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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Franz Hautzinger, Julo Fujak, Zsolt Sörés - Live In Brussels (Hevhetia, 2014) ****

By Stef

Is it possible to create something without any reference to anything else, while still making sense? While still creating something meaningful instead of gibberish?

☠ ☮ ☯ ♠ Ω ♤ ♣ ♧ ♥ ♡ ♦ ♢ ♔ ♕ ♚ ♛ ⚜ ★ ☆ ✮ ✯ ☄ ☾ ☽ (Which means as much as : "Can something without any known context mean anything to you, even emotionally?" Or something totally different?) Can you relate to this? Can it resonate somehow?

 That is kind of the endeavor of avant-garde music. To go beyond the known, the go beyond the boundaries. But is this possible? The trio here are Franz Hautzinger on quarter-tone trumpet, Julo Fujak on semi-prepared piano, bowed bass guitar and sonic objects, and Zsolt Sörés on viola and live electronics. The three musicians manage to create something strong, powerful, coherent, while being in the beyond somewhere beyond reference frame. At least sonically. But that doesn't really alienate me, as a listener. I can relate to the haunting cry of the trumpet and the surprise in the few piano notes, the fragile sounds of the hesitating viola, the anguish in the whispered trumpet sounds, the strain in the electronics, the nervous agitation of the interaction, the emotional power of a chance meeting, the beauty of silence.

And can these sounds be beautiful too? For sure, their aesthetic is obvious: immediate, raw, sometimes colliding, sometimes repectful, yet so inpenetrable and unpredictable at times, that you want to listen to it again, also to capture the sounds, and maybe the feelings too, that you never heard before, that you want to be sure are really there, and not just as an sonic illusion, that what you heard below the surface may also be there, as an overall feeling of strangeness and appeal.

Available from Instantjazz.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP - Return the Tides (Cuneiform Records, 2014) ****

By Matthew Grigg

Return the Tides is the second album to be released this year dedicated to the memory of Rob Mazurek's mother, who died unexpectedly in 2013. Recorded two weeks after her passing, it represents a very different expression of loss to that documented on 'Mother Ode' from two months later. Recorded in Brazil, 'Return the Tides' finds Mazurek joined by The Black Cube SP; Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado from the Sao Paulo Underground, augmented by Thomas Rohrer, Rogerio Martins and Rodrigo Brandão.

Here the emotion underpinning the subject matter is clearly still very raw, and whilst this isn't the anguished cry of purely untempered catharsis, it feels more overtly impassioned than any other of Mazurek's group recordings to date. Whilst the vehicles utilised carry hallmarks found throughout his catalogue; insistent grooves and vamps, an undulating sea of electronics, keening cornet cries or spurts and smears, the manner of their application feels discernibly different. Whether in the complex layering of the Chicago Underground Duo, or the dizzying number of voices comprising the Exploding Star Orchestra, his work is often characterised by a sense of control and exactness of execution. Here, that precision and control is notably looser, resulting in a piece which feels emblematic of the destabilising nature of the subject matter.

Rock's primal immediacy underpins much of this recording. At times redolent of Cobham's 'Spectrum' and its ilk, but assuaged by a sense of stumbling entropy, the rhythmic insistency and distorted sonics touch on a gnarled tropicália, simultaneously suggestive of Konono N˚1's Congotronics and the tumbling dissonant no-wave of Mars. Although often electronics can elicit the sensation of being removed or distanced from the directly personal, as if using technology creates a buffer between inspiration and execution, here the opposite is true. The ever shifting distorted haze is as evocative as it is destabilising, and much of the records most affecting moments are found in its swirling eddies. Mazurek's cornet and Rohrer's soprano sax or rabeca (Brazilian fiddle) surface fleetingly, as if momentarily propelled atop the stormy electronic waters, before being submerged by the next wave of rolling percussion and contorted circuitry. Finally the stormy seas fall calm, and in its wake wordless vocalisations chant into the void.

In the Kübler-Ross model, the emotions of grief are explained in five stages. The solo 'Mother Ode' then represents the final stage, acceptance, a record full of the contemplative melancholy and the bittersweet joy of remembrance. By contrast 'Return the Tides' is a combination of the preceding four, a tangled mess of anguished textures, an emotionally charged voyage which must be navigated before the possibility of acceptance can be reached. It stands alongside 'A Love Supreme' as a recording that is both deeply personal but expressed with empathetic help from others, and whilst it is rare but not unique to jazz, it is unique within Mazurek's catalogue.

Rob Mazurek - cornet, electronics, voice
Mauricio Takara - drums, cavaquinho, voice
Guilherme Granado - keyboards, synths, sampler, voice
Thomas Rohrer - rabeca, electronics, soprano saxophone, voice
Rogerio Martins - percussion, voice
Rodrigo Brandão - voice

CD, Ltd 2LP & DL

Guitar Week: Coda

A big thank you to Stefan, Ed, Chris, Martin and Stef for their help with pulling guitar week together. 

We leave the week with the avant rock of Ava Mendoza's 'Unnatural Ways', one of the musicians we've been checking out lately ...

Ava Mendoza- guitar, vox/ Dominique Leone- keys, synths/ Nick Tamburro- drums, percussion

Ava Mendoza has an album coming out on New Atlantis in March. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Guitar Week: Jazz-Rock-Folk-Americana (Day 5)

Here on the FJB, we often cite free jazz pioneer clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre for his album "Free Fall", but a couple of years before his trio with guitarist Jim Hall spawned the hit "The Train and the River", which Giuffre described as "blues-based folk jazz"...

Bill Frisell - Guitar in the Space Age (Okeh, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Bill Frisell is a man of many facets, he has played hardcore with John Zorn’s Naked City, pure jazz in his duo with Jim Hall and his trio with Ron Carter and Paul Motian or avant-garde rock with Power Tools. But in the last few years he has also focused on his version of the Great American Songbook, especially of folk, country&western and pop songs. Albums like East/West, Ghost Town, The Willies or the marvelous Good Dog, Happy Man present Frisell’s vision of compositions like “Shenandoah”, “I’m so lonesome I could cry”, “John Hardy was a Desperate Little Man” or “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”.

Frisell has been criticized by his jazz fans for playing less complex music like this, but in an interview he said: “As I get older, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of playing something that was a part of my life. Some naive melody or childhood memory that I once would have thought wasn’t complicated enough.” On his new album he has chosen harmonically “simple” songs like The Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”, The Chantays’ “Pipeline”, The Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl” or Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”. And Frisell is very close to the originals, he is not interested in deconstructing them, instead he explores the sublimity of them by breathing the spirits of the songs – he builds a temple for them. His band – Greg Leisz on pedal and lap steel guitar, Kenny Wollesen on drums and Tony Scherr on bass – is outstanding, especially Leisz, maybe the world’s best pedal steel guitarist, is an equal soloist here, which makes the album a feast for guitar fans. Guitar in the Space Age is on par with Good Dog, Happy Man, it’s a Frisell essential and a great trip down memory lane.

Ross Martin, Max Johnson & Jeff Davis - Big Eyed Rabbit (Not Two, 2014) ****

How viable is bluegrass as a basis for free improvization? The music itself is largely improvisational, though rooted in chord changes and certain traditions. So what if you strip out traditions, pull back the changes, and let the other elements of the music remain -the rhythms, the melodic language, the open feel? That’s what the trio of Big Eyed Rabbit have done to great effect on their eponymous release.

The group is Ross Martin on electric guitar, Max Johnson on bass and Jeff Davis on drums. Though their feet are firmly planted in the New York jazz scene, Martin’s bluegrass influenced guitar playing references the Americana stylings of Frisell, bluegrass virtuoso work of Tony Rice, and even some Wes Montgomery for good measure. The tracks on the album include some bluegrass standards - ‘Cluck Old Hen’ and ‘Brown Country Breakdown’, which are both stand out tracks, hewing both close to bluegrass and letting themselves stretch out in ways most likely never imagined by Bill Monroe. The original tracks, like ‘One of my Happiness’ and ‘Mr. Sherbert’ have their own connections to the style and demonstrate the group’s originality extends far beyond interpretation.

Great album!

Erik Friedlander –Nighthawks (Skipstone, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

In October 2012 there was a massive blackout which struck New York City. Cellist Erik Friedlander was inspired by the quiet and solitude that lay over the usually busy and loud city like a pall. In the end Friedlander wrote ten new compositions for his band with guitarist  Doug Wamble, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin which are rooted in rock, blues, folk and C&W but which are also deeply tinged in an urban somberness and melancholia – the result is a perfect soundtrack for a walk through a dark and deserted Manhattan.

Musically it’s the clash between Friedlander’s classical approach and Wamble’s slide guitar that makes the difference on Nighhawks. There is a also lot of excellent musicianship, but it’s the marvelous melodic compositions that stand out, mainly on ballads like the folky “Hopper's Blue House”, reminding of Bill Frisell’s Americana albums with its cello arpeggios juxtaposed to a delicately and lightly sketched slide guitar tune, or “Nostalgia Blindside”, a perfect companion for the hours around 4.a.m. when you are tangled up in blue.  The highlight of the album is the title track – the longest and slowest ballad – which is dominated by unison playing of cello and guitar, elegant guitar flageolets, open, reverberating, lush guitar chords and a heartbreaking pizzicato solo by Friedlander.

There might be another reason why the album is so nostalgic since Friedlander’s wife had died less than a year before. However  many of the tunes breathe optimism and joie de vivre like the opener “Sneaky Pete” or the midtempo blues-rock number “26 Gasoline Stations”.

A very fine and accessible album.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Guitar Week: Four or More (Day 4)

Today we move on up to larger groups ...

Eric Hofbauer

By Stefan Wood

Eric Hofbauer Quintet - Prehistoric Jazz Vol 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music, 2014) ***½

Eric Hofbauer Quintet - Prehistoric Jazz Vol 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music, 2014) ***

Eric Hofbauer's Prehistoric Jazz vols 1 & 2 tackle two landmark 20th century classical pieces. Volume 1 is Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and volume 2 is Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time." His quintet -- Hofbauer (guitar), Jerry Sabatini (trumpet), Todd Brunel (clarinet), Junko Fujiwara (cello) and Curt Newton (drums) -- reimagine these works for a jazz setting, and they succeed, admirably.

The music of Rite of Spring should need no introduction, as it is the cornerstone for all modern music.  Here, Hofbauer takes it and reduces it to a quintet setting, which does a couple of things.  The music is stripped to its essence; each musician playing the role of various groups within the orchestra, and it really reveals the astonishing complexity and genius of Stravinsky's composition.  It feels contemporary; while composed, the quintet makes it fell like a work that inhabits the modern free music environment.  I wish, though, that they were less polite in their interpretation and more aggressive, as this is a passionate and quite violent work.  Having said that, "Prehistoric Jazz: volume 1 - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring" is an enjoyable listen, and a worthy and unique addition to the vast catalogue of interpretations of this work.

On volume 2 the quintet takes on Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," an equally difficult and powerful work written during World War II in a German concentration camp.  A sobering work, but very life affirming.  Hofbauer and his group have some gorgeous moments playing the piece, notable in particular Fujiwara and Brunel's solos.   The playing is very similar to volume 1, very evenly toned and mannered,  and in some ways it becomes an issue here.  Their approach is at times ponderous, as if they are working their way through certain parts as opposed to expressing the music.  It is a difficult work.  Of the two, volume 1 would be the one to get, but getting both volumes would be better to get a sense of the Hofbauer Quintet's achievements here.

Ken Aldcroft

By Ed Pettersen

Ken Aldcroft's Convergence Ensemble -Tangent (For Eric Dolphy) (Trio Records, 2014)****

It’s really a treat for me when I keep getting handed music by the Free Jazz Blog gang that I know nothing about beforehand yet blows my mind.  Guitarist Ken Aldcroft’s work with his Convergence Ensemble and Threads is completely original and invigorating.  “Tangent” by the Convergence Ensemble is a fitting tribute to sax/flute great Eric Dolphy.  Seven songs influenced by Mr. Dolphy’s career work, are broken up into sections and make for a strong hour of music sympathetically played by a crack group of musicians.  The interplay is fantastic, playful and beautifully arranged.  The recording is warm and full and great care was obviously taken.  Each player is given plenty of room to expound on the composed basic themes and even the improvised portions sound so tight you’d think they were worked out carefully beforehand (which I was assured by Mr. Aldcroft they weren’t).  After three listens through the entire record I still wasn’t bored.  Really great stuff and very inspiring.  Mr. Dolphy would be proud.

The Convergence Ensemble consists of: Ken Aldcroft- guitar, Karen Ng- alto saxophone, Scott Thomson- trombone, Wes Neal- bass and Joe Sorbara- drums.

Ken Aldcroft THREADS (Quintet)- "10/09/11" (Trio Records, 2014) ****

The title of the Threads (which is a quartet not a quintet) disc comes from a show Mr. Aldcroft saw in Guelph, Ontario on that date by Henry Threadgill’s Zooid Ensemble but was recorded by Threads in 2013.  The main concept, influenced by that performance by Threadgill and band, was to keep the pulse going throughout the songs.  Three songs; one an eighth note feel, one swing and the last Bossa Nova but instructions were to keep it moving forward which it surely does in splendid fashion.  Eschewing bass for synth on this recording and changing drummers versus the “Tangent” record creates more openness and space but no less excitement.  Mr. Aldcroft’s guitar is used in a more textural realm on “10/9/11” yet when he opens up it tickles the ear and triumphs without being overly showy.  His technique and restraint is admirable.  Ms. Ng returns from the “Tangent” disc and is a wonderful foil again, filling in between phrases beautifully.  There’s a lot of room here too and textures abound.  The songs are long, an hour of music total, but never seem so.  Excellent.  Get both of these records.  Highly, highly recommended.

THREADS are: Ken Aldcroft- guitar, Karen Ng- alto saxophone, Jonathan Adjemian- analog synth, Germaine Liu- drums, and Josh Cole - electric bass.

 (“Tangent” is released Nov. 30, 2014 and “THREADS” Jan. 16, 2015)

Tisziji Muñoz – Sky Worlds (Anami Music, 2014) ****½

By Chris Haines

Tisziji Muñoz seems to have been quite busy lately with a number of archived recordings finding the light of day and being released this year.  This particular recording from 2002 features a quintet of Ravi Coltrane (Saxophone), Bernie Senensky (Piano), Don Pate (Bass), Rashied Ali (Drums) and Tisziji himself (Guitar).  The album opens with a slower but still really swinging version of God-Fire, which originally appeared on the fantastic album Breaking the Wheel of Life and Death!  Tisziji’s playing is as wonderful as ever and he moves between sustained languid melodic lines to blistering rapid sets of notes freely played.  As a thoughtful musician he also allows his fellow musicians to come to the fore, in particular Ravi Coltrane and Bernie Senensky who seem to fit very comfortably within the group sound, whilst Rashied Ali and Don Pate really are the engine of the band.  The pieces really open up all through the album and there is some fantastic improvisations to be heard throughout with the energy coming from the live in the studio approach.  This is another great album from this master of free jazz guitar.

David Ullmann 8 - Cordoroy (self released, 2014) ***½

Guitarist David Ullmann's octet may not really fit into the milieu of free jazz - in fact Ullmann's inspiration isn't looking forward but rather back - at television theme music from the 1970s. I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I do hold a special place for the television shows and movies from the 70s - before the 80s came and crushed its soul. Ullmann's study and use of period tonalities and harmonies are starting points for the compositions. The group is: Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Brian Drye (trombone), Mike McGinnis (clarinet), Loren Stillman (saxophone), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Gary Wang (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).

Stand out tracks: 'Cordoroy' with its reflective and slightly wistful melody, and 'Ocelot' with it's cop show vibe.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Guitar Week: Trios (Day 3)

Day three of guitar week - we're into trios now and there seems to be quite a lot of them!

Jakob Thorkild Trio – Art Sleaze (Tyrfing, 2014) ****

This power trio has the attitude of punk, the sounds of heavy rock and the exploration of freely improvised music.  At times the sound is slightly reminiscent of another Scandinavian powerhouse, The Scorch Trio.  On some tracks angular melodic lines are presented over a rock rhythm section whilst on other pieces Thorkild creates noise-based material (such as rubbing his guitar strings, and effect based generated sounds), which appears to do battle with the throbbing bass and thunderous drums that become the canvas for his sonic spatterings.  With the language of rock being recognised through chugging guitar licks and harmonic squeals, the histrionics of the style are laid to waste and the sounds are used in a much freer sense against a throbbing backdrop.  The eleven minute title track starts in this vein but gradually succumbs to it’s own pounding spilling out into a Krautrock type improv to bring the piece to a close.  The final piece Deutchland even starts Neu!-esque over a brisk up-tempo march of a rhythm. There is some great playing on this album and I thoroughly recommend it to fans of guitar based power trios.

Bogdo Ula – Cult of the Harmonic Oscillation (Bandcamp, 2014) ***½

Starting with a soaring guitar sound and the monstrous punctuations of bass and drums in unison, this album immediately launches itself into progressive rock territory.  However, this is no pre-composed set of pieces as the six tracks on this album have been selected from five days worth of intense improvising.  The music is fluid, which has a lot to do with the bass and drums ability to ground the music without falling back on to a pattern that might resemble a clichéd rock rhythm.  The album seems to borrow between two particularly distinct styles.  That of a progressive rock oriented approach and sounds that are often found within a more experimental domain.  The continuity in sound, playing and style combines these approaches and the music we get is of an interesting set of improvisations that complement each other well.  This is the eighth album by this Finnish trio and they sound like they may have enough energy for another eight!

EFT - Spatial Awareness (OutNow, 2014) ****½

EFT is guitar, drums and electronics trio from Israel and their album Spatial Awareness is an icky good affair. It's cover has some vaguely alien but all too human looking image, it sounds like a little like a heart being defibrillated at times, and is probably one of the more absorbing albums I've listened to. I can't get the shards of guitar and arrhythmic beats out of my head, and the prickly electronics are sparingly applied, shaping the sound but not domineering. It's just all done so well. 

The tracks leading up to the center piece 'Emerging Foundations' build from the last. Gaining in volume and intensity, the trio works up the nerve to the track's embark on the splintered mayhem and long spacious interludes. The fizzle of electronics spar with with the scattershot of the guitar and well placed propulsion from the drums keep the track in motion. What exactly what makes it all work is wonderfully mysterious, but I'm happy to report that it works just great!

Oh, and I'm going to vote this track title for title of the year: 'friend of no one but your phone'. 

Anthony Pirog - Palo Colorado Dream (Cuneiform, 2014) ****

Anthony Pirog is a Washington DC based guitarist who has studied studied and played genres across the spectrum - from folk to surf to rock to experimental jazz - and all of these influences show on his trio recording 'Palo Colorado Dream'. Calling on his deep East Coast connections, Pirog has tapped free jazz A-listers Ches Smith for drums and Micheal Formanek for bass. 

The first track may just have you do a double take - is it Bill Frisell circa Gone Just like a Train? Well, sometimes it sounds like that, but it has a little more muscle. Next track, 'Minimalist', we're in Zappa territory. 'Threshold' digs into Material a bit, with a stuttering groove and dark rubbery bass line. 'The New Electric' is impressionistic and quieter, but with that certain 'post-rock' sensibility. 

An extremely good album that almost seems like foreshadowing to whatever is next.

Dylan Ryan's Sand - Circa (Cuneiform, 2014) ****

We first heard Dylan Ryan on his debut recording Sky Bleached last year. The album was an excellent intro to the drummer, who creates excitement through his ensemble minded compositions - and it's really interesting to hear the guitar power trio format not fronted by the guitarist. Working again with Bassist Devon Hoff and guitarist Timothy Young, Ryan may be even a bit more grounded in a group sound on this outing. 

The overall sound is heavier and more hard rock minded than last time. Though a tune like evocative 'Pink Noir' has a single line approach to the melody, many of the tracks seem to be based around thick chordal melodic lines. The bass and drums are equal partners and help to make each track move. A real treat is the bass work on 'Slow Sculpture', which sounds just like its title suggests.  

Circa is a dense, rock laden affair and leaves the listener pretty blown away.

Ronny Graupe’s Spoom – As they are (Shoebillmusic, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

Spoom is a trio founded by German guitarist Ronny Graupe with Christian Lillinger on drums and Jonas Westergaard on bass, their music is both notated as well as improvised while – as they say – the improvised part reflects the notated one. The improvisations do not follow classic short themes, though, they are rather a processing of musical ideas. On As they are this can be seen on “Borders“, the longest and most complex track of the album. It starts off as a classic modern jazz track, but soon it gets lost in new classical music before the band seems to throw harmonic structures to the wind just to pick up some strict repetitive patterns. The rest of the track are explorations in silence, chords and single notes that float through space aimlessly before the track goes back to the modern jazz beginning.

Graupe’s style is somewhere in between Wes Montomery and Mary Halvorson and he is supported by a fantastic band. Lillinger is the most interesting of the young German drum generation, he likes the grand gesture but then his technical repertoire is simply sensational (listen to his drum & bass hellfire in “Square Tango"),while Jonas Westergaard draws a lot from cool jazz history.

As they are is available on vinyl, the LP contains an audiofile download code.

Listen to "Square Tango" here:

Andymusic - Heavydance (Auand Records, 2014) ****½ 

By Chris Haines

Andymusic is a versatile guitar trio who mix-up funk, bop, cool jazz and rock elements into an interesting concoction of strict tight structures, which form the basis for more open and improvised lead breaks.  The composed forms take on a collage-like structure with the feel of swung sections immediately rubbing-up against straighter jazz-funk rhythms, whilst irregular meters, odd phrasing, quirky melodies and busy textures are common place to add to the interjection and intensity of the contrasts.  However, unlike more obvious sound collages the music flows very carefully, albeit with jerky abandon, throughout the pieces and has a consistent feel to it across the whole album.  The musicianship is second to none, the bass and drums forming a tight and inventive unit whilst the guitar of Manlio Maresca (his more angular lead playing being reminiscent of Marc Ducret) weaves in and out of the rhythmic unity.  At times punctuating and supporting the existing structure and at other times moving freely and with great articulation whilst soloing around them.  This is a very well conceived album full of creativity and invention, which seems to get better with every listen.

Wolfgang Muthspiel - Driftwood (ECM, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Wolfgang Muthspiel's Driftwood, is a gorgeous guitar trio effort that adheres to the ECM aesthetic in many regards - crystalline production and measured playing, but it also has its share of fire. Muthspiel is an incredibly fluid player and his fleetness on the nylon string guitar is delightful.

On Muthspiel's first recording for the label, he brings along bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade. This is not an unseasoned trio of musicians and their experience infuses the tracks with depth and vitality. For example, the spontaneous and delicate 'Driftwood' showcases such rich interplay you may think it was composed as such. The track 'Uptown' is a perfect example of both the fire and finesse, with Muthspiel's nylon string riding over a jaunty rhythm. Another highlight is 'Highline' - the rich tone of the bowed bass and warm acoustic sound contrasts nicely with the distorted electric guitar and deep slightly akimbo pocket of the rhythm section. Driftwood fits easily into The ECM discography sitting beside John Abercrombie, Gateway, and Ralph Towner (with whom Muthspiel collaborated with on Towner's Travel Guide last year).

John Zorn - Valentines Day (Tzadic, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

John Zorn doesn't play on his album Valentines Day, but he did write the tunes specifically for this trio of bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and guitarist Marc Ribot. The album is a scorcher - really showcasing the best of Ribot's aggressive guitar playing with the imaginative support of the Dunn and Sorey. Kicking off with 'Potions and Poisons', Ribot is slashing and burning his way through a dense forest of percussion over a ominous rumble of bass. Sorey doesn't keep a straight beat but his pulse is all rock, essentially another lead instrument. 'Blind Owl and Buckwheat' finds the trio in a bit of a hoe down mood before splintering into a fractured dance. Before the album wraps, Dunn makes sure to get in some musical punches on 'And the Clouds Drift By' - which may be true as you are lying on your back, looking up, knocked out by the power of this trio.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Guitar Week: Duos (Day 2)

Day two of guitar week ... duo recordings!

Joe Sachse & Nils Wogram - Free & Tremendous (Jazzwerkstatt, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

I am thinking about the book Woodstock am Karpfenteich: Die Jazzwerkstatt Peitz which recalls the underground free jazz festival in 1970's East Germany. A DVD of the latter day 'comeback concert' has Joe Sachse and fellow guitarist Uwe Kropinski playing as a duo, and during the show, Sachse uses a screwdriver to pull out sounds from his guitar. Of course, Thurston Moore has made the screwdriver his thing, but it seems amazing how the same tools, in different hands, produce such different outcomes.

On Free and Tremendous, Sachse along with trombonist  Nils Wogram, take a somewhat unlike pairing of instruments and produce some really exciting results. Utilizing the horn to its fullest, Wogram acts as bass, melody and even percussion at times. Sachse creates a world of sound, from lush chordal melodies to collages of beyond-the-guitar sounds. The 20 minute 'Ma(h)l End' is a good example of this with Sachse tapping and scratching out a rhythm track for the Wogram to play over. Most intriguing are the bursts of crystalline guitar lines, often hinting at blues and traditional jazz, basically little songs within themselves. Overall, a great duo set - when the two musicians connect, their approaches mesh wonderfully.

Ross Hammond & Grant Calvin Weston - Blues and Daily News (Prescott Recordings, 2014) ****

Blues and Daily News is the product of a long distance relationship - drummer Grant Clavin Weston from Philadelphia and guitarist Ross Hammond from Sacramento. Weston, whose vita includes work with Ornette Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, recorded percussion tracks and sent them to Hammond to add his expert touch.

The opening 'Huff and Puff and Blow it Down' is a scorcher, with Hammond's rough hewn lines searing over Weston's strong foundation. Other tunes like  'Aquarium Salt' are atmospheric, with Weston front and center while Hammond creates the soundscapes. The track 'Big Dipper' is more rock oriented, and on 'Blue Teeth', Hammond is on open tuned acoustic playing slide over Weston's straight ahead pulse.  The Blues in the name permeates the feel of mostly every track, even if it's not over blues changes per-se. The Daily News portion happens on the buzzy and sludgy title track where news broadcasts are interwoven into Hammond's best Crazy Horse inspired moments. Dig in!

Fred Frith & John Butcher - The Natural Order (Northern Spy, 2014) ***½

The Natural Order is a new collaborative work between two prominent musicians of contemporary music, Fred Frith (guitar), and John Butcher (sax).  Comprised of ten tracks, Frith and Butcher engage in a series of duets that are challenging and engaging.  Frith's guitar work is second to none; from his years with the great avant rock group Henry Cow to Naked City to his own projects, his skills and language with the guitar is organic, inventive, and used in ways that at times defy convention in how the instrument should sound.  

On "Dance First, Think Later," Frith's plucking of notes is seemingly random, like hitting keys on a piano, but he is building a structure of sound that grows in intensity, later joined by Butcher, blowing hard and furious on the sax, growing loud, then drifting off with a descending wave of long, throaty notes. "Faults of His Feet" has a metallic, jangling guitar (a la Sonic Youth) with plucky accents by Butcher that are at first almost string like, then blowing in a series of delicate, Wayne Shorter like accents, counterpoint to the guitar.  Butcher then really stretches out, firing off a cascade of ascending, rolling notes that fold over each other; Frith accenting with percussive notes that murmur in the background.  A fine moment for Butcher.  Organic sounds dominate on "Colour of an Eye Half Seen," the instruments blurting, spitting, gurgling, chirping like insects, droning like a constantly blowing wind, all for 13 + minutes.  "The Welts, the Squeaks, the Belts, the Shrieks" is exactly what the title describes, again, both musicians making their instruments a vibrant, dynamic force of nature that percolates and burst forth in an act of creation.  "Accommodating the Mess" concludes the album with a series of electronic samples of Frith's guitar, Stockhausen like, before Butcher comes in and delivers a gorgeous solo that drifts above the guitar plucking and bowing.  Then he becomes more aggressive, like a buzzing bee, accompanied by a squealing guitar.  Frith employs some searing notes to conclude the album.  

The Natural Order is a very good album with an unusual pairing of guitar and sax, and it is to the musician's credit that they are able to deliver a series of tracks that challenges one's expectations of sound and execution.  Overall it is an engaging work.  

Joe Morris & Chris Cretella - Storms (Glacial Erratic, 2014) ****

If I could point to one record to an uninitiated friend on what modern free jazz is this could be it. That’s not to say it’s the definitive statement of today’s free jazz guitar scene or my favorite new free jazz disc but it’s damn close.  It’s a remarkable example of two very gifted guitarists at their free form best.

Both from Connecticut, Joe Morris is a bassist, guitarist and composer and Chris Cretella is a guitarist who studied with Mr. Morris at the New England Conservatory of Music and the sympathy between these two players is obvious, palpable and tremendous.  It is not a stretch to say that you are not likely to hear an acoustic guitar finger style record like this from anyone else now or in the near future and even Derek Bailey, a hero of mine, would be stunned and equally proud of the work Mr. Morris and Cretella have created here were he still around.

It’s frenetic without being annoying and dizzying in its scope.  Escewing effects and pyrotechnics it constantly moves forward and stirs the listener at every twist and turn and is beautifully recorded.  Just two acoustics in what sounds like a medium-sized room and that’s it but I couldn’t stop listening to it.  Simple, elegant, plucky (literally and figuratively), genuinely thrilling and titillating.  If you’re into acoustic free jazz and/or improvisation get this disc.  You won’t be disappointed.

Joe Morris should be familiar to the FJ crowd from his work with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Ken Vandermark, Eugene Chadborne, John Butcher, Hamid Drake and others. Chris Cretella has also played with Anthony Coleman, Mary Halvorson, Gary Lucas and Rhys Chatham.

KÖök - Imber, Wiltshire (VaFongool, 2014) ***½

In England is the town of Imber. During WWII it was evacuated by the Allies for training purposes and though the town didn't end up being used for such, when the war ended, the population did not return. It has stood, and still stands today, as a ghost town, and an inspiration to the guitar duo of KÖök (Jørn Erik Ahlsen & Stian Larsen) who try to recreate the sound of an abandoned town. Yes, this is a quiet album, but one fraught with tension.    

The opener 'Slumber Court' is a meditative nine minute long. Long drones and lightly modulating electronic sounds create a sonic world suspended in time. A whispering clinically cold voice implores that you 'turn your attention to the feeling in your right leg...' - spooky start! The duo is joined by bassist Guro Skumsnes Moe, who adds some deep terror to "Evacuate" and by Dag Erik Knedal who adds percussive elements to a couple tunes, like "St. Giles", which is a reference to the still standing church tower in the town. Through the austere images and stark presentation, KÖök has created a gripping soundscape that will appeal to adventurous listeners. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Guitar Week: Solo Guitar (Day 1)

An occasional series where we delve into recent guitar related releases. We're kicking off guitar week with a set of solo guitar recordings...

Manuel Mota - Blackie and Headlights

By Chris Haines

The Portuguese guitarist occasionally finds himself being compared to Derek Bailey.  This is not a comparison that I have ever bought into as I have always felt that their styles and techniques are so completely different.  Mota has always had an increased sense of space in his music, which seems almost the opposite to Bailey’s rich and complex tapestry woven by his quick and nimble leaping around the fretboard.  When it comes to these comparisons I think what I’m trying to get at is that the texture of their music is completely different.  Maybe what has driven this argument is that Mota gained high praise from the master himself, but probably gained this accolade because he was creating music that was different to Bailey’s.  Having listened to these two recordings by Mota, that have been released on his own label this year, I’m not likely to change my mind anytime soon.  Both releases are for solo guitar and demonstrate and explore different sides to Mota’s playing.

Blackie (Headlights 2014) ***½
This album features Mota’s sparse fingerpicking style with the sound of the guitar drenched in reverb creating music of a reflective and contemplative nature from the guitarist.  There are four tracks on this album, all with the same overall feel to them.  When listening very closely, which this sort of music demands from the listener, the attention to detail is what generates the interest with careful use of dynamics within a limited spectrum and the thoughtful placement of sounds.  As a limited edition run of only 77 copies I’m sure this one will be sold out soon.

090114 (Headlights 2014) ***
This release shows the other prominent side of Mota’s playing, with the music being a single piece drone-based structure created by the guitarist’s cleverly controlled use of feedback which finds itself being subtly processed throughout the work.  The music gradually evolves throughout the piece whilst creating a consistent atmosphere eventually ending up in a sound world similar to that of Blackie.  Even though the sound is almost continuous throughout, the sense of space that you find within Mota’s music is very much part of the fabric and again requires careful listening to be fully appreciated.  This work is much shorter than Blackie and comes in at just under 26 minutes, however the quality of the piece is good.

Stephan Meidell-Cascades (Hubro Records, 2014) ****

By Ed Pettersen

Bergen, Norway-based guitarist Stephan Meidell takes a bold step to the forefront of new, experimental guitarists with his debut record, “Cascades”.  It hums, rumbles, thumps, growls and purrs its way into your consciousness and hypnotizes with its unique blend of percussive elements, drones and guitar textures.

Recorded in a cavernous old meat storage facility, a silo and a large freezer (!) and improvised before taking the recordings back to his home studio for more work he successfully reimagines the role of the guitar and creates what may best be called “industrial free form crunk jazz” and at times you’ll be challenged to find what is guitar and what is some other mad sound module or effect pedal.

Like his Norwegian predecessors Eivind Aarset and Stian Westerhuis, who also explore large, reverberant spaces, he is wholly original and masterful at his art and is an expert at making you “feel” the largess of their recordings.  The control he exudes over these spaces is nothing less than dizzying.  Anyone who has played in natural, untreated facilities can attest to how difficult it can be to control but Mr. Meidell never seems like he’s struggling or fighting these rooms.  You’d almost think he knew exactly how to restrain himself and play into it beforehand.  The decay on the performances are magnificent.

Schooled at the Jazz Conservatory of Amsterdam, Stephan Meidell also contributes to other projects such as Cakewalk (guitar, synth and drum drone rock), The Sweetest Thrill (indie hypno guitar and drums) and Krachmacher (noise pop) but start here with this fantastic solo debut.  It’s majestic, fiery, scary and alluring.  Highly recommended.

All instruments by Stephan Meidell.

Track Listing: Suspire, Simulate, Sedate, Solace, Serene, Strike, Stage and Sphere.

Gunnar Backman - Gitar / Sin No More (Brakeophonic, 2014) ***½


Gunnar Backman is a guitarist from Sweden whose work has been covered here before, most recently with the group's Baptet and Headjive. Here, we find Beckman going solo with his electric fretted and non-fretted virtual guitar and looping tools, exploring sonic territory that calls to mind the pioneering SynthAxe guitar work of Allan Holdsworth.

Firmly planted in the rock/fusion world Gitar! features loops and effects to create a sort of set of exercises that tries out different approaches and ideas. Throughout the sequence of tracks, some real stand out ones are the hard hitting #9 and the layered atmospheric #11.  Sin No More is an album that tilts a little more to longer structures, and over the course of the six tracks, showcases an excellently varied improvisational set. The title track is quite interesting and fits neatly into the Crimson soundscape category, while the opening 'Aquire' offers up spiky peaks mixed with atmospheric lows. 'Sorrow' is very interesting and intriguing track, like a musical squeegee sliding across glass. 

Listen and download (from Bandcamp):

Corrie van Binsbergen - Self Portrait In Pale Blue (Brokken Records, 2013) ****

I hadn't heard of Dutch guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen before listening to this recording, but from what I've heard, I'll be keeping my eye out for other recordings. From a few YouTube clips, I got a sense of her more fusion / rock playing, which were quite intriguing in their own right, but her solo recording may be an even more enjoyable listen.

The album, which was made on the occasion of a recording date where the band fell through but in which van Binsbergen was encouraged to improvise solo. That turned out to be good advice. The recording begins with an atmospheric, melancholic melody over subtle drones. Her approach is almost classical, the undertaking of each note as important as the note itself. She then begin's introducing layers through effects and loops, the playing shifts to a more legato rock feel. Each track has an arc, sometimes building into delicate beautiful structures, other times, crumbling to dust. 

A keeper!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nels Cline & Julian Lage - Room (Mack Avenue, 2014) *****

By Paul Acquaro

The guitar duo is one of my favorite musical settings – it has it all: camaraderie and creativity, volume and versatility, and so many vibrating strings. In late spring of 2012 I caught the then new duo of Nels Cline and Julian Lage playing as an opening act at a show at Le Poisson Rouge and their music has been lodged in the back of my mind since. I plunked down a little too much cash for a single they released called 'Racy' and crossed my fingers for a full length release. Enter Room.

So, as you now know, I'm biased towards this configuration and with completely clouded judgement I can say Room is a fantastic recording, genuinely living up to my expectations. The album is balance of composed and spontaneous parts and is well served is by the potent mix of the ever inventive and evolving Cline and the disciplined and devilishly good Lage. From avant-garde noise to alt-rock (can I still use that term?), Cline is up there pantheon of guitar greats. Lage comes from a more traditional jazz background and has worked with many prominent musicians such as Fred Hersch and Gary Burton. Here, the two guitarists blend impressively - be it chordal romps, arpeggiated forays or improvised sparring - to create a cohesive sound that remains captivating all the way through.

The album begins with 'Abstract', in which the sounds of crisp clean guitars single note lines and double stops play off each other. With loosely agreed upon passages rapidly breaking into free association. 'Racy' is next, featuring synchronous lines, rapid chase sequences, and nice solo turns. 'The Scent of Light' follows and its a much more open and spacious piece, it builds over nine minutes with repetitive phrases and contrasting patterns, this one in fact reminds me just a little of Cline's work with the Acoustic Guitar Trio. Track-by-track the variety and diversity of styles, approaches to playing, and the mix of straight ahead and free playing all expertly unfold.

Room was worth the wait. These two expert guitarists, coming from different places, have met in a space where their individual voices support each other and virtuosity takes a backseat to their music making.

Cline and Lage are playing on Tuesday the 25th at SubCulture in NYC


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Matthew Shipp Trio - Root of Things (Relative Pitch, 2014) ****

By Antonio Poscic

There’s no denying that Matthew Shipp currently ranks among the best, most prolific, and most innovative pianists in jazz. Whether playing solo, with his trio, or with some of his innumerable collaborators, his technique, style, and compositions are delightful and instantly recognizable. On Root of Things, a new chapter of his musical journey, he’s joined yet again by loyal and skillful collaborators, contrabassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.

Together they interpret Shipp’s work in a most remarkable way. Their music yearns for the avant garde, but is, in this instance, nonetheless engaged in styles and approaches that do not test sonic boundaries or aim to stress the listener. It is a somewhat more conservative and traditional piano jazz trio. That is not to say the music is unadventurous or boringly safe, quite the contrary. Because even though superficially it might seem like pretty and enjoyable music, quite easy to grasp and to be immersed into, closer listening reveals that it is actually sewn together from elements which will pique the interest of even the most audacious and demanding listeners. This holds true for all of the six songs. The album starts with one tune which I can only deem to be beautiful. “Root of Things” is orchestrated around a soothing, repetitive theme which the musicians use as base for rhythmic, chromatic, and melodic meanderings. Meanwhile, Shipp dictates the mood: pensive and groovy. On the other side of the spectrum there’s “Jazz It” which, as the name implies, really does jazz it. It’s a tune that takes on a traditional notion and evolves it with a rolling, boppy rhythm, with Shipp’s piano following suit. As it gets busier and more frenetic, you might think it could spiral out of control, but it never does. The bass and drums pummel, the sounds are disparate yet cohesive, like a perfect storm. And before you know it, it all clears up and you’re left with the revelation of how good the music and musicians really are.

Bisio gets his solo spot during the first minutes of “Path” which he fills with a mesmerizing bass line leading to quiet, controlled turmoil, while Dickey enjoys almost five minutes of marching, pulsing soloing on “Pulse Code”. His band members join him during the closing minutes of the tune and try and follow in his footsteps. Shipp himself channels some of his solo mastery during the intro to “Solid Circuit”, which also serves as a showcase of how wonderfully Bisio and Dickey complement and understand Shipp’s music. Shipp’s signature mixture of styles and techniques, coming together in a very special and unique way, is as present here as on his recent solo records. Yet, these sonic elements are rather suppressed to accommodate the outstanding phrasing of Bisio’s bass and the rhythmic explosions and trips introduced by Dickey’s drumming. Technical prowess is not imperative, it’s the moods and intricacies of what the band plays that dominate. It’s the very chemistry between the players that impresses.

The length of the album feels just right, as well, and doesn’t fall into the trap of dragging on for too long. Each idea is explored for just the right amount of time. There’s an elusive quality to this music that makes it work on many levels, whether you choose to listen to subtle changes in tone and rhythm of each instrument as the songs progress or just enjoy the resultant soundscape. So the music is clearly great, but what about the production? After all, the piano trio, especially when varied as this one, is often hard to record properly. Luckily enough, the production is great and captures both the quiet passages and busier parts correctly.

In closing, I can’t say much else other than this is another great recording by Matthew Shipp and another worthy addition to his enormous discography. Interesting compositions wonderfully executed by brilliant musicians, what more could we ask for?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Avantbrass - Filum Terminale (Discordian, 2014) ***

By Stef

In a way I love brass bands, the slow marching bands, the funeral brass bands, the simple and powerful tunes of the village bands, music without pretence apart from reflecting the mood of the audience, either festive or sad, and in the best of cases making sad people happy again or making happy people reflect on the deep melancholy that pervades life.

Without pretence, so is Avantbrass, a band from Spain, or Catalonia to be more precise (one has to be careful these days) consisting of Pol Padrós on trumpet, Iván González on French horn, Josep Tutusaus on trombone,  David Parras on tuba, Aleix Forts on double bass, and Guillem Arnedo on drums.

Why are they reviewed here? Because as their name suggests, they color outside the lines, playing nice themes in full harmony and equally nicely arranged, only for the whole edifice to collapse on itself once in a while, with musicians and instruments going their own way, only to regroup and recreate and get back to the main theme, with wild soloing on top. Ferocious at times, melancholy at other moments. Nothing extraordinary, nothing exceptional, but good and clever fun.

If anyone's interested in more of this, I can easily recommend The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Youngblood Brass Band from the US, the Florina Brass Band from Greece, the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from Rajastan in India, Kočani Orkestar from Macedonia, or Boban Marković Orchestra from Serbia. Check them out on Youtube or elsewhere on the web, and enjoy!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Andreas Schaerer & Lucas Niggli – Arcanum (Intakt, 2014) ****

By Julian Eidenberger

Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli is one of the lesser known drumming greats working in avant/improv music right now. Despite collaborations with Barry Guy, and a trio recording alongside Elliot Sharp and Melvin Gibbs, he still seems to be largely unknown to listeners outside of Central Europe. This contrasts with the often outstanding quality of his contributions, and witnessing him play with his Avant-Rock/New Music trio Steamboat Switzerland should suffice to convince anyone of Niggli’s supreme abilities. But it would be unfair to focus attention solely on Niggli, as the record to be reviewed here is not a solo effort. His musical partner here is Andreas Schaerer, who happens to be an interesting musician in his own right. He works primarily as a vocal artist, which is to say here that he’s more interested in mimicking all kinds of noises than in “singing”, which he does only occasionally. As a duo, they create experimental music that’s not without a sense of humor, sometimes fast-paced and jumpy, sometimes slow and moody, but always with a Dadaistic playfulness.

Comparisons to Mike Patton are almost inevitable at this point, but arguably, Arcanum is a more interesting and consistent proposition than many Patton-related projects, which are often marred by a somewhat gimmicky approach to music-making. While opener Pipe Tomahawk kicks things off in the most Patton-ish way imaginable, with Schaerer alternating between siren-like and animalistic noises, and Niggli indulging in a wild, constantly time-shifting drum workout, the record as a whole is more varied and subtle than this single track would lead you to believe. Take, for instance, Ancient Glow and Arcanum, two tracks that emphasize the duo’s quieter side, with melancholy drones and vaguely Middle Eastern vocalizing creating an immersive listening experience that’s a far cry from jokey and deliberately weird “experimental” music. Or consider Marblecore, which, for all its “weirdness” – Schaerer’s multi-tracked voice starts to sound almost like a choir of pigeons performing baroque music – is in fact surprisingly and sincerely beautiful.

The duo’s greatest strength is probably the avoidance of a tendency to promote weirdness for its own sake, instead favoring an almost child-like approach. Indeed, this record exudes the genuine sense of wonder of a child who, upon discovering a “treasure chest” in the attic, attempts to figure out the meaning and function of all the arcane objects contained therein. It’s an imaginary journey around the world, leading to many unfamiliar places far apart from each other, both geographically and temporally.

Listen and buy a the label.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

3D - Vermilion Tree (ForTune, 2014) ****

By Stef

Last year we praised the collaboration between Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski and Tyshawn Sorey on "Steps", recorded when visiting New York some years ago. He then also recorded this excellent trio performance with Kris Davis on piano and Andrew Drury on drums. The trio's music shifts between composed and improvised pieces, between quiet melancholy moods and rawer more adventurous moments.

The young trumpeter finds great kindred spirits in Davis and Drury. Even in the more explorative moments, the three musicians keep their natural kind of lyricism and great sense of pulse, which are kept at a very implicit level, present, noticeable, yet with a subtlety and nuance of delivery that give the music a kind of ethereal beauty.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Daniel Blacksberg Trio - Perilous Architecture (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

I like trombones. It was mainly Johannes Bauer who did it for me. Watching him and Paul Rutherford in Peter Brötzmann’s März Combo and later with Jeb Bishop in Brötzmann’s other seminal larger formation, the Chicago Tentet, was absolutely spectacular. The deep tones, the physicalness the instrument demands, the sweet and sassy warmth of the sound – of all the 'typical' jazz instruments I only like the bass clarinet more.

Daniel Blacksberg belongs to the younger generation of trombonists. Spanning avant-garde jazz, modern classical music, improvised music and klezmer, he is a musician who brings the trombone into new, foreign areas. Blacksberg plays old Hasidic melodies or hardcore punk (sometimes simultaneously) in projects as different as the Psychotic Quartet, Superlith or Haitian Rail.

However, when he wants to focus on his pure free jazz roots, he turns to his own trio with Matt Engle on bass and Mike Szekely on drums and to NoBusiness, where he has already released his first trio album Bit Heads in 2009 (one of the NoBusiness heads, Danas Mikailionis, said that this was one of his favorite albums on his labels).

Large parts of the album live from the sound of the low tones of trombone and bass on the one hand which is contrasted by Mike Szekely who is very discreet with the toms and the bass drum and rather focuses on cymbals (which reminds a bit of Robert Wyatt’s drum style after he had his accident) on the other. The effect is that the music sounds like wind blowing through the tree tops of a forest with an upcoming thunderstorm above it all. 

Perfect examples of this are "Arc of Circling Bodies", the first track, which is based on a drone of two notes, a reference point to which Blacksberg returns every now and then, while  the trio bounces lightly through the composition, or "Filament and Void", a fragmented dark blues abyss, into which the band goes down willingly just to rise like a Phoenix in the most elegant way.  The cool jazz elegance of "Scapegrace" and the hardbop velocity of "Roar of Mankind" are additional highlights before "Almost Negotiable", a challenging wrestling match between bass and trombone, closes the album.

And on top of it there is the cover: It’s like a Walker Evans picture from "Let us now Praise Famous Men", a detailed account of three farming families which paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty in the American South of the 1930s. The title “Perilous Architecture” refers to this cover but also to the music because the structures of the compositions are dangerous as well in a way that the three are trying to explore unknown territory and they do not know where the musical journey takes them. All about Jazz New York has called Blacksberg "a virtuosic technician with abundant creativity and a drive to engage disparate and unlikely scenarios." True that.

"Perilous Architecture" is available on vinyl in a limited edition of 300 copies only. You can buy it from Instantjazz.

Listen to them here:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vilde Sandve Alnaes & Inga Margrete Aas - Makrofauna (ECM, 2014) ****½

By Stef

Sometimes ECM still amazes. Once my label of preference, it has become a little less adventurous, but then again, when you hear this music, I am forced to revise my opinion. This is adventurous music, performed by Vilde Sandve Alnæs on violin and Inga Margrete Aas on double bass, fully improvised yet with the critical quality of keeping a strong sense of focus on each piece's character and specific sound.

Just to illustrate the point, "Under Bakken", the first track has a solid foundation of a repetitive monotonous bowing tone, over which the violin plays mainly plucked sounds. The second track, "Sårand", is built around plucked bass, with the violin offering irregular scraping sounds. The other improvisations each have their own nature, and all with the same quality of almost naturally growing interactions, in a very intimate and close relationship building and developing the exploration. Probably their greatest strength lies in the creativity of the moment, with new ideas resulting not only in new timbral possibilities, but also in creating a story through it, one with feelings of anticipation and expectation, with sentiments of anxiety and doom and suprise guiding the movements.

And the next great thing is the phenomenal 'presence' of these two young musicians. There is first of all the willingness to go beyond the known, then the decisiveness of their musical vision and last but not least the unwavering power of the instrumental prowess. In short, they just go for it, no hesitation, no holding in, no shyness or not the slightest inclination to please or to go with the expectations.

And Eicher in all this? Congratulations to him, not only for his daring to give these two young musicians the opportunity, but also for the amazing quality of the recording, and his own production skills.