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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid & Mike Reed - Artifacts (482 Music, 2015) *****

Artifacts was conceived by cellist Tomeka Reid as a way of rediscovering the vast songbook of the AACM (which, as this blog has covered extensively, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year), and the trio’s debut album brings together a second-generation AACM dream team, with Nicole Mitchell on flutes and Mike Reed on drums. 

The trio’s sound is a throwback to the great Air, and captures the free improvised spirit of that earlier group. The album is packed with classic and little-heard gems from the AACM library, including two Steve McCall-penned cuts from Air’s catalog, “B.K.” and “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting…” Reed had already recorded McCall’s “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting” on his 2010 Loose Assembly recording with Roscoe Mitchell, on which Reid also played. Here, however, with a lineup closer to the original’s, the fragility of McCall’s melody really shines.

Aiming to breathe life into these dormant compositions, the trio kicks things off with Braxton’s “Comp. 23B,” bringing a thrilling lightness to the proceedings. The trio follows Braxton with Roscoe Mitchell’s “Jo Jar,” a propulsive 50-year-old blues tribute to Joseph Jarman, brought to life here with shuffling drums and a fine solo by Reid. 

Fred Anderson, who passed 5 years ago this summer, is represented by “Bernice,” which is coupled with Jeff Parker’s “Days Fly By With Ruby,” itself an homage to Anderson. The trio combines both into a lengthy meditation on the AACM’s deep history. Mitchell steps to the fore with a jaw-dropping solo on “B.K.,” leaping and fluttering before handing off to Reed for a quick drum solo. It’s easy to forget how rare it is for Reed to take the spotlight, and his solo is an apt tribute to McCall. 

I can’t say exactly why, maybe it’s just hearing these three musicians cut loose in a free trio, but I absolutely loved this record from start to finish. Mitchell, Reid, and Reed, all highly democratic and collaborative players, have performed together for well over a decade. The three click seamlessly into a telepathic performance that both evokes and expands the AACM spirit. 

 Read the AACM retrospective.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Electro-acoustic explorers: Jean-Marc Foussat and Jakob Riis

By Eyal Hareuveni

French electro-acoustic explorer Jean-Marc Foussat began his musical career as a guitarist in experimental prog-rock groups in the early seventies, already then beginning to investigate the sonic scope of synthesizers, before fully transforming his instrumental palette to electro-acoustic devices. He is also known as a gifted sound engineer, favorited by such musicians as Joëlle Léandre and Joe McPhee, responsible for countless live free-improvised recordings for such labels as Hat Hut, Incus and many more.

Swedish Jakob Riis began his musical career as a trombonist but today he focuses on composition and exploring improvised settings of noise and electro-acoustic music in different formats. Both Foussat and Riis offer interesting historic and fresh perspectives on the development of the blends of acoustic and electric sounds.

Jean-Marc Foussat et les Autres - Alternative Oblique (Improvising Beings, 2015) ****½

This 4-disc anthology chronicles 40 years of unreleased material culled from Jean-Marc Foussat's archive, prepared for his 60th birthday. The first disc features short pieces from 1973-1977 that document his early sonic experiments with homemade electric guitar and later with the vintage portable analogue synthesizers, radio waves and magnetic tapes, with the prog-rock group Phyllauxckzairrâh N° III and the anarchistic prog-fusion group Le Lézard Marçio.

The second disc stresses Foussat's unique musical language in a free-improvised setting with the group Thrash the Flash, featuring him playing his analog synthesizer, digital piano, tapes and voice and with guitarist Marc Dufourd, vocalist Lea Dufourd and clarinet and flute player Jérôme Bourdellon. These recordings from 2000 and 2013 highlight his role as a sonic magician, producing a stream of spacey, noisy and weird sounds that are the driving force behind these wild, again anarchistic improvisations, even when the improvised textures tend to adopt a bluesy pattern.

The third disc traces the development of Foussat innovative musical language on the EMS synthesizer with clever usage of voice samples through four extended solo pieces. The first from 1975 is ethereal, minimalist piece but the rest are much more complex, multi-layered and feature this vintage electronic instrument as an infinite sound generator, producing a busy flow of disturbing, yet vivid and nuanced textures.

The fourth disc is the real treat, presenting Foussat “with others”, in different ad-hoc free-improvised settings, all recorded in 2015. First with trumpeters Jean-Luc Cappozzo & Nicolas Souchal and trombonist Matthias Mahler in a 25-minutes of arresting sonic searches that highlight the emphatic interplay and the distinct voices of each of the musicians.  Following is a sparse improvisation with vocal artist Marialuisa Capurso and drummer Dirar Kalash. The third is a haunting, cinematic texture, charged with Foussat brilliant usage of voice samples, with Joe McPhee playing only the pocket trumpet and experimental double bass player Fred Marty. The last two improvisations were recorded at Jazzgalerie Nickelsdorf in Austria, when the gallery present its homage event to McPhee in May 2015. The first one is a delicate, short one with German drummer Paul Lovens. The second one is 25-minutes slow-burning improvisation that feature trumpeter Thomas Berghammer, guitarist Raymond Boni, the gallery mastermind Hans Falb on turntables, violinist Irene Kepl, McPhee on saxes, voices and trumpet, cellist Noïd and drummer Makoto Sato.

Highly recommended.

MarsaFouty - Concerts (Fou Records, 2015) ***½

MarsaFouty is the duo of bass player Fred Marty and Foussat on electro-acoustic devices. Concerts was was recorded live on February 2015 in two different locations, released on Foussat's independent label.

Both Marty and Foussat aim to lose their way within new sounds that transcend any conventional ones.  Marty searches with his bow for distorted sounds, harmonic “holes,” experiments with the timbral spectrum of the bass by inserting metal and wood objects between the instrument strings and plays on all parts of the bass. On the first piece “99 rue du Ruisseau” his distorted-dissonant yet rich buzzing drones feeds Foussat’s weird electro-acoustic sounds, eventually feeding him back again until all sounds blend into an alien, nervous sonic whirlwind. The two opt for a more relaxed and intimate course on the second  piece, “Tiasci,” diving deeper into any sonic manifestation, expanding patiently Marty commanding bowing into a multitude of echoing, distorted and manipulated sounds.
On both pieces Marty and Foussat never settle on any sound but keep morphing and sculpting their shared flowing soundscapes. Both sound as entranced by the kinetic powers of sounds, as if they are celebrating a kind of futuristic, shamanic ritual, intense and restless one, that possibly may attempt to drive away some disturbing visions.   .

Jean-Marc Foussat & Henri Roger - Géographies des transitoires (IMR/Facing You, 2015) ****

Foussat and his electro-acoustic devices meet here with pianist Henri Roger for three improvisations, recorded on April 2015. The atmosphere here is much more intimate, almost a chamber like,  still a haunted camber setting, inspired by the poetry of Belgian Paul Nougé, the founder and theoretician of surrealism in Belgium.

The main piece is the 54-minutes “Le Milieu”, a patient, nuanced and unsettling cinematic soundscape. This minimalist piece succeeds to create an intriguing,  dream-like atmosphere where vivid sonic scenes change and morph instantly, slowly building an intense, dramatic tension and then disintegrating into a delicate and gentle stream of sounds. This piece sounds as acting on its own fleeting logic, with no need to subject its course to any destination, any cohesive form or narrative. This surrealist, poetic trip is concluded with the short, meditative, drone-like “L’Est & l’Ouest” that solidifies the eerie, dreamy and chamber-like atmosphere of this arresting meeting.

Anders Lindsjö och Jakob Riis - Tack! (Steola di Maiale, 2015) ***½

This limited edition album - only 100 copies but with a download option - is the second recorded collaboration between Swedish experimental guitarist Anders Lindsjö and Riis, who debuted with WARP in 2007 (Lindsjö played also on Riis’ collection of meeting with different improvisers, No Denmark, released in 2010). Both musicians are described as "most stubborn and unpredictable improvisers," but, fortunately, this kind of stubbornness realizes some unique clashes of their highly original languages- Lindsjö on electric and acoustic guitars and Riis on laptop, cymbals and electronic feedback.

The eight pieces, recorded already in 2011, are quite varied yet highly intimate ones, moving between exploring sparse, minimalist sounds on “Framför allt vill jag tacka…”, the noisy and intense “Stort tack…”, the quiet, nuanced blending of feedbacks and white noises on the long title piece or the delicate dance of bleeps and beeps on “Tack till…”. Lindsjö and Riis passes from time to time each other unstable sonic ground, but most of the time prefer to challenge the other with their their own sonic searches, all attempt to find new meanings for time and space dimensions in such arresting manners of making music.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fred Lonberg-Holm & Paal Nilssen-Love - You Can Be Mine (Bocian, 2015) ****

There’s always something that starts the rush.  That most-Hollywood-of-all-things blast.  The scream before the army rushes down the hill.  The kiss before the fade and implication, or something more gratuitous.  The junky shots, the inner-needle shots, that cloud of blood before the hammer drop.  You know, the rush.  And maybe most cliché of all: the spotty little wind-ups and grabby little metaphors that start album reviews on every music blog ever.  You get it: the rush.  The call from something – short, not always sweet – and the response.  Fred Longberg-Holm and Paal Nilssen-Love, no secret, make a lot of music.  Some is in support of tighter compositions and stricter interplay (see Vox Arcana’s Caro’s Song).  Some is more exploratory, more isolated, though without all the whispered platitudes of what many associate with introspection (see Nilssen-Love’s Cut and Bleed).  Almost all of it is quality.  Snippets of sounds made by musical lifers that recognize enough of their prodigious talents to give a shit and cultivate them, grow them.  You Can Be Mine was put to tape in 2012, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is what Nilssen-Love left Atomic for (perhaps not specifically, but in the same spirit).  He said he wanted to explore more improvisation.  This in mind, there are two ways to look at the opening moments of You Can Be Mine.  The first concerns Lonberg-Holm.  He may have talked at length with his counterpart beforehand.  I’d like to think he didn’t have to.  Regardless, he gets it.  The beauty of brevity, that is.  And whether you hear a scream leading an army to war or a kiss leading a couple to fuck, we can agree that Lonberg-Holm’s initial note is a key turn.  He unlocks Nilssen-Love and there’s nothing pretty sitting behind the kit.  The second concerns time.

Like T.S. Eliot responding to absurd accusations concerning whether or not he actually understood meter, Anthony Braxton once answered some equally absurd questions concerning his view of time – specifically as it applied to his playing – by saying (I paraphrase) that he approached his pieces within the constructs of all of time.  Not within the minutiae of a measure, or song or album or even period, but of all time.  I’m not sure if he was implying that his music could soundtrack the birth of the Earth, the breathing of the universe and any point within its continuous growth, or if it simply ran parallel to all of this, with all the beauty and dissonance to match.  Whatever the truth of his philosophies, in practice they share a form with Nilssen-Love’s playing.  You Can Be Mine has that single cell quality.  Not concerning complexity of course; it’s astoundingly difficult music.  Rather, it provides a soundbite of time that doesn’t summarize so much as it reveals its elasticity and disdain for all things linear.

The periodic “quieter” moments – or at least moments that relent even slightly, like the break of drums and cello to yield to Lonberg-Holm’s electronics midway through The Pleasure Principle, are perhaps the most revealing.  It would be easy to become so disoriented by the playing of both musicians to hear something more combative in the finished recordings, like watching a street fight, or a hearty argument at least.  But it’s these moments of quick breaths that dispel any inkling to reduce the record to quarreling or competing virtuosos.  Nilssen-Love’s periodic restraint and (especially) Lonberg-Holm’s electronics reveal how well the space between the players was actually cultivated.  The upkeep that said space receives throughout the entire piece is truly a marvel.  I would argue that, if anything, the facilitation of shared and personal space is what most invites relistens. 

At this point, I could walk you through each track (and usually I would, describing Lonberg-Holm’s serrated notes to start Nasty and such); but what’s the point? It’s Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love on a duo recording.  There’s only a handful of musicians in the world with enough chops and sand to walk into a room with either man and say, ‘Let’s play.  Just you and I.’ If you’re a sonic wanderer, here’s a journey.  If you’re a musician, here’s some shit you probably can’t play – but it’ll inspire you, I’m sure.  If you’re looking for more backstory, I can’t help you much there.  I couldn’t even find the record on Bocian’s site.  And if you’re like me, a little nothing speck in an infinite blackness, a millionth of a second in the contours of all time, here’s a little record that might not give you any answers but it’ll definitely show you what you’re up against.  It’s your story too.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden – Frictions/Frictions Now (NoBusiness, 2015) ****½

By Martin Schray

In my review of the album Intricacies by Paul Hubweber’s quintet I said that it could be called the second part of a mini series about German musicians who deserve more attention and that the third part would follow in autumn. Now is the time: the band we are talking about is Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden (FJGW) and the musician who deserves more attention is Michael Sell. But there is a difference to Paul Hubweber and Stefan Keune (whose album Fractions was the first part of this mini series): Keune and Hubweber are still active musicians, their albums are new releases, while FJGW’s Friction/Frictions Now is a reissue. Yet, it’s a real revelation!

FJGW consisted of Michael Sell (trumpet), Dieter Scherf (saxophones, oboe, piano, flutes, Shenai, trumpet), Dieter König (guitars, flutes) and Wolfgang Schlick (drums, percussion) and in the four years of its existence (1968 - 1972) the quartet recorded two albums. Frictions was released as an edition of 300 vinyl records on a private label in 1969 (the same year there was a second edition of 200). Then there was Frictions Now, the band’s sophomore album,which was recorded in 1971 and released as a limited edition of 500 vinyl records. Both albums are hard to get and even if you were lucky you would have to pay fantasy prices.

What makes FJGW so great are the different and various musical means they have at hand: classic bebop riffs, world music influences, free collective improvisations, Kraut rock elements, 1960s psychedelia, etc. However, at the heart of their music is classic African-American free jazz. But although the two albums share the same impetus and approach, there is also an important difference: “Frictions“ is partly notated and presented as an uninterrupted piece although it actually consists of seven Sell/Scherf compositions: “Intro For Four“ is a trio of piano, flute and drums and reminds of Don Cherry’s double flute excursions; “Topology“ refers to the themes used by Albert Ayler’s groups just to drift off in a collective improvisation; “Töne“ is a duel between the reeds and the guitar and makes the impression of a modern jazz theme; “Sounds For M“ sounds like a Miles Davis riff, “Töne I“ is another short modern jazz interlude; “Ballad - Allintervallreihe“ is a theme played  unison before “Peaceless“, a marvelous reed drone, brings the track to an end. All this preconceived material serves to structure the improvisations, which are dominated by free, very energetic and atonal reed lines, fragmented and twitchy guitar chords and polyrhythmic whirlwinds. The whole conception can be described as a mixture of explicitly planned formal processes and a careful arrangement of sound layers on the one hand and spontaneous interactions and raw rhythmic eruptions on the other hand. The music “unfolds in frequent variations of timbral textures“, as Ernst Nebhuth puts it in the very informative liner notes.

In contrast to “Frictions“, both parts of “Frictions Now“ are freely improvised music, the focus is clearly on spontaneity. However, the music is elaborate and structured  by Dieter König’s extraordinary guitar, which is used in a multifunctional way (he plays single notes on the deep strings so he can take over the functions of a double bass, but he also creates brittle chord splinters which anticipate Sonny Sharrock's or James Blood Ulmer’s sound), by Sell’s short, aggressive trills on the trumpet, which remind of Manfred Schoof’s style at that time, and by Dieter Scherf’s solos, which are characterized by certain melodic features that again recall Albert Ayler.

After the split of FJGW Michael Sell continued to work as a musician and a composer, his music can be described as a mixture of free jazz and new classical music. Especially his works from the 1970s (e.g. 5 Stücke Für 11 Instrumentalisten Oder Instrumentalistinnen) and 80s (e.g. Innovationen Für 10 Instrumente) on his MISP label are interesting as well.

Kudos to NoBusiness for their effort to make FJGW available on CD, all the more if you consider the very reasonable price. Highly recommended!

You can buy the CD from the label and the Downtown Music Gallery.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Desert Sweets – A Place Meant for Birds (Balance Point Acoustics, 2015) ***½

By Eric McDowell

Thirteen years after their first release, Desert Sweets reunite on A Place Meant for Birds, recorded live at the Outpost in New Mexico. The trio consists of Biggi Vinkeloe from Sweden on alto sax and flute, Bay Area double bassist Damon Smith, and Albuquerque native Mark Weaver on tuba and didgeridoo. The intimacy of these seven improvisations gives us the chance to appreciate the group’s complementary powers of reception and reaction, listening and responding.

Accordingly, this is music that both demands and repays close listening on the part of the audience, too. I admit I had to be patient with this album—it didn’t force itself on me or even make itself immediately available. It doesn’t care for casual attention. What we hear when we set aside the distractions are three musicians in a serious, cooperative search. Their points of reference are internal and constantly evolving; they resist pulse and pattern, seldom repeating themselves or settling down. It takes patience and effort for them to find what they’re looking for, but when they do the results feel genuinely earned. A Place Meant for Birds, then, gives us both the process and the product (of course the process is the product, too, as with any improvisation), both “tumble”—to borrow from the title of the first track—and “vision.”

“Vision is a long tumble” opens the outing at a modest pace, a bit subdued perhaps, with extended tuba and bowed bass textures supporting Vinkeloe’s wandering alto lines. As the piece develops Smith’s physical playing is especially dynamic, moving back and forth from arco to pizzi, from the low register to the high. Near the end of the track the trio comes together nicely in sustained, rising strata of sound. The shorter follow-up, “White bed,” takes a wholly different approach, showing us a new side of the group. Here the playing is urgent and dense from the start, with Weaver squeezing small bubbles out of his tuba, Smith frenetically plucking strings, and Vinkeloe gasping for air between phrases, her saxophone keys fluttering.

Moving forward the trio works between these extremes, keeping the level of invention high. On “Not Salt” I love the grainy, warbling tone Weaver draws out of the didgeridoo, and the melody, heavy with pathos, Vinkeloe lays over Smith’s rich bowing. The longest improvisation, “Silt” builds gradually in intensity over 15 minutes three sections, with Vinkeloe on flute for the first time. “The Wind has Taken my Breath,” the penultimate piece, features Lisa Gill reading her desert-themed poem, from which all the track titles have been drawn. Finally, on “To Spill a few Birds,” Vinkeloe takes up the flute again, concentrating on a hauntingly beautiful motif tense with multiphonics. The effect, at the close of such a tirelessly exploratory album, is one of relief and great reward.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jacob Garchik - Ye Olde (Yestereve Records, 2015) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Billed as “a 2015 cover of the soundtrack to a 1970’s remake of a 1930’s movie about the Middle Ages,” Jacob Garchik’s Ye Olde is a sly, propulsive wall of sound. Much credit to Garchik for delivering so precisely on the promise of his concept, but the final product wouldn’t be the same without this exact group of musicians. Vinnie Sperrazza’s heavy kick drum and open, splashy cymbals bring that 70’s heavy metal drive. And on guitars, you’ve got three of the most creative and sonically interesting players, Jonathan Goldberger, Mary Halvorson, and Brandon Seabrook. And of course, Garchik is all over this record, bursting through the funky haze with crisp, bold lines.

Because Ye Olde is something of a soundtrack to an imagined medieval quest, tracks are divided between the plot-driven “songs” and transitional “wipes,” brief interludes between each set piece. The songs introduce the large cast of characters, including Mortise Mansard, Queen Anne, “The Lady of Duck Island,” “The Elders of Ocean Pathway,” and “The Opossum King of Greenwood Forest.” Throughout, Goldberger, Halvorson, and Seabrook shift through hocketed melodies, solos in round, and just about every effects pedal at their feet.

Each smaller event builds to the three-part conclusion of the story, beginning with “The Battle of Brownstone Bulge,” the 6-minute menacing and lurching climax of the album, featuring a stirring solo from Garchik. Ye Olde pauses for “Refuge In the Ruins of Castle Martense,” a sonically rich breather, with its trombone chorus, fading drums, and syncopated guitar, leading to the final track, “The Throne Room of Queen Anne.” Filled to the brim with royal brass, marching snare, and crenelated riffs, “The Throne Room” brings grand closure to this fantasy quest.

Some albums are exciting just by the nature of the lineup, garnering a kind of “What will that even sound like?” anticipation. Like Kris Davis’s Infrasound, from earlier this year, Jacob Garchik’s trombone, drums, and three guitars lineup for Ye Olde was, on paper, too interesting to resist. And on record, it’s fantastic.

A teaser ...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stirrup - A Man Can't Ride On One (Whistler, 2015) ****

By Stef

"Stirrup" is a trio that plays in some separate musical category, making them hard to pigeonhole, with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and tenor guitar, Nick Macri on bass, and Charles Rumback on drums, here joined by Russ Johnson on trumpet on half the tracks of this live performance at The Whistler in Chicago.

Macri and Rumback lay a solid and unwavering rhyhtmic foundation for all compositions, often more rock-influenced than jazz, except for the continuous shape-shifting of their approach, and Fred Lonberg-Holm makes his cello howl as we know him, although there are moments when it sounds 'normal', yet without warning it can switch to hard noise.

When Lonberg-Holm plays electric tenor guitar - a 4-string guitar - he plays it almost like a cello, using single string notes instead of chords, chasing the sound through his pedals and resulting at times in some violent feedback and full sustain soloing that is reminiscent of rock guitarists of the seventies, but he is even stronger when he plays the cello. The outcome is violent and disciplined at the same time, with really strong compositions and themes. The duelling solos between Lonberg-Holm and Johnson are really magnificent, and it was a great idea to invite the trumpeter to join the performance.

Fans of the first album will recognise three of the tracks, but the fact that Russ Johnson joins and that it's a live performance gives a different quality to it, and there is a lot to enjoy here, the overall sense of musical abandon, full of relentless energy, of rhythmic joy and coloring outside the lines without alienating listeners. In short, it is great fun, with four musicians at their best.

The album's title is a reference to the old saying when offered a second drink, but it is also a response to Joe Mcphee's call of 'A bird can't fly on one wing', so we learn.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mazarella/Haker-Flaten/Ra - Azimuth (Astral Spirits, 2015) ***½

By Stefan Wood

"Azimuth" is a powerful debut of a new jazz improv trio.  Hailing from Chicago, which is seemingly bottomless in the area's ability to produce quality jazz musicians, the album is a live concert from 2014 at the Constellation.  The trio is comprised of:  Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass), Avreeayl Ra (drums), and Nick Mazzarella (saxophone).  Haker-Flaten is certainly the most recognizable name, from working in a myriad of groups like the Thing and Atomic.  Avreeayl Ra, a member of the AACM, is a well known local musician who has worked with the giants of Chicago improvised music, from Fred Anderson to Sun Ra.  Nick Mazzarella, by comparison, is lesser known, but has been steadily working for two decades in the Chicago scene, with diverse interests.  He plays in the alternative rock band the Eternals; is a collaborator in many groups, from Rob Mazurek to Frank Rosaly, as well as leader of several different groups, ranging from duos, to quintets; and is a concert promoter of the local music scene.

"Azimuth" combines the three's diverse talents, and is a tight lipped, muscular effort that combines heavy physicality with spirituality.  The opening track, "Vega," starts off strong, with Mazzarella opening with a brief meditative solo, then joined by Haker-Flaten and Ra as they push Mazzarella with a rumbling, propulsive bass and percussion.  Mazzarella has a wonderful tone, not sharp, but well rounded, and not deep, but full bodied and confident.  For thirty minutes Mazzarella glides, darts, and dives into and over Haker-Flaten's pounding bass and Ra's crushing percussion with skill.  Yet over halfway through the track, one gets a sense that his creative expressive skills are limited.  While the others can dig and push and improvise for as long as they feel like, without sounding tired, Mazzarella seems to run out of creative energy.  It feels like he eventually plays to fill space, or loses direction with how he is expressing himself.  The Thirty minutes may have been too ambitious.  "Rigel" has Avreeayl Ra start off with exotic, liquid percussion (there is some water being moved around), then joined by Mazzarella, with high register notes that are fluid and fast. The two move at a breathtakingly fast pace, and Mazzarella shines with his rapid fire and ability to express.  But the conclusion to the track is awkwardly abrupt -- stopping as if that was just enough, but doing so in the middle of a thought that becomes incomplete.   "Spica," the final track, is easily the best track of the lot, a deeply moving tune that recalls the best spiritual free jazz music from the 60s and 70s.  Mazzarella plays it like an uplifting ballad, while Haker-Flaten and Ra create contrast with a dark menacing foundation of rumbling bass and bass percussion.  The music builds to a powerful cresendo, and gently concludes with the trio in rhythmic unison.

Having reviewed many albums, "Azimuth" is a frustrating listen for me.  There are so many positives -- the high quality of musicianship, the interaction and expression of the music.  But there is something lacking.  Is it Mazzarella with his limitations?  Is the creativity as strong as it should be -- there are many moments in the album where explosive creativity is followed by tenuous uncertainty.  And above all there is a lack of deep down rootsy soul that is necessary in this music.  "Azimuth" is a promising debut, and should be heard, but with caveats.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cipsela Records, Part 2

By Dan Sorrells

Back in May, Eyal Hareuveni reviewed the first two releases from newly-formed Cipsela Records. Since then, the Coimbra-based label continues to build on its strong start with two new duo albums: one with cellist Daniel Levin and alto saxophonist Rob Brown, the other, harpist Angélica V. Salvi and label-founder Marcelo dos Reis (whose thoughtful guitar work has been turning heads lately in groups like Fail Better! and on the recent album Chamber 4).

Daniel Levin & Rob Brown – Divergent Paths (Cipsela, 2015) ****

Divergent Paths is a performance from a 2012 stop in Portugal, itself rather improvised after plane trouble stranded the duo in Poland on the day they were originally scheduled to play. Levin and Brown are both muscular, virtuosic improvisers, each having distilled sharply personal styles from a variety of musical influences. “Mutuality”—true to its name—is a sympathetic exchange between two musicians who are comfortable with each other’s nuances. The track would be a good entry point for someone unfamiliar with free improvisation; there’s a clarity or logic in each player’s response to the other that can be lacking in this music. This is not to suggest Divergent Paths isn’t rigorous or challenging—on the contrary, such lucid musicality under the duress of performance is a testament to the agility of these musical minds.

Long centerpiece “Dialogue” in many ways subverts a free jazz trope. The term “dialogue” itself is one of the limits we brush up against when trying to talk about this music: what it describes would be chaotic in literal terms, as though a conversation could remain coherent if all the participants continually spoke over one another. But Levin’s and Brown’s “Dialogue” at times really feels like a conversation. There are extended solo passages from each musician, rather like statements and rebuttals. Brown spends a lot of time in wispy altissimo heights while Levin ranges widely, quoting folky motifs or imitating the saxophone. It’s a varied, modestly-paced repartee, capped by the brief and bracing closer “Match Point.” A strong entry in the Cipsela catalog.

Marcelo dos Reis & Angélica V. Salvi - Concentric Rinds‏ (Cipsela, 2015) ****

Concentric Rinds takes its name from an M.C. Escher engraving, and the music shares in the disciplined beauty of Escher’s work. Dos Reis and Salvi have previously played together in the group Pedra Contida, but the pairing was suggested by Evan Parker after he worked with both musicians during a summer festival.

The tracks that begin Concentric Rinds are beautiful, unhurried, imbrued with the fullness of the resonant warehouse in which they were recorded. Dos Reis’s acoustic guitar and Salvi’s harp have similar timbres, intertwining into kaleidoscopic figures in the ambiguous middle ground between the instruments. The harmony and rhythm in “Spirals” has the organized, organic feel of music by composers like Terry Riley or Duane Pitre, with dos Reis preparing his guitar and playing it like a hammered dulcimer. While the duo often opts for a sound of peaceful concordance, there are bouts of more antagonistic interplay, as on “Convex” and “Concave.” Most striking is “Depth.” Beginning with harp that sounds more like tuned percussion than strings, it eventually builds to a wailing threnody of dos Reis’s sorrowful, wordless vocals and coarsely-bowed guitar. Thoughit starts in a more conventional tonal manner than a lot of free improvisation, Concentric Rinds gets increasingly adventurous as it progresses, closing with “Surface,” which has shimmering, friction-induced tones not unlike Eddie Prévost’s work with bowed cymbals.

A remark in the liners seems an important reminder: “this is how we sounded one day in February 2013,” dos Reis writes. Not “this is the sound of our duo,” but instead, a nod to the ephemerality of a music that never stops changing. Now, at the time of its release in 2015, they may sound very different, indeed.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Matt Mitchell – Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings, 2015) ****½

By Troy Dostert

With 2013’s attention-getting duo release with Ches Smith, Fiction, pianist Matt Mitchell gave us a glimpse of a musical sensibility that was remarkable in its ability to weave together adventurous improvisation with rigorous, challenging compositional complexity.  Mitchell’s facility on the instrument can’t be questioned, as he’s one of the most in-demand musicians in contemporary jazz: he’s worked with everyone from Tim Berne to Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa to Darius Jones, and a host of others.  But this new double-CD will go a long way toward helping to cement his reputation as a formidable leader in his own right.  At eight long, demanding pieces, it’s an overwhelming amount of music, really, to take in at once.  But the rewards to sticking with it are immense, as each listen reveals new dimensions and angles that have to be heard and pondered to be appreciated.

The record is aptly titled: Mitchell is not a composer who announces his objectives too quickly, with readily identifiable themes and melodic structures.  Rather, Mitchell’s pieces unfold gradually, with the whole only coming into view once the gradual aggregation of ideas has taken place.  This can be a bit frustrating at times, particularly if one expects instant gratification with one’s music; this is most certainly not listener-friendly, toe-tapping jazz.  But for those willing to hang in there with it, what you get is ultimately a lot more satisfying. 

Mitchell has worked extensively with the rhythm section already: bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss have played with Mitchell at least since 2012, so they have an established affinity for Mitchell’s digressive, intricate explorations.  Added to the mix, though, is Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor sax, and Speed’s impact on the music is immediate and invaluable: he reinforces the melodic strands that emerge, however elusively, in Mitchell’s compositions, helping to give the listener a bit more of a foothold in approaching each piece.

It’s impossible for a review to do justice to each of the tracks, so I’ll just take one as an entry point: “Utensil Strength,” which leads off the second disc.  Mitchell and Speed open the piece at the outset, with Mitchell’s thorny left hand ostinatos and Speed’s repressed urgency on tenor creating a slightly unsettling sensation, as Weiss provides subtle commentary on the kit.  Then Tordini comes into the picture, providing the bass anchor that allows Mitchell to widen his focus, with arpeggios and chords coming and going, until the band comes together powerfully about two minutes in, with a rhythmically sophisticated melody revealing Mitchell’s Steve Coleman influence, and yes—we hear this band’s ability to find the groove when it wants to do so.  But that’s only the mood for a couple minutes, after which the group settles it down, moving into a more reflective section, only to pick up the melody again, to build once more as the band comes at us with even more intensity, Weiss’s drumwork finding an even more propulsive force.  At that stage, halfway into the piece, the tempo cools once again, fading into a meditative exchange between Mitchell’s delicate right-hand fragments and Tordini’s subtle arco exploration.  This is a wonderful interlude before the finish, with Speed re-entering this time on clarinet, the perfect counterpoint to Mitchell’s harmonically rich chords, as the two begin a dialogue that is eventually joined once more by Weiss and Tordini, as the band continues at a low simmer, with a terrifically complex unison section between Mitchell and Speed that brings the piece to a close.  The other seven tracks offer the same kinds of tension and release, and plenty of twists and surprises, that are worth savoring through multiple encounters.

It’s a fantastic collection of music, definitely worthy of a two-disc release without a doubt.  Mitchell has a lot to offer, and it’s truly time well-spent to give him the opportunity to fully share his distinctive musical vision.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hu Vibrational - Epic Botanical Suite (Meta Records, 2015) ****½

By Stefan Wood

Looking for some killer soundscapes?  Hu Vibrational's fourth album, "Epic Botanical Suite," puts forth eight tracks of gorgeously rich and densely textured music.  Led by Adam Rudolph (leader of the Go: Organic Orchestra) and with new collaborators Bill Laswell, Eivind Aarset, Steve Gorn, and a battery of percussionists, Hu Vibrational combines world music with electronica and improvised jazz to create music that is funky, spiritual, hardcore, and soothing.  Beats are the core, given the personnel, and influences range far and wide, like Africa ("Hikuli"), Indian ("Agobi"),  and Brazilian ("Ya-jey").  Yet these influences only provide a foundation.  

The musicians build upon it with layers and layers of percussion, electronics and strings.  It is less beat heavy and more rhythmic.  Like Susie Ibarra's wonderful group Electric Kulintang, Hu Vibrational brings a high level of quality, taste and inventiveness that elevates the music from trance sounds or being background music.  This version of the group sounds similar to the sound and aesthetics of the great African Head Charge.  Tracks like "Charas" and "Soma," are such examples -- thick rhythms that weave in a dense texture that is broken up by waves of sound, electonic voicings, shredding guitars or light flutes.  

"Epic Botannical Suite" is a stunning effort, enjoyable and grows with repeated listening.  Recommended!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Scott Tinkler & Greg Sheehan - Federal (Bandcamp, 2015) ****

By Stef

The two Australian musicians are Scott Tinkler on trumpet and Greg Sheehan on percussion. You know, dear reader, that I like this format, ever since the great duets of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Check the 'Topics', then 'Tags' on the right to find out more reviews for the trumpet-drums format, or use the search engine to find more reviews about Scott Tinkler.

A short review for a really nice album, nothing too exceptional, and maybe not as good or special as his previous albums with amongst others Simon Barker (also trumpet-drums duos), Marc Hannaford or the great album with Korean singer Bae Il Dong, yet it is fun. It is great fun. You get eleven pieces, clocking between three and six minutes, all tunes with distinct approaches, with different moods, fresh and open-ended improvisations, performed by two musicians who enjoy what they are creating.

Even if it's adventurous, the music remains quite accessible, with not too many extended techniques, yet with obvious instrumental mastery by both musicians. It all sounds so honest, outright, authentic, with a disarming naturalness, without pretence or self-centeredness, it is all about the music. I love it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Variable Geometry Orchestra – Lulu auf dem Berg (Creative Sources, 2015) ****

By Dan Sorrells

The opening moments of “Stream of Consciousness”are disorienting. Awash in reverb, as in an empty warehouse or a bounded public square, Maria Radich’s vocals mingle with those of an audience of unknown size. Camera shutters click, men cough into their sleeves, children test their own small voices against Radich’s echoes. It’s unclear: has the performance begun? But soon other instruments can be heard, a few at a time, the texture thickening as the 26-strong band materializes. 

Lulu auf dem Berg (“Lulu on the mountain”—a clever allusion to Alban Berg’s unfinished opera) is the third release from Ernesto Rodrigues’ Variable Geometry Orchestra. Membership is variable, too: the group can swell to as many as 40 musicians, and always features some familiar names from the Portugal scene. Here we find Miguel Mira, Hernâni Faustino, and Sei Miguel, among others.

Free improvisation is tricky with large groups. Perhaps ironically, adopting the minimalist, textural approach of electroacoustic improvisationis often a fruitful strategy. Rodrigues deftly moves his musicians through a droning series of dark, shifting shapes, the variable geometry of a flock of birds, turning on his whim. Over the course of the nearly 50 minute performance, there are a few moments of more “traditional” free improvisation, but the intense reverb in the playing space smears everything, effacing even the attack of each drum hit.

It may be due to my recent listening, but the murky start and brooding progression brings to mind the music of Jakob Ullman. Not so much his use of extreme quiet, but the idea of holding music at a distance to elicit a form of strained listening. Attention is sustained not by following a melodic trail or the clash of counterpoint, but instead by pushing to get closer to the details, immersed in the flux of a slow-moving, all-pervasive mass of sound. Rodrigues has used the word “subliminal” in the past when talking about this music. Indeed, a session with Lulu auf dem Berg feels like something that was slowly absorbed rather than actively engaged. Moody, suspenseful—even cinematic—music. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Yoni Kretzmer 2Bass Quartet - Book II (OutNow Recordings, 2015) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Israeli, New York-based sax player Yoni Kretzmer career is characterized in his slow-burning evolution with no rush to release his music. Three years have passed since the debut release of his 2Bass Quartet - featuring double bass players Reuben Radding and Sean Conly and drummer Mike Pride, Weight (OutNow Recordings, 2012), until his own label released the quartet's sophomore album. In a similar manner, Kretzmer is not a leader that insists on controlling every aspect of his compositions. He trusts the quartet to follow his loose “written ideas”, letting them breathe and blossom organically, in emphatic yet open interplay, but leaving enough space and freedom for the personal contributions of all the musicians. Still, it is clear that Kretzmer feels at home with this quartet that challenges him and utilizes his qualities as a leader and improviser to the fullest.

Kretzmer describes the quartet as an outfit whose “earthiness” has become its trademark, and its raison d'être: “to manage to dive into the pits of the earth while maintaining a certain clarity and vividness, as tough seeing while having mud in the eyes”. This colorful description gives some idea about the quartet sound - grainy, unpolished and encompassing the lower registers, as if Kretzmer furious tenor shrieks aim to pierce the sonic walls comprised of dark, resonating double basses and pounding drums.

As on the quartet's debut, the sonic territory is still in the most adventurous terrains of free jazz; music based on intuition, power and energy, gravitating into cathartic climaxes, as when it is tapping to the legacy of the American fiery free jazz on “Freezaj” or on climatic, 20-minutes of “Number 4”. But the 2Bass Quartet has more than just power and energy in its can. Relying on its accumulative experience and strong bond as a working group and its musicians individual experiences as leaders in their own right, Kretzmer enables enough freedom to allow some chaotic, messy interplay, trusting the quartet to adopt again his ideas. The quartet experiences the full spectrum of its heavy rhythm section and plays on sifting pulses as on “Polytonal Suite”. It is not shy from expressing its emotional side through the more common stormy intensity, as on the opening “Haden”, a sort of homage to the late Charlie Haden, the gentle “Leaves” or the simple “Ballad”.

Book II was recorded Jun2 2014. It is about time for Book III.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

White Out with Nels Cline - Accidental Sky (Northern Spy, 2015) ****½

"Free sound for the daring few!" - White Out

For the last 20 years NYC's White Out have been operating in the margins between more readily identifiable areas of 'Free Music'. Documented on a modest number of very fine LPs, Lin Culbertson (analogue synths, autoharp, flute, mystery electronics and otherworldly vocals) and Tom Surgal (drums, devices, celestial bells etc) have created a unique sonic space both open to the possibilities of 'Sound' and the input of their collaborators, and yet established and identifiable as their own. 

Of their 6 prior recordings, only 2011's 'Asphalt and Delay' finds them operating as a duo. Elsewhere longstanding associations with the likes of Jim O'Rourke, Thurston Moore and C. Spencer Yeh have yielded releases ranging from full burners to nuanced thinkers, always rich in timbral detail and high on quality. Accidental Sky sees White Out alongside Nels Cline, a collaboration stretching back over a decade which has only now been committed to disc, and finds the trio navigating considered gradations. Over the course of around 40 mins, the troika move through seven relatively brief tracks (the longest clocks in at 6:45) and countless ideas. Set out in their mission statement, the emphasis here is very much on the 'Free' and on the 'Sound', spontaneously constructed sonic statements which demand to be understood on their own terms. 

The manner in which Culbertson's deploys the array of instruments at her fingertips feels unique and, on occasion, almost alien. Its easy to forget that she is often playing keyboard instruments given the range of untempered sonorities she coaxes and moulds. Cline, a versatile guitar player active in a wide range of differing groups, almost entirely eschews melodic material in favour of the expanded palette of sounds and effects he explores less thoroughly in other contexts. Surgal (the man behind the recently funded 'Fire Music' documentary film), has a dexterity and lightness of touch which means that even at its most tightly packed, the percussion feels expressive and responsive. 

Other than a loose tonal centre which grounds a couple of tracks, there is very little in the way of recognisable concordance here. In fact it is only on the record's final track where Cline chimes out a couple of ringing chords, eliciting kosmische twinklings from Culbertson's keys, where the group can be judged by any criteria other than their own.

Two decades and seven offerings in White Out consistently manage to achieve the seemingly antithetical, to arrive at a place of genuine freedom and possibility by sheer belief and doggedness of approach. In a world where many will release countless recordings every year, the infrequency of White Out missives means they are something to be eagerly anticipated and cherished on arrival. Accidental Sky is both these things and more. 

Listen here

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Convergence Quartet - Owl Jacket (No Business, 2015) ****½

By Stef

The Convergence Quartet is a kind of transatlantic superband with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Harris Eisenstadt on drums, Alexander Hawkins on piano, and Dominic Lash on double bass, and all four musicians contribute to the compositions. Their previous album "Slow And Steady" received a raving review, and the expectation of their next album was understandably high.

The first track, "Dogbe Na Wo Lo", already delivers the goods. A Ghanian traditional with a beautiful theme, it is wonderful arranged by Harris Eisenstadt, with deepfelt improvisation by Ho Bynum, and magisterial playing by the rhythm section, including the piano's subtle chords and power.

The second track is penned by Dominic Lash, and the tone shifts into a quiet improvisation that gradually gains power and momentum with Alexander Hawkins leading the piece with angular sounds and rhythmic inventiveness, creating a solid backbone for bass and drums to go wild, and when the cornet joins, things quieten down, and the rhythm becomes even more hesitating and halting.

"Coyote", a composition by Taylor Ho Bynum, is more playful in its approach, with cornet and piano engaging into a refined dance full of joy and lightfootedness, with Eisenstadt offering us a myriad of percussive delights to emphasise the prancing theme, which will linger in your head long after you've finished listening to the album.

Hawkins' "Owl" adds drama to the album, with a short repetitive and almost percussive theme, and it seems that only the cornet and Hawkins right hand provide some stability to the piece, with bass and drums and the piano's left hand creating energetic mayhem in contrast, yet then it evolves and comes back, like an endless and fast contraction and expansion inside and outside of the theme. It is simple and complex at the same time, collapsing and desintegrating somewhere in the middle of the piece, then offering a peaceful moment of almost cool jazz improvisation with sparse notes by piano and cornet, repeating the core theme, yet differently, solemnly, quietly, as if some resolution had taken place.

It is followed by "Azalpho", a short composition by Dominic Lash, also angular and percussive, playful and fresh.

The album ends with another traditional Gambian song arranged by Eisenstadt, who spent some time in Africa studying 'griot' music and rhythms, and we can all be the happier for it, because this is again a great piece, and without a doubt the most free track on the album, one where the joy of playing is even stronger than on the previous tracks, very open-textured and often just plain fun to listen to, because of the little jokes, the perfect interaction and imitation between piano and cornet, and all that with some complex polyrhythms by Eisenstadt, and slowly, after a very jazzy interlude by Hawkins, the free play shifts into the African theme, again a beautiful theme, and the chaos and the freedom are left behind, and what comes up is just harmonic interaction, full of sensitivity and vulnerability and wonder. A great closer for a wonderful album.

Overall, the album is good, very good, with four musicians whose skills are not questioned. At times, these skills risk to take the forefront, which may lead to a more distant delivery than on their previous album, but it's still highly recommendable at all levels.

Available from InstantJazz and Downtown Music Gallery

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Roots Magic - Hoodoo Blues (Clean Feed, 2015) ***½

By Eric McDowell

Like Mary Halvorson’s recently reviewed Meltframe or Raphael Rogiński’s African Mystic Music, the Italian quartet Roots Magic brings us an album dedicated (mostly) to interpretations of other people’s music. The group consists of Alberto Popolla on clarinets, Errico DeFabritiis on alto sax, Gianfranco Tedeschi on double bass, Fabrizio Spera on drums, and as a guest, Luca Venitucci on organ, melodica, and amplified zither. On this fun, approachable album they prove themselves more than up to the task of rendering some well-chosen, time-tested avant-blues with equal parts gusto and precision.

The group dives into the album with a back-to-back-to-back assault of soulful tunes, beginning with Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues.” Here we see the qualities that will characterize the project more generally: faithful “covers” delivered with assurance and intention, very cleanly recorded; muscular but fluidly lyrical clarinet and sax solos (and double-solos), modestly/tastefully contained by the compositions’ structures; and a supple, steady rhythm section. Phil Cohran’s indelibly catchy “Unity” keeps things moving with a deep-in-the-pocket cowbell groove and horn lines that snake in and out of Venitucci’s melodica ostinato. Third in line, John Carter’s “The Sunday Afternoon Jazz and Blues Society” gives the group a chance to loosen up with a bit of controlled chaos, especially Spera’s rowdy drum-work under the tune’s bouncing Ornette-ish melody but also in the burning double-solo towards the middle.

Beyond the two other pieces drawn from the jazz lineage (Sun Ra’s “A Call for Demons” and Olu Dara’s “I Can’t Wait Till I Get Home”) and two original compositions—quite competent but somewhat overshadowed by their unbeatable company—a highlight for Delta and gospel blues fans are the group’s takes on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night” and Charley Patton’s “Poor Me.” On the former, perhaps the track I find myself revisiting the most, Tedeschi hands the melodic line off to DeFabritiis before bringing out the bow, and the song swells above the sea storm of Spera’s cymbals and mallets. Here group not only captures the haunting mood of the 1927 original but uses it as a point of departure for what develops into such a personal, organic, and emotional musical experience that it makes us wish they had allowed themselves more opportunities for exploration and discovery elsewhere. They do what they can to recreate some of this magic in the middle section of “Poor Me,” but it’s less convincing and a bit awkward sandwiched between the relatively humdrum melodic choruses, suggesting the potential limitations of this kind of obligation to source material.

Available from InstantJazz and Downtown Music Gallery

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No Pair - Chaos and Order (Long Song Records, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

No Pair, an Italian jazz-rock improv group came to me as a recommendation, and brilliant one it was. I've had the album in high rotation now for the past six weeks or so that it has been in my grimy paws, never tiring of its loose and fragmented ferocity. It's one of those rare albums that catches on the first spin and doesn't let go. 

A bit hyperbolic, I know, but let me explain. Chaos and Order is the work of Francesco Chiapperini who composes and plays bass and soprano clarinet. He is joined by Gianluca Elia on tenor sax, Dario Trapani on electric guitar and Antonio Fusco on drums. To make any comparisons, I'd post that there are strong traces of Lucien Dubius' looping bass heavy songs and even a bit of Marc Ribot's style in the guitar playing. Some of the writing, like on 'Brain Misty' even has hints of Bundle's era Soft Machine with it's mix of horn arrangements, analog electronic sounds and biting guitar work. In fact, I think the group enjoyed playing that one so much they didn't know how to stop - so it simply ends with an acute fade. 

The album kicks off with 'Edag' which begins like a steamroller, gives way to a solo clarinet passage that twirls around until leading back into the power chords and a dance of the woodwinds. It's scripted for sure, it's so precise, but it's also loose and jangly. The follow up 10 minute 'Sliding Snickers' starts starkly different, shape shifting snippets snake stealthily around a implied pulse. You're halfway through already before the pieces come together - fast - and then fall apart just as fast. The ironically playful 'Spreadsheet' is vivacious and fun, as Chiapperini's clarinet work shines through clear and delightful. The skeletal groove of guitar, sax and drum makes for tenuous and lovely support. 

I've had Chaos and Order with me in the car, on a jog, on the train and blasting through the house. What can I say, it sounds great everywhere. The quartet draws deep from the well of rock and jazz and comes up with something fresh.

Available through Downtown Music Gallery

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Necks – Vertigo (Fish of Milk/Northern Spy, 2015) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Cueing up Vertigo, the Necks’ 18th album, anyone familiar with the Australian trio knows they’re a bit Janus-faced: there’s the acoustic piano trio that improvises each concert, and the expansive recording group that—through the layering of tracks, electronics, and piles of instruments—uses the studio itself as a means of improvisation. Vertigo began with the notion of “hanging ideas” off of an extended drone, though “like all Necks albums,” says bassist Lloyd Swanton, the group “ended up in a very different place.”

The Necks’ music has always skirted even broad categorization, and Vertigo is no different. It’s in parts jazz, ambient music, New Age, minimalism, post-rock. Certainly much of it was improvised, though it feels inaccurate to call it improvisation.  “Contingency” may better describe what guides the Necks in the studio, an openness to whatever possibilities arise as the musicians play, listen, take measure, and play some more. This can make their albums difficult to evaluate. It’s easy to approach each as an epic, cohesive composition, only to be faced with a piece of shifting character, one that moves more in swerving, digressive lines than a grand narrative arc.

Listening to Vertigo’s musical elements come into focus—a waiving chord on organ, brushes scratching cymbals, a distant śruti buzz—I often snap to and realize I have no recollection of when they arose. At nearly any point, the music feels in stasis, but this is wrong: I know it has been changing, and dramatically. A drone often does accompany the trio through Vertigo’s 43 minutes, fizzling out in one form only to return later in another. Chris Abrahams roams from piano to organ to synthesizer, but never far from melody—his modal splashes of color keep Vertigo on a calming, meditative plane.

For all their experimentation, the Necks are almost never dissonant or abrasive. Nearing the end of Vertigo, they do push into noisier territory, Tony Buck’s eerie sheets of guitar feedback punctuated by bursts of clattering percussion. It’s as close to a crescendo as the Necks will allow, and it’s certainly Vertigo’s zenith. In the end, perhaps not my favorite of their albums, but the Necks continue to leave me curious as to where they’ll head next.

Vertigo is out now internationally on Fish of Milk and ReR Megacorp. Northern Spy will release Vertigo in North America on October 30.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ido Bukelman

Guitarist Ido Bukelman is one of the most prolific musicians in the small Israeli experimental, free-improvised scene. His latest releases feature two of his working outfits, the free jazz Hanut Trio and his Ground Birds duo, both with double bass player Nada Masel.

By Eyal Hareuveni

Ido Bukelman / Nadav Masel / Nir Sabag - Hanut Trio (Out Now Recordings, 2015) ***½

Hanut Trio - featuring Bukelman on electric guitar, Masel and drummer Nir Sabag, is named after its tiny performance home club, Hanut (Shop in Hebrew) in Tel Aviv. This free jazz trio has built its aesthetics through many live performances and ad-hoc collaborations with Polish reed player Mikołaj Trzaska and innovative Israeli improvisers as veteran clarinet player Harold Rubin and OutNow Recordings label colleague sax player Yoni Kretzmer.  

All the eight pieces feature loose composed narratives, six were penned by Bukelman and two by the trio. Bukelman is the natural leader of the trio, the one who usually sets the tone and the dynamics of each piece with dense guitar lines. But the interplay of the trio is quite democratic and leaves enough space for the Masel and Sabag to add color and depth. Sabag opts often for contemplative, fractured drumming while the thoughtful bass work of Masel grounds the flights of Bukelman and pulse-free coloring of Sabag.

Three pieces stand out. Masel Moroccan flute playing on the short  “A Flute Like This” adds an exotic, Gnawa-tinged trance-like sound that unfortunately is not developed later on. The moving, bluesy-breezy “Object Theater”. and the atmospheric, cinematic “Island”, with its intriguing sounding tension building, highlight the nuanced, varied language of this trio.

Ido Bukelman / Nadav Masel - Ground Birds (Out Now Recordings, 2015) ****½

The duo of Bukelman, on bowed banjo and acoustic guitar, and Masel, on the double bass, present the experimental, free-improvised aspect of their work. The pieces are associative, open ended, and Masel, again, is the one who takes the role of grounding - literally - the interplay towards a cohesive envelope.

The duo was recorded live at the Barbur gallery in Jerusalem on May 2013. This performance feature Bukelman plays both the bowed banjo and the guitar while on later performances he focuses most of the time on the banjo. The sound of the bowed banjo is an acquired taste - dirty, rusty, distorted, almost out-of-tune. But when it is met with Masel’s wise, adaptive bowed double bass it forms an interesting sonic ground. A disturbing yet patient, searching ambiance, arresting in its intense timbral spectrum and its search for a common thread, only to deconstruct it immediately after.

The two solo pieces stress the differences between the two. Bukelman solo guitar is a sort of free fly, free formed. It is a fast stream of associations, without any attempt to sketch any narrative, at times references the country-tinged guitar of Eugene Chadbourne and on others a continuation of his work on his solo acoustic guitar albums The Door and Solo (Kadima Collective and OutNow Recordings, both on 2011). Masel solo double bass is more solid, exploring methodically his rich sonic palette through a dark, resonating texture.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Three from Ivo (3 of 3)

Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp ‎– Callas (Leo Records, 2015) ****½

By Colin Green

Yes, that’s right, the soprano Maria Callas, the archetypal diva both onstage and off, who possessed a voice and dramatic presence which held audiences spellbound. Her roles tended to be of wronged women, though it could be said that there’s rarely any other kind of woman in Italian opera (with the exception of the Macbeths, there’s little of interest when the course of true love runs smooth). In many ways, she belongs to a past era – perhaps even a Golden Age of opera production – but her performances remain inspirational.

Apart from the incomparable Porgy and Bess, the only other occasions I can recall on which jazz and opera have met are Dave Burrell’s La Vie De Bohême (BYG, 1970) – an album I’ve never really got – Louis Sclavis’ Les Violences De Rameau (ECM, 1996) -- infectious rhythms from the French baroque – and Joe Lovano’s Viva Caruso (Blue Note, 2002) – Lovano’s glowing tenor in suitably plush settings. Except, Callas is not quite the meeting one might expect. Along with other recent albums, there’s an oblique relationship between the music and what inspired it, see: the Matthew Shipp Trio’s To Duke, Raphael Rogiński’s Plays John Coltrane snd Langston Hughes. African Mystic Music, and Soko Steidle’s Played Ellington (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015). To appreciate why, you need to understand the background.

During 2014, Perelman suffered difficulties that were traced to his use of a double-embouchure to reach the high registers, resulting in a physiological response similar to what happens when singing. After speaking to opera singers, he took voice and breathing lessons, and started to heal. “Now I breathe as if I were a singer; I think as if I am a singer.” During this process, Perelman listened to opera, eventually to Maria Callas exclusively, and began playing along to her recordings. This reached a point where he was playing her arias on his saxophone “note for note, inflection for inflection, subtlety for subtlety”. He then went into the studio with Mathew Shipp (piano) and they recorded in the usual way, without any prior discussion.

As with Tenorhood (reviewed yesterday) the tracks were named ex post facto, Perelman identifying correspondences with particular roles played by Callas based on the psychology of her portrayals and their “emotional arc”, even though none of the music from the operas was used and he admits to being unfamiliar with their plots. There are a multitude of ways in which he might have made these connections however, so you don’t need to listen with Kobbe’s Complete Opera Book balanced on your knees. These pieces are not mini-operas but a distillation of the kinds of feelings that make them up.

There’s no doubt that on this album Maria Callas has inspired a heightened sensitivity to things that are often overlooked, providing a springboard for some truly remarkable playing. It’s a masterclass in the control of dynamics and subtle shading. Often, the music is sotto voce, full of powerful restraint and finely graded emotions. There are no tunes as such, but the song-like quality identified by Perelman stands out – tiny melodic seeds that flower into undulating melodies, languorous phrasing, and carefully judged crescendos. ‘Tosca ‘and ‘Leonora’ are particularly lovely.

Uncannily, Shipp has caught the mood exactly and the album reveals another side to his playing (I’ve lost count). He has an exquisite touch, on occasions so refined that he gives a sense of not just foreground and background, but of planes between.

It’s a varied recital: ’Rosina’ and ‘Aleeste’ explore the contrapuntal exchanges which have preoccupied Perelman of late; ‘Louise’ is full of seething emotions interspersed with more reflective asides; and ‘Abigaille’ is thirty eight seconds of Perelman and Shipp chasing their own tails. Occasionally, Perelman wanders into the altissimo register and his phrases become more abbreviated, but he never loses the dramatic thread.

The album ends with ‘Giulia’: muscular tenor supported by chiming chords from Shipp. They take on a darker hue as Perelman falters, his phrases begin to dissolve and then fade out slowly into silence, as if receding into the distance.


To conclude this three day focus: in his contribution to the liner notes to Counterpoint, Joe Morris claims that Perelman “is one of the greatest improvising saxophonists of our time”. I agree, these three albums – together with the other releases of the past few years – confirm that improvisation can cater for a range of sensibilities and that Perelman and his colleagues have undertaken an exploration of considerable importance, resulting in music-making of the highest quality. Perelman’s insistence on complete improvisation with no pre-planning and search for new means of expression through increasingly diverse projects, suggest that he concurs with Don Cherry’s dictum: “style is the death of creativity”. I recommend you join them in their journey.