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Monday, November 30, 2015

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Declared Enemy – Our Lady of the Flowers (RogueArt, 2015) ****½

By Joel Barela

Down here, we wait.

For many things, we don’t have to. The sun shines a lot. It almost never gets too cold. It might just be a product of our history, and the fact that we don’t answer to that coastal pace, that now now now. We wait for the peaches. For the corn to come in season. And, maybe our most favorite (some of us anyway): we wait for the bourbon. Yeah, you can drink it at five years, but at ten … Damn. This is the talk of grandfathers.

My parents didn’t listen to Matthew Shipp in his early years. And I wasn’t around for it. But you don’t have to be there on the day it’s barreled, just as long as you’re there when it peaks. These may not be the days of Shipp’s absolute classic records. Time alone will tell us that. But damn, if listening to 'New Tension' isn’t the sonic equivalent of breaking the seal on an aged bourbon beauty, I really don’t know what is.

But first, there’s the white dog of 'Atomic Note', the album’s opening cut, and before that a 2006 RogueArt released record called Salute to 100001 Stars: A Tribute to Jean Genet. Aside from Denis Lavant (recruited to add spoken word components - culled from Genet’s work - to the project), Shipp enlisted the same quartet that we find here. The pianist was/is joined by William Parker on bass, Sabir Mateen on reeds and Gerald Cleaver on drums. In the same “spirit of the underdog” so prevalent in Genet’s writing, Shipp called the ensemble Declared Enemy. That the basis for the original album’s invention centered around Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers being one of Shipp’s favorite books makes this record especially momentous. And if Shipp is still in the process of peaking in his dexterity and creativity as both player and bandleader, then it is little wonder that his second Genet tribute took so many years to materialize. As I said, you can drink it at five years, but at ten …

For the all the metamorphosis in improvised music in recent years, and for all Shipp’s remarkable invention, 'Atomic Note' sees the record into a very standard introduction - at least structurally: Cleaver leads for a few measures, followed by Parker, Shipp and then Mateen. Drums, bass, keys, horn: quartet. It's a locomotive piece for certain, but its title suggests an eruption that stays pocketed for its full seven minutes. The liner notes comment on "fission & fusion ... notes blending and melting together, flying and condensing ..." The point could be that despite all the aforementioned tweaks to this form (in process), this is a jazz record: now outplay it. I like to think, however, that Cleaver's bookends - the measures to begin and the sticks' solo final minutes following Mateen's faded blow - aren't mere coincidences or a simple follows of the jam. What with Shipp is anyway? But if it's Cleaver who's meant to shine through, he does. His hat tap to finish the track on a clean stop then becomes the note referenced in the song's title. And his playing throughout the entire album is some of the finest I've heard all year. It mediates well but asserts when it must. It asks the hard questions at times. In short, Cleaver's playing is everything that the moderators in the current U.S. presidential debates have not been.

The aforementioned 'New Tension' follows. It's one of two duets on the album - to go with one trio, one solo effort and five songs featuring the full quartet. It finds Shipp and Mateen - on clarinet - in a meticulous musical conversation; its complexity - a blend of "Euro-Classical and African-American stylings - eased into the ears by the skill and familiarity of the players. It's hard not to reference Mateen's musical beginnings. A percussionist before his switch to reeds, the rhythmic independence from Shipp's own insistent patterns is a delight, and one that speaks to the prevailing rhythmic pulse throughout the record. This whole band has an ear to the ground, feeling the sound in a very literal way, the entire operation a rhythm section of sorts.

'A Different Plane' is another full quartet number, and one that feeds a nice transition from 'Atomic Note' to the madness of 'From the Beyond'. The liner notes reference the a "id of darkness" to the piece and a structure to Shipp's playing that falls "somewhere between Paul Bley and Bill Evans" causing the piano to "bleed prism-like harmonies". The oscillation between broken and block chords shows up all over Shipp's contributions to record. That said, that fact that his virtuoso eruptions are largely contained is slightly odd given that the record is named after a novel that Jean-Paul Sartre once dubbed “the epic of masturbation". The lack of these sonic ... indulgences .... may largely be attributable to Shipp's recent claim that he is "truly finding [his] voice in ballads". On 'A Different Plane', Shipp's balladry is seen out by Parker's rocking lifeboat pizzicato.

The sense of balladry born out is grown in the opening bars of 'From the Beyond' by Mateen's tenor. Before long though, Parker's relentless bow has quickened the song's pulse, invited a hammering Shipp and induced Mateen in screams, it seems, just to be heard. Cleaver enters, and his trot is just as brisk. There is a particle-colliding other-worldliness to this mauling. Then Shipp pulls his hands off the keys ... Mateen pulls his mouth off the reed ... And for about two-and-a-half minutes, Parker's bow rides Cleaver's gallop. In the final few measures, the drums drop, Parker jumps and sees the journey out alone, faded, without a clean stop, into silence. A traditional arco generally follows a tight script, and this seems a tad more instinctive (if not impulsive). Proof? The fact that the track not only lacks definite punctuation to close but is immediately followed by Parker's lonely plucks in 'Silence Blooms'. However you view it, there is little to debate in this: Parker's bow takes what came 'from the beyond' and carries it back home.

'Silence Blooms' is the lone solo piece on the album. Shipp demonstrates his continued growth as a bandleader by not only allowing a masterful player to take over an entire track on an album - something he did earlier this year on To Duke with Michael Bisio's 'I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good' - but by giving said player a simple directive. When Parker asked what he should play, Shipp responded: "[Play] Silence Blooms." Given From the Beyond's fade into this piece and how Silence does indeed flower as the track progresses, I'm reminded of George Clinton's note to Eddie Hazel as they tracked Maggot Brain: Imagine that your mother's just died. Play that. Parker's interpretation of Shipp’s note is flawless.

The liner notes nail the paradox of Irrational by striking at the oddity that a song of said name would be so "rational, beautiful and beatific". For Shipp's part, he said of the piano and drums duet, "Each note is in harmony and has a weight and volume unto itself.” We've all heard Shipp fight his way out of confinement. It's what he does, blows up his keys and rises. This is different. This is Shipp as explorer. So often his phrasing has that cornered animal feel. Here he maps a cave. He overturns stones for us, and a builds a bridge across a bottomless pit as he crosses it. If you think I've forgotten Cleaver, I'll admit, on my first listen, I did. But Shipp, in another deft turn as bandleader, pulls back at the end to fully reveal Cleaver's kit and how well it's spiced the piece the entire time. It begs for relistens to unlock all of the drum patterns below Shipp's purposeful notes. Remarkable.

After 'Irrational', the title track arrives. As for the novel for which it was named, that book was written in prison, in secret, destroyed once and rewritten. 'Our Lady of the Flowers', the song, shares a similar intimacy and determination, but it's far from quiet. The full-quartet piece best exemplifies the possibilities of concurrent conversations. Each player isn't always interacting with the entire ensemble but they aren't exactly competing either. The conversations are intelligent but not without humor and sweat and fist-slamming. Hear Shipp crunch his keys and know this. And like any setting among old friends, eventually someone says something forceful enough or interesting enough or - in the spirit of Genet's novel - provocative enough to convene the attention of all. Shipp's exclamations are especially important as he sits out the subsequent piece. Gasp owe's as much to Cleaver and Parker's bouncing groove as it does to Mateen's stabbing tenor. In the literal sense, the trio allows the song to evolve over the course of eight minutes but the phrasing of each player makes it sound as if the piece is constantly on the brink of running out of air. That the sound consistently regenerates helps Gasp maintain its suspense. Not a note or strike seems "drawn out" for more than a blasted quarter.

'Cosmic Joke' concludes the album. It begins in trio, Cleaver's percussion not so much dainty as cautious: a peak from around the wall, while Parker and Shipp state their cases in more disagreement than harmonious conversation. Eventually, Mateen enters and the quartet sees out Shipp's inspiration. Says the pianist: "If you take away the word GOD and replace it with IT as a sustaining generating power source, any finite structures that IT generates and subsumes into itself would, at the end of time, whatever time is, have to be a joke if the generating source is truly OMNIFICENT and OMNIPOTENT."

In case it isn't abundantly clear, this record has affected me. I'd even say it's left me exposed. Often, people view those who review records as "critics". But I’m not so into the judgment thing and this record exposes me as what I've always been: a fan. Of course, I'm not a fan of everything I come across here, but, I admit, I don't generally commit words to projects that don't interest me. If I write about it, I generally do so to share it. This is different. This is one of those records that makes me want to write ecstatically. I've heard Shipp play his take on a New York sound, and yeah, this was recorded in Brooklyn, but this record has a different pace to it. It's aged and matured. It's as earthy as it is cosmic. It reminds me of home. This is the talk of grandfathers. Sure, I wasn't there when Declared Enemy was conceived and barreled, but I was here when the seal was cracked. And so are you. So pour a glass, friends. It was worth the fucking wait.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Irène Schweizer & Han Bennink - Welcome Back (Intakt, 2015) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

This one tested my personal arbitrary star rating. Another 5-star album, so soon? Why not? It’s two giants of free jazz performing together in a rare duo setting. What’s not to like? Irène Schweizer has had an epic run of piano-drums duo albums in recent years, pairing with Han Bennink, Pierre Favre, Günter Sommer, Louis Moholo, and Andrew Cyrille. As others have noted, this is amazingly only her second album with Bennink, the two sound so good together.

There’s a recurrence of words and phrases that follow these two around, things like effortless and comfortable. But it’s important to remember how much Schweizer absolutely dominates her instrument. She’s a classically expert improviser, and Bennink is a superb partner. His long history in duet, including pianist Misha Mengelberg, serves him well in this setting.

Schweizer displays her usual light touch, which often leaves me wrongfooted (in a good way) when she caps on a dissonant chord after a breezy run, or contrasts her right- and left-hand runs, as she does midway through the opener, “Welcome Back.” That’s followed by two raucous, free tracks credited to Bennink, “Kit 4” and “Trap 5.” On the former, Bennink opens on muted drums, playing against Schweizer’s brisk riffs. As Bennink opens up the drum sounds and brings in more cymbal crashes, Schweizer continues filling in the space between riffs, nailing some classically Taylor-esque runs before Bennink comes to the fore in the final minute. By contrast, “Trap 5” begins with Schweizer alone, until Bennink comes in with brushes, and the piece finds its rhythm.

There’s no one centerpiece to this album, but the sequence of “Verflixt,” “Rag,” Bleu Foncé,” and “Apus Melba” is a superb example of free interplay at its finest. Within about 15 minutes, Schweizer and Bennink seem to breeze through swing, boogie, stride, all filtered through the lens of collaborative free jazz. “Apus Melba,” credited to Bennink, is a tune constantly on the move, rarely settling in one place for more than a few seconds, and the duo play off each other throughout the duration, taking and giving brief hooks to respond to.

As with their last album, a selection of covers demonstrates the pair’s love of jazz history. Their “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” is sturdily faithful on the surface, with subtle tweaks from Bennink that remind you this isn’t an austere salute. Later, the duo tackle Dyani’s “Ntyilo, Ntyilo.” Again, Schweizer takes the lead, while Bennink adds percussive commentary. There’s a very slight mournful edge to the performance, a reminder of Dyani’s gentle, quiet vocals from the original. At album’s end, Monk’s “Eronel” brings the album to a natural and buoyant close.

Video of Schweizer solo in 2008:

And on Bandcamp:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

John Butcher - Nigemizu (Uchimizu, 2015) ****½

By Stef

John Butcher is unique and incomparable. He's is the sculptor of sound on saxophone, whether on tenor or on soprano. The music on this album was performed on two nights in Japan, two years ago, and consists of three tracks.

The first, "Enrai", is played on tenor, and you get a twenty-six minute long discovery of sounds and their gradual evolution, from primary sounds over multiphonics to rhythmic moments, quiet passages and outbursts of constrained power, and despite its length, there is never a dull moment. Butcher takes you along on his own improvisation, which is at the same time as much a musical journey as it is a spiritual and emotional one, and the result is mesmerising. As a listener, you get sucked up in his universe, and wonder at its depth and clarity, you wonder how with some few strokes of sounds, he manages to create a picture that is both simple and profound, that is uplifting and deep.

On "Uchimizu", he switches to soprano, and the tone becomes almost naturally more joyful, with long bouts of circular breathing, more playful, as we know him, trying to emulate the song of blackbirds or other birds who sing their odes to the sun and to life in general, yet then it suddenly evolves into moments of distress and even darkness, with somber whispering sounds chasing away the birds.

The album ends with the shorter "Hamon", yet still more than six minutes, with multiphonic circular breathing starting full force from the very first notes, gradually changing the overall coloring and timbre, often at breakneck speed, and the intensity does not dissipate until the last few notes, which end the piece with a question mark.

Again, Butcher captivates us with his skills and his musical vision, his uncompromising approach, and his talent to maintain tension in three lengthy improvisations, offering listeners both musical and human purity.

Don't miss it!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Kid Millions & Jim Sauter - Bloom (Astral Spirits, 2015) ****

By Joel Barela

Let's try and contextualize the rhythm a bit: Earlier this year, John Colpitts, the superhuman drummer known simply as Kid Millions, released an album called The Sanguine Cadaver.  Released on cassette, each side supported a single track; and while Side A's piece is definitely worth checking out, it's Side B's For Jerry that makes the cassette worth parting with some of your money.  It's something that many of us have yet to hear on record: Kid Millions obliterating his kit, in complete solitude.  And the 24-minute solo drum bombardment would be more than enough, but add to this the fact that the Kid begins to moan along with his spastic and serpentine patterns, creating a listening experience that is - in every sense of the word - quite spiritual.  I bring this piece up for two reasons.  One, I'm assuming that if you're currently viewing this site, you hunt for more in music than radio force-feedings and streaming comps.  And two, as I mentioned above, acquiring this bit of homework - aside from being an ear's delight - helps to better appreciate the following.

A follow-up to last year's Fountain (released on Family Vineyard), Bloom, once again, unites Millions with the fire-lunged Jim Sauter.  To start, it must be noted that this release is yet another gem from Austin-based Astral Spirits.  Seriously, I can't heap enough praise on this "tiny" tape label.  For an operation with, no doubt, limited means, they manage to continually dole out quality releases that have blood to spare.  Bloom is no exception.  In fact, it is, in my opinion, the duo's finest release to date.  As Matthew Grigg mentioned in his review of Fountain earlier this year, the record "never [felt] consistently as revelatory as the duo's debut; something possibly attributable to the former's higher risk live concert setting vs. the higher fidelity/lower risk nature of [the] studio session."  Bloom suffers none of these pitfalls.  For one, much of the material was recorded live.  In addition to which, the duo has simply tightened as band and, with the acquired intimacy that comes from more and more sessions and shared stages together, has grown in ambition to match an already stratospheric scope to the music.  Also, whereas on Fountain, Millions could at times "[pull] the sax along with excitable eagerness" (noted by Grigg), on Bloom, the drummer's tornadic approach to his kit serves more to levitate Sauter's expressive horn than simply drag it into the inferno.  Much of this may also owe to how the recording is mixed.  More on that in a bit.

Regarding the songs:

Ram Wing leads you into the album like its guiding you into a nightmare, quietly.  Its pace and volume startle.  Sauter blows long, sonorous notes: the path through the mountains.  Millions stings his kit: the stones tumbling from the rock faces.  Hombre Secreto finds Sauter expanding and scarring the road.  I could never convince my mother that this was beautiful music, but perhaps you'll follow me through this imagination.  Millions distorts a brief pattern and Sauter follows with two quick eighths, a 'Let's go,' in exhales.  All of a sudden, you're surrounded by something more primal, a series of notes like protectors of these mountains, heavily armed, and they're not quite certain they want you there.  Millions elevates Sauter by mostly laying off his snare.  Toms and cymbals raise the saxophonist and embolden him.  The lack of threat from his counterpart allows Sauter to expand and darken.  Relistens invite changes of volume here.  At a more normal, less earsplitting setting, Sauter's ferocity materializes but the aforementioned beauty remains.  With the sound cranked, Millions' patterns are more easily distinguished but Sauter's parts may begin to task your nerves.  The thrill becomes the duo's invitation: you, the listener, are allowed to become a member of the ensemble.  It's a Choose-Your-Adventure luxury that many albums don't cultivate nearly so well.  And it's fleeting.  Two-thirds of the way in, Millions finds his entire kit and the duo makes the decision for you.

Annapurna is longer than the previous two tracks combined.  It's also the song that unleashes the duo's real furious momentum - especially concerning Sauter's use of amplified saxophone, to which he adds a multitude of effects.  Says Millions of Sauter: "I think Jim's playing is in a class of its own.  There's nobody out there who can can touch what he does.  It's [actually] very refined.  Hopefully, I'm a good foil for him."  In an interview earlier this year, Millions went on to say that, " ... it's very hard to keep up with Jim's energy so I'm [on Bloom] just trying to bring as much energy as I can to the project.  Whenever we play, I have to be at the top of my game.  I can't really be too intellectual when I [play] with Jim.  I just need to be as aggressive as I can, but keep it musical."  That's Annapurna.  Period.  It's not that it lacks or defies intellect.  It just doesn't become academic.

A third of the way through Cock a Snook, the Kid ignites his cymbals, pushing Sauter's fully-effected horn further skyward.  Later, when Millions' kit attempts to ambush and overwhelm Sauter's attack, the elder player responds with a series of notes so shrill and intense - nevermind the patterns - it approximates the sound of a violin dying in a fire.

Black Swallower mounts another intense rush and One for Diz takes us home with a tasty "groove."

In an interview with the Houston Press, Millions described the music:
"I think Jim and I are playing improvisation.  High-energy improvisation.  It's different than free jazz, but clearly takes cues from it."
Odd to say this following so many spins of this furious album, but it's refreshing.  Refreshing not only to hear a musician downplay his music's niche, but refreshing to hear him downplay (see above) its general intellect.  And certainly some jazz purists will wonder if it's "jazz" enough.  But no one should wonder about its freedom.  While the Kid and the elder Sauter may not take themselves too seriously, it is some serious and seriously good music.  Serious music fans take note.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Premature Burial - The Conjuring (New Atlantis, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

With the three unusual musical thinkers involved in the group of 'Premature Burial' you can be quite well assured that their music is nothing typical.

The folks at work here are Peter Evans on piccolo trumpet, Matt Nelson on saxophone and effects, and Dan Peck on tuba and effects. Evans' work is well known to readers of this blog (we most recently covered his hard hitting Pulverize the Sound), Nelson is a member of the unique Battle Trance tenor saxophone quartet and Peck had been delivering outstanding tuba to free jazz efforts with increasing frequency.

The inspiration for this particular trio is drawn from an Edgar Allen Poe story whose narrator suffers from a fear of being buried alive, and the title of the album, Conjuring, in reference to a recent psychological horror movie of a haunted house. The music, accordingly is meant to (and successfully, I believe) evoke stages of paranoia and the feeling of entrapment, helplessness and futility.

The music - if that's an appropriate term - is more an onomatopoetic dissection of the psyche than a set of songs. Electronics blend and twist the three wind instruments and the combined sound is used to describe the mental state of the protagonists. What could also be easily, if judging by the cover and title, confused for a hardcore album however is considerably more musically nimble. Eschewing a sludgy and distorted approach the trio uses the sounds of their instruments to evoke the chatter of the mind, and the terror of these cataleptic condition. At times the sounds mimic the human voice or like R2D2 being hit by a laser beam, while at other times clear melodic statements rise to the top. Through contrast and careful construction, their sound sculptures are captivatingly menacing and beautiful.

The Conjuring is not for the listener who wants an obvious melody or even a well formed Ayler-esque cathartic scream. This is something new, different, and mesmerizing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Le Rex – Wild Man (Cuneiform, 2015) ****

By Eric McDowell

Swiss quintet Le Rex brings their music to the people—literally. According to their website they like to record in public places like “department stores, farms, construction sites,” and even “scrap yards.” This preference seems in keeping with the spirit of their low-maintenance and portable all-acoustic set-up. From the top down we have Benedikt Reising on alto sax, Marc Stucki on tenor, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, and Marc Unternährer on tuba, plus Rico Baumann on drums. Having recorded their first two albums all over Corsica and Switzerland, the group followed up their US tour with a sojourn in one of the centers of free jazz, Chicago, to make Wild Man. The music on this latest effort bears the stamp of a wonderful variety of influence and inspiration, from New Orleans second-line and the AACM to Swiss clockmakers and alpine dwarves. There’s even a track in celebration of Richard Kiel, the actor who played Jaws in the James Bond movies. All this is to say we get everything we’d expect—and more—from a band called Le Rex on an album called Wild Man: playful, energetic music free of self-serious pretentions. Or as they themselves describe it, “a kind of cunning adventure jazz.”

Piece by piece, and even within individual pieces, the adventure unfolds as a series of constantly shifting stylistic strategies, with a dedication—and ability!—to groove that both grounds the listener in each moment and dramatizes each redirection. In other words they keep us on our toes, mixing things up just as we’re getting comfortable. Naturally a lot of this work falls to Baumann, who’s more than up to the task. Take for example “Home Alone,” which spends its first half pushing and pulling us back and forth from full to half-time feels without falling out of the pocket and then launches into a slow, snare-dragging march—all in two minutes. Or “Don’t Lean on the Case!,” inspired by the words of a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, which somehow takes us from a driving sixteenth-note hi-hat groove into a sort of Afro-Cuban 6/8. In other places we find hard-swinging second-line just shy of overdone (“Dwarf”), festive calypso with some infectious unison playing (“Riff Raff”), or flirtations with tender balladry (“Hymn to the Cold”).

The overall effect is surprise that comes off as both sure-footed and spontaneous. This requires planning and a kind of selfless submission to the chart, but don’t think that Wild Man doesn’t give each member of the quintet the liberty to stretch out and explore. “Anchor” starts off with a moderate finger-snapping swing that gradually frays apart underneath a marvelously slurred and breathy tuba solo by Unternährer—but it doesn’t end there: over an accelerating rhythm section in the second half of the tune, Stucki pushes a furious solo into the upper registers. “Le Clic” showcases some more nice sax work, as well as a tasteful drum solo à la Roy Haynes. The album features Tschopp’s excellent trombone playing throughout; see the dueling solos on the free-leaning title track, or the open-ended introduction to the leaden swinging final cut, “Be in Shape!,” one of my favorite moments on Wild Man. They aren’t afraid to bury it late in the album—knowing, I suppose, that we won’t be able to stop listening before the whole thing’s over.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Left Exit - Mr K (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

By Stefan Wood

Let's be clear: this is not the group Last Exit. There's no Peter Brotzmann, no Bill Laswell, no Sonny Sharrock. No ear splitting music, no shredding nor thunderous pounding of the senses. This is Mr. K's Left Exit, Mr. K being the duo of Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (sax) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). Joining them on this album are Michael Francis Duch (bass), and Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (sax/clarinet). Their music is minimal, using silence as it's fifth group member, hovering close to the bottom register and at low volume, tense and atmospheric, with only a few moments of high pitched bursts that are satisfyingly climatic.

 Throughout the eight tracks on the album, the group effectively paints an abstract canvas of sonic gestures and modes, building compositions that emphasize a sparseness and economy of voices that are quite beautiful. Nyberg and Holm are practically breathing into their instruments, like crickets. Duch has a hypnotic rhythm to his bass playing -- a low, faint register that is nevertheless insistent and penetrating. Winther's percussion shimmers like light on a rippling ocean -- again, not pounding, and not soothing, but atmospheric, accenting the overall tone of the music. 

Left Exit may not be earth shattering like Last Exit, but it is no less compelling. Fine abstract compositions, excellent improv. Recommended!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink – 1971 (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray (with some help from Colin Green)

Peter Brötzmann’s seminal trio with Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, which ran from 1970 to 1975, is well-documented. There are four albums by the actual trio (Balls, FMP 130, Outspan No. 2 and Tschüs) and four more if you also count the albums on which Albert Mangelsdorff augments them on trombone (Outspan No. 1, Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End). Is there a good reason for a further album from that period? Well, it‘s always great to get “new“ material of one of the best European free jazz trios of all time, and the album‘s a missing link between Balls and FMP 130 (the 1971 albums Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End include Mangelsdorff).

1971 is a compilation of a 26-minute live track recorded at the legendary Burg Altena festival, hitherto only available on a hard to find LP sampler: 2. Internationales New Jazz Meeting Auf Burg Altena (JG-Records, 1971) and two previously unreleased tracks from recordings made shortly before the festival gig at the Radio Bremen studios.

It‘s also an albumtypical of the trio, whose governing dynamic was three very different musical temperaments clashing into each other. In particular, “Just For Altena“, the live track, is classic, iconoclastic, played-to-pieces stuff with all its advantages and disadvantages (for example: it was difficult for Van Hove to prevail against the two power players). Bennink proves he is a drummer who‘s not interested in smooth transitions but in abrupt interruptions, definite solutions and harsh accents. He structures the piece with abrupt stops and sudden changes, from massive cymbal work to his huge additional set of percussive instruments. At that time he was famous for his varied arsenal with all kinds of flotsam and jetsam augmenting his traditional kit – including the floor and the walls of the room – quite literally, his playing was off the wall. He‘s not preconceived or arbitrary, however. His distinctive qualities are intensity and quick, accurate responses to the contributions by Brötzmann and Van Hove. But despite Bennink’s brutal eruptions and the fact that there‘s still a lot of thickly textured power playing, the track still leaves considerable space for Van Hove’s delicate and harmonically intricate work. In contrast to earlier recordings by European free jazz bands, this trio opened up for a number of solos and duos, especially between Bennink and Van Hove. Although Brötzmann is better known for introducing the “aesthetic of screaming“ into free jazz (as Ekkehard Jost puts it in his very good book Europas Jazz (Fischer, 1987)) he was also a mediator between the two extremes Bennink and Van Hove represented. Of course, there are his notorious overblown passages and his emotional outbursts,  sometimes at the threshold of pain, but there are also almost hidden, blurred quotations of shanties, military marches and traditionals (“When the Saints Go Marching In“) and even some tender moments - something more to the fore in his current playing. In general, you can recognize a tendency to transparency, contrast, respect and structural distinctiveness in the trio’s playing,  despite the collective ecstasy and emotional intensity: In other words, the band developed its own distinctive style.

This development is even more apparent in the two studio tracks “Filet Americain“ and “I.C.P. No. 17“. “Filet Americain“, a Van Hove composition, is more a sound excursion by the band’s standards. Van Hove at the prepared piano comes to the fore and includes new music allusions, delicately supported by Bennink on all kinds of additional material. Then again, after a short Brötzmann interlude, the Dutch eccentric is ready to end the piece with a hefty drum solo on his regular kit. It’s a different version compared to the one the trio recorded on Balls but there are similarities in the sound and form of the piece, and is further proof that free jazz can be well structured in spite of its focus on improvisation.

“I.C.P. No. 17“ starts with a reed battle between Brötzmann and Bennink, another distinctive feature of the trio (Bennink is an amateur on these instruments and approaches them with a musical curiosity he regards as perfectly legitimate). The track also highlights a more sonic side to the trio – again with Van Hove playing very melodic lines to contrast with the reeds’ abrasive sounds.

In a nutshell: the album fills an important gap in the Brötzmann discography, looking back to where he started and forward to some of his current playing.. It‘s also a very good, rock-solid, classic European free jazz album, to be enjoyed by anyone interested in this kind of music.

1971 is available on CD and you can buy it from and

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The various faces of Susana Santos Silva (Day 2)

By Stef

Susana Santos Silva - Impermanence (Bandcamp, 2015) ****

"Impermanence" is a hard to categorise album. It brings composed pieces, with strong themes and arrangements, yet it also deliberately colors outside the lines, disorienting listeners who thought they were on an easy ride, and obviously also offering a lot of space for improvisation.

The first track, "Many Worlds" is a good example of this, the angular theme is soon disrupted by electronic sounds, and then the whole carefully organised edifice collapses for some undefined music, with a moaning trumpet leading the way into this wonderful universe of strong contrasts, because before you know, you're listening to some post-boppish rhythmic band interaction, only to end with electronic high-pitched tones. "Many Worlds" indeed, and it also give a good idea of the album's title "Impermanence", the common ground of shifting sounds, changing ideas and life that floats through multiple forms, from solid tangible ground to ephemeral abstractions and everything in between, never repeating itself, always re-inventing itself, and so is this music.

The band are Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn, João Pedro Brandão on alto and flute, Hugo Raro on piano, Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass, Marcos Cavaleiro on drums, and Malle Colbert offers field recordings for two tracks.

"Obvlivious Trees" starts with a very intense and in-your-face dialogue between muted trumpet and arco bass, as if both are arguing or quarreling or even fighting each other, yet then the plucked bass takes the lead position, guiding us into more boppish territory with a flute solo, supported by percussive piano chords, then again shifting into a disciplined drums solo to end the piece.

"Imaginary Life" is playful, starting with unison horns supported by light piano arpeggios and sophisticated percussion and when the band stops, Santos Silva's trumpet takes over for a unaccompanied solo that is full of contrasts between ferocity and gentleness.

In contrast, "Geringonça" is wild and energetic, starting like mayhem, yet gradually the band folds into patterns and even quietens down a bit as if collecting their thoughts for the unison theme that only emerges in the last seconds.

One more track that really stands out is "Sound Of Thought", a piece that starts with what could be an impression of my own thought processes, full of chaos, darkness and opacity, yet halfway these various conflicting and contrasting sounds coalesce into one, resulting in a lightly boppish song, in which the alto plays a beautiful solo, before being joined by the trumpet, and all's well that ends well.

In short, the most accessible of the albums reviewed here, with often beautiful themes and heart-rending solos, even if the band does not shy away from adventurous moments and even daring conceptual ideas.

Susana Santos Silva & Kaja Draksler - This Love (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

This is by all means a recommended album, if only because we have a wonderful duo by two of Europe's most promising female musicians, Susana Santos Silva from Portugal on trumpet and Kaja Draksler from Slovenia on piano. The album is quite balanced in terms of compositions : two tracks by Draksler, two by Santos Silva and two joint compositions, organised in a circular way on the album, bookended by the improvisations and with Santos Silva's composition at the centre.

The opening track, "Laurie", is playful and fresh in the beginning, opened by the trumpet, with a strong entry by Draksler with some fast right hand runs, suggesting it as a kind of theme full of suprise and wonder, echoed immediately by the trumpet, then the intensity increases, driving the discovered material into denser and more hectic territory, without losing the playfulness, taking it to quieter moments with the occasional pause, then up again moving it into darker realms, with growling multiphonics and dramatic piano-playing.

"This Love" is a quiet ballad, lead by the piano, gentle and mysterious, reinforced by the warm tones of the flugelhorn, deepening the emotional power of the piece, that is at the same time open-ended and determined, a strange kind of paradox that gives the music a special quality, as if certainty and uncertainty are both at play.

"Hymn To The Unknown" is dark and brooding, a typical Santos Silva composition, on which the eery trumpet tones are supported by deep rumbling in the piano's interior, a piece that keeps evolving in tone and nature, with open spaces, small percussion by Draksler on the strings, evolving into lightness and quiet beauty.

"Foolish Little Something" is a playful unison high tempo piece with rhythmical complexities thrown in to increase the fun, with an atonal chaotic middle part, a nice collision of ideas, and quieting down towards the end.

"Forgotten Lands" I would call a typical Draksler composition, clever and disciplined and fresh, built around arpeggio chords for the left hand, and post-boppish phrases with the right, sweet and somewhat nostalgic, and again the trumpet's deep tones add a wonderful addition to the composition, making the piece both jubilant and solemn.

"You Persevere" ends the album with again an open duo improvisation, one which uses more extended techniques on both instruments, more adventurous in nature, and really strong, with Santos Silva demonstrating her incredible sonic skills on the trumpet, not to show off, but to create an uncanny and eery soundscape, supported by a piano that produces apparently endless sustained notes and percussive scraping.

I would suggest you listen for yourself. Both young artists have produced an album worth looking for, with music that is on the one hand balanced and controlled, and at the same time adventurous and exploring, and in doing so creating strong musical and emotional contrasts, often within the same composition of improvisation, taking the listener by surprise, but then surprises of the pleasant kind.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Susana Santos Silva - Exclusive Interview

Free Jazz Collective : A few years ago you were mostly known in Portugal, now you play all over the world and in different bands. How do you explain this difference? What changed everything? 

Susana Santos Silva : It's kind of a normal development, though I also think that, on the one hand I was a bit lucky and, on the other hand, I really went for it at some point! 

There were a couple of things that helped a lot. One of them was to be part of the European Movement Jazz Orchestra in 2007, where I met Kaja Draksler, someone I've been connected since then. It was the first time I went to play abroad with musicians from other countries whom I met for the first time then. Until then I had only been playing, since I was 17 years old, with the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos in Porto (OJM). 

The other important step in my musical life was to move, for a little while, to Rotterdam in The Netherlands, where I met Gonçalo Almeida. When I arrived in town he put together the band LAMA. Later on we released our first album, Oneiros, on Clean Feed and this was probably the biggest step for me to get out in the world. 
The 12 Points Festival in Dublin, for emerging young musicians, at which I played with my quintet in 2011, was also a important event, I believe. 

This was the lucky part of it all. The other reason was that a very important change in my life happened a bit more then three years ago. A change at many levels and from then on I'm really living accordingly to what I believe and who I really am, as a human being and as a musician. I stopped trying to be what I thought I should be and I started to truly speak my heart out. For me music is a strong passion and a way of living and I think that I've kind of started to get all that I give back from the world. 

Free Jazz Collective : Your three latest albums "Impermanence", "If Nothing Else", and "The Paradox Of Hedonism" are completely different in nature and in style. Does the style make a difference to you? Which do you prefer naturally? Will you ever make a choice among these approaches or are they all valid for you? Improvised vs composed?

Susana Santos Silva : Styles don't make any difference. The important thing is that the music is well played, sincere, honest, with an open heart and mind. I also like playing without a safety net, which means that risks are taken and boundaries and limits are pushed continuously. Right now I have an inclination to prefer improvised music in general because it's so much more "authentic" somehow, I feel so much freedom … Anything can happen, there are no "shoulds" or "musts", and there isn't  that thing of getting a bit stuck on what is written… I can let myself go completely, and that feeling has no comparison whatsoever with anything else. When expectations disappear, when time gets suspended and space is not a place anymore and all there is is nothing… except for that musical communion… it's truly magic, beautiful stuff!

But all music is valid, of course, and I do like to play written music. The "Impermanence" project is all music written by me for this specific band. It was recorded within a Jazz Association in Porto, Porta-Jazz, and except for Torbjörn Zetterberg, all the musicians are living in Porto and are part of this association. There's also a lot of improvisation and I've tried to find open spaces within the structures so everyone could express themselves freely. It's not easy to find this balance between composition and improvisation and for me it's just a work in progress so far.

"If Nothing Else" is an album I really enjoy listening to, which is normally something hard for me to do! It's improvised music but with a great sense of structure and development within each song. And that's what can be so beautiful in an improvised piece of music, that all the notions of composed music, like the development of an idea, theme and variations, counterpoint, leitmotifs, dynamics, question-and-answer phrasing, different layers, textures, and so on, can just happen spontaneously, in the moment.

Free Jazz Collective : You seem to like duets, as with Torbjörn Zetterberg or with Jorge Queijo. And we look forward to your new album with Kaja Draksler. What is so special about the duet for you? 

Susana Santos Silva : A duet is a one-on-one conversation type of meeting, that's quite special and intimate. It's two people discovering one another in a very direct and beautiful way and with no one else in between, so there's nowhere to hide. It's also very challenging musically and technically. I like to connect that way with other musicians and I like the challenge.

Free Jazz Collective : Who were your role models in music/trumpet-playing? And what are the key learnings you have from them?

Susana Santos Silva : This is always a tough question to answer… There are too many to name, and for so many different reasons, that I always skip to name any. But what I learned with all of my favorite musicians through history, is that what is really important is that I tell my own story. As a musician I'm a mix of many different influences from all kinds of music and musicians, as well as from life itself and everything that surrounds me. But when it's time to step on stage to tell my story it's my voice that comes out of my horn. I could never tell someone else's story.

Free Jazz Collective : What would you like to achieve? What is your ambition with your music and with your trumpet playing? What would you like people to say about your music in 2115? 

Susana Santos Silva : I'm a perfectionist and very ambitious, two things that might work against me and the relaxed life I would like to live. I would like to do so many things, there's one million projects in my mind all the time. 

Yet I don't feel like I need to achieve anything specific really. I'm living an amazing life right now. I'm playing, I'm living from it. I am meeting wonderful people around the world and I can live from my passion! It's not easy, don't get me wrong! It's often hard and complicated but at the same time it's really beautiful! I want to keep doing my thing, experimenting and exploring new paths, new ways of telling my story. 
I don't have any wish whatsoever for people to listen or to talk about my music in the future, honestly. But on the other hand, if people listen to it, now or in 2115, and if I touch people in any way, if my music heals their pains, even for some minutes, if I bring people some joy or hope, or even just a smile, if my music makes someone think out of their ordinary system of thoughts, if my music makes any difference in this world, then I will be extremely happy to be able to give something meaningful back to society!

The various faces of Susana Santos Silva (Day 1)

By Stef

It's amazing how some things suddenly change for people when they're young, and their talent becomes recognised, and it's as if they're hot, and everybody wants to play with them, in various settings and contexts, and it's no different for Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santo Silva, who has been reviewed before on this blog and with high appreciation.

This year, she is even more prolific, with five new albums as a (co-)leader, all five of a totally different nature, including Lama's "The Elephant Journey" which was reviewed earlier this year.

The constant elements are the trumpeter's stellar playing, with a deep and warm sound all her own, even in the more adventurous moments, and with a clear interest in philosophical topics, as we can decode from the song titles.

We start with two albums today, and we will review the two other ones tomorrow, with an interview with the trumpeter somewhere in between.

Susana Santos Silva, Tom Chant & Vasco Trilla - The Paradox of Hedonism (Discordian, 2015) ****½

The "Paradox of Hedonism" is philosophical concept that says that you cannot acquire pleasure or happiness directly, they can only be acquired indirectly. And like this title, the other tracks of the album are all philosophical themes, either related to this paradox, or a little more remote like Nietzsche's "Will To Power". Our friend Wikipedia will tell you more about all this here. Pleasure and happiness are consequences, not objectives.

So what does this mean in musical terms? This is the task of Susanna Santos Silva on trumpet, Tom Chant on tenor and soprano saxophones, and Vasco Trilla on drums and percussion. The interesting thing is that you would expect a very abstract and high brow affair, yet it isn't. It's actually quite the opposite. It's a kind of organic improvisation, like the sound of nature or even better the sound of animals. You can hear them interact in short screams and statements, sometimes angry, sometimes gently, energetic or calm, but actually going nowhere at all. It all takes place in the moment, without clear direction other than what is happening right now, moved forward in reaction to what the other musicians are doing. The sounds are very close to the listener, as if you're part of what's happening, or at least in the middle of it, which makes it both intimate and disconcerting at times.

The result is really excellent, and despite it's obvious lack of accessibility, I also find it the best album of the three reviewed here. All three musicians share the same musical vision and maintain the approach despite the variety of angles by which they attack the concept. It's also relatively unique, which makes it fascinating.

This will not be for everyone's ears, but more than worth exploring for the more adventurous listeners, who will not be disappointed.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Susana Santos Silva, Zetterberg & Lindwall - If Nothing Else (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

The second album is of a totally different nature. These are sounds of great distances, with an unusual line-up of trumpet, bass and organ, played by Susana Santos Silva, Torbjörn Zetterberg and Hampus Lindwall. Santos Silva and Zetterberg will be known to our readers, but Lindwall probably not, at least not to me, and that's because he is mainly a performer of classical contemporary music, and he also is the "titular organist of the Saint-Esprit Church in Paris".

So the sound of great distances, with the trumpet played with as if from the other end of a huge resonating space, with the organ offering an incredible somber and eery depth, and the bass is in between, probably closest to the listener, but equally epic in nature, and can be at times reminiscent of the Scandinavian sound of some ECM albums. It is expansive, open-ended, grand. Yet in contrast to the ECM sound, it has a darkness that is at times uncanny, as on "Atonality", where the muted horn plays a sad improvisation supported by quietly wailing arco bass and the distant organ, that gives a single bass drone and a few sustained chords, and then the whole intense edifice reduces itself to atonal, barely audible sounds.

The album consists of eleven improvisations, and they keep their unique approach to the overall sound and interaction in a very consistent way, often fascinating, daring, and above all mesmerising and moving. Even the last track, "One Note Song", is exactly what it says, yet when the beginning sounds like the sustained sound of a fog horn of a distant ship, the shifts in intensity and timbre turn it into something more somber and devastating, with just one note, just to showcase the vision behind the music and the quality of the three musicians to deliver it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irina-Kalina Goudeva - Triptych #6: Recomenzar El Infinito (CD/DVD, Kadima collective, 2015) ***½

The classically-trained Bulgarian, Copenhagen-based, double bass player Irina-Kalina Goudeva has developed an eclectic aesthetics has led her to experiment with crossovers between Barouque music, contemporary music, avant-garde, jazz, free improvisation, and electronics, often involving other media as dance, reciting poetry, and visual installations. Her triptych release - the sixth in this series of the Jerusalem-based label of Kadima Collective, after previous ones by other innovative double bass players as Mark Dresser, Joëlle Léandre, Tetsu Saitoh and Barre Phillips - offers an insightful overview of her art.

The disc feature seven compositions by modern European composers - Ejnar Kanding, Edith Canat de Chizy, Pierre Jodlowski, Line Tjørnehøj, Mogens Christensen, Jexper Holmen and Bo Jæger - written especially for Goudeva, for her playing the double bass solo or with electronics, solo voice and for her Arild Trio with guitarist George Vassilev and drummer Christophe Fellay. The enclosed booklet offers a thorough description of each composition. Each of these intriguing compositions suggest different sonic textures but all sound as demanding as the intense physical power needed to play the double bass. Still, all are balanced with a moving, delicate simplicity, as if the musician, Goudeva, is dancing with her instrument, tempting it, seducing it and being charmed by its sounds.

“Vola”, for double bass and electronics by Pierre Jodlowski, follows the myth of Icarus and weaves an arresting parallel logic of the transformation of sounds. Noises that suggest sounds of flying bird evolve into sparse notes and light rhythmical patterns, exploring the full sonority of the double bass and extending its palette with clever usage of electronics. The 18-minutes “Echoes from Fragments” for solo double bass by Mogens Christensen, enables Goudeva to demonstrates her rich-genre blind language and her commanding technique, including her unique extended bowing techniques, producing a multifaceted, nuanced texture. She sings with great emotion the poem of Pablo Neruda “En ti la tierra” to the music of Jexper Holmen.

The DVD is divided to compositions that are presented with  animation and motion graphics, created by Casper Øbro, most notably the poem cycle “Landscapes” by Bo Jæger to texts of Danish poet Morten Søndergård, and to compositions that show Goudeva playing live. The latter compositions explore Goudeva unique, highly evocative and sensual holistic approach to performance art.  The theatrical, choreographed “Menada”, after the mythological story about a snake that turned into the goddess Menada, for voice and double bass, written by Bulgarian composer Julia Tsenova for Goudeva, is the most remarkable one. It is a-one-woman show that integrates voice, dance, playing the double bass with visual effects. This compositions show Goudeva dressed with a tight body cloth, entranced in a kind of shamanic ecstatic and sensual ritual with her double bass, as a love object, exploring the instrument timbral spectrum. Her body becomes the sound, celebrating her profound spiritual-sensual connection with the double bass, almost reaching an emotional climax. The trailer to her multimedia theater composition, “Oración Del Fuego” (The fire Prayer), continues this ecstatic vein, but in a much more restrained manner. This composition also relates to the mythological story of Menada, but this time to the times when the goddess renounces her powers and experiencing forms of terrestrial life. Her technical virtuoso playing is highlighted when she leads a string orchestra, playing Astor Piazzolla “Kicho”, written originally for the double bass.

Goudve is a one of a kind performance artist. Her art deserve more attention.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ahleuchatistas - Arrebato (International Anthem, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I've been mesmerized by the fearsome math rockers Ahleuchatistas. The North Carolina based guitar/drum duo of Shane Parish (guitar) and Ryan Oslance (drums) deliver some carefully constructed progressive music, leaning toward the heavier rock side, but still balanced tunefully with space and melody. I had been listening and following along, but somewhere in these carefully constructed twisting passages, I lost count and decide to just go with its flow.

As the collective brain of Wikipedia has it, "math rock is a rhythmically complex, often guitar-based, style of experimental rock and indie rock music that emerged in the late 1980s" - which is why I suppose I am thinking a bit about King Crimson as I listen - "it is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), counterpoint, odd time signatures, angular melodies, and extended, often dissonant, chords."

And that's pretty much what happens here, in fact on the opening track you can hear a puzzle being built, with a catchy looped riff and the drums connecting in unexpected ways. To my ears the duo is far greater than the sum of its parts. Building over loops and tricky rhythmic patterns, the tracks move from the driving (Sundowning) to the anthemic (La Faena) to the prickly (also LaFaena) to metal (Power With) to the down right unusual (Shelter in Place). The precision of their shifting patterns however does not fall into a rut, and the ever morphing patterns keep the music ever in motion.

I never thought I'd take to this type of music, something about the genre seems cold, but Arrebato is an incredible listen - the Ahleuchatistas certainly know how to add it up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Akira Sakata & Jim O’Rourke with Chikamorachi & Merzbow – Flying Basket (Family Vineyard, 2015) ****½

By Joel Barela

Family Vineyard, we thank you. For whatever part you had in gathering these players together. For packaging and distributing this piece. Often, fans of jazz and its many tentacles are spoiled. Never so popular or engaged by the public as other genres, it continues to produce not only competent players but virtuosos; and, given its concentrated talent pool, said players often end up in the same room. That said, there are special units and there are special units.

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. Akira Sakata and Jim O’Rourke (living in Japan for years now) united with the superhuman rhythm section of Darin Gray (double bass & percussion) and Chris Corsano (drums) also known as Chikamorachi. And because that much power and royalty apparently underwhelmed, they also invited Masami Akita, the electro-noise-nik known simply as Merzbow. Recorded at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin in 2014, Flying Basket is indeed a behemoth, but perhaps not the behemoth that you might expect. True, in physical wax form, it takes two records and four sides to completely encompass its nearly 72 minutes. Yes, it’s at times predictably volatile. But, to start, my recommendation is that you attack the piece digitally. Is it worth splurging for the physical LP? Of course. The sound is fantastic; the packaging, superb. But having listened to the piece – a single, monstrous jam – without the interruptions of side flips and needle placements, it’s hard for me to go back. And it’s not my own impatience. It’s the disruption of the record’s immaculate pace. Small disturbances can seem canyon-like when the players are in the midst of reloading for their next eruption or letting Sakata explore in his decisive and rhythmic lines.

We begin.

We get Sakata nearly solo for almost five minutes. Cymbals creep in after portions of the ensemble alternate attempts to scratch into the piece, small tugs, children-on-the-sleeve-of-a-parent tugs. There is no real low end for almost seven minutes. Sakata is persistent and pristine throughout, beautiful even. As a group rumble takes form, Sakata remains completely composed, the center of these centrifugal movements. It is in this initial sweep that Merzbow makes his machines heard. The clicks and hisses threaten to overwhelm Sakata's horn, the bones of the movement upheld through the hornsman's experienced shifts and swift runs. It proves a victory for humanity, cliche as that reads. Programming can compete with composition but seems almost inept when set against the improvisation and free association of the mind, even fed through fingers and lungs and lips. Of course, to be fair, this is Sakata. At fifteen minutes, all components - and especially O'Rourke's guitar - are fully integrated in a full on maelstrom. For a few eruptive minutes, the savagery continues. Midway through the eighteenth minute however, the piece cedes to feedback, signaling the end of the initial sonic sun flare. Bells spice the feedback, as they had with Sakata's original deployment. A minute later, there is near silence. On wax, this would signal the transition of "Part I" to "Part II". But, as I said above, it's near silence, not complete silence. Sure, it's almost peaceful, but wax flips are disruptive even to more meditative moments and this "peace" is the peace of a haunted house.

Eventually, Merzbow's sonics transform this calm into something more laboratory-like. But it doesn't stop. In fact, the "break" doesn't give for nearly eight whole minutes. And even then, scratching strings and Corsano's kit raise the temperature only ever so slightly. Sakata returns near the album's midpoint - spiced by Corsano - and he's now on clarinet. For a few minutes, everything is slightly more jovial. Like it took the two nearly half-an-hour, but the giddiness of rediscovering the other's music finally prevails. Corsano's rolls have a special excitement. Merzbow returns with some "water" for these bones. A stock is rendered. It's reduced. And the ingredients begin to add themselves once more. Many things are masterful here, but perhaps none more so than the patience. The players seem to take quick turns tasting the stock. A pinch more here, a dust there, and some of that more fluid, more lovely Sakata. Until, at 36 minutes in, it's just him for a few staggering weeps.

And we’re halfway through.
In the opening moments of the piece's second half, O'Rourke presents his own take on the blues, dismantled and stretched until its joints crack. Merzbow accentuates with notes that sound as if they've come from a field recording of a workshop. Around 44 minutes in, Corsano attempts to push the pace. O'Rourke, however, is resolute. This dissonance would be enough, a near perfect balance, but Sakata returns and erects another sonic sculpture on this landscape. As it did earlier in the piece, Sakata's playing invigorates Merzbow into a chase; again, a losing cause, as Sakata's creativity is simply too much for a machine, but a chase with enough hands to grab the rest of the band and pull them into another eruption. O'Rourke is particularly inspired. In fact, it is his playing that finally forces Sakata into an about face. Anyone familiar with O'Rourke's work with Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi may have seen this coming. Yes, he plays bass in that ensemble, but the man obviously takes notes. The burst is short though; and minutes later, it's Sakata alone again.

This essentially begins Part IV.

Each time Sakata solos, it seems the exact right treat at the exact right moment, but it's this five minute solo that brings us to the doorstep of the hour-mark and truly makes you crave the room. To see this bit of music in person must have been special. In the album's final thrust, Merzbow makes his presence more belligerent than at any other point on the record. And, with just over eight minutes remaining, a voice appears. It’s Sakata, and he’s screaming. In the liner notes, he is credited with playing the alto sax, clarinet and "throat." I couldn't reduce his violent howls to any one descriptor any better. Family Vineyard's site also nails its description of O'Rourke's playing in these final furious minutes, saying that he "bleeds his guitar of all melody." Sure, an end-all explosion where all players sound like they’re trying to melt their instruments is a tad predictable, but no less expected than Sakata showing up to these sessions with a horn. Point being, it’s just better than other explosions. Even if the others weren’t titans in their own rights - not to diminish their contributions – this would be worth grabbing. It’s almost incomparable to hear a monster like Sakata begin the final movement of a 72 minute piece with a solo so beautiful before screaming a lung out and laying the whole damn thing to rest. If you’ve got an hour and then some to spare, grab a drink and let this thing do its work. Hell, make time for this. You can even keep the drink. It may take an hour to hear his actual voice, but Akira Sakata is calling, and you really should listen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Achim Kaufmann - Later (Pirouet Records, 2015) ***½

By Martin Schray

Achim Kaufmann is one of the most under-estimated musicians in the jazz world, something he has in common with one of his mentors, Georg Graewe. But this might change now since Kaufmann was awarded the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Prize, apart from the SWR Jazz Prize Germany’s most prestigious prize in jazz (although it comes along with only €15,000 this is hardly anything compared to prizes like the MacArthur Fellowship and its $265,000).

Along with the prize Kaufmann has released his new solo album Later, which consists of cover versions of some of his idols (Ellington, Monk, Nichols etc.) and his own compositions - and compared to his work so far it is a very accessible recording.

It has been one of the major characteristics of Kaufmann’s music that he has always explored free spaces within the compositions - and he has always done that in a very unagitated way. That’s why he often falls back to the music of Herbie Nichols, the master of the break and intricate harmonies as stylistic devices. Kaufmann adopts the swing of the Nichols compositions but adds a certain melancholy to it (“Shuffle Montgomery“), or he combines it with a Hans Eisler tune (“Portrait of Ucha/In den Weiden“) which works surprisingly well. But Kaufmann is also a man who thinks out of the box, which is why he has chosen two pop songs as well - just to interpret them in his very own way: First he derives Syd Barrett’s “Dominoes“ of all psychedelic faintness turning it into a romantic ballad and then he stresses the desperation and the need to change in Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue“.

Kaufmann plays free music in a way which has nothing to do with free jazz, as the German weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT put it, by letting the chords and the single notes breathe. He manages to create an exciting kaleidoscope of music which lives from a very dense atmosphere which even reminds of the better Keith Jarrett albums, it is music for the very early hours of the day - for the blue hours.

Kaufmann, who is actually closer to harsher, more adventurous music (think of his marvelous projects like SKEIN, Grünen, AAA or his duo with Michael Moore, whose composition “Dave“ is also on this album), reaches out for a bigger audience with this album. It would be nice if he succeeded with this attempt. He deserved it.

Later is available on CD and as a download.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke - Moon (Double Review)

Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke - Moon (NoBusiness, 2015) ***

By Stefan Wood

Karl Berger and Kirk Knuffke's collaborative double CD effort, Moon, is a contemplative album of moody and thoughtful duets, trumpet and vibes (or on occasion, piano), mostly low key, using silence as their third partner in making the music. It is a result of a newly made friendship, formed while working in different groups for a tribute concert for Ed Blackwell.

The music has the trumpet and vibes at times in close pairing, Knuffke's trumpet in a muted medium register while the vibes occupies a natural high tone. At other moments they play off of one another, quietly sketching intricate textures, almost abstract ballads. While this may seem intriguing, that there are two discs of this mode of playing may test some listener's patience. There is a sameness to many of the tracks, especially on the first disc. What breaks it, thankfully, is a wonderfully upbeat and boppish "This is What We're Thinking," a duet of trumpet and harmonica, and the final track on the first disc, "Travel East," which has a Thelonious Monk like devilishness to it, a wicked theme that is created, then broken down and extrapolated by each instrument. The second disc has Berger playing more piano than vibes, which changes the playing dynamics slightly, as Knuffke stretches out a little more in his improvisations while Berger maintains a percussive grounding. It also intensifies the dreaminess to the sound, as in the excellent "Terrace and Trees." 

Make no mistake -- Moon is a very low key album, but full of calm, sonic flavors that engage an attentive listener. While I think the album would have been better as just a single disc, Moon showcases the talents of two artists from different generations in an intelligent and very creative musical discussion.

Karl Berger & Kirk Knuffke - Moon (NoBusiness, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I agree with my colleague Stefan's review, Moon is an intelligent and creative musical discussion, however, for me it is the quietness of the album that I find absolutely absorbing.

Maybe it is my state of mind, I am sitting here at my computer, close to midnight, finishing up some projects, I've had a glass of wine, and somehow, despite the din of the day and damage it wreaks, I am calm, and this recording has been playing in my iTunes for a while now ... its sumptuous space acting like a cradle for the thoughts that have leaked from my head.

Throughout the recording Knuffke's tone is spot on, his cornet has an edge to it that provides an excellent contrast to the softness. Berger, whether on piano or vibes, provides splashes of sound, hints of chords, fragments of melodies to give the cornet somewhere to go. Neither musician overtly leads, perhaps somehow they are both following, reaching a destination that they both eventually had in mind. I am not sure how much is composed and how much is free improvisation, but it hardly matters. The fluidity and confidence of these players, secure in their abilities and open in their communication, create a quiet delight on Moon.

Free Jazz on Air - Friday, Nov 13 (Listen Now!)

Free Jazz on Air Update: Listen here until Friday

This session is entitled "Black Gold" and is about vinyl, labels that produce vinyl, and the recent boom of the format.

Contains music of the Alexander Schlippenbach Septet, Frank Lowe Quartet, Convergence Quartet, Stefan Keune/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble, Gush, and Baloni.

Co-hosted by Martin Schray, will be broadcasting this coming Friday at 11 p.m. on German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

Martin will be joining host Julia Neupert on air for another hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this session is entitled "Black Gold" and will be about vinyl, labels that produce vinyl, and the recent boom of the format. They will be discussing new albums, re-issues and new albums with older material.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mostly Other People Do the Killing - Hannover (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015) ****

As many have noted during the years, Mostly Other People Do the Killing are a band that, while really enjoyable to listen through the medium of recorded music, come fully into their own during concerts. It’s on these occasions, in small clubs and intimate venues, that the listeners get to experience the unfiltered and unhinged impact of Moppa Elliott’s idiosyncratic vision, his often ingenious compositions, and the improvisations that Peter Evans (trumpet), Jon Irabagon (saxophone), Kevin Shea (drums, electronic effects), and Elliott himself (double bass) twist and twirl around the composed guidelines. Their approach is rooted in the past but open to the present and sometimes childishly anxious to explore the future.

Hannover captures one of the quartet’s performances from early 2014 in Hannover, Germany. It’s a recording, rich in tone and with well-placed auditive cues, that both provides a snapshot of the group’s live performances and sublimates their whole career. Because of that, to talk about Hannover is to talk about this band’s entire output. In that regard, Hannover once again demonstrates how Mostly Other People Do the Killing are an ensemble that feels and understands jazz, a collective of musicians that insist on imbuing their music with a jovial and contemporary sense, dismissing mainstream ideas of jazz as evergreen-laden, immutable, and dust covered music. Not an echo of an age long gone nor a relict of the past, but a live and alive music that simultaneously questions and cherishes its traditions and heritage.

Hannover works as a fairly good approximation of the group’s live energy, as much as realistically possible for a static representation of music. The feeling of authenticity is augmented by the arrangements of the tracks which are, as is customary for Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s shows, segmented into sets and suites that flow from one composition to another, interrupted, broken into pieces, and punctuated by solo escapades and amusing detours. The result? A record that feels fragmented by the very nature of the band, yet cohesive despite the apparent disregard for structure. One segment might begin with the musicians indulging in pure swing, hard-bop or even cool jazz, but will then, on a whim, start breaking under the stress of subtly invasive anachronisms - electronic effects, solos, and improvisations akin to the aesthetics of contemporary jazz and electroacoustic music. It takes but a few beats for the musicians to jump from the honest enthusiasm of exploring jazz’s standard phrases to the deconstruction and subversion of those same licks. Yet, in all of this apparent chaos, with the group not afraid to visit pop and rock idioms, purposefulness and new structures emerge.

Between the uncharacteristically characteristic groove and melody on “Pen Argyl / Ulysses At Troy / Andover / Blue Ball / Effort, Patience, Diligence” and the sparkly climax on “My Delightful Muse / Hideaway / A Night In Tunisia”, Hannover gives us a chance to experience time and again the mischievous attitude exposed through Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s individual and collective explorations and the constant dichotomies of modern jazz, improvised music, and well-known jazz traditions.