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Thursday, April 30, 2015

John Russell/Steve Beresford/John Edwards/Ståle Liavik Solberg - Will It Float? (Va Fongool, 2015) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

This British-Norwegian quartet was put together by Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg who had collaborated in recent years with guitarist John Russell (the duo recorded No Step, on Solberg label Hispid, 2014) and with electronics master Steve Beresford (in a trio with Swedish reed player Martin Küchen that recorded Three Babies, Peira, 2013). The addition of double bass player John Edwards, another prominent member of London’s free improvisation scene, was only natural. The recording of the quartet took place at the St. Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Newington, London, in November 2013, later mixed and mastered by another close associate of Solberg, Chicagoan cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Beresford, who plays on a wide variety of acoustic objects and resourcefully uses electronics devices, stresses surprising elements of danger, surprise and even dark humor in what may have sound as a cerebral, classic British free improvisation set. His presence alters the dynamics and the balance of this set to a course of a experimental, playful exploration of nuanced sounds. The spare interplay never attempts to anchor its intense dynamics on a clear pulse, melodic narrative, or structure. Still, this quartet succeeds to form  its own collective identity. Its delicate textures mirror loose puzzles, woven together in a patient flow of colorful sounds that only close to its later phases reveal its own evasive logics and blends surprisingly into an arresting soundscape. Suddenly, on the last piece, "The Third Time" the quartet burst with an innocent excitement, solidifying its raisons d'être - nothing is obvious, expect to be challenged, but this sonic ride guarantees many joyful moments.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ava Mendoza - Unnatural Ways (New Atlantis,2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Guitarist Ava Mendoza has been toying with the phrase 'Unnatural Ways' for a while now. Her 2012 duo release with percussionist Nick Tamburro was titled Quit Your Unnatural Ways, and her current working trio with bassist Tim Dahl and drummer Max Jaffe is called Unnatural Ways. On this album, Unnatural Ways, Mendoza is accompanied by her previous Unnatural Ways line-up of keyboardist Dominique Leone and Tamburro.

Pushing at the edges of free jazz and avant-rock, the album's fiery opener 'Shapeshift' is a solid block of rock based improvisation and composition that blurs musical categories. It features some fierce fretwork, loop augmented rhythms and a shifting undercurrent of tempo. Though heavy at times, the music is still textured and nuanced.

Then it gets crazy. 'Dogsbody' features Mendoza's punkish vocals - with lyrics at least ostensibly about dogs - tangled up with her knotty guitar lines. The following 'No Record' is a nice bit of avant-prog, starting with a Crimsonesque intro that segues into a vintage Janes Addiction-like melody in which Mendoza observes that "everything we do is being recorded".  'Goodnight Irene' is probably my favorite deconstruction of a folk song since Ribot undid 'St. James Infirmary' on his solo guitar album Saints. In Mendoza's hands, the Leadbelly song snarls, lurches, and sticks menacingly to the ears. 'Danifest Mestiny' begins atmospherically, but the surrounding space is boiling, and the track quickly becomes a stomper with lyrics sufficiently obscure to invite a deep listening. The throb of the keyboard gives the song an even more foreboding presence.

Unnatural Ways is a significant statement from Mendoza. It showcases her past musical associations and points to where her music is headed. For me, the vocal parts were a bit of an acquired taste (isn't that the best kind?) but after repeated listening their importance in the music became clearer - in fact the whole thing comes together in kind of a natural way. 

Give it a spin, see what you think:

Mendoza's Unnatural Ways is playing at the Downtown Music Gallery in New York City on Tuesday May 5th at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø: Oslo Wien / Whirl / Lana Trio

By Eyal Hareuveni

29-years old Norwegian trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø has become in recent years one of the most interesting musicians in the European experimental, free-improvised scene. His love/hate relationship with the trombone has led him to explore the boisterous and brassy side of the instrument, expanding its spectrum until it reaches the registers of the saxophone, trumpet and clarinet. With an impressive command of extended breathing techniques he extends the instrument's sonic envelope to microscopic articulations and electronic-tinged terrains. His recent releases feature his ever-expansive language in different formats.

Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø/Raymond Strid/Nina de Heney - Oslo Wien (Vafongool, 2015) *****

This trio with two great masters of free-improvisation - Swedish drummer Raymond Strid and Swiss, Gothenburg-based double bass player Nina de Heney, was first put together for Nørstebø's exam concert at the Academy of Music in Gothenburg on May 2011. Nørstebø played before with Strid and de Heney in different formats but the three never played together before as a trio, but Nørstebø tells that the feeling of having a common ground came fast. The trio played occasionally since that formative exam and reconvened in 2014 for a six-date European tour.

The debut double-album of this trio confirms the vision of Nørstebø. It feature two whole concert sets from the 2014 tour, the first one from the last day in Oslo and the second, recorded four days before, from Vienna. Each of these concerts evolves in a different way, but on both concerts the trio moves constantly in an immediate, organic flow that alternates between segments of building tension and its release, with a fascinating sense of drama. The highly creative, explorative language of these like-minded, adventurous improvisers, their determined search for new sonic possibilities, as well as the profound trust and understanding how to push forward any idea at any given moment, is simply fantastic.

The Oslo concert features five intense and urgent improvisations. The trio excels in transforming instantly fragments of sound, even almost silent, microtonal ones, into a rich, nuanced mini-dramas. Still, the trio never attaches itself to any sonic event, just letting the energy flow while enabling each musician to follow his impulses. The Vienna concert present two extended pieces, more reserved in their spirit, affected by the reverb on the room, with more opportunities for lengthy solos by all three. The dynamics of these improvisations stress the the total freedom that each musician has, and their different approaches to interaction, suggesting contrasting colors and and even rebellion within the almost telepathic interplay, all with a subdued intensity and great sensitivity to detail. This set, like the one in Oslo concludes with an intense, energetic coda.

Whirl – Revolving Rapidly Around an Axis (dEN, 2015) ****

The Whirl trio - British, Amsterdam-based sax and clarinet player, Tobias Delius, member of the legendary ICP orchestra, Nørstebø and double bass player Adrian Fiskum Myhr, member of the experimental trio Bergljot - is an extension of the Viryl duo - Nørstebø and Myhr that is active since 2010. The three played together for the first time in Berlin in 2012 and immediately realized that as a trio there is a much greater potential than an ad-hoc meeting. This debut album was recorded in a studio in Trondheim, after several European tours that distilled the trio strong identity.

The trio explore powerful improvised, free jazz interplay while stressing microtonal timbral investigations and giving up any need to rely on a pulse. These well-executed aesthetics blend the restless, burning energy of a explorative, free jazz with a great sensitivity to detail of a chamber outfit, all in a rapid, natural manner. This unique interplay even becomes lyrical when Delius plays the clarinet, as on “Pivot”. He and Nørstebø exchanging roles in exploring delicate, gentle voices, and experimental, tough outbursts, while Myhr's economical playing anchors their flights. On “Birl” the expressive trombone of Nørstebø sound as extending the tenor sax of Delius and vice versa, while Myhr ups the tension with creative employment of extended bow techniques. The title piece demonstrates again the impressive sonic spectrum of the trio, beginning with great bow work of Myhr who creates a spare drone sounds, expanded beautifully with light whispers by Nørstebø and Delius.

Lana Trio - Live in Japan (Va Fongool, 2014) *****

The sophomore album of this Norwegian trio - Nørstebø, pianist Kjetil Jerve, who plays in the Chet Baker tribute band Baker Hansen and in a duo with trumpet player Kristoffer Eikrem, and drummer Andreas Wildhagen, who has the honor to play opposite Paal Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit, also a member of the modern jazz quintet Mopti - was recorded live at the Jazzspot Candy in Chiba, near Tokyo, the last stop of a two-week tour in Japan.

The live setting brings the best of this trio. The urgency and immediacy of a live, energetic experience, the time and space to develop the trio non-idiomatic improvisations and the deep trust of understanding of each other and the expressive, rich language of each of these opinionated musicians, especially Nørstebø. The three extended improvisations covers a wide spectrum - from abstract, minimalist segments that are affected by Morton Feldman's innovative work, the European, FMP school of free jazz, referencing the work of Alexander von Schlippenbach and the Bauer brothers, and experimental sonic searches.

The trio moves organically between these fields of music, never surrendering to any manner of linear articulation, pulse, or dynamics but rather keeping building the tension and the intensity of the interplay and expanding its rich palette of sounds. The most fascinating piece is the second improvisation, “Meanwhile, Somewhere”, built around silent pauses, slowly spreading its minimalist, low-volume sounds through the club space, as in a mysterious, meditative ritual, only occasionally the intensity of reserved, sensitive interplay is transformed into a powerful outbursts. The wise drumming of Wildhagen anchors the conflictual interplay of Nørstebø and Jerve in a kind of weird dance that patiently becomes more dense, wilder and powerful but concludes in a gentle, lyrical slow dance. Excellent way to end an excellent concert and a successful tour.

The cover continues the unique artistic line of Va Fongool, this time designed by noise master Lasse Marhuag, showing a pastoral scene from a cruel dolphin hunt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Larry Ochs & Don Robinson - The Throne (Not Two, 2015) ****½

By Stef

Interestingly enough, and despite his long-standing career, saxophonist Larry Ochs never released a duo album, having played in trios ('What We Live', Room, JMO, Sax & Drumming Core), quartets (ROVA!) and larger bands. The same can be said from drummer Donald Robinson, who has been collaborating with Ochs over the years in various bands, including in the late Glenn Spearman's Double Trio.

And now listening to just the two of them improvising to high heaven is an absolute treat : energetic, intimate, ferocious, playing nine tracks each with a different character and set-up, yet all fitting well in an overall coherent vision. That vision is one of lyricism and rhythmic pulse, with Och's sound full of raw granularity and authentic emotions, and Robinson's drumming a delight of drive and unexpected accents, and truth be told, just listening to Robinson - fantasizing the sax away in my imagination, as I'm doing now on "Breakout" - is by itself already a pure treat, but then with the sax the pleasure more than doubles.

Both men create such a fine interaction, full of dynamic power, captivating inventiveness and sophisticated rawness, with no unneccessary fantasies, no frills or fripperies or useless ornaments, just music stripped to its bare essence of lyricism and rhythm, like some ancient tribal dance, a tribute to music itself and some of their heroes - Glenn Spearman, Lester Bowie, Muddy Waters -

This album may be part of my top-10 of sax-drums duos, together with Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, McPhee and Zerang, Eskelin and Hemingway, Hubback and Peijnenburg, Carrier and Lambert, Gratkowski and Drake, Gjerstad and Bennink, Fisch and Wolfarth, Trovesi and Centazzo (taking into account that Coltrane and Ali are somewhere in another space).


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Johannes Frisch and Kammerflimmer Kollektief (Day 2)

Kammerflimmer Kollektief: Désarroi (Staubgold, 2015) *****

By Martin Schray

The first thing you have to know is that this album is really good. Not in the sense as many albums reviewed here (which are also good and recommendable) - this album is outstanding, excellent, amazing, wonderful. It is simply splendid.

Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s mastermind Thomas Weber started this project almost 20 years ago. His roots are in the alternative rock scene but after the split of his first band he began to make music with samples and loops. After several changes in the line-up of Kammerflimmer Kollektief, today’s group came up – with Weber on guitar and electronics, Heike Aumüller on harmonium and electronics and Johannes Frisch on double bass.

One of the fascinating things about Kammerflimmer Kollektief is that their music is hard to pigeonhole. It contains elements of surf music, free jazz, ambient sounds, alternative rock, dub reggae, pop (to name just a few influences) - my friend Ernst calls it “free ambient”. In general their approach is a clash of pre-fabricated loops, samples and notated structures with improvised parts. Weber brings in these ideas and then the band improvises over them, the jams are recorded and then he puts them together, he edits the results before the musicians start working with this new material again. So the songs are like collages, after they are ready the band lets them rest and then listens to them again to check if they still work after a certain time – very often just to change things again. This leads to different transitions and sounds, even to new instrumentations. Sometimes the results are quite different after such a check-up.

Kammerflimmer Kollektief have released marvelous albums before (s. below) but Désarroi is their masterpiece so far. The reason for it is simple: it’s their freest piece of work, an album which is wonderfully balanced between a basic psychedelic atmosphere and angular, atonal improvisation, something Johannes Frisch is mainly responsible for because his bass is free from creating a pulse (the loops are responsible for that). Désarroi (French for confusion, disorientation, despair) indeed is confusing and disturbing, under a smooth surface (Weber’s guitar reminds of Angelo Badalamenti’s work for David Lynch) Frisch’s bass is rumbling, creaking and scratching and Heike Aumüller’s harmonium augments the sombre and gloomy atmosphere.

All in all Désarroi is a melting pot of biker rock guitars, Nico’s late albums, Pink Floyd psychedelia (in their Ummagumma days) – as if William Parker was jamming with Lee Scratch Perry and Velvet Underground. It’s a clash of a world we know with the unknown. This idea is most obvious in “Evol Jam: Edit”. The liner notes describe the track wonderfully: “Aumüller sings “the more you love, the more you can love” until her syntax deteriorates and her language dissolves, blurring into musical passages and sounds, and finally returning to her initial structure of singing.” This love Aumüller sings about is the music itself – it comes from a certain order, then it transgresses these boundaries, gets lost, tries to find new ways, maps them, and comes back to the beginning.

And in this world of love/music there is always space for pure beauty: The icing on the cake is the cover version of the old S.Y.P.H. song “Zurück zum Beton” (“Back to Concrete”), an early German punk rock classic. While the original is raw and edgy, a song where the anger about the cheesy romantic notions of nature is tangible, Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s version is full of melancholia. It’s their notion of an art form in which the musicians are builders, aural sculptors of a modern world – it’s the collective as creators.

Listen to ”Désarroi #1: Mayhem“ here:

Listen to “Zurück zum Beton” and watch Bernd Schoch’s brilliant video here:

Further Kammerflimmer Kollektief recommendations:

Teufelskamin (Staubgold, 2011) **** ½
This collection of songs is Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s winter album. In the middle of an icy landscape they have built an igloo which keeps you warm and provides shelter from the snow storms outside. There is an immense beauty in these tracks, the guitar layers are sparkling and Aumüller sounds like a dark fairy incarnation of Björk, Nico and Jeanne Lee. Very spooky!

Wildling (Staubgold, 2010) **** ½
Wildling is an album which is dominated by tenderness, vulnerability and a very laid-back groove (e.g. in “Silver Chords”). It contains some of the band’s best songs like the 13-minute-epic “In Transition (Version)” where they short-circuit dub reggae material with Ry Cooder guitars, Doors keyboards and atonal harmonium riffs, or the reduced psychedelia monster “There’s a Crack in Everything”. An album that works best when you play it loud at 4 a.m. in the morning (with headphones) in order to doze off or to sober up.

Jinx (Staubgold, 2007) ****
Jinx is music that could work for a remake of David Lynch’s mystery series “Twin Peaks“ if it was settled in the Texan desert. The cinematic quality they have always had is interspersed with free jazz saxophones, xylophones, pedal steel guitars – however, possible esoteric hints are immediately destroyed. Maybe this is their idea of country jazz (“Live at the Cactus Tree Motel”) or how “Riders on the Storm” can be integrated in a jazz surrounding (“Jinx”).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Johannes Frisch and Kammerflimmer Kollektief (Day 1)

An Artist Deep Dive

By Martin Schray

In German we have a saying which means “why wander around in the distance when good things lie nearby”. I live in Karlsruhe in southern Germany and I listen to a lot to music from all over the world, often excellent music, and I also try to go to concerts for which I have to travel quite far sometimes. On the other hand there are musicians like bassist Johannes Frisch and bands like Kammerflimmer Kollektief right around the corner.

Johannes Frisch has worked as a composer and improviser in genres like experimental rock, free jazz and electro-acoustic music and has played with the crème de la crème of the improv scene – for example with Lol Coxhill, Maggie Nicols, Johannes Bauer, Le Quan Ninh, Paul Hubweber, Harald Kimmig, and Misha Feigin. He is also a member of the fabulous Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Mia Zabelka‘s trio and DFTh + HBW, a band with drummer Rudolf Theilmann, another Karlsruhe legend.
Frisch is influenced by a lot of different music – from the Art Ensemble of Chicago and John Coltrane to György Ligeti, John Cage, Jimi Hendrix and John Zorn as well as world music in general. It is no surprise that his groups sound very differently. Often their music is completely improvised but when he plays with Kammerflimmer Kollektief (he started  working with Thomas Weber’s band in 1999) there are notated and pre-recorded parts, too. Like many of his fellow musicians his art is dominated by the search of an individual sound and a personal style. And once in a while he simply likes to rock.

He is an artist that definitely deserves more attention and over this weekend we will have a look at some of his recent releases.

Johannes Frisch & Ralf Wehowsky – Which Head You’re Dancing In (Monotype Records, 2014) ****

I don’t know if there is a direct connection between the law and free improvisation, between the compliance of rules and the constant expansion of a certain system, maybe it is mere chance. For some reason there are a few people I know that have to do with courts who have a connection with free jazz – my friend Christoph is a judge, Colin is a lawyer, Dan works as a court clerk. And Ralf Wehowsky, the man on electronics and so-called sound transformations on this album, is also a lawyer.

His connection with Johannes Frisch goes back to the 1980s and Which Head You’re Dancing In is their third album (in 2005 they released Tränende Würger which was followed by Unwahrscheinlichkeiten in 2010). The most fascinating aspect about their music is the clash between Frisch’s acoustic (albeit extended) bass work and Wehowsky’s bizarre and  wizard-like sounds that remind of Lasse Marhaug’s noise concepts. Frisch’s approach is more interested in the modifications of his instrument, he presents the tone colors of the bass in a natural, varied and authentic way – which leads to the crude effect that they also sound alienated in Wehowsky’s storm of steel, e.g. in “Crisis in Space”, a piece Sun Ra would have liked and which could work as a freaky soundtrack for John Carpenter’s “Dark Star”. In general Wehowsky’s notion of music seems to be less textual but rather percussive, his electronics are like small detonations, a hail of bullets attacking Frisch’s bass lines, the music even transgresses borders to drum’n’bass (“Skies of Guantanamo”) and industrial music. While the bass delivers the textures, the electronics set the course – actually just the opposite one might expect from such a line up.

The individual tracks, which have weird titles like “Acid Breakdown” or “Which Cloud You Are Coming From” (and they sound like that), are often fragmentary, they remind of work-in-progress, e.g. “Stutter Train Stoppage” comes along like someone searching for a radio station and “Theme for a Skyscraper” tries to capture the noises such buildings make when they are swinging to and fro. Especially on this track the music sounds distant, as if sound snippets were hurrying through an aural picture.

All in all this is very challenging music, somewhere between a playground for electronica and a trip to the outskirts of the human mind.

When I asked Frisch’s Kammerflimmer Kollektief band member Thomas Weber what he thinks about this album he told me that he asked Frisch what kind of drugs they had taken while recording this music. Frisch answered quick and easy: “None. Just green tea.” Then, on the other hand, I don’t know what mind-expanding ingredients there are in green tea.

You can listen to excerpts of the album and buy it here.

Mia Zabelka: Weird Tales and Elegant Motion (Monotype Records, 2013) ****

Johannes Frisch met Mia Zabelka in the 1980s when she played with his friend Helmut Bieler-Wendt. After having lost sight of each other, they met again when Kammerflimmer Kollektief played Austria and when Zabelka decided to start a new trio.

Frisch’s work with the Austrian violinist is completely different to his other projects. Zabelka is interested in the exploration of the relationship between body, gesture, sound and space – an art form that tries to combine new media, literature and sound art and what she calls “automatic playing”. Compared to Which Head You’re Dancing In the approach on this album is less physical and spontaneous but more intellectual and diversified. However, the music also rocks – maybe because electronics play an important role for these tracks as well. However, the groove is much more in the focus than on his collaboration with Wehowsky. Frisch also plays electric bass and shows that he can fill a more traditional role with his playing, too, which – in combination with Pavel Fajt’s straight drumming – makes the music much more accessible than on Which Head You’re Dancing In.

“Backyard Funk”, the first track on Weird Tales and Elegant Motion, starts like a Miles Davis fusion album from the late 1970s and Zabelka’s violin sounds like an electric guitar, then the music takes turns to weird jazz/rock experiments (“Back to Start”) and sound installations (“Wind – Rewind” with Fajt on tablas), before it delves into meditative sound worlds (“Live in Klang.Haus”) presenting Zabelka on vocals, which gives the track a mysterious and spooky twist. The album’s climax is the almost 10-minute minimal meditation “The Order of Things” with its deep and magic danceability.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule like “Uwaga – Serious Game”, an atonal and edgy color spot or the mysterious “Djinn”, with Zabelka on vocals again, that reminds of Krzystof Penderecki’s music for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” interspersed with weird prayer mantras.

Weird Tales and Elegant Motion is a wide palette of different styles consisting of avant-garde soundscapes, free jazz, experimental electronics and steaming grooves. Very interesting.

You can listen to excerpts of the album and buy it here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Potsa Lotsa Plus – Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015) ****½

By Troy Dostert

In 2011 German saxophonist Silke Eberhard spearheaded an ambitious 2-CD recording of all of Eric Dolphy’s released compositions.  Recorded by the group Potsa Lotsa (itself a reference to a Dolphy composition, “Number Eight,” on Live at the Five Spot), with Eberhard on alto, Patrick Braun on tenor, Gerhard Gschlößl on trombone, and Nikolaus Neuser on trumpet, this release was an impressive examination of Dolphy’s work, made in a spirit of devotion and homage but without falling into the trap of simply reproducing Dolphy.  The group offered a distinctive voice of its own, and Eberhard in particular showed herself quite adept at capturing Dolphy’s essence but at the same time pursuing an independent direction for her own playing.

For this recording, Potsa Lotsa has been enlarged a bit, with new additions Jürgen Kupke (clarinet), Marc Unternährer (tuba) and Antonis Anissegos (electronics).  The result is unquestionably a richer palette and range of expression, and the resulting performances are even more interesting and stimulating than those of the smaller group.  The album is somewhat misleadingly titled, given that only the first three of the ten tracks comprise Dolphy’s “Love Suite,” an unfinished composition Dolphy had yet to complete at the time of his death.  Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that the rest of the record is clearly inspired by Dolphy’s intriguing harmonic sensibility and idiosyncratic compositional structures, so the record as a whole does feel cohesive.

As for the group’s performance of “Love Suite,” it is exceptionally creative and effective.  Eberhard is featured on bass clarinet here, and as with the previous recording, she pulls off the remarkable feat of paying tribute to Dolphy while avoiding slavish imitation of him—something especially difficult to do insofar as Dolphy seemed to place his stamp on the bass clarinet more than on any other instrument.  What also gives the piece its unique flair is the work of Anissegos, whose interjections and subtle background work on electronics bring an unsettled and slightly jarring quality to the performance.  The piece itself is rather compelling, with layered harmonies and a subtle rhythmic bounce.  A terrific unaccompanied dialogue between Eberhard and Anissegos develops near the end of the first section and it reveals a sympathetic and nuanced rapport between the musicians.  The rest of the suite is just as good, with some fantastic group improvisation taking place in section two, and a chorale-like section three, again with effective contributions from Anissegos, adding just the right air of mystery that always seems to characterize Dolphy’s pieces.

The other tracks are very strong in their own right, with a good mix of composed and improvised elements.  Even without a rhythm section, a defined or implicit pulse propels each of them, often helped by Unternährer’s jaunty tuba playing (heard especially to good effect on “Miniatur”).  Anissegos even provides something akin to a slightly off-kilter drum machine to provide a rhythmic foundation for “Sketch No 1.”

Eberhard and her colleagues are to be commended for furthering Dolphy’s legacy, and doing so in a way that points forward rather than staying confined by tradition.  It’s an outstanding example of what a “tribute” album should seek to accomplish, and it does so resoundingly.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kaze - Uminari (Circum Disc, 2015) ****½

By Stef

After  "Rafale" (2011) and "Tornado" (2013), we now have the pleasure of listening to Kaze's third album, again with the same line-up of Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost on trumpet, and Peter Orins on drums.

The Japanse-French band was created after Fujii and Tamura saw Pruvost and Orins perform years ago, and the Japanese were charmed by their approach : "It was not like any music I had hear before" says Fujii, "It is wild but it is also very intellectual". Which seems to be an excellent match to the Japanese pianist's own vision of 'comprovisation'

Like with the other albums, nature is the inspiration for the music, now with the word "Uminari", which refers to the sound rising from the sea, a low-frequency roar that portends a coming storm or tsunami.

Like with the other albums, the pieces are loosely structured around composed material, overall ideas of texture, density, sound and more open periods for collective improvisation or solos, but that does not mean that you can expect themes or patterns to repeat themselves and for the soloists to improvise on these themes, no, it's almost exactly the opposite : the music evolves before your ears and shifts and changes constantly into new space and sonic territories, some filled with wild mayhem, some with quiet contemplation, some with unison lines emerging out of chaos. If anything, whatever happens is totally unpredictable and unexpected, but always fascinating and intense, even in the most minimal moments, as in the long intro of "Inspiration", yet always working with deep contrasts between power and subtlety, with waves of sound washing over the listener alternated with a steady breeze of unusual extended techniques.

As in the other albums, there is lots of 'plot development' in a story-telling fashion, with high levels of dramatic moments and catharsis, yet it never comes across as construed, and more as the result of the organic movement of the music itself.

A wonderful collective achievement.

More details on the label's website and available from Instantjazz

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Harris Eisenstadt - Golden State II (Songlines, 2015) ***½

By Stefan Wood

I've always been attracted to chamber jazz. A cross pollination of classical and jazz, it is a quietly intense and focused sub genre that has led to new avenues of expression and improvisation. Harris Eisenstadt's Golden State Quartet -- Harris Eisenstadt (drums), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Mark Dresser (bass), and Michael Moore (clarinet) -- adds to the music influences ranging from European avant jazz (ICP Orchestra), to Yusef Lateef, Eric Dolphy and Wadada Leo Smith. "Golden State II" is the second album by the quartet, a live concert recorded at the 2014 Vancouver Jazz Festival.

The concert has a quiet, highly concentrated intensity filled with dynamic interplay and creative improvisations -- a testament to the band's playing, which has the audience hushed, for the most part. Marc Dresser is the binding agent; funky bass rhythms that propel Schoenbeck and Moore outwards as in the opening track "The Arrangement of Unequal Things," cello like in the opening solo to the track "A Kind of Resigned Indignation," or a repetitive bluesy stride in the stand out track "Agency." 

Michael Moore is excellent as well, referencing Dolphy with his organic play on the clarinet, stretching the sound like taffy, flirtatious and whimsical. Schoenbeck's bassoon comes across like a baritone saxophone, less deep but buttery smooth, which complements the higher register of the clarinet. She shines on the track "Agency," where her long solo is slow burning and rich, followed by Moore, then both engage in a soft exchange, one staying low, the other high, in a whirling, exchange that is klemzer like. The final track, "Gleaning," concludes the set with latin influenced percussion and bass, with Moore and Schoenbeck exchanging notes on top. Some of the improvisations feel a bit aimless, but the musicianship is excellent, noted by an appreciative audience at the conclusion. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lorenzo Tucci & Fabrizio Bosso - Drumpet (Via Veneto, 2014) ***

By Stef

An album called "Drumpet" says it all : this an album with duets by a drummer and a trumpet-player. The lead role here is for drummer Lorenzo Tucci with Fabrizio Bosso on trumpet joining on most of the tracks though not on all.

Like the title's cheap pun, the music suffers a little bit from the same lack of vision on music, but focuses rather on the instrumental prowess. The album is an exercise in style and rhythms, with lots of variation, including mutes, electronic effects and such like, but also musically you get an almost traditional Italian hymn with "Lu Piante De Le Fojje", a version of Coltrane's "Impression", melancholoy stuff with "Kenzia", or wilder outbursts with "Dubai".

In short, a goody-bag with lots of different flavours and tastes, well performed but lacking in substance.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Schlippenbach Trio – Features (Intakt, 2015) ****½

By Martin Schray

The fact that the Schlippenbach Trio (Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano, Evan Parker on saxes and Paul Lovens on drums) has released a new album on the Swiss label Intakt just now is very delicate since Trost Records has just recently put out their first recordings from 1972 (read the review here). However, this gives listeners the possibility to gain insight in the musical universe of free jazz’s longest existing band (they have been playing together regularly for almost 45 years now). 

Of course they do not sound like they did in their beginnings - and there are many reasons for this. In an interview he gave for a documentary on the trio Evan Parker was talking about one of them, something he calls bio-feedback. Parker says:
“the act of producing sound through the saxophone requires a certain physical relationship with the instrument. So this physical state becomes connected with that sound. The change of physical state produces a change of the sound. The change of the sound enters the awareness, the consciousness and there’s a correlation between the alteration in the sound and the alteration in the physical perimeters that produce the sound, the pressure of the breath, the specific relationship of the fingers to the instrument. One thing guides the other.”
Naturally, this also counts for the piano and the drums, which is why they cannot play as if they were still in their twenties nowadays, their physical abilities have changed, they are not as furious and boisterous as they were as young men. On the other hand this does by far not mean that they have nothing to say.

What they have to offer their audience instead today is a fully evolved set/arsenal of notes and sounds, of rhythmic forms, which have been continually developed over the years in an improvisational process. But for the musicians there is also the danger of repeating yourself, of becoming your own cliché, that everything becomes ritualized. On the other hand the fact that you cannot avoid certain rituals after playing together for so many years also “produces a tension, a climate of focus, of concentration, between us, that we wouldn’t arrive at if we didn’t have that ritualized expectation,” as Parker put it.

Features, a programmatic title for this album,is a collection of 15 serially numbered sketches, presenting all the features which are characteristic for the sound this outstanding trio has created – the Monk allusions (Feature 1, 6 and 8), their jazz impetus (Schlippenbach clearly distinguishes free jazz from improvised music), the aspects of new classical music (Feature 3 and 7), Parker’s circular breathing (Feature 3), his ability to listen and to step on board at the right moment, Schlippenbach’s banging, his clusters and his heavy 12-tone-chords (Feature 5), the bumpy twists and turns (Feature 10), Lovens’ extended techniques, his unique drum sound in general.

But there are also surprising elements: Parker seems to have discovered his love for melodies on this album, the meditative approach is mainly due to his playing. More than ever Features is a submersion in sound, especially in silence, maybe due to the fact that the album was recorded in a studio. And, as Bert Noglik, the author of the excellent lines notes, puts it: “The band has developed a quality which emerges spontaneously but arises not least thanks to the years of accumulated experience; nothing is stated, noted, planned in advance; the studio atmosphere makes things transparent, things that are obscured in the hectic live atmosphere are brought to the surface here.”

After all these years the Schlippenbach Trio is interpreting its own history. They have become self-aware, aware of the world they have created and now play in. More and more they have become aware of their own mythology, their notion of the magic Schlippenbach Trio.

Features is available on CD and you can buy it from the label or from

You can watch a complete set of the trio at Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf from the same year the recording was made here:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Daniel Carter & Federico Ughi - Extra Room (577 Records, 2015) ****½

 By Stef

Already in the early days of this blog, my appreciation for Daniel Carter and Federico Ughi was clear, with their album "Mountain Path", but also "Nivesana", Carter's duo album with Ravi Padmnahavi got five stars then. The collaboration with the two men already goes back to 2001, with their debut album "Astonishment", also on 577 Records.

I like Carter's approach to music, which was already present in bands like Test and Other Dimensions In Music : the music of new possibilities, full of spirituality and introspection, an alternative that did not need volume or screaming at the top of your lungs to position itself, and coupled with a deep sense of pulse and the blues.

His specific sound and approach works extremely well with drummer Federico Ughi, who is a rhythmic lyricist, but then one who can hit hard when needed.

This new album, "Extra Room" is a double CD, with nineteen tracks in total, and you can hear on each piece that long-standing collaborations increase the quality of the music. The two artists play like one, regardless of whether Carter picks up his sax, his flute, his trumpet or is playing the piano.

The album starts with the beautiful "It's Got To Be Better Outside", a calm boppish and bluesy tune, warm and welcoming. The harmonious piano chords in the intro of"Extra Room", the title track, quickly evolve into dissonance, and when Ughi increases the tension, Carter picks up his tenor and both musicians play up a storm, in the best of free jazz mode, calming down again near the end. "Gypsy Drive" gives a mid-tempo flute and drums duet, a short hypnotic piece without much development, followed by the short meditative "Sweat It Out" on trumpet and drums. And it goes on like this, with lots of variation, lots of ideas, always captivating and the entire album offers an incredible amount of fantastic music, whether rhythmic delights such as "The Bouncer", the meditative beauty of "Light It Up Watch It Burn" or the final screamer "It's Still Got To Be Better Outside".

Apart from the splendid interaction between both musicians, the coherence and variation in the music, the album's best quality is the warm lyricism, the human authenticity and humility that shines through every track: these two artists are not here to demonstrate what they can, they're here to celebrate music. And who doesn't want to be part of that?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Agustí and the Scandinavians

By Eyal Hareuveni

Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández should be by now a household name for this blog's readership. He is a highly creative improviser who keeps expanding the sonic possibilities of the piano, often exploiting its full resonant metal and wooden timbral spectrum, both from inside - with many preparations - and from the outside, to form unique musical textures. Fernández is also an attentive collaborator who have played with some of the greatest improvisers as guitarist Derek Bailey and Evan Parker. He always enjoys the company of other like-minded fearless improvisers. Coincidentally, his latest releases document few of such meetings with Scandinavian improvisers.

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

Fernández and Swedish titan sax player Mats Gustafsson have collaborate regularly over the last 15 years. They play together in Barry Guy New Orchestra, recorded as a duo (Critical Mass, Psi, 2005) and as a trio, as EFG (Korpos Lithos, with trumpeter Peter Evans, Multikulti, 2011) and as an ad-hoc one (Breaking the Lab! with drummer Ramon Prats, Discordian, 2013) and Fernández played in Gustafsson’s NU Ensemble (Hidros 6 - Kockin’ box-set, Not Two, 2014).

The duo's ten pieces, recorded in Fernández hometown of Barcelona in April 2013, encompasses all aspects of these two highly creative masters' artistry. Fernández employs the prepared piano as an otherworldly sound generator, producing an array of disturbing metallic sounds, abstract percussive noises, often blending all into fascinating series of overtones. Gustafsson surprises with a contemplative tone, both on the soprano sax and the baritone saxes, exploring a set of inventive extended breathing techniques that stress the seminal influence of Evan Parker (both played in Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra and New Orchestra; Fernández recorded duets with Parker and played in Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble). Both patiently sculpt intriguing textures of strange sounds in a manner that demands deep trust, great sensitivity to detail and wild imagination. When Fernández plays the piano, as on the balladic “Serpens”, the two explore the emotional core of this melodic. On “Mintaka”, both experiment in a rare heated, free improvised interplay, full of sudden twists in its dynamics .

All pieces stress the immediate, profound understanding of these two musicians, transforming fragments of sound into a dense, rich interplay, still, never surrender to a linear, obvious narrative.

Simply fantastic.

Agustí Fernández/Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard/Bjørn Heebøll - Amaranth (Discordian, 2015) ****½

This trio feature experimental Danish sax player Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard - known for his Sound X Sound series of compositions for different multiple set of identical instruments that is meant to transcend the instruments sound and become a new, pure sound - and fellow countryman, drummer Bjørn Heebøll from the improvising noise duo Boda Boda, who recently collaborated with sax titan Peter Brötzmann and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm on two albums. The trio performed first at the 2014 Copenhagen VinterJazz Festival, followed with a short in Denmark and reconvened several months later to record their debut album in July 2014.

The eight programmatic movements succeed to suggest this trio independent, opinionated personality. Cerebral, tight free improvisations that often sound as well-prepared and rehearsed complex and demanding compositions, performed with great passion and imagination by all three, all taking lead roles. Throughout these movements the trio keeps expanding its vocabulary, its dynamics and concepts of space, time and pulse. Each of the movements has its own character and each offers a different, experimental angle of the art of free improvisation, ranging from abstract, patient timbral research to mysterious, through ritualistic play with fragments of sounds to roaring, immediate outbursts, culminating with a melodic, touching short piece. Løkkegaard unorthodox playing of the recorder on the longest “Natural Movement” even adds strange folksy tones to the nuanced, collective trio search for new sounds.

This trio just began to explore its great potential.

Agustí Fernández / Johannes Nästesjö (Konvoj Records, 2014) ****

Swedish double bass player Johannes Nästesjö splits his time between Malmö and Barcelona. Nästesjö began to collaborate with Fernández in his Liquid Quintet and the two expanded this collaboration through duo meetings. This duo was recorded in Fernández house, outside Barcelona, in a sunny day in February 2013.

The eight free-improvised pieces emphasize both affinity for experimental, extended techniques, focusing on patient, methodical exploration and weaving of unconventional sounds, dynamics and textures. Still, Fernández takes the leading role, sets the spirit and direction of each improvisation The two alternate between transcending the prepared piano and the double bass into all-new sonic spheres generating new palette of colorful, often weird, metallic and wooden percussive sounds, and pushing the sonic envelope of their respective instruments in a more conventional manner, flirting with the loose, lyrical themes, but always keep an element of tension and surprise, even in these quiet moments.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Huntsville - Pond (Hubro Music, 2015) ****

By Paolo Casertano

I used to think that Huntsville’s flair would have soon faded. The first effort as a group of these three Norwegian musicians (Ivar Grydeland on guitars, Ingar Zach on percussion, Tony Kluften on double bass and the three of them on many other instruments) back in 2006 on Rune Grammofon - For The Middle Class – was, in my opinion, a very convincing work. Then, since their sophomore adventure, dated 2008 and again on Rune Grammofon - and despite the insertion of Wilco’s Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche and maybe because of its unjustified length - seemed less inspired and coherent. The following two chapters later released on Hubro Music – another noteworthy Norwegian label in any case - in 2011 and 2013 followed suit. No need to say that this has been just my personal reaction to their musical course.

But something truly reconnects on Pond. Starting from Kluften’s aseptic and metallically echoing bass lines in the first track, sounding as a consciously pinned and undeployed Joy Division’s theme, the stage is set for the persistent drum undergrowth from Zach and the mounting punctuation of Grydeland, at first clattering, then gradually more melodic and enveloping. The trio finds the right formula as they shift between registers, with the bass voice setting the mood and opening up channels for the two other elements to fill. The development of the entire work is really fluid and it creates the sensation of an electronic-conceived album played instrumentally. Nevertheless I felt, while listening to some passages, that I was being thrown into a Western movie scenario, and was relieved when later I noticed the definition of “Morricone-esque dreamscapes” in the label release notes (am I so intuitive or so ordinary?).

Just out of curiosity ... it seems that hardly any musician in Norway records anymore outside Tomba Emmanuelle, a place known for its amazing sonic virtues. So I wonder, what if Martin Hannett would have had access to it?

A worthwhile advancement in the discography of this trio.

From the label itself you can listen, buy, download and stream.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

David Chevallier – Standards & Avatars (Cristal Records, 2015) ****½

By Chris Haines

If Standards are pieces of music that have gained importance within the musical canon of jazz then it might be interesting to posture what the Avatars might be that accompany them on this album by David Chevallier.  A religious connotation of the term within Hinduism relates to a spiritual being or deity, although I doubt that is what’s meant in this context, whilst in computing ‘avatar’ refers to the alter-ego of the user generally depicted in graphic form.  So what it seems we have here within this set of pieces is a collection of standards that also contain an alter ego or at the very least a response to them that has been developed by David Chevallier.  These counterpart pieces do not necessarily come across as a critique of the standard but more as a second self that has come to life from the prompt of the original material. 

The album contains instrumental versions of well-established pieces such as All The Things You Are, and What Is This Thing Called Love?  As well as a rendition of Miles Davis’ Solar, six of the standards contain an avatar title as well, which appear to poke fun at their more established brethren such as The Man I Love / Is Actually a Woman! and You Don’t Know What Love Is / Oh Yes, I Do!

With a line-up of Sébastien Boisseau (Bass), Christophe Lavergne (Drums) and David Chevallier (Guitar) this guitar trio really gets into some great playing.  Chevallier for the main part has a nice clean but crisp tone on his guitar but not without aversion to more overdriven sounds when mixing it up in the more improvised passages where the music really comes to life.  His playing is excellent and there is interesting use of harmonies to well-known passages as well as the deconstruction of material such as on Strange Fruit.  It’s good to hear well-worn material being used to inspire more modern post-bop and freer playing, whilst grounding the more ‘outside’ sections that might not have worked quite so well without their structured forebears.

Once in a while you stumble across an album that not only did you not have any preconceived ideas about but you didn’t actually know about at all, which then turns out to be an absolute gem!  This is one of those rare instances.  A really great album that ought to be more widely heard, containing some great music from a fresh perspective.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dennis Gonzalez’s Yells at Eels – In Quiet Waters (ForTune, 2014) ****

By Troy Dostert

On the most recent offering from the amazingly prolific Dennis Gonzalez, we get to hear him once again playing with his sons Stefan and Aaron.  This time, however, the trio plays on its own, without the guest musicians that have most typically characterized its recordings.  (Case in point: 2012’s terrific Resurrection and Life, which featured the ageless drumming legend Alvin Fielder)  Anyone worried that the group might be missing something with just the three of them holding down the fort can rest assured, since the musicianship on display here is truly first-rate.

The ten tracks offer a wide range of moods and styles, from the mysterious and open feel of “Lorca,” to the more conventional freebop of “Hymn for Julius Hemphill” and “Document for Walt Dickerson.”  Fans of Gonzalez may recognize the latter tunes as they were recorded previously, on 2006’s Boston Project and 2011’s Cape of Storms, respectively.  And they really are the highlights of the album, as the group stretches out and plays with a special fire and passion on these cuts.  It also helps that they are the two live tracks on the record, as the audience’s enjoyment of the music definitely spurs on the group.  The players utilize a lot of different instruments: drummer Stefan can sometimes be heard on marimba or vibes, for example, while bassist Aaron employs both electric and acoustic bass, and all three musicians jump in on various percussion instruments from time to time on the record.  The result is a recording which often feels like it’s been recorded by a larger band; there’s always plenty going on to hold one’s attention and to create moments of surprise. 

Holding it all together, of course, is the marvelous trumpet and cornet work of the senior Gonzalez, Dennis, whose lyricism and emotional depth are as apparent here as ever before.  While it can be a cliché, there is indeed a “spiritual” side to Gonzalez’ music that has always been a hallmark of his playing and his compositions as well; it’s not coincidental that he’s titled many of his pieces “hymns” over the years.  Gonzalez’ technical proficiency is great as always, but it’s the restless search for something deeper that helps him stand out as a trumpeter and musician.  And when all three players shout and whoop it up at the end of “Document for Walt Dickerson,” one realizes that there is a lot of joy in the search.

A worthy addition to a catalogue which has grown enormously over the past decade, and proof that the Gonzalez family is still going strong.  It’s a great thing to hear.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cactus Truck - Seizures Palace (NotTwo, 2014) ****½

By Stefan Wood

In music skronk is a word used to describe the indescribable; usually in reference to aggressive noise that is seemingly incoherent, a sax bleating non stop, drums flailing in non linear rhythms, or guitars screeching sheets of sound.  It has negative connotations, a word that fits the bill when someone is talking about music that is so jarring that words to adequately describe it fails. The Cactus Truck revels in it, with creativity and excellence, in their new and appropriately titled album, "Seizures Palace."  I'll be clear: this is not for the feint of heart.  This is tinnitus inducing, headphone shattering skronk of the best kind.

With John Dikeman on saxophone, Jasper Stadhouders on guitar, and Onno Govaert on drums, Cactus Truck is a Dutch group strongly influenced by Albert Ayler, Peter Brotzmann, and the no noise scene of the late 70s/early 80s.  Dikeman is a force on saxophone, not acerbic like Brotzmann and a little more lyrical than Ayler, but no less potent in breathing fire through his instrument. Stadhouders is equally powerful on guitar, his playing culling from the sounds created by early 80s groups like Sonic Youth, the Swans, the Ex, and a myriad of other post punk noise groups. Govaert finished the trio off with percussion that sound like it is falling off of a cliff, but is cohesive and underlines the power of his fellow musicians. Throughout they do cross the boundaries of free jazz and punk, fusing the improvisational of the former with the earthy hardcore and speed of the latter. Three of the tracks are less than 30 seconds, framing the album by occurring in the beginning, middle and end. "Will To Power," "One For Roy," and "Fourth Wind" are stand out tracks, with forceful statements made by all three players, trading blows and punches as if their lives depended on it.  They are creative enough no not make the noise all sound similar, in fact their variety in sonic attacks is what makes this album work so well.

"Seizures Palace" is highly recommended, not only for its brute force, but for its creative chops as well.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Makaya McCraven - In the Moment (International Anthem, 2015) ****½

By Matthew Grigg

'In the Moment' is the third release from fledgling Chicago label International Anthem, the first two were differing incarnations of Rob Mazurek's 'Alternate Moon Cycles', and this third offering boasts contributions from Chicago stalwarts Joshua Abrams and Jeff Parker amongst others. An auspicious start. The material here is culled from a 12 month residency at Chicago's The Bedford featuring a revolving cast of some of Chicago's emerging and best known improvisers, the resultant 48 hours worth of recorded material was then edited down, remixed and reworked.

Whilst the name Makaya McCraven may be new to many, a drumming McCraven may well ring a few bells. Stephen McCraven, Makaya's father, has worked and recorded alongside the likes of Archie Shepp and Sam Rivers. The younger McCraven though, is very much his own man. In the same way as, say, Jack DeJohnette has absorbed and uploaded world musics into his approach, McCraven's playing is liberally peppered with Hip Hop inflections, with Jazz and Hip Hop comprising the base pairing central to the double helix of his musical DNA.

The album's tracks are either primarily groove oriented or based around repeated melodic figures. This is 'free improvisation' as initially coined in reference to post bebop musics, neither free of meter nor tonal centre but spontaneously composed around melodic or rhythmic kernels. 'First Thing First', which hails from early in the residency, is the only track which features no edits or reworking, and whilst embryonic compared to pieces later on the album, is a good early indicator of the musical approach, as well as providing a vantage point from which the amount of reworking can be observed. The post-production techniques both streamline the source material, and create more durable musical structure by subtly reinforcing sections with overdubs and looping certain phrases. Even the background bar chatter is worked into the mix, occasional exclamation from the crowd becoming another texture or looped rhythmic element. Here the relationship between Hip Hop and Jazz comes full circle, a musician informed by both using the production techniques of the former to build an new approach to the latter. The results suggest the Blue Note re-workings of Madlib's 'Shades of Blue', A Tribe Called Quest's beats, or an acoustic Isotope 217º. Fresh energy and ideas abound.

The variety of contributors, alongside the sustained level of quality of their contributions, ensures the approach which underpins the album never becomes tired. Whilst Abrams and Parker's are the two most recognisable names each musician holds his own, the changing combinations from week-to-week demonstrate a group who are sympathetic to the specifics of each aggregation whilst retaining their individual voices. Hailing from a city with a rich history of creating first rate post-Jazz musics, 'In the Moment' feels like both a rallying point and clarion call to those wanting to write its next chapter.

Makaya McCraven - drums, beats, loops & overdubs
Matt Ulery - double bass & bass guitar
Marquis Hill - trumpet
Junius Paul - double bass & bass guitar
Justin 'Justefan' Thomas - vibraphone
Jeff Parker - guitar
Joshua Abrams - double bass
De'Sean Jones - tenor saxophone
Tony Barba - tenor saxophone & electronics

Available as DL/CD/2LP from here

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth – Epicenter (Clean Feed, 2015) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Compact discs aren’t usually considered a delicate medium, but if it’s possible to wear a CD out, I made a valiant effort with Deluxe. The 2010 offering from bassist Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth was a rare and heady mix of complex rhythms and near-perfect horn harmonies, an album that maintained an avant-garde pedigree but also unabashedly embraced hooks—those infectious bits of musical pleasure that normally send hardcore free jazzers screaming for the hills.

It’s exciting and relieving then that “Nine South,” the first track on Epicenter, opens with a monstrous earworm, an ostinato Wurlitzer hook that leaves a searing imprint on the brain. As Craig Taborn races around the keys, Lightcap and the dual-tenor frontline—Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby—enter with the same big, emotional melodic lines we grew to love on Deluxe. It’s as arresting as anything from that earlier album, and sets Epicenter up as more of the same. In general, this is great news.

Lightcap is a master of counterpoint, and his compositions send beautiful, interwoven harmonies over knotted, West African rhythms. The group always sounds expansive, if a bit melancholic at times. Seven of the eight tracks on Epicenter comprise a suite entitled “Lost and Found: New York.” Lightcap wrote, developed, and recorded the tracks with the help of the Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works grant, awarded in 2011 on the heels of Deluxe’s success. Each piece is inspired by some facet of New York City, though the tunes are unmistakably Lightcap’s and would fit comfortably with any of the band’s previous work. The thematic comparisons are easy enough: Bigmouth’s mix of disparate influences as a stand in for the melting pot culture of NYC, Lightcap’s deft usage of variously paced, parallel lines of motion calling to mind the many speeds of a city that is nevertheless always moving forward.

Many of the songs reflect pop music through more than just catchy melodies, and this is where Epicenter may leave some adventurous listeners wanting. Tracks like the gently floating “Arthur Avenue” or the pounding, under-three-minute “Down East” leave little room for any kind of improvisation, instead highlighting Lightcap’s ear for sweet harmony (the former) or intricate rhythm (the latter). “White Horse” is an another oddity, a short, thematic piece with multiple overdubs, including acoustic guitar and organ contributions from Lightcap. It’s a lovely bit of music, but is entirely a creature of the studio, bereft of the living, breathing feeling of a tight jazz ensemble. In the end, however, Epicenter isn’t really about the excitement of the unknown or chasing an improvisational high—it’s about five talented musicians rallying behind Lightcap’s assured compositional voice.

Epicenter is brilliantly summed-up with a cover of Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting intersection of New York City, popular music, and the avant-garde. It builds to a satisfying crescendo that allows the band to finally cut loose, while losing none of the jangly, gangly swagger of the original. Five years is a long time to wait for a follow-up. Epicenter further sands down some of the band’s coarser, more venturesome edges, but it’s a welcome return that I’ll know I’ll be spinning often in the months to come.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maniscalco, Bigoni & Solborg (ILK, 2015) *****

By Joe Higham

This is an intriguing new trio comprised of Emanuele Maniscalco (piano), Francesco Bigoni (sax and clarinet) and the ever searching Mark Solborg (guitar). All three met in Denmark, where it seems they are all resident. Francesco Bigoni and Mark Solborg have already made several (excellent) records together - ex: "On Dog" and "Hopscotch". Solborg is constantly producing and working in different projects, most of which are certainly worthwhile checking out (several records can be found on this blog). The pianist Emanuele Maniscalco is a new name for me. His biography reveals a fascinating past, not only is he a pianist, as on this recording, but also a drummer! His discography which more recently is certainly 'pianistic', also shows records made as a drummer. Enrico Rava, and the excellent Emanuele Cisi, are two such recordings out of dozens that he made as a beater of skins. 

The group seemingly keep the music, and their playing, to a bare minimum throughout, leading me to characterize the group's approach as "less is more". With this in mind a point of reference to describe the music could be the Jimmy Giuffre trio (with Bley and Swallow), except there's no double bass in this group. The trio skilfully use their compositions and improvisations, both of which are equally sparse, in way which gradually weave their way under your skin. To quote the groups publicity print-out: "The trio is about knowing the music well enough to navigate freely and improvise as a unit, with and around the material", and indeed that is what they do.

The album's open piece sets the mood with Blomme. This fragile melody, a sort of two minute introduction, gently introduces us to the minimalist style of the album to follow. As the other pieces reveal themselves one starts to become aware of the subtleties that the trio is working towards. Each piece has its own atmosphere, the catchy Boardwalks, a quirky melody, is plainly stated and repeated whilst the group add simple, but effective, atonal splashes of colour. Dogfood leads off with a group improvisation slowly but surely before introducing a menacing theme, which could easily be placed in a film noir. In fact several pieces have a certain 'ominous' feel, in part due to the space used by the group in their improvisations. Standstill (Extended version) is one such track which trades on the play between intervals, letting the sounds of one instrument fade before the next musician adds his ideas. 

The album's last two pieces Rye and Sometime leave you ready to start again, in fact you're surprised the album has drawn to a close without ever noticing the passage of time. This is probably due to the strength of the writing, something that really stands out on this excellent release. The beautifully composed themes which flirt with the music of silence, nostalgia and serenity, mean that I will surely be returning to this fine album for many years to come.

To find out more head over to:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Polish Jazz Week: Wrap-up/Round-up

And so we wrap up Polish Jazz Week much like we began, with a round up of recent releases and an invitation to listen to the music we wrote about this week with Martin's "Freejazzblog on Air" on SWR2 this evening. If you are unable to tune in at 11 p.m. wherever SWR2 reaches in and near Germany, you can listen online for the next week.

Polish Jazz – Conclusion and Outlook

by Martin Schray

After reading so many reviews this week you might wonder why the Polish improv scene is so special (compared to other Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine or even Russia). During my research for the radio show I contacted Maciej Nowotny from (among others) and he told me that it has been one of the most crucial aspects of the Polish scene that Polish jazz has always been connected to film, fine arts, literature and philosophy (for example existentialism in the 1950s). This has been handed down from generation to generation which has resulted in the fact that the Polish intelligentsia has been very interested in jazz up to today. He even said that it would be almost impossible to be called intellectual if you are not deeply into that kind of music. So, after the fall of the iron curtain, a new scene emerged which is very interested in new things and which is very well connected with musicians from all over the world. It is mainly due to this new generation that free jazz is relatively successful in Poland, because they try to express what’s important for them and what’s going on around them.

What is also helpful is the fact that there are great labels supporting this scene. They run their businesses out of passion, commercial interests are only secondary to them. Names like NotTwo, ForTune, Kilogram, Multikulti and Bocian are only the tip of the iceberg. And since the musicians do not get rich by selling their CDS and LPs it is vital that there are great venues like Alchemia in Krakow, for example.

Considering all this I guess we will hear a lot from Polish musicians in the future. And we are looking forward to it.

Irek Wojtczak & The Fonda-Stevens Group - Wojtczak NY Connection: Folk Five (ForTune, 2015) ****

Polish jazz is not only restricted to Poland, it actually is an open and attractive field for musicians from all over the world. As mentioned in the introduction to this week, labels like ForTune, NotTwo, Multikulti, Kilogram or Bocian have an excellent reputation and venues like Alchemia in Kraków belong to the best clubs for free jazz in the whole world. A musician like Ken Vandermark, for example, has established a project like Resonance Ensemble, a mix of Polish and Chicago musicians (sometimes augmented by Scandinavian musicians), that has recorded remarkable albums (like Head Above Water). Wojtczak’s NY Connection is a similar collaboration.

Irek Wojtczak is a Polish saxophonist and for Wojtczak NY Connection he is joined by the New York City-based Fonda/Stevens Group consisting of bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Stevens plus trumpeter Herb Robertson and drummer Harvey Sorgen. The result is an exciting and very elegant brew of splendid modern jazz mixed with Polish folk music like on “Cztery Mile Za Warszawa”, for example. It is a piece in which Polish influences clash with a New Orleans funeral march atmosphere as well as with Robertson’s cool jazz trumpet – you might call it Polish blues. In general compositions like “Weselny” should be played late at night (or in the very early morning), they are of exquisite beauty, Kenny Wheeler’s last albums seem to have been an obvious inspiration.

There are also distant polka intersperses in two pieces, “Pod Gazem” and “Kiej Jo Ide W Pole”, the first one a piano solo for Stevens that reminds of  Keith Jarrett’s “My Melody at Night, with you”, the latter a mixture of pre-free-jazz Coleman and Charles Mingus starring Wojtczak on bass clarinet playing an outstanding solo.

Like the above mentioned Vandermark group this connection seems to work marvelously as well, there is some kind of affinity of spirit in Polish and American jazz. And above all the album comes with a great cover as well.

Mazur Neuringer Duo - The Kraków Letters (ForTune, 2014) ****½

Another transatlantic cooperation is this duo recording of American saxophonist Keir Neuringer and Polish avant-garde jazz acoustic bass guitarist Rafal Mazur, a duo that has already released three albums (Improwizje was reviewed by Stef in 2010). I first came across Neuringer when I read Stefan’s review on his solo album Ceremonies Out of the Air and was immediately deeply impressed by Neuringer’s extraordinary command of the instrument.

Communicating with another musician makes Neuringer’s approach even more gripping. The two sound as if Luc Ex and Colin Stetson had joined each other, Mazur playing his bass more like a guitar and Neuringer delving in circular breathing. But there is more to their music, there is an immense intensity, an almost brutal expression and a dedication which is absolutely uncompromised, which can be seen at challenging staccato lines and wild runs (“Letter #3”). Although the sound of the acoustic bass guitar needs getting used to the emotional quality of this music is almost breath-taking.

Listen to it here:

Łukasz Borowicki Trio - People, Cats & Obstacles (ForTune, 2014) ***½

Guitarist Łukasz Borowicki’s trio consists of Polish bassist Mariusz Praśniewski and Danish drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen. Borowicki’s sound meanders between early John McLaughlin and Raoul Björkenheim’s excursions with Scorch Trio, his style can be edgy, boisterous and distorted, then again he is also melodic and accessible - often in the same track as in the opening piece “Happy Summer”. The compositions include notated parts and completely free form and present the band as a tight unit. Most pieces are full of structural and textural changes (as in “Hiss and Rumble” with its allusions to minimal music), the musicianship is extraordinary, bass and drums are supportive and unobtrusive. People, Cats and Obstacles is a fine debut album of a band we should keep an eye on. Maybe this is an album for you, Paul.

Adam Pieronczyk Quartet – A-Trane Nights (ForTune2014) ****

And last but not least an archive recording by Polish heavyweight jazz legend Adam Pierończyk (saxes)  who is accompanied by Australian trombonist/didgeridoo player Adrian Mears, American bassist Anthony Cox and Polish drummer Krzysztof Dziedzic, so we have another international collaboration here. The album is a live recording  from 2008, based on a  studio recording of the same material, which was already released as “El Buscador” in 2010.

A-Trane Nights is classic modern jazz, there are hardly any free elements on this album. However, it’s not mainstream either. Pierończyk has developed a voice of his own between notated melodies and riffs and excellent soloing  work, he leaves a lot of space for his fellow musicians and while Cox mainly tries to support trombone and sax, Dziedzic sometimes interprets his role like an additional soloist. Especially the two tracks with the didgeridoo create a very laid back atmosphere.