ask the question how it is possible to make jazz more attractive for a younger audience. Usually the answer is to integrate more pop music into jazz and/or to mix pop and jazz acts at festivals. In my opinion this is the wrong approach. You cannot make people listen to a certain music – but it might interest younger people what the music they normally listen to is based on or in this case what kind of music it is the artist has used as samples.

With his last albums Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes Flying Lotus has become the new darling of the pop avant-garde, the first one a crude bastard of drum&bass patterns, fusion bass guitars, hip hop and jazz jingles, the latter a deeply relaxed “jazz album” full of Fender Rhodes cascades, psychedelic flutes and spacey vocals. Moreover, Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus’s real name) is Alice Coltrane’s grandnephew and songwriter Marilyn McLeod’s grandson (she worked for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross). Among his fans are Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Herbie Hancock, who allegedly said that – if he had been still alive – Miles Davis would have hung out with Ellison, and “Miles always hung out with people who took jazz on the next level”. Hancock is one of the many guest musicians on this album, by the way.

But is “You’re Dead” even jazz? Can music which is completely generated at the computer be jazz? Can computer music be improvised? Is it even original? Actually, it doesn’t matter, “You’re Dead” is simply spectacular. It is a melting pot full of drum&bass rattling, howling jazz saxophones, easy listening, hip hop, extreme guitar fidgeting and Sun Ra keyboard sounds, a polystilistic monster as if Aphex Twin, Pharoah Sanders, Nels Cline and Snoop Dogg were composing - simultaneously. Ellison’s music is a postmodern spin cycle of quotes, an experimental arrangement of sheer madness. This reminds of John Zorn’s Naked City, only that it is designed for kids that have grown up with play stations. Ellison is their hyperactive guru who wants to crack the next musical level when he tries to combine the latest hip hop and soul stuff (Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Snoop Dogg are guest-starring here) with Atari sounds in a manic hyperjazz universe.

The tracks on “You’re Dead” are hardly longer than two minutes (there is a punk approach to it as well), it is full of references, musical U-turns and flashes of genius – and only 38 minutes long!

Frank Zappa once said, that jazz was not dead, it just smelled funny. I don’t know how it smells – but if something can convince a very young generation that jazz is alive, as fresh as a daisy, adventurous and mind-boggling, it’s “You’re Dead”. One of the most innovative albums this year – whether it is jazz or not.

“You’re dead” is available as double vinyl (!), CD and download. There is even a 4-LP-box set.

Listen to a teaser here:

Free Jazz Blog on Air - Now Online

Free Jazz Blog on Air radio show, featuring Martin Schray in conversation with Julia Neupert, is now available online for a week. Called Trumpets Only, this episode highlights great trumpeters like Bill Dixon, Nate Wooley, Peter Evans and of course the late Kenny Wheeler.  Listen now!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Noah Howard Quartetto - Live At The Swing Club Torino, Italy (Serie WOC Italy, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

The first thing that attracts the eye is this cover – the Jimi Hendrix posture. Noah Howard, one of the great underestimated figures in free jazz, in concentrated rapture. It’s an iconic picture of him which was also used for his 1979 recording “Ole”, on which he presents a fabulous version of the Coltrane composition. All of Howard’s commitment, his ability to listen, his grandeur is expressed in this picture.

Yet, for mysterious reasons Howard (1943 – 2010) has never received the same attention as – let’s say – Archie Shepp, Joe McPhee or Albert Ayler (by whom he was deeply influenced) although he recorded two great albums on ESP (“Noah Howard Quartet” and “At Judson Hall”, both released in 1966) and even one on a major label, the fantastic “The Black Ark” (Polydor, 1972) and my two favorites, “Berlin Concert” and “Schizophrenic Blues” (both on FMP/SAJ), which he recorded after he had moved to Europe. It was in April 1974 when he recorded “Live at the Swing Club Torino, Italy”. The session features Howard (alto sax, bells, tambourine) alongside Michael Smith (electric piano, acoustic piano), Bob Raid (bass) and Noel McGhie (drums). The album was out of print for a very long time and has now been re-released, which is a real moment of happiness for all free jazz fans.

The reason is the wonderful music which is presented on this album. Howard is a true Coltrane disciple and you can hear that in every tone of his alto. From the very first note on the opening track Paris Dreams it is all there: the piano arpeggios, the driving drums and the pulsating bass and Howard’s soulful sound which is firmly rooted in blues and gospel. Howard gives his fellow musicians a lot of space to shine, especially Noel McGhie, who introduces the B-side of the album with a long drum solo before Howard and Michael Smith drop in with a forceful riff that reminds of Joe McPhee’s “Nation Time” phase. The highlight of the album is Lecke, a spiritual ballad that reminds of Coltrane’s Alabama with its deeply moving, irresistible melody and Bob Raid’s lamenting bowed bass.

“Live At The Swing Club Torino, Italy” is a great album, especially for fans of classic free jazz of the late 1960s and early 70s period. It is available on 180 gram high quality vinyl only and limited to 300 copies. You better be quick.

Listen to the second part of ”Mardi Gras“ here:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

NG4 Quartet: Keith Rowe, Anthony Taillard, Emmanuel Leduc & Julien Ottavi – A Quartet For Guitars (Mikroton, 2014) ***

By Chris Haines

A Quartet For Guitars has a neat and tidy compositional structure, which ties in all the elements that provide the focus and the inspiration for the piece, composed by Keith Rowe.  From the technical side of things the starting point for the composition is the third movement “Affetuoso e sostenuto” from Haydn’s String Quartet Op.20 No.1, which the musicians were asked to watch and listen to before performing the piece.  The score that they played from is of a graphic nature, leaving plenty of improvisational decisions for the musicians to make throughout the performance of the piece.  The piece has an open form type structure which reflects in the music-making and the score consists of nine one-minute strips that can be played in any order and are then repeated over until nine minutes has elapsed; this time imposed rule bringing each version to a close.  The piece is scored for four guitars, which are played in the ‘tabletop’ position (lying flat on a table), where they are then treated to prepared objects, bowing the strings and processed through electronic effects.

On the recording there are five different versions each encapsulated by titles such as Ineptitude and Underwhelm, which seem to have been given to the musicians before the performance as a direction for a response to the Haydn quartet.  In fact the whole of this recording is precisely that, an exploration of different responses that move away from the more obvious clichéd ones that would normally be associated with such a piece from the Classical music canon, and a re-examination of what it could mean in the present.

The sounds that are contained within the recording of this piece made me think of Morton Feldman’s early indeterminate works, particularly the solo cello piece.  Not just purely for the obvious graphic score similarity (although the two styles of score are very different) but also for the space in the music where silence is an important component (the first track is a one minute silence, as a sort of thinking space for the Haydn piece as well as being titled after it), and for the sounds generated such as plucked, bowed and harmonic resonances.  Another similarity is what seems to be an emphasis on the moment of each sound as opposed to a musical linearity.  Each sound ‘appears’ as a musical response in it’s own right without it necessarily having to relate to what has gone before or what might appear after.  If this wasn’t intended this is certainly the effect that this performance creates.

This recording sits firmly within the style of European free-improvisation.  I would comment that it also contains a Reductionist-type quality, due to the silence and generally short sounds that are elicited although whether this was purposefully intended or not is another matter.  Compositionally the piece has a strong framework and sets the direction from a theoretical standpoint.  The sounds that are made are invoked by the score rather than governed, as it appears that there is much freedom of decision-making within the musical parameters.  Aesthetically from a listening point of view I can’t help feeling that the compositional idea is much stronger than that of the actual performance and what the music actually ‘sounds’ like.  However, it has a meditative quality about it at times, although the sounds can be quite ‘harsh’ (which is not entirely unexpected as this is the title and direction of an earlier Rowe album) it certainly allows you to think about what the sounds might mean in the context of their projected responses.  On the whole this is an interesting concept that doesn’t quite translate into the performance of the piece.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brandon Seabrook – Sylphid Vitalizers (New Atlantis, 2014) ****

By Julian Eidenberger

As far as avant-jazz is concerned, guitarist Brandon Seabrook’s main claim to fame is probably his involvement in Black Host, a band that has received due praise on these pages. However, his contributions in Black Host are not really representative of his approach as bandleader or solo artist; the constraints imposed by that band’s highly structured group improvisations bring to the fore an unusually subdued side of his playing. In order to give an inkling of what to expect on this solo record of his, it is perhaps better to point to his trio Seabrook Power Plant. Under this moniker, he blends the punk-based eclecticism of The Minutemen with New Music, some jazz and even the aggressive (hairspray-fuelled?) virtuosity of 80’s guitar “shredders” – a blend that’s weird even by the standards of NYC’s avant-rock scene.

Another characteristic trait of SBPP is Seabrook’s use of a tenor banjo, and indeed, that’s the first thing you’ll hear when playing Sylphid Vitalizers. Ballad of Newfangled Vicissitudes starts with a blizzard of notes that doesn’t sound particularly rustic, recalling the nearly impenetrable flurries of German guitarist Olaf Rupp instead. But just a couple of minutes in, the differences start to show: Unlike Rupp, Seabrook is not completely averse to conventional melody, and he likes to counter-balance density by introducing less crowded sections. In Ballad, the otherworldly drones of what sounds like a violin (but is in all likelihood Seabrook playing bowed guitar, Jimmy Page-style) interrupt the stream of notes, only to give way to the stomp of a faux-archaic dance towards the end.
Mucoidal Woolgathering follows a similar trajectory, as Seabrook once again tempers an insect-like swarm of notes with spacious droning, proving his mastery of multi-tracking in the process.

Apart from these banjo-based tracks, there are two cuts in which Seabrook relies exclusively on electric guitar. Selfodomized Poltergeists may have a few things in common with the much-maligned “shredding” alluded to above, but on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that instrumental dexterity is equalled by mental rigor here. It’s a track that proceeds in fits and starts, alternating between discordant high-velocity runs and stuttering electronic noises, like an unreliable motor that won’t ignite on one day but that’ll howl like a race-car engine on another. Cabeza Spasms & Aural Championships’ double title is mirrored in its structure, as dissonant fret-board athletics à la Mick Barr soon give way to an extended exercise in minimalism, redolent of Glenn Branca, and perhaps even Charlemagne Palestine. For the fifth and final track, Lurid Clusters, Seabrook returns to the banjo, reinforcing the minimalist connection without hiding the instrument’s rustic connotations, which makes for intriguing cognitive dissonance.

Dense, yet remarkably accessible, these guitar compositions will come back to haunt you like a curiously pleasurable idée fixe.