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Friday, July 31, 2015

Les Amants De Juliette - S'Electrolysent (Quoi De Neuf, Docteur, 2015) ***½

[b]By Stef[/b]

To celebrate their 20th Anniversary, Les Amants De Julliette released their sixth album, of which two were reviewed on our blog : Les Amants de Juliette (2009)  and Les Amants De Juliette & Majid Bekkas (2010). The trio are Serge Adam on trumpet, Benoît Delbecq on piano and bass station, and Philippe Foch on tablas. All three also use live electronics during their six improvisations, which is probably the biggest change compared to their previous albums - and it explains the title - even if there was actually no need for it, considering what electrolysis actually means: "electrolysis is a technique that uses a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction". The spontaneous chemical reaction was there to start with! And furthermore, the electronics play a role, although it does not significantly change the band's sound. 

 In any case, even if the band, has not drastically changed its approach, it still sounds like the musical equivalent of "fresh bowl of salad" as I once described them. Their music is rhythmic, open-ended, light-hearted, without pretense and with a very positive spirit ... this is music that doesn't stop dancing. It is jazzy but not limited to a genre, and like a fresh bowl of salad, it contains many ingredients that are fun and easy to digest.

Judge for yourself:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Amir ElSaffar's Two Rivers - Crisis (Pi, 2015) ****½

[b]By Stef[/b]

This incredibly beautiful album shows the crisis of the Arab world in all its internal and external conflicts, the strife between modernity and traditionalism, between the right for self-determination and foreign influence, between tolerance and extremism, between peace and war.

We have heard the Two Rivers band before, a title referring to the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, rivers of myths and legends, the basis of our civilization, but also very much on our television screens these years, where the cultural remnants of this civilization are turned to ruins. The band are Amir ElSaffar, of Iraqi origin on vocals and quarter-tone trumpet, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq, Zafer Tawil on oud and percussion, Ole Mathisen on microtonal sax, Carlo DeRosa on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums.

The band already delivered the beautiful "Two Rivers" in 2007 and "Inana" in 2011, two albums that are easy to recommend, but I have the impression that this one is even better. The themes are beautiful, the rhythms complex and ever changing, the interplay excellent, and the emotional depth even better than before. Just listen to ElSaffar's solo trumpet on "Taqsim Saba", a performance which can compete with Nassim Maalouf's "Improvisations Orientales", one of the absolute masterpieces of the quarter-tone trumpet, because of its desolation and beauty. Then listen to the complex harmonies and arrangements of tracks like "The Great Dictator" or "Tipping Point", where you are treated to some phenomenal interplay and dazzling soloing. The only downside on the album is that the strings are not always mixed with the right volume, so they tend to disappear in the background when soloing, but that is really the only downside of this great album. A special kudo too for ElSaffar's singing, which is as sad as it is powerful, not in the sense of Dhafer Youssef's volume pyrotechnics, but more contained, more intimate.

Over the years, ElSaffar has improved on all different aspects of the music, and it was already great to start with. World jazz fans should not miss this, and many others will surely enjoy this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jakob Bro - Gefion (ECM, 2015) ***½

[b]By Paul Acquaro[/b]

It was a recent Friday, at the tail end of a long week, and I was making my daily slog to the train. I needed to listen to something  that could ease me into the day. So scrolling through my iPod, I hit upon Danish guitarist Jakob Bro's Gefion. It was an album that had been on my short list for a long time, and the time seemed right...

This early 2015 release begins like rowboat trip across a shimmering clear lake of sound. Subtle ripples breaking the surface as bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Jon Christensen help to power the vessel, but the overall atmosphere is unbroken and refreshingly uncomplicated.

That is not to say the music is in anyway stationary, rather Bro is a melodic player who works in textures and implications. While the opening title track begins with a moody quietness and proceeds along only with the gentle lap of waves against the bow, there is quickening of the pulse as the boat draws into deeper water. ‘Copenhagen', the next track, finds Morgan’s articulated bass work front and center, complimenting Bro's gentle swelling arpeggios. Next, 'And They all Came Marching Out' begins in a more forceful manner and how the guitarist builds off of the looping bass line reminds me a bit of the Bill Frisell's 'Gone, Just Like a Train’. Though the songs were growing more emphatic, the lineage of musical texture was still cohesive, the water has just become a little rougher and the rowing stronger.

The other tracks of the album are too of a piece, whether it is the fraught 'White', or the open ended 'Ending', Bro's work with Lee Konitz, Paul Motion, Kenny Wheeler, and Frisell (just to name a few), has certainly become an anchor for his own poetic work.

My journey with Gefion left me in much better mood. Give this one a listen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lama & Joachim Badenhorst - The Elephant's Journey (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

[b]By Stef[/b]

I will start my review with a sentence written by our colleague Paul Acquaro for the two previous Lama albums reviewed on this blog :

"The pieces fit together so tightly that there's hardly room for a wasted note, beat or breath as the musicians move gracefully through the set of songs, nimbly riding the contours between structure and freedom"

This is still the case here. Tightly composed and arranged pieces with Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn, Gonçalo Almeida on double bass, effects and loops, Greg Smith on drums and electronics, and guest musician Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet. 

The album starts with the short "Razor's Edge", a tantalising piece full of foreboding created by chimes and distant trumpet sounds that create a spell or magic of some kind, with increasing density as the clarinet and bass join, equally sad and ominous, ending in sparse electronics and crackling noises as a perfect intro for the second track, "The Process", that is characterised by a wonderful and surprising theme, that jumps all over the place like an acrobat, but without the fun, because the atmosphere is serious, with a moaning clarinet as the first to solo, followed by a sad trumpet and then both swirl and dance around each other in mad circles, fierce and forceful, like antagonists in a story, but then the whole thing collapses and the bass plays a slow few notes, with a fax machine on the background, and the other instruments timidly re-entering the proceedings, unsure of their role, and insecure about what is going to happen, but then the opening theme comes back again and unifies the whole. 

The next piece is called "A Hunger Artist" and is without a doubt the most beautiful composition of the year, with a beautiful theme that will stick in your memory forever (hopefully), and with fabulous collective interplay between the four musicians in the more open expansion and development of the theme, which keeps repeating itself despite the changing voices of the four instruments, which shift to anger, despair, joy and fun at the same time, utterly entertaining and beautiful, and like the previous track, somewhere in the middle the music quietens down for heart-rending solos by both clarinet and trumpet without actual resolution. 

"Crime And Punishment" is the next piece, and in the meantime the alert listener has understood that all tracks refer to novels or novelists whose names you will find below. The Dostoyevski tune is equally well composed and arranged even if not my favorite of the album. 

Gonçalo Almeida opens "Murakami" first arco then pizzi, introducing Badenhorst's clarinet moving somewhat into the sad territory of subdued klezmer sensitivities, and Santos Silva's trumpet amplifies the sadness with her beautiful sound, and both horns dialogue full of passion and compassion, supported by the subtle rhythm section. You will not hear anything sadder than this tune this year. 

I will not review all tracks, but let me just mention the title song, which is worth mentioning for its inventiveness, humor and joy. And maybe also the closing track, which is again sad and subdued and excessively beautiful. 

And basically that sums up the whole album. You get it all, with the right dose, in the right quantities : creativity, musical acumen, instrumental prowess, accessibility and freedom, coherence and variation, and emotional depth in each piece, whether fun or sad. Don't miss it. It's another gem that Clean Feed releases this year. 

  1. Razor's Edge - W. Somerset Maughan
  2. The Process - Franz Kafka
  3. A Hunger Artist - Franz Kafka 
  4. Crime And Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  5. Murakami (Japanese novelist)
  6. The Gorsky's Spy 
  7. The Elephant's Journey - José Saramago
  8. Don Quixote - Manuel de Cervantes

Monday, July 27, 2015

John Russell / Phil Durrant / John Butcher – Conceits (Emanem, 2015) ****

[b]By Chris Haines[/b]

This is a reissue of the first album by the improvising trio of John Russell (acoustic plectrum guitar), Phil Durrant (violin and trombone) and John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones).  Originally released in 1988, launching the Acta label and sporting a Jamie Muir (the percussionist in Music Improvisation Company and later of King Crimson fame) painting on it’s LP cover it has become almost impossible to obtain in recent years; that is until now.  For the first time on CD Emanem have now released this lost classic so that it can be heard by those of us interested in hearing this excellent trio’s first recordings.

The first eleven tracks that were recorded in 1987 and appeared on the original LP release have been augmented on this reissue by a previously unreleased live recording of the trio made in Stockholm by Mats Gustafsson, which dates from a few years later in 1992.  The original album tracks are relatively short lasting between two to six minutes in length.  The additional track is longer in length coming in at around sixteen minutes.

The album starts with the now aptly titled “How It Was”, Butcher’s saxophone playing a quick motive which rests on a long sustained tone whilst Russell’s guitar and Durrant’s trombone provide a pointillistic accompaniment and the perfect contrast.  The style of the music is typical of the classic sound of British free improvisation from around this time and contains obvious parallels and influences from earlier groups such as Spontaneous Music Ensemble and Iskra 1903.  Containing a wealth of fragmentary motives that call back and forth to one another, sharp contrasting textures, extended instrumental techniques that produce other worldly sounds and defy instrumentation categorisation, the music is delivered in a very dry and clinical way with expert interplay.  The three musicians blend their individual sounds with an ease that belies the complexity of the textures that they produce and at other times the instruments are deliberately separate and isolated within a collage type form. 

There are some interesting titles to the tracks such as “Fine Sharp And Leighton Buzzard” and “From The Eggs To The Apples”.  The bonus track “Soft Hours And Solidities” sits naturally at the end and is of a similar style to the other material, so much so that it’s hard to imagine the album not originally containing it.

Whether it’s a favourable opinion of their own ability, a flight of imaginative fancy or a purely elaborate and decorative article, the Conceits on offer here are once again welcome to be readily available to us all.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Vox Arcana -Caro's Song (Relay, 2015) *****

[b]By Tom Burris[/b]

Let's just get this out of the way.  Chicago drummer/composer Tim Daisy is getting his second 5-star review from me in 2015.  I don't want to give it to him – because it just plain looks bad, like I'm on the Relay payroll or something.  But Caro's Song is simply that goddamn good.  What follows is a review-length justification of my guilt.

Daisy's ensemble writing here draws heavily on the mid-70s Anthony Braxton model for quartet, which I believe is as fine and sturdy as the more popular late-50s/early-60s Ornette Coleman Quartet model (which was so successfully utilized by fellow Chicagoan Keefe Jackson on Seeing You See back in 2010).  It typically involves a fast statement of the theme, followed by a variation, then a (usually looser) re-statement of the theme, then a loose improvisation on top of a skeletal structure.  This is just the jumping-off point for Daisy, as he bends and folds the blueprint to serve the needs of this trio, which also features Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and James Falzone (bass clarinet).  This is the group's fourth recording. 

“Assembly” opens the disc with Daisy on marimba; and the group immediately calls to mind Jimmy Giuffre's late 50s trio recordings, as Daisy himself acknowledges in the liner notes.  The collective improvisation near the end of the track sets a standard that would be difficult for any band to maintain; but Vox Arcana is simply laying the foundation for the rest of the disc.  The title track follows, utilizing the 70s Arista Braxton composition model for the first time.  Lonberg-Holm does quite well in the Dave Holland role, alternately scraping-&-sawing and plucking the groove (when one surfaces) with fine precision.  The song ends with a compositional surprise: a Braxton-esque loop starting and stopping, fading out to the end. 

This music is spacious, open, and warm – even when abruptly changing gears.  The musicians employ a confident approach that reflects the amount of experience they have with each other.  “Silver Light” is a perfect example, opening with long quiet notes on clarinet and cello, as beautiful as a Morton Feldman piece.  When Lonberg-Holm and Falzone play long notes over a Daisy's busy (but relaxed!) marimba in perfect counterpoint, the sublime becomes transcendent.  There is a hilarious perversion of the Braxton composition model at the beginning of “Objects,” that involves tweaks in the time/space continuum.  Daisy seems to be dangling Fred and James from strings, forcing them in different directions and then suddenly bringing them back together solely through the intuitive will of his drumming.  “Contained” demonstrates even more clearly that this group can play as one six-armed machine, with brilliant unhurried statements made by all, collectively and individually.

The disc concludes with “The Mad Dance,” which begins with Daisy playing a semi-Latin beat which is answered by Fred and James.  Then Daisy replies.  Then the response.  Then faster.  Then higher.  Daisy switches to marimba, pounding out one note repeatedly before finally extending into free runs that actually appear to alternately extend and cut time.  It's a trick that wouldn't work without the exercise that preceded it, but knowing this does not ruin the effect at all.  He settles on a tempo and Falzone enters, playing a solemn melody over Daisy's arpeggios.  Then enter Lonberg-Holm, plucking one bass note while Daisy flips on a radio.  Static and a lone unintelligible voice accompany briefly while Daisy moves to the drum set.  He slowly pounds out four-on-the-floor with bass drum, ride cymbal and snare in unison with Fred's bass note, building tension like the V.U. or Godspeed.  Yes, this eventually hits the sky – but then it abruptly stops on a dime leaving only Falzone's clarinet softly landing us all on the ground.  Incredible.  I'll be amazed if a more solid album appears before the year's end.  If it does happen, and if it's on Relay, I'm not writing that review!  No one would believe me.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chicago Reed Quartet - Western Automatic (Aerophonic, 2015) ****

[b]By Paul Acquaro[/b]

'Burn Unit' is a pulse quickening way to kick off any album. A simple staccato melody is played in unison until it breaks, splintering free, letting musical statements explode with purposeful energy. The piece is a not so gentle introduction to the powerful and musically adventurous Western Automatic by the Chicago Reed Quartet.

Headed by tenor saxophonist Dave Rempis (and released in his excellent Aerophonic label), the Quartet also features the fearless reed work of fellow Chicagoans Ken Vandermark, Mars William and Nick Mazzarella. Quite a line up, and it is a shame that this may be the group's only recording as it captures an intense and engaging group playing with focus and conviction.

And so 'Burn Unit' is a long song - by the time were at the end, the fiery start has become a moody ending, setting the stage for the more traditional jazz harmonies of 'Remnant'. Showcasing a different side to the group, the slow moving melody is damn near romantic in its lushness. The credits for the album's eight tracks are split evenly among the members, each one with its own personality and approach, like for example 'P.O.P', which begins with a dramatically pensive melody that eventually gives way to an effervescing array of musical ideas.

It could be said that good ideas come in pairs, or it's just something blowing in the wind, but Chicago Reed Quartet has a companion in another Chicago artist, James Falzone, whose recent Regna Ensemble was also a striking reed oriented recording. Even sharing a bit of the same cast, both groups provide evidence of the life and vitality of the woodwind ensemble in avant garde music. Highly recommended!

The group is/was:
  • Nick Mazzarella – alto saxophone
  • Dave Rempis – alto/tenor/baritone saxophone
  • Mars Williams – sopranino/soprano/alto/tenor saxophone
  • Ken Vandermark – clarinet/bass clarinet, tenor/baritone saxophone

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ted Daniel’s Energy Module –Innerconnection (NoBusiness, 2015) ****

[b]By Martin Schray[/b]

When there someday is a final evaluation of the loft jazz scene, the role of Danas Mikailionis and Valerij Anosov of the Lithuanian NoBusiness label will surely be appreciated. On the one hand the label has released new and adventurous music by lesser known artists (e.g. Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet, ROIL or Fabric Trio) or established musicians (Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy or Nate Wooley – to name just a few). On the other hand they try to discover and release sunken treasures, for example from the aforementioned New York era of the 1970s – like  the Melodic Art-Tet, The Group or William Parker. Their latest effort is a session at Sunrise Studios from November 1975 by Ted Daniel’s short-lived Energy Module, a quintet consisting of Daniel himself (trumpet, flugelhorn, French hunting horn, and Moroccan bugle), Daniel Carter (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto and soprano sax, flute, piccolo, and cowbell), Richard Pierce (bass), and Tatsuya Nakamura (drums).

The album opens with the Sunny Murray miniature “Jiblet“, a powerful introduction to the following tracks, which are a mixture of cover versions and Daniel’s own compositions. And there are a lot of characteristics the pieces have in common. “Innerconnection“ by Dewey Redman and “Congeniality“, an Ornette Coleman tune, live from the excellent horn interaction: tightly intervowen ferocious runs, polyphonic mayhem, the opposition of the saxes crying and honking and the trumpet’s smooth and elegant tone.

The highlight of the album is the band’s version of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts”. In contrast to the original, the band hides the theme behind collective improvisation, only here and there it shines through. In the beginning it’s the trumpet that tries to establish Ayler’s march-like melody against the saxophones, winning them slowly over. The band emphasizes the tune’s call-and-response and gospel roots and only after five minutes the frontline plays the theme in unison, which makes it stand out all the more powerful, it’s literally swelling in front of Nakamura’s driving rhythms. From then on the horns process the tune in an exciting and powerful way.

Actually, the music on this album is a must-have for fans of classic free jazz. The only weak point is the fact that Pierce’s bass can only be properly heard once the ensemble passages turn down the volume, for example in “The Probe“ (a Ted Daniel composition), where he proves what an imaginative and creative player he is.  His repetitive pulse opens the track, then the complete band presents the main theme, before Lake takes over for a long, reflective alto meditation full of intense dynamics (especially the restrained overtones, the shivering, compressed tones, and the imaginative modulations of the theme are really awesome).

I am really looking forward to the next gem the Lithuanian pearl divers are going to release.
Innerconnections is available on vinyl (as a limited edition of 400) and on CD.

You can buy it from the label and from Instantjazz.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Máximo Endrek - Extraño Hábitat (Self, 2014) ****

[b]By Paul Acquaro[/b]

Bassist Máximo Endrek is an Córdoba, Argentina based musician whose work spans free and traditional jazz as well as orchestral music, and this trio outing with pianist Mariano Vélez and drummer Matías Romero is an excellent introduction to his improvised side. Whether the melody is explicit or implied, the piano prepared or straight forward, or the bassist is using his instrument as a textural instrument or to provide a grounding, there is always an accessible pulse to the songs of Extraño Hábitat.

The opener 'Solo Sigue al Tiempo' is a subtle but deceptively driving track. The prepared piano and melody from the bass's higher register balance precariously on the akimbo percussion. The groove is abstract and the distorted acoustic tones mix well with the regular piano sounds, helping to create a textured, energetic piece. The title track almost says it all - as the group gets into it and the tempo quickens, the bass becomes the laboratory of a mad scientist enrapt in an inspired frenzy. Vélez drops in snippets of melody and the drums push them forward. The closing track 'La Respuesta del Niño' delves into Medeski, Martin and Wood territory with a strong but unpredictable back-beat, a bass-driven melody, and repetitive motifs. While the approaches vary throughout the tracks, some pieces sparse and reflective and others brimming and forceful, the album is consistently engaging.

By carefully juxtaposing extended techniques and more straight ahead playing, Endrek has created a sound that blends an accessible approach with the essence of improvised music. Well worth checking out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sylvaine Hélary: Spring Roll ▪ Printemps (Ayler Records, 2015) *****

[b]By Joe[/b]

It may be difficult to make a better introduction to this album than Stephane Berland does in his press notes to this quite spectacular release:
"First created in 2011 at l'Atelier du Plateau in Paris, the concert/performance "Printemps" offered audiences a hybrid between theatre, music, sound poetry and political manifesto - for it was focused on the "Arab Spring" in Egypt, among other things - where the intertwined words and voices of Julien Boudart, Xavier Papies and Egyptian blogger Aalam Wassef created a reflection on the magic of the (new) beginnings."  
This double CD album is another strong offering from the Ayler label, and this time presents us with an amalgam of modern jazz mixed with quasi contemporary classical music. This highly sophisticated music blends improvised sections which flow quite effortlessly with written instrumental passages and recited texts. The main group is made up of a quartet (see below), giving the music a chamber-jazz quality. Having said that the ensemble is in no way a polite tea-dance group, they really attack the complex music with amazing precision and energy. 

Printemps (CD1) has the main bulk of the texts. These are concentrated (when read) into a couple of the pieces. The texts follow the first 15 letters of the Arabic alphabet - read out before each short passage. The music is precisely composed around these vocal interludes, the detailed interplay between the spoken text and the music is mind boggling. The instrumental sections are sort of bridges between these piece, however there are plenty of extended writing in these also. Although there are solos, much of the music on Printemps I would guess is composed. However the marvellous writing (composition/orchestration) carry you along in a way that made me think of Stravinsky's L'Histoire de Soldat. 

The second CD Spring Roll is a shorter affair. It has a wonderful opening duet (tenor sax/flute) sounding not unlike Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz*. The main bulk of Spring Roll is instrumental, although there are some vocal interludes, some of them sung (Île, tk5). Although the music is very complex there are in this piece moments where soloists get a chance to improvise, often whilst the ensemble supports them. In track 3 there's two wonderful sections, one featuring the piano, the other another improvised duet, but this time between piano and tenor sax. Overall Spring Roll certainly gives much space to the individual instruments. Bruissements du monde gives us a chance to hear Sylvaine Hilary alone - playing a wonderful extended solo flute introduction. L'esquive (tk6) has a nice blend of synths, percussion & piano accompanying a fiery sax solo. The track then passes via some complex contrapuntal writing before settling down before leading into a narrated passage in German (Jean Chaize).

This is a highly recommended album, and certainly 5 stars if ever there was one. The work and detail put into these two compositions is quite spectacular, and if you like contemporary jazz meets classical you'll find a lot of very interesting music here, and I would add there's most definitely "never a dull moment".       

The main ensemble is: Sylvaine Hélary, flutes, voice; Antonin Rayon, piano, synthesizer; Hugues Mayot, saxophones, clarinets & Sylvain Lemêtre, vibraphone, percussion. The guests are: Julien Boudard, ms20 synthesiser (printemps); Aalam Wassef, voice (printemps); Xavier Papaïs, voice (printemps); Yumiko Nakamura, voice (spring roll) & Jean Chaize, voice (spring roll).

Translations and transcriptions of the texts (original French texts and English translations) can be found on the Ayler website.

* = Lee Konitz being an alto player, not a flautist.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Frantz Loriot - Reflections On An Introspective Path (Neither Nor, 2015) ****

By Stef

I have written very positively before about French-Japanese viola-player Frantz Loriot, often because of the unexpected nature of his music, and his unwillingness to compromise, which in his case, because of his strong musical vision, is a good thing.

This album is a solo viola album, a very rare happening by itself, but Loriot's music will make it even rarer. The first track consists of multiple strings played at the same time, in an ever increasing move upwards on the  tonal scale, which by itself would not be unique, but then listen to the gut-wrenching intensity with which it is done, and this physicality of strings, bow, wood and sound is essential to fully appreciate Loriot's approach. The second track brings almost flute-like sounds, very quiet and introspective, to evolve to almost aggressive staccato sounds on the third, which gradually change into the sound of a hand saw going through wood without compassion, then slowing it down until you hear the instrument itself moan and the strings rebel against the treatment they get. This may sound harsh, but it's not judgmental, it's as if Loriot humanises his instrument, making it utter sounds for a variety of reasons, yet despite or because of the abstract level of the music itself, a deeper, emotional level is unveiled and even unleashed, primarily because of the intensity of the approach and the overall dynamics of the sound.

And that brings us to the album's title : you could expect an album called "Reflections On An Introspective Path" to be meditative, contemplative, sentimental or even mellow, but here it's the exact opposite. Whatever Loriot finds in his "introspective path" is not always something to be content with, it's a harsh reality that is not possible to catch with words, a laying bare of his soul, and one that screams to be let out.

A strong album.

You can listen and download on Bandcamp.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Itaru Oki & Axel Dörner - Root Of Bohemian (Improvsing Beings, 2015) ****½

By Stef

Axel Dörner is a trumpet-player whose music and art on the instrument no longer needs any introduction. If it does, please check here for a broader review or check the search engine on this blog. The same goes for Itaru Oki, whose music is luckily well represented by the French label "Improvising Beings" as with this album.

Both musicians are absolute masters of their instrument, and together they keep pushing the boundaries of what these can do, but the objective here is not to demonstrate the art of extended technique, but rather to perform music that would not exist without extended techniques and that gives us, listeners, a totally different picture of what it means to create sound.

The album contains five improvisations whose titles illustrate the fragility, complexity and organic nature of their sonic universe : "Spider Strings", "Space (Change From Silence)", "Kazaana" (wind tunnel). The music leaves lots of space and evolves at a slow pace, without any rhythm at all, more like the cadence of a conversation between the two instruments, with sudden pauses needed to reflect, and then longer sentences followed by a reaction, even if that is slightly wrong because we don't get real dialogues, but intimate interaction to a create subtle artistic spontaneity, which could go in any direction, leading to surprises along the way in terms of volume, tonality and even change of instrument when Oki suddenly picks up his shakuhachi, yet the overall scope is sufficiently focused and coherent as you can expect from such seasoned artists.

Fans of either Dörner or Oki should not miss this albums. Music lovers unfamiliar with them, I would recommend to start with some of their more accessible material.

You can listen to the full first track "Spider Strings" here on Bandcamp.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Devin Gray - RelativE ResonancE (Skirl, 2015) ****

From the outset, this rhythm section can do Henry Threadgill’s Zooid.  Devin Gray (drums) and Chris Tordini (bass) have that thing down pat.  Reedman Chris Speed and pianist Kris Davis are mixed in (mostly) separate channels and this works well, as they frequently play counterpoint with each other over the top of the amazing structural base.  I wish the soloists were completely isolated in separate channels. In the left channel you'd get something wonderful from a Davis trio – and then cut out the left channel and you could hear an amazing Speed-led group.  But we'll just have to be satisfied with the brilliant quartet.  

I’ll confess that I will check out anything with Kris Davis on it.  She’s an incredibly well-rounded player with a real understanding of what makes a composition, a group improvisation, and an arrangement work.  She is a perfect fit here.  Gray has written arrangements for each instrument that present a balance, not only between composition and improvisation, but between each player's contribution to the overall picture.  

On “Notester” the Zooid groove disappears, making for a more challenging – but no less enjoyable – listening experience.  Tordini and Davis lock especially well here to support Speed's flights.  Things get appropriately humid on “Jungle Design,” which also has a house-of-mirrors feel about it.  It's the first and only time the “balance” ideal becomes a bit claustrophobic.  “Transatlantic Transitions” returns to Zooid funk about two minutes in; and Davis and Speed lead the band through abrupt twists and turns.

The written bits – on the entire disc – are intricate and fascinating, like studying the insides of a finely crafted timepiece.  Delicate precision is key to the execution of this music.  Throw in a wild card like free improvisation and...  How do they make this work so well?

Nowhere is the tight balancing act more evident that on the title track, which compresses everything that is great about this band - and these songs - into 3.5 minutes of brilliance.  The interplay between Gray and Tordini leads the group to ecstatic – and briefly, improvisational - heights.  Who knew the avant garde could be so perfectly symmetrical?

By Paul Acquaro

Devin Gray's RelativE ResonancE is a well crafted experience. This new set from the NYC drummer and composer features Chris Speed’s precise clarinet, Kris Davis' adroit piano, Chris Tordini's supportive bass and Gray's skittering percussion. Together they create a package that is both sleek and full of energy.

If you only listen to the opening few minutes you may be tempted to think that RelativE ResonancE is a fairly straight-ahead jazz album. However, by the time you have reach the third track, 'Notester’, the room has opened up, revealing the swirling musical cosmos. Overlapping and concentric, the melodies and  rhythms coil around each other, building with intensity and emotion.

It seems that the combination of Davis and Speed is the linchpin. Speed's focus is key - he chooses his notes well and plays them with unwavering conviction. When Davis accompanies, like with the small splashes of sound on 'Jungle Design (For Hannah Shaw),’ or the syncopated comping on ‘In the Cut', it is always well executed, and when she leads, like on the chase between the group that begins 'Transatlantic Transitions', it is captivating. Gray and Tordini, of course, support the music expertly - for example the title track 'Relative Resonance (for Tadd Dameron)' is a showcase for the tight connection between the two musicians. Tordini is prominent in the mix, and his taught bass line outline the interaction between the drums and clarinet.

The songs often become knotty, circular events, and it is within these patterns and intertwining melodies that some excellent music is being made. RelativE ResonancE is an accessible avant-garde album with a vibrant pulse and a lot going on within ... listen again and again as it reveals itself.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Scrambling Ex (FMR, 2015) ****

By Troy Dostert

A trio recording with some serious power and force, The Scrambling Ex represents the latest project of alto saxophonist/clarinetist Peter Van Huffel, who is joined here with guitarist Andreas Willers and drummer Oliver Steidle.  Van Huffel will be familiar to many readers of this blog, due mainly to his jazz-rock Gorilla Mask records and last year’s Boom Crane, an outstanding trio release (with Michael Bates and Jeff Davis) that I included in my top-10 list for 2014. Willers and Steidle have made names for themselves in the European scene (particularly Germany, where Van Huffel now also resides); both are known for their adventurous spirit and being eager to work within rock-influenced idioms.
For instance, Willers headed up a Hendrix tribute album in 1995 (Andreas Willers and Friends Play Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Steidle’s group “Die Dicken Finger” draws from his early roots in rock music to inform his free-jazz performances.  With their respective backgrounds in view, it’s not surprising that this record works in a similar vein: a good deal of skillful improvisation, but usually with a tightly-structured rhythmic framework and a driving beat.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is that this really is a group record.  All three musicians play central roles, with Willers’s skronky guitar and Steidle’s whip-smart, punchy drumming being essential to the visceral impact of the record’s best tracks.  “Case of Need,” the second cut, is a blistering four and a half minutes of the kind of thing Van Huffel has become widely noted for: an intricate, odd-meter melodic foundation upon which the group can offer collective and individual commentary.  Although there are a couple of tracks with a quieter approach—such as “Happenstance,” a languid, mysterious exploration of long tones, featuring Van Huffel on clarinet—the group is truly in its element when it’s time to take the gloves off and rock out.  “Tangent,” track number five, has Steidle sounding a good deal like Jim Black in his precise, laser-focused use of snare and bass drum to push the group forward while Willers and Van Huffel unfold and expand upon the track’s rapid-fire melodic pattern.  Willers is particularly good at shifting roles: when a rhythmic foundation is needed he can provide one with effective power chords, but he can also take the lead with knotty flurries of notes, sometimes with some well-chosen overdubbing and fuzzed-out effects (see track #6, “Adventures in Nalepaland”).  And Van Huffel is similarly chameleon-like, as he can be both subtle and sensitive (especially in his work on clarinet – see track #8, “Sonic Finder”) or fiery and relentless (#1, “Beast”; #9, “Flegenfoet”).  Although the record isn’t exceptionally long, with nine tracks and around 45 minutes of music, each song has its own identity, and there’s a lot worth exploring with multiple listens.

All in all, a well-conceived and satisfying release, and of particular interest to those seeking a good dose of hard-hitting rock to go with their free jazz.

Friday, July 17, 2015


The music of the duo can be one of the most intimate and revealing configurations in improvised music. The solo performance is one of introspection and self-revelation but the duo setting brings a heightened level of interaction and exposure to the music.

John Butcher & Andy Moor - Experiments With A Leaf (Unsounds, 2015) ****½ 

This collaboration, recorded live at the 'Zoom In' festival in Switzerland in 2013, begins with the scratch and scuff of Andy Moor's electric guitar and a focus on the instruments low end. Saxophonist John Butcher comes in with a buzzing tone, making a beeline into the heart of Moor's percussive sounds. Next, Butcher takes the lead with a set of saxophonic chirps and other extended techniques that react with the harmonics and tonal clusters of the higher end of the guitar. Other tracks find the duo listening intently to each other as they devise their unusually compelling tone poems, and 'Joy is the Headlight' is an absolute scorcher featuring Moor's distorted guitar and Butcher's hearty tone in an uptempo romp. This shortish release (30 minutes) is a fantastic mix of extended technique and improvised playing. Never feeling forced or unnatural, the leaf that they experiment with here is healthy and green, and firmly attached to the branch it grows from.

John Dikeman & Dirk Serries - Cult Exposure (Tonefloat, 2015) ****½

This is a fascinating recording - it captures a captivating blend of John Dikeman's incredibly powerful saxophone and Dirk Serries expressionistic electric guitar. The tracks are aptly titled: 'Monolith Song I', which opens the recording and 'Monolith Song II' which closes it, are huge moving masses of sound. Serries creates a distorted and textured slabs as Dikeman builds up layers of fiery improvisations. The title track takes a more nuanced and melodic approach as the guitar is pulled back in the mix and the saxophonist spins a emotional tale. Cult Exposure is an LP release with an MP3 download - but not sold separately - get it while if you can.

Hamir and Ben - Clarinet and Drums (s/r, 2015) ****

Almost primal at times, this stripped down duo release features Ben Goldberg (clarinet & Eb Bass Clarinet) and Hamir Atwal (drums) playing a set of short tracks, mostly improvised, that run the gamut from folksy whimsy to heavy metal (or rather, wood?). It's a joy to hear Goldberg's deep earthy timber rattling along side Atwal's skittering groove on 'All About That (contra) Bass', or the squelch that begins 'Caffeine Headache' - no instrument has the sounds that a bass clarinet can make when delving into the extended techniques. This one is a real treat!

Henry Kaiser and Scott Amendola - Leaps (2015) ****

Leaps jumps right out at you. The title track off guitarist Henry Kaiser's and drummer Scott Amendola's duo album begins with a rhythmic crash and a razor thin burst of distorted guitar. Kaiser's lines mesh with Amendola's ferocity in a pulsating miasma of improvisation. It is always great to hear Amendola paired with a guitarist - whether it's the funkier playing of Charlie Hunter or the expansive brilliance of Nels Cline - he always brings the right amount of support and energy to the situation. Kaiser is a player who defies easy categorization. I was introduced to his work through Yo Miles! and he has a deep and eclectic catalog, including work with Cline. Not five minutes into the 24 minute opening track the atmosphere completely changes, and finds Kaiser working with abstract arpeggios and Amendola going textural. 'Sproing' features Kaiser digging into the blues bag a bit, but not for long, as the song shifts into quiet reflection and then leads into the desolate abstraction of 'Blinks and Blinks'. The closer 'The Wrong Suit' is a blast of avant-prog, from the insistent, but not straight ahead, pulse to the aggressive and slashing guitar work, it's a fitting closer to this duo's excellent album.

Elliott Sharp & Scott Fields - Akra Kampoj (New Atlantis, 2015) ****

From the opening notes of 'Bagsant' you can tell that you are in for an unusual  guitar-heavy treat. With at least 12 electrified strings between Elliot Sharp and Scott Fields, they choose play a single note figure basically differentiated only by the tone of their guitars - the left side is fuzzier. Small changes make all the difference until their lines diverge and the song opens up. 'Denisova Stomp' features some rapid melodic lines and delicate intersections but then becomes quite heavy towards the end. The elements of the track are many and varied, changing textures and tones swing from quiet to fearsome at the flick of a pick. This duo's obvious chemistry is not without some history. I last checked in with Fields and Sharp back in 2012 when I reviewed Afiadacampos, which was an acoustic effort. Either way, acoustic or electric, this is the work of two master musicians, who together create a fascinating world straddling composition and improvisation.

Bill McKay & Matt Lux - December Concert (eyes and ears, 2015) ***½

This is one to file under post-rock or maybe even post-Americana. On December Concert the duo of guitarist Bill McKay and bassist Matt Lux work together to create a relaxed soundscape. The album starts with 'Orbitz Unknown' featuring a spacious, somewhat Frisell-like atmosphere. Other tracks follow suit, but also so do more aggressive passages where the tempos pick up and distortion creeps in. In a sense, this is a more traditional duo, utilizing the instruments to create more straightforward melodies and bass lines. The songs seem structured, but loose enough to encourage that the musicians to explore on their own, while still keeping tightly connected. Both musicians are a part of the vibrant improvised music scene in Chicago.

Cheryl Pyle and Biggi Vinkeloe - Flute Duo / Raw Sound Sweden (s/r, 2015) ***½ 

This intimate flute duo encounter, captured in the cozy confines of the Downtown Music Gallery is a definitely worth a listen. New Yorker Cheryl Pyle is joined by the Swedish flutist Biggi Vinkeloe for a liberating exchange of ideas. From uptempo sparring to reflective contemplation, the 15 minutes of duo flute captured here is listening time well spent. The rest of the album is with Swedish group 'Raw Sound Sweden' - is quite good as well.

Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh - Riding the Moment (Sunnyside Records, 2015) **½

This is an interesting album - I was both drawn to it and a bit put off by it. What troubled me at first - and which I grew to accept at times - was the constant change of synthesizer sounds. Often, I heard the switch of the sounds as much as a part of the improvisation as the actual playing, but at other times, the sudden switches made the album seem like a demo for the instrument. However, when no longer distracted by the 'patches', there is something really interesting in the improvised musical conversation between Zeitlin's keyboard work and Marsh's percussion, the duo's interactions reveal their long time association.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It Came From the Midwest: Smash Yr Head on the Jazz Rock

Greetings from the land of corn and the non-colors of brown and gray.

By Tom Burris

Tyler Damon – Softened Skull CD-R (Yoke, 2015) ***½

Indiana isn't exactly known for it's cultural edge – our homophobic twat of a governor just tried to legislate discrimination under the guise of some ridiculous fantasy called “religious freedom” - but the Spot Tavern in Lafayette thankfully stands in bold opposition to just about everything this corn-fed wasteland represents.  On a recent trip there, the opening slot was occupied by a duo known as Keith Jost (bass) and Tyler Damon (drums).  Jost was great and the two played with the kind of authority that only years of familiarity can birth – but Damon totally blew me away.  This guy is a serious drummer; and it was apparent within seconds that he had the creative vision to take his skills, sounds and tricks wherever he desired.  You like Corsano, Rosaly, Daisy?  Damon's on that level.  Seriously.

Softened Skull is the first release on his Yoke label, which looks to be a very promising venture.  The disc is a relatively short outing, offering a brief overview of Damon's talents.  “Reference Tone” begins with Damon playing a bowed cymbal, ending quicker than you can say pop tatari.  Then a garbage avalanche tumbles downhill toward your dazed placeholder.  Over the next 20 minutes all kindza shit rattles my old man cage.  Some drunk clangs a dinner bell maniacally while a lone Tibetan monk slowly rings his prayer bowl.  A flying saucer ascends into a black sky, its engine sputtering as it moves further into space – courtesy  of some hellish cymbal bowing.  Some huge contraption falls from space, creating a crater in the earth, from which acoustic reverberations rise.  (I don't know what the hell is going on here, but it sounds like a wall full of dinner plates falls onto a trampoline lined with skillets.)  After this, a black & white Kurosawa ghost chases something through a black & white rice field.  The man does all of this with a drum kit.

This disc seems to be a condensed demo to show the range of Damon's talents, rather than a full-blown “statement” & that's just fine with me.  The pieces are short, yeah – but I wouldn't say they're under-developed.  There's a shit-or-get-off-the-pot aesthetic that displays a mass of  ideas quickly.  And now that this recording exists, I expect we'll be going on many more trips with Mr. Damon that will build upon this sturdy framework.  A highly respectable debut from a phenomenal talent. 

Get the download or buy the CD.

Hyrrokkin – Sephfus 7” (New Atlantis, 2014) ****

Warped mind-melt from monstrous power-trio Hyrrokkin, which hails from Yellow Springs, Ohio.  They are led by the terrifyingly agile guitarist Ed Ricart, alongside the ball-slicin' rhythm section of bassist Paul Larkowski and drummer Brett Nagafuchi.  Ricart sounds like Zoot Horn Rollo with slightly less shrapnel, but tons more freedom and distortion.  There are enough rapid twists and turns on “Sephfus” to make you scream for Satan's carny to stop the ride – but you won't mean it.  His toothless head is laughing out bong breath so hard he won't hear you anyway.  As a whole slab, this noise sounds like the children of the corn melted an old Nels Cline Trio cassette in a church fire and it came out sounding like Thin Lizzy at the wrong speed.  That's high praise indeed around these here parts, Geddy.

Flip this thing over and you get percussionist Doug Scharin's remix, which favors the intensity of the ball-slicers over the guitar, which punches in occasionally from King Tubby's yard.  The second half rips guitar riffage and dumps the rhythm section for a feedback ride.  That this track was even considered for a versioning sounds insane.  Not only does Scharin rise to the challenge, it's impossible to pick a preferred side!  The A & B sides are clearly marked, but it's a double A-sided single as far as I'm concerned. 

Check it here.

Upsilon Acrux – Sun Square Dialect CD (New Atlantis, 2015) ****½

Disclaimer:  Upsilon Acrux is from the West Coast - not from the Midwest.  Their label is based in Ohio though.  And this album could easily serve as the soundtrack to Gummo II, should such an awesome atrocity exist.  Reason enough to be included here, I say.

I'm one of those jokers who thinks rock music is best when it's played (poorly, of course) by androgynous, unkempt buffoons who can barely tune their instruments.  One chord or less.  Bands for whom the adjectives “grating” and “skronk” are not only terms of endearment, but describe the ultimate goal of music.  No Wave came directly from God as far as I'm concerned – and not as punishment, as the philistines would have you believe.  So trust me when I say I am not generally a fan of prog rock, math rock, or metal.  But lo, Upsilon Acrux have built their monolith upon these three genres – and it is good!

The band has been around for years in various conglomerations, unbeknownst to my ignorant ass; and that becomes glaringly apparent by the conceptual genius and execution that blasts out of the speakers over the first few minutes.  Studious metalheads hold a sound clash with the warring factions blasting broken segments of old Soft Machine and Deep Purple records at each other through Marshall stacks with ripped speaker cones.  Now take that concept and have it played by The Magic Band in a biker bar. 

The song titles alone are worth the admission price.   “Hey Motherfucker You Ever Fuck With a Salvadoran?!” might swipe its name from an outtake from the first Harry Pussy record; but it sounds like Slayer doing something from Yes' Relayer (but so much better).  “Dogshit on the Shoulders of Giants” is fun, but not as fun as “Smells Kline,” which.. makes me appreciate the deep(shit) conceptual groundwork that much more.

“Old Dusk Seas: Odyssey” is 14 minutes of compete insanity.  The drop and then build-up that occurs halfway through is blissful enough to make you forget your own name.  The zig-zagging the band constantly takes on “Pitch Mountain: Maps” sounds completely organic and right – like every maneuver is obviously the best route.  “Never Don't Give Up” sounds like down-tuned Deerhoof. 
I should also mention the sense of melodicism that is bubbling under the surface of every track.  It's easy not to notice because the math and muscle are so dazzling...  but once the novelty wears off, those melodies have been underneath the whole time, digging into your subconscious mind, bringing you back again.  This music was built to last.  And not only that – and here's the part that totally impresses the hell outta me – there is something in this music that even the very best rock music never contains: richness.  Honest-to-God richness.  Like jazz, Maynard, good ol' rich jazz...

Check it here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lim - Disembodied (Koasetic Productions, 2015) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The fourth album from the Swedish collective lim finds the group officially turning from a trio into a quartet. The core trio - tenor sax player Henrik Frisk, electric bass player David Carlsson and drummer Peter Nilsson - has performed already as a quartet on its last album, self-titled with French guest guitarist Marc Ducret (Kopasetic Productions, 2011), but soon after recording that album, expanded to a quartet with guitarist Samuel Hällkvist. The lim quartet still suggests the same aesthetics that has characterized it since its founding about 15 years ago - complex, rhythmic compositions that rely on immediate, organic interplay.

The title of the album is inspired by an essay by dystopian French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “Disembodied Violence: Hate”, that suggests that the contemporary form of violence is blind, born of indifference and cannot be met by an “equal and opposite violence”. Only hate. The four compositions all penned by Frisk, humbly attempt to offer an alternative perspective to this kind of phantom violence. Music that empowers us with its open, passionate power, music that destabilizes violence through attentive listening.

The addition of Hällkvist adds some futuristic fusion elements to the lim sound, but unlike the fusion phase of the seventies and eighties, lim never searches for technical brilliancy. The long structures leave enough room for the improvisations to form the shapes of its multi-layered textures, almost in an organic manner, leaving aside the traditional jazz or fusion solo roles in favor of a reserved, collective sound. The last 16 minute piece, “Månens Gråa Ögon” (The moon’s grey eyes), with its constant shifts in pulse, dynamics and mood, offers lim's best answer to Baudrillard claim. Disturbing at first with its noisy sounds but turns to be an intriguing, subtle piece, full of passion and beauty.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura – Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura (Public Eyesore, 2015) ****

By Julian Eidenberger

Toshimaru Nakamura - no-input mixing board
Nick Millevoi - guitar
Johnny DeBlase - bass
Ricardo Lagomasino – drums

Many Arms are not really the kind of band that needs further musical backing. Given the density of their music, one might even think that the addition of guest musicians might be more of an overload than an enhancement. But such concerns don’t seem to trouble the Philadelphia trio; on the contrary, they seem to have taken a liking to collaborations, as the record to be reviewed here is the second collaborative effort in a row, following last year’s Suspended Definition (with Canadian saxophonist Colin Fisher). And since that record turned out to be a full artistic success, concerns about the quality of the results are probably unfounded here, as well.

And yet, the obvious differences between Fisher and Japanese Noise/”Onkyo” improviser Toshimaru Nakamura don’t allow hasty conclusions as to the artistic merits of the outcome. Fisher’s musical sensibility was certainly more in line with Many Arms’ “too much is barely enough” approach than Nakamura’s. Employing a no-input mixing board, he stands more or less on the opposite end of the improv spectrum, favoring gritty but abstract sounds whereas Many Arms go for a brash, punk-derived approach (think Last Exit or The Blue Humans). In other words, it’s a risky endeavor, and there’s really no way to tell whether this is going to be a case of “extremes meet” before actually considering the music.

In a way, then, the first track here highlights the possible problems of such an unlikely collaboration. While by no means bad, it’s a fairly typical Many Arms track that doesn’t leave a lot of room for Nakamura’s contributions. He provides merely a layer of background noise which almost goes unnoticed next to Millevoi’s dazzling guitar leads. Track two, however, proves to be a better argument for Nakamura’s presence. It’s much more spacious and quiet, thus allowing him to show his strengths. And Nakamura does just that, seizing the opportunity to flood the ether with waves of grainy, textural sounds. It is indeed like a sea of sound, time and again set into motion by bass drum hits. But the true high points are to be found in the record’s second half. It is here that we witness Nakamura’s transition from “guest musician” to “band member”, as his contributions finally go beyond the merely textural. On track three, this somewhat more organic interaction results in what sounds like an unlikely match-up of Black Flag and AMM, as Many Arms’ frenetic playing and Nakamura’s “broad brushstrokes” combine in unexpected but mostly successful ways. The fourth and last track, then, sees the quartet operating as a regular band, with Nakamura engaging in intriguing rhythmic interplay with both guitar and bass.

A strong effort that begs for continuation, since this quartet’s potential seems hardly exhausted by these four tracks.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015) *****

By Paul Acquaro

Tim Berne's Snakeoil has already released two excellent albums on ECM. These efforts - the eponymous debut and the follow up Shadow Man were the works of an acoustic quartet and on the new You've Been Watching Me, alto saxophonist Berne expands the group to a quintet and introduces electric elements to the mix, expanding the textures and possibilities of this already virtuosic group.

Electronics are introduced by way of pianist Matt Mitchell, whose new sounds can be heard as the album begins, and by Ryan Ferreira, who comes to Snake Oil with electric guitar and a bag of effects. His distorted textural guitar playing underscores the group work on 'Lost in Reading' and helps take the tune from the slow build to its climax. None of this takes away from the acoustic sounds of Berne's keening alto and Oscar Noriega's bass clarinet as they traverse the intricate arrangements. Percussionist Ches Smith plays a pivotal role as well, and on a track like 'Small World in a Small Town' the absence of his drums is counterbalanced by his judicious use of the vibraphone.

Compared to earlier output, You've Been Watching Me is an evolution in the group's sound and it's interesting to hear how the compositions are growing and changing. Listen to Mitchell's electronics darting about Noriega's rich lines on 'Lost in Reading', or Berne's extensive passage on 'Small World in a Small Town' where the supporting harmonies are quite simple but underpin much complexity. On You've Been Watching Me, with the larger group and more expansive palette of sounds at his disposal, Berne's use of subtleties really comes to the fore.

It tempting to think that Berne has reached his peak with Snake Oil, but then again work from his previous group's like Big Satan and Bloodcount (just to randomly pick two others) were also career highlights, which suggests You've Been Watching Me is most likely just a new high.

Listen and read liner notes here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Matthew Shipp and Mat Walerian Duo - Live in Okuden (ESP-Disk, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I began listening to Matthew Shipp in the early 2000s, drawn in by the ambient and electronics on albums like NuBop and Harmony and Abyss, I soon discovered that there was little of Shipp's output that I did not enjoy. Whether solo, in a  duo or with his long standing trio with Whit Dickey and Michael Bisio, his playing is always striking, and the same it true here in this duo with bass clarinetist Mat Walerian.

Walerian hails from Poland and is a part of the strong improvisation scene that has developed there (see Martin's great 'Polish Week') and has studied with Shipp.  Live in Okuden is his first on ESP-Disk and was recorded in 2012 at the Orkuden Jazz Festival in Poland.

I find the recording both relaxing and invigorating - Shipp's piano playing is rich and supportive - whether comping out chords, angular lines or something else entirely, his ideas are always solid and delivered with intensity. Walerian's lines are often short and precise, offering ideas, sketches, and suggestions.

Some of the more intense moments, like on 'Free Bop Statement One' or the post-Coltrane expression on 'It's Sick Out There' reveals the duo's comfort with the many guises of 'jazz'. As Parker suggests in his liner notes, this is not music of a certain style, but rather honest music making. 

Parker writes
As the music progresses from clarinets to alto sax to flute, you can hear sound and space disrobe to reveal villages with beautiful clouds over trees laced with seraphic hues and birds dancing. The musicians are never concerned about style or genre.  
 Live in Okuden exemplifies the possibilities of the duo. Shipp is in great form and the album is a nice introduction to Walerian's imaginative playing.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Matana Roberts – Always (Relative Pitch, 2015) *****

By Martin Schray

Long, simple, clear notes, they seem to trail off in the distance. Almost shyly played, as if the saxophonist wanted to approach what she wants to say very tenderly. After her solo album Coin Coin Chapter 3: River Run Thee Matana Roberts presents herself with an entirely different approach of playing alone. While River Run Thee also included electronics, spoken word poetry, singing and all kind of samples, Always is stripped down to the single voice of her alto. And what a great saxophonist she is!

Always displays Roberts’ roots in Chicago's AACM and recordings by fellow artists like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. As in a stream of consciousness Roberts seems to look for a topic, a recurrent theme, a plan she wants to follow for the next 33 minutes (the length of the first track). She wanders through the history of great black music, standing on the shoulders of giants like Lester Young and Ben Webster as well as John Coltrane and her idol Fred Anderson. Especially in the second track these giants are joined by the ghosts of Albert Ayler. Roberts’ music is the blues of the South, the call and response structures of the gospel, folk music – and everything is bathed in deep melancholy. You can recognize bebop licks, blues riffs, staccato rhythms, free jazz runs and balladesque craving. It’s a communication with herself, a masterful private meditation, it’s about looking for an original sound – on the one hand.

On the other hand it is also possible to understand this album as a socio-political comment on the situation of African-Americans in the USA, knowing that Roberts comes from a background of black consciousness and radicalism that has always tried to combine modes of social justice and creative freedom. Besides this album and her Coin Coin project Roberts has also established a work in progress space called Black Lives Matter All Lives Matter, which refers to the movement that was founded in 2013 after George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, was acquitted. And even if Always was recorded on May, 14th, 2014 (which means before what happened in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown and the incident in Baltimore when Freddie Gray died while being in police custody), it clearly is a statement on the fact that African-Americans have always suffered from police brutality more than white Americans. Roberts’ music meanders between wailings and mournful cries, it is angry and furious (especially “Untitled Nr. 2”), melancholic, exhausted, disrupted and desolate. The references to musical history (from tonal and almost beautiful melodic parts to wild outbreaks and back) also show that there has been a long history of violence.

Always is an album of great intimacy, yet it transcends privacy. Matana Roberts is the voice of her generation – at least as to jazz.

Listen to “Untitled Nr. 1” here:

You can buy the album from the label or from Instant Jazz.