Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sun Ra - My Way is the Spaceways (Norton, 2014) *½

By Stefan Wood

Sun Ra’s “My Way is the Spaceways” is the fourth album of spoken word monologues from Norton records. On them they feature Sun Ra discussing whatever comes into his mind, while music is being played in the background. Listening to it is a bit of a maddening experience. While there are moments of lucid thought and insight piercing through, it gets tired very quickly.

The just under 11 minute opening track “The Music is Like a Mirror” approaches the listener like an unwelcome visitor, grating with the utopian vision of space being the place, without really explaining why, other than being an area to escape to from the awful contemporary life. “My Way is the Spaceways” is better, having a ferocious orchestral explosion in the beginning before giving way to Sun Ra’s poetry, chanting his words like a priest calling to the heavens; a space age avant grade beatnik scene, with some excellent sonics and music that effectively channel the dark universe. Easily the choice track on the album. “The Music is a Sound Image” is a 14+ minute gloomy spoken word mixed with electronics and horns and percussion, waving in and out while Sun Ra speaks about the purity of music and its path to enlightenment. It wears out the ears less than halfway through the track. The album concludes with “Music is a Vibration,” a flute plus vocals piece what is a 4+ minute opinion piece explaining how he sees people as active participants in the music, as people are instruments, having their own unique sound. And other random thoughts…

“My Way is the Spaceways” is really not for the casual listener, nor even for improv or outre junkies. It is for hard core Sun Ra fans, those who have 100+ albums worth of material, the live stuff on Transparency records, etc. Like me. But I won’t listen to it again. It will just keep the other Sun Ra albums company.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Artur Mackowiak & Grzegorz Pleszynski - A Sound Of The Wooden Fish (Wet Music, 2014) ***

 By Stef

It's always nice to get to know unknown musicians, as with this duo of Artur Mackowiak on guitar, synth and electronics, and Grzegorz Pleszynski on plastic tube trumpet and voice. They are joined on the first track by Jerzy Mazzoll on clarinet, who is a musician we do know in the meantime.

It's a short CD, fourty-four minutes in total, offering us rock-influenced arpeggio guitar with distant plastic tube trumpet sounds (and mixed in clarinet sounds on the first track). It's atmospheric music, floating effortlessly forward, repetitive and easy, once in a while some drama is added with heavy beats.

Mackowiak's approach is somewhat in the style of Loren Mazzacane Connors, dark sound sculptures on electric guitar with slight changes in the overall texture, with the single tone plastic tube trumpet howling over it, sometimes beautifully, but nothing that will wake you up from the contemplative listening this music requires, and that is maybe the downside of their approach, namely that few risks are taken, and what is true for sports is also true for music : you cannot win if you are afraid to take the risk to loose.

Yet it will be interesting to hear how their concept matures.

Listen and download on Bandcamp.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Going Solo

A round up of some intriguing solo recordings that have come to our attention in recent months.

By Paul Acquaro

Vinny Golia - Solo (Gold Lion Arts, 2015) ****



Get it while you can! This treat of a tape release from Gold Lion Arts is a scant run of 75 copies. Featuring the always excellent Vinny Golia on singing bowls and various woodwinds, Solo is 30 intimate minutes of performance. Side A features an intense sax workout, that after reaching the apex, is followed by what sounds like a wood flute or recorder and then the clarinet (Golia has an amazing assortment of wind instruments). Side B is a continuation, where Golia breaks out the bass clarinet (always a joy to hear!). 

Amy Reed - Gold Lion (Gold Lion Arts, 2015) ***½



Amy Reed is a guitarist and painter from Sacramento, California, home to the Gold Lion Arts performance space where she recorded this evocative solo guitar piece. Like some of her paintings, in which the abstract is met with precise strokes of paint and large open spaces, her extended technique solo guitar work takes advantage of similar motifs. The short tape release sees Reed creating an expectant atmosphere, pulling out all sorts of sounds from her instrument, from long pendulous swings to fine crackling bursts of bristling notes.


Paulo Chagas - Live Solo (Plus Timbre, 2014) ****



Am I biased on this one? Sure, why not. I had the honor of writing liner notes for Chagas' album Solo Saxophone, which I enjoyed greatly, and so chances were low that I not enjoy this follow up live album. Recorded live in the studio, the tone is dry and the sound clear and the album captures Chagas’ imaginative playing in intimate detail ... and it all starts with a squeak. The intro track sets the mood and clears the palette. The follow up ‘Pentola' begins with a gentle melody as Chagas introduces rhythmic breaks and stops to give the music a certain buoyancy. The melodies unfold with their own internal logic, and though you may wonder where you are by the end of the tune, you have no problem knowing how you got there. Enjoy (it’s a free download).


Keir Neuringer - Ceremonies out of the Air (New Atlantis, 2014) ****



My colleague Stefan already reviewed this one a few months ago, but I wanted to revisit it as I have now had a chance to catch the saxophonist play a couple of times, each time coming away more and more impressed. Ceremonies Out of the Air really crept up on me slowly. The music comes from somewhere deep and personal, as its creation has a lot to do with the emotions surrounding the passing of his mother. While there are moments of mourning, the music rather is a huge, deep, breath that just pours generously out over the course of the double album.


Will Guthrie - Stepped Stoned (Astral Projections, 2014) ***½



Will Guthrie is a France based drummer who works with several different groups like the Ames Room and Ellwood & Guthrie, but who also has been amassing a body of solo work. I wrote about his last album Sticks and Stones and Breaking Bones in 2012 and am happy to be following up with Stepped Stoned. Side one of this tape release takes a while to pick up, about four minutes of nearly silent tape runs, with a small sound growing stronger until a strain of incessant clatter, atmospheric cymbals and ghostly kick drum hits fill the space. About five minutes into side two (a continuation of side one), Guthrie involves more and more of the kit, until hitting a peak and slowly coming down. A captivating listen.


Scott Munro - Monty (Bug Incision, 2014) ***½



Recorded live in Calgary, Scott Munro creates something otherworldly with his baritone guitar. It’s a morphing shape of sound, sculpted from feedback and scratches, drones and percussive hits. Track one is slow, ambient, lugubrious, playing out over fifteen minutes. Track two begins with scattered picking, like a shower of broken glass, and about 5 minutes he begins introducing drone tones and sharp edged tonal clusters. The song fades into white noise … haunting.


Wilhelm Matthies - Breathing (Dark Pebble, Blue Wave, 2014) ***



Something utterly intriguing about Wilhelm Matthies solo album is that he has developed his own instrument - the 'mosesa' - which is a stringed instrument and as you can hear, he uses a bow to pull out tones in range similar to a cello, but that seems to be about where the similarities end. The music is about breathing, it feels organic, and though it does not have a melody or tempo, it draws you in in an unusual way. I think the best thing to do is to experience it:



Erik Friedlander - Illuminations (2015) ****



This solo cello album is utterly gorgeous. Straddling a line between classical and world music, Friedlander digs deep into the instrument and delivers an album of stunningly beautiful melodies and captivating motion. The rich tone he gets from the cello is reason enough to hear the album. I just wanted to give this one a quick mention in this solo round up - Illuminations should be receiving a longer review on the blog soon.


Mirbeau - White Blues (s/r, 2014) ***½



Mirbeau is a guitarist living in Brooklyn. His solo EP recording is a crispy, crunchy, free form blast of guitar that should provides quick satisfaction to the thirsty sonic adventurer. Though he is referencing track names from Miles Davis' cool jazz period (Cookin, Walkin, Steamin, Relaxin), the four short tracks on White Blues are all his own.



Brian Chase: Bass Drum Drone 

A little while back, drummer Brian Chase, who works with the group the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs shared some solo percussion/drone music and video pieces that he had been working on. About the project, he writes "in the sound from one drum there are a near infinite amount of tones. Drums and Drones explores the space inside the sound of a drum". Enjoy:





From Drums & Drones. Music by Brian Chase, drummer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, video by New York video artist Ursula Scherrer.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Peter Brötzmann Round-Up

By Martin Schray

When you go to a Brötzmann concert in Germany, they are not really crowded in general. The reason mainly is that he has been touring a lot and many people have seen him quite often. Recently when I spoke after a show with young German drummer Oliver Steidle, I asked him how Brötzmann was doing because at close range he looked a bit rough (on the other hand he had just turned 75 in March). He said that he was okay for his age but had problems with his lungs, blowing out was still alright but breathing in was a problem due to smoking a lot when he was younger. I was a bit worried hearing this but then again it was a very good show although he could only play a one-hour-set plus encore. He seems to have become a bit mellow with age, there is more melancholic bluesy stuff than harsh outbursts which fits his style perfectly, though. And if you have a look at his homepage, the spring is packed with tours and single dates all over Europe and Japan. On top of this there is a steady output of new releases, here is a short overview of the latest ones.

Brötzmann/Edwards/Noble – Soulfood Available (Clean Feed, 2014) ****


Soulfood Available is Brötzmann’s second album with this trio. His ties with Edwards go back a long time and Noble seems to be one of his favorite  drummers recently. When I said that Brötzmann’s tone was a bit mellower lately,  this album could prove me wrong, at least partly. Everything that has made his  latest work so great is presented here: his familiar call to arms (as Colin  calls it), the “Master of a Small House” theme (although barely recognizable  since it is alienated and overblown), the shivering notes, his aggressive  approach to his material. He is supported by Edwards’ and Noble’s city jungle  rhythms, which deliver a dark pulse for Brötzmann’s outbursts as well as for  the quieter moments. A rock solid free jazz album, you can’t go wrong with it.

Soulfood Available is available on CD and can be bought from the label: http://www.cleanfeed-records.com/

Peter Brötzmann/Jason AdasiewiczMollie‘s in the Mood (BRÖ, 2014) ****



When Brötzmann worked  together with Jason Adasiewicz it was indeed his first collaboration with a  vibraphonist and since then (on Going  All Fancy in 2012) he has played with him several times, even in a  quartet with John Edwards and Steve Noble that also released the splendid Mental  Shake.

Mollie’s in the Mood rather shows the new Brötzmann, more placable, introspective, less angry – but still gripping. A perfect example is the  beginning of the title track, one of the most accessible tracks Brötzmann has  recorded in his career. It is a pure jazz ballad that could almost pass as free  cool jazz. Adasiewicz’s style is brittle and crystal clear again, as if his instrument was made of ice. He contrasts Brötzmann in a strange but perfect way, no matter if the old colossus of Wuppertal decides to play in an Ayler-esque or melancholic way.

The album is available in a limited vinyl pressing of 600 copies. You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com or from the label: www.eremite.com  


Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla – Red Cloud on  Silver (Omlott, 2015) ****

Before we start talking about the music on this album, one thing which is hardly mention is the fact that Peter Brötzmann is also a great fine artist. Recently he had an exclusive exhibition of his art in China, I also saw one in Wuppertal once. Like his saxophone/clarinet sound, his visual artistic style is also unique and has a high recognition value. The covers of all the albums reviewed here are designed by Brötzmann himself. So, when you buy a Brötzmann album you get a piece of fine arts as a bonus.

As to the music: Brötzmann  has worked quite often with Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla (e.g. on Dead  and Useless) since 1997 and in general the reeds/drums line-up is something he feels very comfortable with. His duos with Han Bennink, Hamid Drake, Paal Nilssen-Love and Steve Noble belong to best releases in free jazz.  Uusklya cannot quite keep up with these drummers because they are able to challenge him. Uuskyla is more the supporting kind of a drummer on this album.

My favorite passage is on side B when Brötzmann plays a particularly tender version of the “Master of  a Small House” theme, one of three or four themes he likes to integrate especially in solo and duo performances, Brötzmann once told me. Uuskyla simply drops out here, then he adds a just a few sparse few sounds, which is just perfect. And then it is him who pulls Brötzmann back to rougher waters. In  general Red Cloud on Silver is a rather  rough, torn and bumpy album.

Red Cloud on Silver is available on double vinyl. It’s an edition of 300 only, so you better be quick.

You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com.

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 2 (Trost, 2015) **** 


Looking at Brötzmann’s career and at the people he played with you might think that he had played with  almost everybody who has a name in improvised music. In this context it’s interesting that he has chosen two guitars, an instrument he seems to have a  particular interest in lately (have a look at his website www.peterbroetzman.com and you’ll see that he plays with this group in Japan in April and with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh in Glasgow). Haino is one of his long time companions, and here you find the Japanese madman on guitar and vocals, although he is rather barking than singing. As usual he is the good old thirsty animal you either love or hate. Jim O’Rourke adds some wonderful Ry Cooder-like slide guitar  riffs which make the whole brew sound like Captain Beefheart. It’s surprising how the three get along together, there are moments of immaculate intimacy. In the huge Brötzmann discography this is an interesting new color.

Two City Blues 2 is available on CD only. You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 1 (Trost, 2015) **** ½


Interestingly enough Two City Blues 1 was released after Two City Blues 2. The recordings were taken from the same tour but part 1 is even a bit more interesting than part 2. Keiji Haino is only on guitar here, there are no vocal eruptions, O’Rourke’s slide guitar is wilder and more ecstatic, it is rather contrasting Haino’s staccato style – including some high pitched frequencies that could make glass burst. Brötzmann seems to wrestle with the guitars, especially when they try to push the performance into calmer, more  melodic waters. Usually he doesn’t allow this, and he tries to undermine their  attempts relentlessly. Only at the very endings of the two tracks, the mood is more conciliable. In the title track Brötzmann leaves this part to the guitars,  in “Eyes Stay the Same” he joins them – vulnerable, crying, desperate.

Two City Blues 1 is available on vinyl only. You can buy both –  vinyl and CD – from  www.instantjazz.com or directly from the  label http://www.trost.at/.

Listen to it here:



Summary:

Six weeks after the show with Olli Steidle I saw Brötzmann playing with Steve Swell (tb) and Paal Nilssen-Love at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf – and it was a fascinating performance. The trio played as if they had been together for  years (albeit it was only their fourth gig). Brötzmann was in perfect shape and after the show we sat together with some people and he was telling stories,  joking, he was witty – and he looked much better than some weeks before.

On our way home my friend Riccarda (who booked Brötz’s tour with Swell and PNL with her partner Ralf) checked her facebook account and somebody asked  her if she had some recommendations as to Brötzmann’s albums. The guy said that  he had seen him twice but he didn’t have any of his recordings. He could start with any of the albums mentioned above (or with one of the classics), he wouldn’t be disappointed.

Peter Brötzmann keeps on touring – and he keeps on releasing excellent stuff. I hope he will be able to continue for a long time.

.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rob Mazurek Round Up

By Matthew Grigg

Rob Mazurek is a busy guy. Whilst his annual output has not quite reached the Vandermarkian levels of his Chicago neighbour, here are a few releases which slipped out during the closing weeks of 2014. 

Rob Mazurek - Alternate Moon Cycles (Waxing Crescent) (International Anthem, 2014 LP/DL) ***½

Alternate Moon Cycles (Waning Crescent) (International Anthem, 2014 Cassette Only) ***½



Loss has been the creative catalyst shaping some of Mazurek's recent output, the sudden death of his mother yielding both 'Return the Tides' and 'Mother Ode' in 2014. Upon the passing of his mentor and colleague in 2010, Mazurek conceived a tribute entitled '100 Cs for Bill Dixon', re-imagined here as a minimalist work for trio comprising the cornetist alongside Matt Lux (Bass Guitar) and Mikel Patrick Avery (Collapsible Pump Organ). Released by Chicago's new International Anthem Recording Co. on LP/DL and cassette (which features an alternative performance to the LP), both variations consist of music which is almost entirely harmonically static, occupying a space somewhere between the drone of LaMonte Young, the grand vistas of post-rock's sweeping landscapes, or even a somnambulant beat-less Krautrock. Nuance and detail derive from the subtle delay and phasing of the bass' throbbing pulse, the changing oscillations of the pump organ, and the cornet's deft investigation of the tremulous margins which skirt pure tone. Whilst there is little to recommend one version over the other, the cassette come in a handsomely carved wooden case, whilst the LP takes a more expansive musical approach on the B side, all three musicians pushing at the bounds of their minimalist confines. 




Novellino/Rosi/Mazurek/Barnes - Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear (Discreet Records LP/DL, 2014) ***½


This Electro-Acoustic LP features field recordings of Italy's oldest operational wool mill captured by Attilio Novellino and Saverio Rosi. The pair subsequently processed them to create a foundation upon which a myriad of analogue and digital, acoustic and electric instruments were added, resulting in two side long suites. Mazurek (Cornet & Electronics) and Tim Barnes (Percussion & Objects) then added their contributions which were subsequently edited, processed and entwined with Novellino and Rosi's contributions. The resultant LP comprises two densely constructed pieces, rich in texture and detail, with melody occasionally punctuating the grinding abstractions. Such is the level of processing and manicuring of both source material and instrumental overdubs that the boundaries between the 'Electro' and the 'Acoustic' become blurred. The resultant sound world is awash with ambient timbres, drones subsumed by industrial clatter and densely woven sonance; soothing, jarring but never less than fully engaging.  


Bill Frisell - Richter 858

Well here's a treat - the slideshow that accompanied Bill Frisell's Richter 858 recording has been made available on YouTube. The slideshow was originally included on the enhanced CD that came out in 2005. Time moves on and formats change, but happily the Gerhard Richter slideshow is now ready for you to blow up full screen to watch, listen and enjoy. The music? A mix of Frisell's more adventurous compositions that follow the contours and lines of Richter's squeegee paintings. Performed by Bill Frisell (guitar), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Hank Roberts (cello).






Thursday, March 26, 2015

Orange The Juice

Orange The Juice – The Drug Of Choice (CD/DVD, For Tune, 2014) ***½ 

 Orange The Juice - The Messiah is Back (Self Produced, 2014) ***½


By Eyal Hareuveni

The Polish sextet Orange The Juice redefines the concept of eclecticism. This group is not only genre-blind, but its hyperactive post-modernist aesthetics transforms each of its pieces into a colorful pastiche of colors, dynamics and moods. The group that began working in 2005 can blend what may sound as conflicting, even alienating elements, as surf music with metal, angelic choir singing with aggressive free improvisation, often in the same music sentence, moving organically between styles in lighting speed and millisecond precision.

Orange The Juice is not shy from stressing its obvious influences. The dark sense of humor of Frank Zappa bands, the references to John Zorn work - the concise, tightly dense sonic mayhem of Naked city; lead vocalist Konrad Zawadzki performs with the same manic intensity of Naked City guest vocalist, Yamatsukea Eye, and gifted with charismatic theatrical personality similar to the one of another Zorn associate, Mike Patton; sax player Mariusz Godzina even quotes some of Zorn sax licks when he plays the alto sax; and guitarist David Lewandowski sound owes much to Marc Ribot sound in Zorn’s The Dreamers and Electric Masada. But Orange The Juice musical stew by no means an updated replica of Zorn’s bands. There are many more ingredients in its musical stew, from atmospheric prog-rock to intoxicating Balkan brass band songs, jumping between a mockery of the apocalyptic nightmares of death metal bands as fellow Polish Behemoth to festive ska anthems, Chopinesque keyboard intervals and electronic, lounge-techno beats, spicing it with a disturbing fascination with the Daleks, the notorious extraterrestrial mutants from the TV science-fiction series Doctor Who.

The Drug of Choice is the group first live recording. It is a double Disc/DVD that documents the group performance in Teatr Rozmaitości in Warsaw in October 2012, augmented with three horn players (on most of the songs but excel on moving, poetic arrangement of “Sabat Mater”) and the Voice of Poland finalist Ida Zalewska (on the schizophrenic soul-metal “I Was Wrong”). If one can not experience this group alive, the best alternative is to watch it perform on the almost 80-minutes DVD (the set list is identical to the disc), showing the group as photographed by seven cameramen. The limited-edition (comes with a special cover full with Polish toffee candies) The Messiah is Back is another live recording, this time in the band hometown Stalowa Wola, again with guests, among them sax player Maciej Obara, Zalewska and the local Cantus Choir. It feature the same songs (except the brief “A body without A Head” and a hidden instrumental, loungey bonus track) in similar yet expanded arrangements.

These two live recordings take the listener/watcher into a joyful roller coaster ride. Orange The Juice is a group that feels natural on stage, before an audience, often one that can or does not expect its full palette of sounds, Only on stage the group full potential is realized. The reckless energy, wild intensity, impressive sense of drama, the commanding technical skills of all group musicians and fascinating stage presence of frontman Zawadzki (who seem as totally possessed by higher powers) justify the immediate invitation of this fascinating group to any major rock or jazz festival.     






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Piho Hupo - Foump (Indigo, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Piho Hupo, is a quartet based in Hamburg, Germany - a beautiful city, that as far as I know, isn't as known for avant-garde jazz as it is for the lovely Außenalster, the lively Reeperbahn, a renowned opera house, the early Beatles, and the sprawling Elbjazz festival. But, that's as far as I knew, until bassist John Hughes informed me about a series in Hamburg he’s curating called ‘Multiphonics’. So this, along with the work of Piho Hupo, and at least some of the gaps in my knowledge are filling in. 

The group is comprised of saxophonist Rolf Pifnitzka, keyboardist Jörg Hochapfel, percussionist Chad Popple, and the aforementioned Hughes. More importantly, Foump is a true group effort and there are few times when there is a 'soloist'. The album starts of with 'Angustura Rags', with all hands on deck as a frenetic melodic line whirls about. The percussion cuts through and leads a transitional moment where the energy shifts and the rhythmic textures become one with the melodic lines.  Oh, and when it sounds like there are two horns playing but only one person credited, that is exactly the case. Then it shifts again - the piano at first a dominant voice but soon superseded by an aggressive sax. This in the course of one track! The next song, "Somebody Say Tennesee" begins on a much darker note - lurching and lurking, the sax and insides of the piano providing atmosphere.  Muffled speaking rises out of the back as the tension mounts. The piano and sax battle it out on the track 'Roland Grave' and 8-bit electronics and sound effects make up the cord of the ambient 'Mause Anmalen'.

I'll stop here, half way through, the variation and imagination on Foump makes it a solidly interesting listen and one that can really withstand being in your CD player for a long long time.

Check out the video below:



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Emil Strandberg - More Music For Trumpet, Guitar And Bass (Bandcamp, 2014) ****

By Stef

A trio with trumpet, guitar and bass is a rare thing, strangely enough, and only the following albums come to mind : the Ruby Braff trio with "Me, Myself & I" (Concord, 1989), or Chet Baker with Philip Catherine and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on "Crystal Bells" (LDH, 1983), and - of a totally different nature - the A Trio's "Live In Nickelsdorf".

Braff and Baker set a typical cool atmosphere, creating a nice chamber feel without the drums, intimate, playful and technically superb music, entertaining and inventive at the same time.

It is almost in that tradition that you can listen to this wonderful album with Emil Strandberg on trumpet, David Stackenäs on guitar, and Pär-Ola Landin on bass. With a tune by Paul Desmond and one by Monk, tradition is also served, but their own compositions and improvisations beautifully merge with tradition without actually copying it. They keep the atmosphere but give it a very refreshing open approach, full of joy and incredible accuracy, not only technically but especially improvisationally.

Why is it called "More Music For Trumpet, Guitar and Bass"? Well, because the other album "Works", released in 2013, has the same line-up and overall feel.

And if you're still not convinced that it's good, please read Eyal Haruveni's review for Allaboutjazz.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


PS: Suggestions for other trumpet, guitar and bass trios are welcome! Please add them in the "comments" section below.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Myra Melford - Snowy Egret (Enja, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sitting at a bar stool in a crammed West Village club during Winter Jazz Fest this year, I knew I had a dilemma on my hands after only the first few minutes of Myra Melford's appearance with her group Snowy Egret.  The trouble, I reckoned, would be that I would want to write about the group's upcoming release for the Free Jazz Blog, and while we have covered several other of Melford's projects through the years like the great Trio-M, this effort really seemed to have a strong compositional slant to it, as much as an improvisational one. I thought, maybe I should run it by the legal department or something first, but then on impulse, I decided to risk it all...

The group is impressive, and it was the their collective sound that besotted me right away. Melford of course is on piano; on guitar, Liberty Ellman; bass guitar, Stomu Takeishi; cornet, Ron Miles; and drums, Tyshawn Sorey. At this particular show, clarinetist Ben Goldberg subbed for Miles, but on record it's Miles' lyrical tone that helps round out the group’s edgy but restrained tone and energy.

Besides the group's well rounded sound, there is also a great deal of improvisation that flows seamlessly in and out of the written material. Ellman’s fretwork really shines on the recording, from the syncopated blast of energy of the opening track, to the gorgeous chordal solo on “Night of Sorrow”,  to the rock solid delivery on “First Protest” and beyond. Takeishi’s takes full advantage of the sound of his acoustic bass guitar, as opposed to the electric or upright bass, and he uses it to make the bass lines a real melodic presence. He fills in and around the spaces, for example, playing wonderfully off Melford’s bluesy references on tracks like “Night of Sorrow”. I have yet to encounter a recording - or show - where Sorey doesn’t impress in some way, and it’s no different here, his work on the kit throughout is never dominating and always spot on. Miles’ playing is a highlight on “Promise Land”, between the interplay with Melford during the track’s opening and his solo during the song, it is a treat.

As Melford explains in the liner notes, the music was initially inspired by author Eduardo Galeano's 'Memoria del fuego', a collection that mixes fiction and history to tell the story of the New World. From this, the music mixes in rhythms and textures evocative of the America's, while creating something else entirely. Snowy Egret is a really beautiful album - and though it somewhat expands the ‘free jazz’ definition of the blog, it would be a terrible shame not to rave about it a bit.

Here's a snippet of the band from a 2013 show ...


Snowy Egret is performing during Melford's residency this week at the Stone in NYC. They perform on Saturday, March 28th.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bande à Part - Caixa-Prego (Creative Sources, 2014) ****

By Stef  

To co-create improvised music that is not only coherent, but that is also captivating and beautiful, remains an amazing thing of magic. And here we can listen to this musical magic from a Portuguese trio that deserves wider attention : Joana Guerra plays cello, Ricardo Ribeiro bass and soprano clarinets, and Carlos Godinho objects (wooden boxes, plates, a bicycle bell, balloons, billiard balls and sticks).

Their music is measured and open-ended. One instrument takes the lead, and when the others join they add color, depth and expand. As simple as that. Or not? The result is intimate and restless, calm and intense, familiar and unsettling, moving between odd sounds and sometimes repetitive phrases as the backbone for the piece, as on the haunting "Chapa 3", the centerpiece of the album.

The trio manages to create a very warm and surprising album, elegant and gentle but with strong character, less focused on individual sounds than it is on group exploration of atmosphere and texture, skilfully navigating between lyricism, silence and adventure.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Got them Istanbul Blues

Konstrukt ‎– Live at Tarcento Jazz (Holidays Records, 2015) ****

Konstrukt & William Parker ‎– Live at NHKM (Holidays Records, 2015) ***½



By Colin Green

Istanbul lies on the Bosphorus, -- the strait that links the Aegean and the Black Sea –historically, the boundary between Europe and the East with Istanbul the meeting place of two cultures. Musically, there are links between East and West that go deeper however, and to appreciate this one must look further West than Europe, to America and the blues.

If you’ve ever listened to traditional middle-eastern music and thought it had a slightly bluesy feel you’d be right, but in a sense it’s the other way round, and not a coincidence. By way of background to this review, I thought it might be interesting to join some musical dots – with illustrations taken from YouTube – so if you’ve got time, follow them through. It’s not necessary for the purpose of the review however, so you don’t have to listen to them in their entirety, and skip them altogether if you’d rather check your email. I’ve also provided links to a number of occasionally shaky videos of Konstrukt’s performances, some of which can be found on their albums, though in significantly better sound.

The blues has its musical (rather than social) roots in certain features of Eastern music – which for current purposes includes parts of Africa – that were used by plantation slaves in their work songs and other music making, such as a fondness for flattened thirds, fifths and sevenths (the “blue notes”). But it’s not just certain shared harmonic features: there’s a common vocal technique known as melisma – moving rapidly between two or more notes on the same syllable – as well as sliding between notes for expressive effect, which can be traced back to the piquant harmonies of Byzantine Chant and can still be heard in Turkish-Hungarian folk music. Melisma was a powerful expressive device in the baroque period, particularly in the music of Monteverdi, possibly reflecting the strong cultural links between Venice and Constantinople. It’s also an instrumental technique on wind instruments – the sound snake charmers make in old movies (real footage is rather scary) – and sliding and trills (a very fast melisma) are also features of string instruments.

Indeed, some have suggested that there’s a common musical ancestry that accounts for the more than passing resemblance between the chant of the Muslim calls to prayer and vocal phrasings in blues and gospel music, such as the Levee Camp Holler and the inspirational singing of Mahalia Jackson. You can hear sliding between notes, as well as melisma in voice, harmonica and guitar in Levee Camp Moan by the great Son House (who claimed to have taught Robert Johnson to play guitar).
These and other associations between African music and the blues have been known for some time (Alan Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began is well worth watching) and have cropped up in some unlikely places. On a break between Led Zeppelin tours, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page visited Morocco, whose influence can be heard clearly on Zeppelin’s Kashmir (Zeppelin were always more of a blues band – the tail end of the British Blues Boom – rather than metal merchants). Some years later Plant and Page returned in less bombastic mood (and with less visible chest hair) and recorded with local musicians: note Plant’s subtle use of melisma in City Don’t Cry.

And of course, the harmonic and rhythmic framework of jazz is derived from the blues, even for many free jazzers. It remains central to the work of William Parker and the circle of New York based musicians with whom he plays – the “jazz licks” that Peter Kowald admitted he’d never learned to play in Europe. Peter Brötzmann, who grew up listening to the early jazz men, makes extensive use of melisma and his playing is soaked in the blues, which is probably one of the reasons he describes himself as a bit of a traditionalist.

All of which is a rather roundabout way of getting to Konstrukt, a group of Turkish musicians based in Istanbul, whose music is a pungent mix of free jazz, scraps of the blues, and traditional music, criss-crossing seamlessly between these genres by virtue of some of the common denominators mentioned above, but never sounding self-conscious or derivative. They had a flexible membership until a few years ago when they settled into the quartet of Korhan Futacı (reeds and woodwind), Umut Çağlar (keyboards, electric guitar, woodwind) Korhan Argüden (drums) and Özün Usta (double bass; but he also plays a mean electric bass as can be seen when Konstrukt plus three guests were firing on all cylinders at the Istanbul Ekspres festival in 2013). Stef reviewed Bulut (Sagittarius A-Star, 2014) – Konstrukt’s first vinyl release – as part of a three LP set of Turkish Free Music, but it’s also available separately.

The Holidays Records website describes Konstrukt’s music as “Cosmic-Turkish free jazz” and on Discogs both albums are listed inter alia, as “Space-Age”. Such terms normally conjure up the musical equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space, but in this case I think they’re a reference to other elements that make up Konstrukt’s very individual style.  There’s the sound of Miles Davis’ electric period: echo effects and music that seems to float, with no clear beginning, middle or end but which, when it gets funky (one of music’s great cul-de-sacs) can easily become static – locked in a groove – and slip into a jam session and directionless noodling. (Miles and his producer, Teo Macero, solved this problem by splicing together the best bits, sometimes reusing sections, which is one reason why Miles’ studio albums of the period are generally preferable to his live performances.) Unsurprisingly, this aspect of Konstrukt’s music is most apparent when Çağlar uses the swirling clouds of an electric piano, as in their performance at Nickelsdorf last year

There’s also the influence of Sun Ra, both in the open ended structures and Çağlar’s b-movie electric organ and micro-moog, which have a distinctive timbre reminiscent of the slightly cheesy keyboards favoured by Sun Ra (and as noted by Stef, early Soft Machine). Perhaps it’s no surprise that Konstrukt have had successful collaborations with Marshall Allen -- leader of the Arkestra since Sun Ra’s death – who continues this tradition with the Casio pocket organ and EVI (an electronic wind instrument). He can be heard on Vibrations Of The Day (Holiday Records, 2014 - the CD is Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and on side 2 of Live At Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival (8mm Records, 2014), from which: Toprak.

This confluence of musical cultures and colours, as well as free jazz flexibility, makes for an immediately recognisable style: a carpet of sounds woven from many strands, which when it hits its stride – like Turkish coffee – can set the pulse racing. The stylistic references can be specific – as when members of the band create a chattering melisma on zurnas (a Turkish double reed instrument) – and multifaceted, as at the beginning of their performance at the Tarcento Jazz Festival where Futacı plays a melody on tenor that could have come from Congo Square in New Orleans or a market square in Turkey, set against Çağlar’s gutsy electric guitar.

The Italian label’s website describes Live at Tarcento Jazz as a “multi-channel recording” which “captures their whole performance”. Obviously, the LP has been mixed down into the usual two channels (and very nicely too) but it’s not the whole performance. As can be seen in the footage below, Konstrukt’s set lasted about an hour, and the LP is about 45 minutes. It seems that apart from a minute or so of tuning at the start the missing 15 minutes occurs when flipping the record over, and I suspect this is not due to editing à la Miles but the simple fact that it’s impossible to squeeze 30 minutes of music onto each side of an LP without a deterioration in sound quality.

As Stef mentioned in his review of Bulut, at times there’s a chaotic feel to the music, as if everything might fall apart, but this contributes to its raw and edgy feel. Things are usually kept together by Argüden’s beautifully fluid drumming, a lightweight sound reminiscent of not only the best jazz drumming but the subtle inflections of Eastern percussion. Transitions can also be a problem when playing a continuous set, and they’re often handled by a change of pace after a solo, such as Usta’s carefully sculpted figures on double bass. Futacı is also impressive on tenor: a full-bodied sound, sometimes skipping and dancing around phrases, other times building tension by stretching out to create interlocking phrases with Çağlar’s guitar or keyboards. When he plays alto, it takes on a definite Ornette-like tinge (another great bluesman, who also made an important visit to Morocco) to the extent of even producing what sounds like a quote. 

Good as Konstrukt’s performances can be, one feels that their music really takes wing when collaborating with others. In addition to Marshall Allen, they’ve played with Peter Brötzmann on Dolunay, (Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and Eklisia Sunday (Not Two Records, 2013), Evan Parker on Live At Akbank Jazz Festival (Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and Joe McPhee on Babylon (Roaratorio, 2014) – one of my albums of the year (from which: Involution). In January they performed with Akira Sakata and are due to re-join forces with both Brötzmann and McPhee at the end of March.

Live at NHKM is a meeting with William Parker in Istanbul last September.  Being a bass player, it’s initially unsurprising that Parker is less prominent on this date than other guests on saxophone. Usta’s bass is on the left and Parker on the right, with Usta introducing proceedings playing glissandi and melismas, invoking the vocal techniques mentioned above. As matters progress Parker (always a team player) contents himself with repeated figures contributing to a group sound combining dreamy flute and gurgling moog. Notwithstanding a couple of short solos, and odd touches of colour – glassy arco under Futacı’s whistle breaths – it eventually feels as if Parker is working on the periphery. Both basses tend to be drowned out by distortion-laden guitar and gloopy keyboard swoops and echoes. There are some fine moments, such as the whirl of zurna, tenor and drums, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone has given too much thought to how Konstrukt might adjust their sound to give Parker greater breathing space and allow for new areas to be opened up. His most significant contribution is not on bass but with a gralla – a Spanish double-reed – which he picks up towards the end of the performance to join Futacı’s soprano for a rousing finale, supported by Argüden’s nimble drums and elongated power chords from Çağlar. Stirring stuff, but there remains a sense that a performance that looked so appealing on paper was actually something of a missed opportunity, and that a second meeting might produce a greater contribution from Parker and new challenges for the band, something they clearly relish on the evidence of their other collaborations.

It was recently announced that Argüden and Usta have left the band, being replaced by Barlos Tan Özemek on bass and Berke Can Özcan / Cem Tan on drums. It will be interesting to see how they fare with a new rhythm section.

Both albums are vinyl only and limited to 200 copies each. They can be purchased from the Holidays Records website, and the set with Parker from InstantJazz.

Here’s the whole of Konstrukt’s set from Tarcento (the annoying audience chatter is absent from the album):



And the last six minutes from NHKM with William Parker (again, the album has a richness of sound and dynamic range only hinted at here):



Friday, March 20, 2015

Louis Sclavis Quartet - Silk and Salt Melodies (ECM, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

Louis Sclavis is one of the premier French jazz musicians over the past thirty years.  From his initial work with the Brotherhood of Breath and the Henri Texier Quartet, to the outstanding African Trio and his quartet, Sclavis consistently has composed and performed at a high level, with musicians both known and unknown.  On "Silk and Salt Memories," he has expanded from his Atlas Trio (with Gilles Coronado on guitar and Benjamin Moussay on piano) with the addition of percussionist Keyvan Chemirani.  This is a tightly knit group where the interactions and reactions are fluid and almost telepathic.

The opening track, "Le parfum de l'éxil," has a strong Middle Eastern feel with gothic overtures, a hypnotic, driving tune pushed by Chemirani, Moussay holding a firm ground with the piano, and Sclavis and Coronado pushing forth with almost synchronized melodies.  "L'himme sud" provides a small showcase for Coronado's guitar work, followed by Moussay, whose playing is reminiscent of Daniel Perez when playing with Wayne Shorter.  It's playing that pushes outside a comfort zone, intelligent risk taking that is clean and elegant.  "L'autre rive" is a somber, meditative piece led by Moussay with a long piano solo, followed by Sclavis.  It has one foot planted in the 1930's French nightclub scene, the other in contemporary improvised music.  "Sel et soie" features some gorgeous clarinet work by Sclavis, a hybrid of Guiffre and Dolphy, and is a high point on the album.

There is a mood established on the album that inhabits old Europe and Middle Eastern worlds, that allows for the group to perform a variety of sounds yet remain consistent in tone and feel, with few exceptions, they stay in a certain range of contemplative expression.  An exception would be "Dance for Horses,"  where they are surprisingly jubilant, energetic and wildly complex.  Moussay unleashes sheets of sound, Coronado aggressive jangly metallic strumming, Chemirani pounding away.  Frenetic and fantastic.  "Cortege" is equally brilliant, part jazz, part prog rock.  "Dust and Dogs" also combines the fusion feel with Moussay providing a mid 70's rock mellotron like sound, Sclavis and Coronado weaving a complex middle eastern texture, tightly woven, and Chemirani on congos.

"Silk and Salt Melodies" is yet another fine album by Sclavis and his group, an elder musician and his younger collaborators pushing each other in ways unexpected and quietly brilliant.  Recommended.



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leap of Faith - Regenerations (Evil Clown, 2015) ****



The music of Boston's Leap of Faith is both easy and difficult to describe. I suppose I could string together some words like 'cathartic', 'intriguing', 'harrowing' and phrases like 'nightmarishly enthralling' and 'unexpectedly beautiful' and call it a day, after all, Leap of Faith is a fascinating and utterly unique group and those words work. But at the same time, they just don't quite capture the essence of this uninhibited music - and raw sound - that they make.

Though many musicians have passed through the ranks, at its core the group is the duo of woodwind player PEK and cellist Glynis Lomon, who both also add some pretty intense vocalization to the sonic palette. Joining them on the first half of the recording is Steve Norton on sax and clarinet and Yuri Zbitnov on percussion. However, on the second part of the album PEK and Lomon are joined by Mark McGrain (trombone), Craig Schildhauer (bass), Sydney Smart (drums), Laurence Cook (drums), Rob Bethel (cello) and Forrest Larsen (viola). 

This new digital and CD-R recording, Regenerations, was made as they got back together to play in January of this year, the first get together after their initial run from 1993 - 2006. It sounds like they leaped right in without missing a beat (or totally missing one, perhaps). Starting with a low vibration from Lomon's cello and the saxophones of PEK and Norton, between whom there is quite an assortment of instruments, they dig in and go. Within the first few minutes of the track, the inventiveness of the group is on full display. Their sound is organic, it grows from within, and there is an arc to the track that belies either an uncanny connection or some pre-planned moves as there is an inherent structure and motion to the sound. That's the intriguing part, however, there is also the harrowing, which to me is found often when the wordless vocals appear, cutting clearly through the fabric of sound. The track will go from a reflective passage on a low woodwind to a dense thicket of cello double stops to juxtaposed harmonies, and just as quickly, it may delve into percussive textures and spontaneous intertwining melodies. It's this potent mix of instrumental timbers and unexpected changes that make their music so effective. 

Following the first track (which clocks in at 43 minutes) are the three movements of "Subspace". The larger group's work with the expanded instrumentation produces something that is less dark, but a bit more fragmented. The interplay of horns and woodwinds also introduces a lot of counter motion. The second movement is 24 minutes and reserves the power of the band until about a third of the way through, when the drums and bass begin a sort of swing and strings rain glissandos. As the track progresses it's just as likely that the tempo or tone may dissipate as it will congeal, keeping the listener on their toes. This is one of the most captivating pieces on a dense album.

Leap of Faith is not a group that provides music that is easy to digest - there is a lot to hear and it's music that requires your full attention. Approach with open ears and patience and you will find a world that is as colorful and textured as the fractal images that adorn their album covers. 



& A with Leap of Faith


After I finished the review, I reached out to PEK and asked a few questions about how Leap Of Faith regrouped and what I got back was so interesting that it is being presented without editing. I'm in bold:

You were quite active musically with Leap of Faith for a number of years, then there was a hiatus. What brings you back together now? 
In 1999 I changed to a different day gig which paid much better but was very demanding on my schedule.  After a few years of trying to stay as busy musically as I had been for the previous 10 years, I got exhausted and went into retirement from performance.  Glynis continued to be active with others during my absence from the scene.  Although I stopped performing, I did not stop listening and continued to collect New Music.  I became a frequent customer of Downtown Music Gallery – I have now read and purchased music from their list every week for many years.  In Early 2014, when I was in Manhattan on business, I went over to DMG and had a very interesting conversation with Bruce Gallanter, who knew me at that time only as a customer and not as a musician.  I told him about Leap of Faith and arranged to send him some discs on consignment.  I sent him about 15 titles of discs that I produced in the 90s or early 00s, he wrote up reviews for about half of them and sold virtually every copy.  I have since sent him a batch of new titles with more to come. 

I realized that the climate of music distribution has undergone a dramatic transformation during my absence from performance, and that it was now possible to use the internet to reach a much broader audience than the Boston area audience we reached when I was active.  I was inspired by that realization to do two things:  1) Mine all of the releasable recordings from the early period performances and prepare new CDs and download files.  2) Reform Leap of Faith and resume performing and recording.

The Leap of Faith back-catalog is now complete and posted on the Evil Clown Bandcamp page at https://evilclown.bandcamp.com/.  There are 10 or 20 or so albums by other PEK ensembles and projects that are still pending.  In addition, I have offered to put recordings from Glynis’ ensembles on Evil Clown and she is going to discuss with Eric Zinman from New Language Collaborative which recordings may be appropriate for that band.

Leap of Faith is a partnership between Glynis and myself that has had a number of primary incarnation and many guests.   Without Glynis, I would never call any ensemble Leap of Faith.  She was available and interested and so we invited Yuri Zbitnov, the drummer from the last LOF incarnation, and Steve Norton, the sax and clarinet player who played on my 1994 composition Expansions, to join the reformed band.


How was it getting back together to play? Did you fall back into it, or was there some adjustment?
I encountered Glynis at a critical juncture in my musical development when I had been studying for many years but had yet to do much pure improvisation with skilled new music players.  She was an important part of the Masashi Harada sextet, a band we were both in for several years in the early 90s.  She had been around in the scene already for years and had already cultivated the musical language for improvisation that she still uses today.  To a significant degree, my mature musical language developed as a direct reaction to Glynis.  We developed a common musical space that we augmented with the other players in the various versions of LOF. 

When we played again for the first time on 1/22/15, for me it was a transcendent experience – I was immediately able to enter the deep concentration trance state that one enters when playing with accomplished improvisers.  I had an immediate deep connection with Glynis and the rest of the ensemble.

So, I would say that we fell back into it with no special effort.  That very first new set is the title track 'Regenerations' on the newly released Regenerations album.


How would you describe Leap of Faith music? Can you describe your groups’ creative process? 
I do not like the expression Free Jazz for our music because there are seldom jazz references in the music.  I also do not really like the expression Free Improvisation for our music because it implies that there is no structure to the music.

I use the expression Pure Improvisation to describe our music.  It is pure in the sense that we have little or no discussion or planning prior to performance. 

When you eliminate structural rules from music you must replace them with new rules for the music to be artistically successful.  Our improvisation methodology eliminates metric and regular time in addition to tonality and the melodic / harmonic relationships which have defined western music for hundreds of years.  We replace metric and regular time with rhythmic density and propulsion.  We replace melodic / harmonic relationships with sonority. 

Each performance of our music is a journey through a sequence of distinct sonorities with either gradual or abrupt transformations.  Over time, each version of Leap of Faith has developed a number of sonority states which become staple for that ensemble.  An example one from the current LOF is PEK and Steve Norton on very low clarinets playing slow low-pitch intertwining atonal melody with active / aggressive cello and percussion. 

The new rules that inform the decision making of the musicians during performance are hard to articulate to outsiders, they are not written down or formalized, and the set of these rules is not closed (meaning unexpected or new rules may arise), but they are in effect while we play.  A rule is a decision making aide – given the sounds that are being made by the rest of the ensemble, what sounds could I or should I contribute to the overall group sonority? 

Three important structural devices contribute to the development of each performance and give a sense of some of the rules and how they operate.  

  1. Imitation of the sounds of one instrument by another leads to a blended sonority where it is difficult to tell which instrument is making which sound – this is especially difficult when the instruments are making complex aggregate sounds which mesh together.  The opposite of the blended sound is a contrasting or contrapuntal sound.  It is possible for both sound sets to coexist within one sonority when at least 3 people are in the ensemble.  One of the primary characteristics of the PEK / Glynis Lomon musical partnership is the number of different ways we imitate each other even though she plays a string instrument and I play woodwinds.
  2. Phrasing, which is important in all music, is incredibly important for Leap of Faith.  Like in Gamelan music, there are simultaneously large and small scale phrases.  The individual musicians can phrase together or overlap their phrases.  Sonority is also driven by phrasing.  An example is a chase sonority with short overlapping phrases of rapidly moving lines.  In addition, when the ends of phrases happen together an ensemble decision node is created where an abrupt transformation into a completely different sonority is possible.
  3. Instrument changes and laying out are dramatic ways for one member of the group to transform the unit sonority.  In the course of a typical LOF quartet performance there should be solos, duets and trios in addition to full ensemble improvisation.  Two exciting new developments in the new incarnation of Leap of Faith will contribute to this structural device.  One is the addition of new member Steve Norton who uses 8 different clarinets and saxophones.  The second is PEK’s acquisition of many new instruments.  He used tenor and bari saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and contra-bass clarinet, and bassoon for the bulk of the early Leap of Faith period.  PEK has added 3 higher saxophones, 3 more clarinets, oboe, English horn and contrabassoon.  I had the oboe in time for Regenerations, the new sonorities available to this significantly increased timbre-set will become apparent over time.

What are the future plans for Leap of Faith?
Back in the day, in my busiest years, I performed about 30 or 40 times a year.  With the demanding job that I still have, there is no way that I can be that busy.  I envision 6-10 Leap of Faith performances a year.

I have this week finished scheduling our first two gigs for 5/5 and 6/16.  They will take place at the Lily Pad in Cambridge, which looks to be a good small venue for us to develop the new incarnation of Leap of Faith. 

I plan to rent this room every two months on a Tuesday night for the whole night which will let me control the event.  We will emulate a performance paradigm we did many times at the Zeitgiest Gallery in Cambridge during the early period.  We will have two improvisation ensembles playing 3 sets – each band plays a set and then both bands perform together.  The larger ensemble LOF performances in the Evil Clown catalog almost all come from this scenario at the Zeitgeist.

The first gig on 5/5 will have as a Guest the New Language Collaborative - Glynis’s ongoing trio with Eric Zinman on piano and Sydney Smart on drums.

The second gig on 6/16 will be Original Leap of Faith with PEK, Glynis, Mark McGrain on trombone, and Sydney Smart on drums; and New Leap of Faith with Glynis, PEK, Steve Norton, and Yuri Zbitnov.  I am looking forward to the third set of this gig with Glynis, three horns and two drummers.

The audience for New Music is worldwide.  The audience in Boston is fairly small.  I want to use the internet, with articles like the one you are writing, and other press to make us more well-known to the people who like this music regardless of their locations.  There is plenty of our music for people to listen to. 

My goal is to raise awareness of this group to the point where we can present it at the Stone in NYC.  My feeling is that LOF is a highly distinct mature improvisation ensemble that performs at the level of the other much more well-known ensembles that play at that venue. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Natsuki Tamura & Alexander Frangenheim - Nax (Creative Sources, 2014) ****

By Stef

The faint of heart need to be warned. This is not for you.

Japanese trumpet-player Natsuki Tamura and German bassist Alexander Frangenheim both master their instruments and several musical genres, but here they venture deep into unknown territory. Not necessarily new to them, because Frangenheim is known for his adventurous spirit - as on his solo album "The Knife Again" - and so is Tamura of course.

Tamura and Frangenheim create a strong and intense, fierce and uncompromising dialogue between two instruments, with the trumpet sounding like you've rarely heard a trumpet, animal-like, zombie-like (as in "The Walking Dead"), but most of all human, unleashing deep emotions in shouts and howls and shrieks full of agony and fear, but then of the trembling kind, when the air in the windpipe get suppressed by paralysing emotions, or with a closed mouth because of teeth clenched out of painful muscular tension. And Frangenheim's bass is maybe less in the forefront, yet especially in the pizzi parts, the level of unease and dread are reinforced.

But then suprisingly, somewhere in the middle of "Acun 4", bass and trumpet sound as you would expect, with clarity of tone both, a surprising moment of release and relief, yet with. "Acun 5", which sounds like the twitterings of animals in a birdcage, they're back in into the unknown, and it's fascinating to listen to for the glorious interaction and organic interplay.

The whole album is acoustic, and that's even an essential aspect of it, because both artists share and use the physicality of their instrument and its sound possibilities to perfection. This tangible and muscular work on the creation of sound, even noise, brings a deep authentic reality to life, one which most music can only dream of.




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ifa Y Xango Tentet - Twice Left Handed \\ Shavings (El Negocito, 2015) ****


PERSONNEL:
João Lobo, Sep Francois, Ruben Pensaert: Percussion and Drums
Seppe Gebruers: Electronic keyboards and live processing
Niels van Heertum, Filipe Nader, Viktor Perdieus: Woodwind and brass instruments
Bert Cools, Ruben Machtelinckx, Laurens Smet: Electric guitars, bass guitars and keyboards

All art is retrospective, insofar as past experience goes into the creation of it -Dan Morgenstern So the problem as always is finding the words to say something about the music. Sometimes it is easy, when the music is programmatic and the title tells us what it describes. Take The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas and it is not to hard to picture Mickey Mouse splitting the brooms and succumbing to the waterflow. Nothing wrong with this but usually the a priori goal doesn’t lead to the most exciting music. Titles can better be slapped upon a piece afterwards. What are we gonna call this ? No idea. Leave it at that. Let’s call this. So Ifa y Xango decided to call their record “twice left handed\\shavings”. I have no truck with that.

Song titles are Kamchatka, Gamma and that’s ok. It is the music that tells me something that can’t be put in words. I can give you something like: Great big hunks of sound are thrown around and gradually coalesce to arrive at a slowly pulsating giant mass of a peninsula, called Kamchatka. Lame. Seppe Gebruers describes in a recent interview what he calls absolute music. There is no frame of reference, there is no cut and dried schedule set up beforehand and fulfilled up to one’s best ability, so the critic can check the boxes afterwards and grade it with stars.

This music is something else. It is not music to understand. It doesn’t prescribe anything. It gives you auditory signals and you are free to follow. Or not. I follow. These guys don’t give us simple retrospective, they give us something way better. They offer themselves, full of the urgency of the here and now. And themselves they became through past experience, specifically through a vast array of available music, call it dubstep, call it musique concrete, call it electronic trance, call it what you will. “I try to master the two : control and the lack of it” is what Seppe says and he manages this quite well. So let’s have some facts: Ifa y Xango are a number of musicians based in Belgium and Brazil.

The group was founded in 2010 with all of the seven musicians in the band playing acoustic instruments and self- composed music at the time. Since releasing their debut album Abraham, which was elected as "Best debut album" by the New York City Jazz Record in 2013, they have expanded the band with three new members. The group is proud to present their upcoming second album “twice left handed \\ shavings”, inspired by the band's love for experimental electronic dance music, trance music and musique concrète on El Negocito Records. And let’s have an impression: Gamma starts way way back, nice unisono lines, slightly raffled at the edges. The ageless contemplative mood. Once again memories from many musics strive to attach to names and fail while the song transforms through a nervous DJ Shadow outburst into a shimmering battle between industrial noise and Hassell horns.

Does this tell you something? I hope not. The brain makes up a lot of this, even literally: it creates the missing harmonics here. The music is just there and wants you to be there too, without preconception. And quite soon there is the jazz face : As far as my own jazz face it goes/ –and don’t tell me you don’t have one –/it hasn’t changed that much/since its debut in 1957./It’s nothing special, easy enough to spot/in a corner of any club on any given night./You know it, – the reptilian squint,/lips pursed, jaw clenched tight,/and, most essential, the whole/head furiously, yet almost imperceptibly/nodding/in total and absolute agreement. - Billy Collins The flipside by the way will bring any house down. And up again. Absolute agreement indeed.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Soft Machine - Switzerland 1974 / Hugh Hopper - Memories Box Set

Soft Machine - Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform, 2015) ****


By Paul Acquaro

I feel I owe a good deal of thanks to Soft Machine - it was many years ago now that Third blew my mind and led me circuitously to the tangentially related El Skid, which just led me deeper and deeper. My collection is now well stocked with Soft Machine, various Soft Heap and Head projects, and select pickings of the greater Canterbury scene.

Notorious for their changing lineup, 1974 saw Soft Machine competing their transformation from an avant-garde rock-jazz quartet to a Fusion jazz-rock quintet (you can see a nice chart of the line ups here). In fact, the albums Bundles and its follow-up Softs had some real biting guitar work from Allan Holdsworth and his successor John Etheridge - this from a band that had been more linked with the reedy bite of the organ and Elton Dean’s endlessly riveting saxophone work. The only member of the original band at this time was organist Mike Ratledge, though drummer John Marshall had joined a few years earlier after Robert Wyatt had left the group. Hugh Hopper's (fuzz) bass was replaced by Roy Babbington and his six string electric, and Dean by composer/keyboardist/woodwind player Karl Jenkins - both of whom, along with Holdsworth and Marshall, had been with Ian Carr's Nucleus at some point. So, it was this line up Jenkins, Ratledge, Babbington, Holdsworth, and Marshall, about  to record the seminal fusion album Bundles, who appear on this DVD release. 

That year at Switzerland's Montreux festival, the line up was heavy on the jazz-rock: along with Soft Machine was Billy Cobham’s Spectrum,  Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House, and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra  - a mouthwatering line-up 41 years later! Of this Soft Machine recording, I've certainly seen snippets of it on YouTube but to my knowledge, the whole set hasn't been available to date, and even if it had, it would have not looked and sounded so good. Cuneiform did a great job cleaning up and repairing the old tapes - the instruments are nicely separated and balanced and the video is as crisp as video is from the early 1970s. It’s fair to note that there are places where the audio quality changes or has some distortion at the edges, and as Cuneiform explains there were limitations to how much restoration could be done. 

The  repertoire is fairly well document and can basically be heard on the Floating World Live release from Moonjune Records, and most selections ended up on Bundles, but there are also some group improvisations and a medley from Sixth and Seventh. Following Holdsworth's vocalizations on Floating World is the nice solo piece ‘Ealing Comedy' from Babbington featuring some now classic effects.  Ratledge and Marshall do an electronics/percussion duet that is both ahead of and right on time. It is a pleasure just to see the technology - the videographers focused in on some of the knobs, lights, and other fine looking things. It’s also great to see a young Allan Holdsworth making flawless transitions and delivering some lightning speed runs.  

As a follow up to the NDR Jazz Workshop CD/DVD package from a couple years back, this is another excellent document of the group from one of it’s many creative peaks.


Hugh Hopper - Memories (Gonzo Media, 2014) ****



Hugh Hopper was the original bassist of Soft Machine, and had left the band by the time the '74 concert (he can be seen briefly in the NDR Jazzworkshp concert from 1973, but by then he was just stopping by to run experimental tape loops).

Memories is a box set or a series from Gonzo Media is releasing what will ultimately become a 10 CD set of archival recordings of Hopper’s work from his pre-Soft Machine early works from the mid-1960s to the more recent incarnations of his Franglo-Dutch bands and other collaborations. Hopper had a long career after Soft Machine and worked with Carla Bley, Elton Dean, Gary Windo, Lol Coxhill, Nick Evans, John Marshall, Robert Wyatt, Keith Tippett, Joe Gallivan and many others. He had also spent time towards the end of his life working with a rekindled Soft Machine Legacy led by guitarist John Etheridge. Hopper sadly passed away from Leukemia in 2009.

The box set collects the uncollected and the set I am referencing here today includes:
  • 2014: Volume 1: Memories (collection)
  • 2014: Volume 2: Frangloband (Triton Club, Paris, 2004)
  • 2014: Volume 3: North & South (with Mike Travis, Aberdeen, 1995)
  • 2014: Volume 4: Four by Hugh by Four (Bimhuis, Amsterdam, 2000)
Vol 1 has some nice spoken word intros and stories from Hopper, and the first song is the jazz inflected 'Memories', composed by Hopper in the 1960s and sung by Robert Wyatt. It then skips ahead quite a bit forward to the work that Hopper was doing in the early aughts with 'Was a Friend' - a quiet raga-esque piece. He also visits some of his post-Soft Machine music like 'Sliding Dogs' and 'Miniluv' with the same group. Across the discs, we hear Soft Machine classics like 'Facelift' and many versions of his selections from 1984 and Monster Band, and it is rather interesting to hear the songs played by the different groups, at different tempos and with different approaches. Hopper's bass playing provides a bridge between the rock and jazz worlds, for example, his rendition of “Wanglo Saxon” on Vol 3 with Mike Travis, fuses a rather straight ahead jazz rhythm section with a extended fuzz bass solo. 

I could rattle on and on about each album, but would rather leave it that the Memories set is as a real treat for Hopper and Soft Machine fans.