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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Berlin ... and Beyond

By Paul Acquaro

This set of reviews began with a working title of 'Berlin!', but as time went on, the scope crept ... 

Gebhard Ullmann's Basement Research - Hat and Shoes (Between the Lines, 2015) ****½

An absolute gem, this album is from way back in 2015, and to only get to it now is a bit of a crime on my part. Gebhard Ullman, a woodwind player who splits his time between Berlin and New York, has had this project Basement Research since the early 90s. The group's most recent incarnation is saxophonist Julian Argüelles, trombonist Steve Swell, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and drummer Gerald Cleaver.

The songs are complex, but also whimsical, and straddle a line between free and composed. From the opener 'Trinidad Walks', which starts with an atmospheric drum passage leads into an upbeat looping melody played by both sax and trombone. Tension is created by countermelody and percussive polyrhythms and leads finally to a well-defined section of free playing. 'Wo bitte geht's zu den Hackeschen Höfen' Picks up with a frantic melody that then intersperses extra-musical sounds with contrasting tempos.

While I could go on, it may be best to simply say Hat and Shoes is a cohesive and brilliantly executed set from Ullman. Swell's thoughtful and joyful work on trombone (check out the intro to 'Flutist with Basement Research'), along with Niggenkemper's powerful bass lines and Cleaver's inventive drumming make this a truly enjoyable album.

Fusk - Sieben Acht Gute Nacht (Fortune, 2015) ****

German woodwind player Rudi Mahall first came to my attention at a Globe Unity show in Potsdam, Germany a few years ago. Then, I was able to catch him playing with both Die Enttäuschung and Soko Steidle. In all settings his playing stands out - typically he's on bass clarinet and his playing is effusive, melodic and passionate. Following these groups led me to his excellent woodwind leaning group Fusk.

Fusk features bassist Andreas Lang, drummer Kasper Tom Christiansen, saxophonist Philipp Gropper, and Mahall. This recording on Fortune, Sieben Acht Gute Nacht (Seven Eight Good Night) follows two previous albums on the Why Play Jazz label and features versions of the charts that appear on those albums. But of course, at any given performance, a tune will change, often morphing into something altogether different. Take for example the track 'Music 1.0', the knotty and akimbo head of the song is played pretty much like the track on their studio recording 'Super Kaspar', but as the move into the meaty improv section, the night takes them in new directions.

To my ears, Fusk's music is comparable to the classic model of free jazz laid out by Ornette Coleman - catchy, often tricky melodic lines and up-tempo tunes that will spin off in different directions, but always adhere to an internal logic.

This live recording, made in Warsaw at Pardon in 2012 captures the band in excellent form.

Soko Steidle - Played Ellington (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015) ****

Perhaps one of Berlin's busiest drummers, Oliver Steidle's own group Soko Steidle has released several albums on Jazzwekstatt over the years. His group contains - barely - the ebullient bass clarinet work of Rudi Mahall, saxophonist Henrick Waldsdorf and bassist Jan Roder.

SOKO is an acronym is German that stands for 'special command', a police investigative unit. However, Steidle's group here is not really investigating Duke Ellington's songbook that deeply - perhaps they all have indeed played Ellington before, but aside from playing with the song titles, this long-standing group is doing what it does best: playing an energetic brand of free jazz.

Don't expect a big band sound or even that swinging of an approach. Here the 'Take the A Train', becomes 'Took the A-Tain' and it has certainly switched tracks. Ostensibly mashed up with the Moods - both indigo and sentimental - the whole title here is "Took the 'A' Train / Mut Indigo / In a Sentimental Mut," one will be a bit lost trying to hear the original songs, but feeling the connection is easy. With squiggly melodic lines and a constant and infectious pulse, the group simply makes great music. Mahal and Waldorf are always inventive, playing off of each other's ideas, Roder an anchor and Steidel a brilliant instigator.

It isn't your real book's 'Take The A-Train', rather, this is a free date that highlight the deep affinity and musical conception that these players share.

Ganelin Trio Priority - Solution (Fortune, 2015) ****

I first encountered the Ganelin Trio at the Jazzwerkstatt Peitz festival - at an afternoon concert in the church in the middle of the historic East German town. Skirting the edges of free improvisation and classical, for me, the trio's riveting set was the perfect introduction. Vyacheslav Ganelin is a veteran pianist who resides in Israel and his current trio,  Ganelin Trio Priority consists of Ganelin on keys, Petras Vysniauskas on saxophone, and - here's the other German connection - Klaus Kugel on drums. 

The trio has a big, flowing sound and the simultaneous playing of piano and synthesizer fleshes out the sound even more, with washes of texture and color filling in all the gaps. Tracks like 'Solution part 2' feature dense sections of the trio playing full at full force, augmented by electronic textures. The rhythmic punctuating in part 2 contrary nicely with the legato crescendos in part 4, which is all carried nicely by Vysniauskas's melodic sax.

The album was recorded on November 13th, 2010 at the Zoglau3 – Raum für Musik club in Taubenbach / Reut (Germany)

Excellent music!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra – self-titled (Discrepant, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

The fusion of progrock and free jazz seems to be the flavor of the season, albums combining elements of these genres have sprung up like mushrooms recently. Just have a look at Spinifex’s latest albums Veiled and Maximus, Krokofant’s II, Nels Cline Singers’ Macroscope, Sax Ruins’Blimmguass, Svenska Kaput’s Suomi or Slalom’s Wunderkamera. Eventhe pre-listenings of the new Fire! Orchestra album Ritual suggest such a style mix.

Back in 2009 Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra was founded by members of punk rockers Scrambled Eggs, world-music experimentalists Mayadeen and the free improv A Trio. The new project immediately released its debut Beach Party at Mirna el-Chalouhi, which was consequently a crude amalgam of punk, krautrock and free jazz elements.

On the band’s new self-titled album the focus of the music has shifted towards more composed elements even if there is a lot of space for improvisation parts. Or as the info sheets suggests: more control that may allow more freedom. The nucleus of the band consists of Charbel Haber (g), Tony Elieh (b), Raed Yassin (keyboards and synth), Malek Rizkallah (dr) and Lebanese star trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, who can also be heard on all kinds of different instruments like plastic trombone, mizmar and crackle synth. The result is a real eclectic collection of styles.

Nevertheless, there are certain elements that are characteristic of the music on this album and one of these ingredients is repetition. Often the bass plays minimal riffs (“Feed the Hostage“), arpeggios (“Bedo’s Lullaby“) or drones (“In Praise of Habra“) again and again, sometimes the organ and guitar support these riffs with similar lines. The other main ingredient are the various sound colors which are scattered into the brew. Especially in “Bedo’s Lullaby“ weird synthesizer splitters, broken guitar chords, helicopter sounds, lost vibraphone notes and trumpet croaking create a noisy ambient universe, while in “In Praise of Habra“ an uncomfortable atmosphere of spookiness and gloom is conjured.

On “BBQ in Karantina“, a bonus track which is not on the vinyl version (but on the download), organ and drums dominate, in general the track is a feedback rock explosion that reminds of psychedelic rock bands of the early 1970s. This impression is intensified by the best track, “Feed the Hostage“. Here Mazen Kerbaj’s trumpet flows elegantly over the psychedelic haze of open guitar chords and transparent drumming. However, the piece changes in the last part, when a Deep Purple riff, which clearly reminds of “Child In Time“, starts to dominate and the mizmar (an Arabic reed instrument) even imitates Ian Gillan’s vocals.

Of the many genre combinations which have been released lately, this is one of my favorites. Last but not least one further point deserves particular mention: The front cover is a funny cartoon of a cowboy butcher slicing a large kebab. The inside if the vinyl gatefold cover presents the band in a slaughterhouse in front of a freshly butchered cow. The photo calls in mind Hermann Nitsch’s Theater of Orgies and Mysteries. Not everybody’s cup of tea. But I’m a vegetarian anyway.

Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra’s self-titled second album is available on vinyl (limited edition) and as a download.

Listen to parts of the album here:

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Virginia Genta, David Vanzan, Dag Stiberg, John Wesseltoft – Det Kristike Punkt (2015, Feeding Tube Records) ****

By JA Besche 

Virginia Genta & David Vanzan form the musical collaboration known as Jooklo Duo, often playing as a drums and tenor duo, but regularly branching out to include others, with their arrangements going from trio to up to octet and beyond.  They are either the most psychedelic jazz band in the world, or the jazziest psychedelic band, and only a handful of their releases could be placed in one category alone (Where Has Jazz Gone? Is a great one if you want to catch their jazzier side, Peaceful Messages is a good one for the psychedelic feel).  This record touches on a lot of different things, and the Jooklos seem to be in a more supportive role here.

John Wesseltoft is another musician who jumps around genres, but is at his core is a (free) improviser.  I had come to know him from his work with C. Spencer Yeh and Okkyung Lee, if that tells you anything.  Here he plays a very loose version of electric guitar.

And finally there is Dag Stiberg, and this was my introduction to him.  A Norwegian altoist, Stiberg’s online bios have him playing in a number of bands that range from free improv, metal, psychedelia, to noise.  As such, he is what we would think of as the post-jazz/modern saxophonist, and from what I can tell this record most reflects his approach to improvisation.

I say that because the record title, “Det Kristike Punkt” is Norwegian, just like Stiberg.  Also, he seems to be given the lead on most of the album, with the intenseness of the recording seeming to fit very nicely into his discography.

Det Kristike Punkt means “The Critical Point” in English, and I think this record takes that idea to the extreme.  Rather than being that one moment that everything builds to, that moment of urgency, it is stretched and expanded, repeated and deconstructed.  It’s not a single moment here, but rather a continuous flow of equally critical points, an instant and sustained immediacy.

The opener demonstrates this ably.  Vanzan is lightly playing the cymbals, creating a kind of rolling, continuous drum din, and before you know it, Stiberg starts attacking the air with pointed, choked notes.  His improvisational style here is harsh in general, with him seeming to take a deep a breath as possible before sending out a deluge of notes into the world, until his lungs say, “enough!”, at which point he takes a break to re-inflate and goes right back into it.  It sounds exhausting, and of course it is noisy, and because of the high register he is playing it is harsh, but that is not to say it is without technique.  I would not say it is melodic, but it is tonal, and it does establish a hypnotic repeated pattern that sucks you in.  Aside from Ayler, I can’t think of many free jazz artists that used repetition techniques in their solos, but Stiberg is not just a free jazz artist.  It is reminiscent of the layered techniques of repetition used in psychedelic and experimental music, with a harder, freer edge.  The guitar comes in and it is a dirty, fuzzy tone, often played with both sustained and piercing notes, or as a furious, repetitive stream.  Genta’s tenor starts to add counterpoints with its languid, lyrical phrasing.  As some of the other instruments become undiscernible from each other, Genta’s sax sounds like a tugboat sounding its horn through the fog.  It borders on overstuffed at some points, but as described, the instruments all play different roles, helping to distinguish what is going on and creating very purposeful collective improvisation.  It’s not just everyone playing like maniacs over top of each other, but that happens sometimes too, thankfully). 

This is the basic framework for the record, though it also features moments of more third-stream type playing, where Genta picks up a melodica and develops great interplay with Stiberg on his Khene (a sort of pan flute looking instrument).  There is a lot of sparseness, especially in comparison to the jam-packed sections, with some well taken moments of silence.  It also further confirmed to me what a talented drummer Vanzan is, picking up the percussion and sleigh bells and just laying down a thick atmosphere of percussive sound for the others to traipse through.  The Jooklos being the artists I am most familiar with, I can also say that Genta’s saxophone technique has definitely developed and expanded since I started listening to them, and I am impressed with the playing on this record.  Wesseltoft also can make his guitar sound like whatever he wants, with floating, almost ambient and barely strummed walls of texture throughout the quieter parts.  Stiberg also shows range, by going from the choked, repetitive soloing to longer, less powerful but more dynamic playing, and of course shows even more range in taking on different instruments and styles.  His improvjazzmetalpsychedelicnoisesaxmadman reputation I read about online definitely comes across here.

So, I highly recommend this record, but with the caveat that you better like your jazz noisey, or your
metal jazzy, or your mellow harsh.  I could say that it lacks composition, or the solos aren’t defined, but that would be unfair to the spirit of the adventure.  The ideas do seem to run short, and the way it is put together seems like a serious of vignettes that aren’t really related, but in those moments of infinite critical points, it does exactly what it intends to do, without any restriction or limits, and by god is it cathartic.

Monday, March 28, 2016

LOK 03+1 (Alexander von Schlippenbach / Aki Takase / DJ Illvibe / PaulLovens) - Signals (Trost, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

LOK 03 is the family unit of master German pianists-composers Alexander von Schlippenbach, his wife Aki Takase, and Alex’s son Vincent von Schlippenbach, aka DJ Illvibe who plays on turntables and sampling keyboard, together with von Schlippenbach's frequent collaborator for more than four decades in the Schlippenbach Trio and Globe Unity Orchestra, drummer Paul Lovens. LOK 03 recorded its self-titled debut a decade ago (Leo Records, 2005), an imaginary soundtrack to the 1927 avant-garde silent film of Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstad (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City), a cinematic profile of a one day in the vibrant Berlin. This album created a unique busy and restless tapestry of sound referencing free jazz and hip-hop.
Now the star-scattered cover and the pieces titles suggest another imaginary soundtrack to some futuristic sci-fi thriller. The 16 pieces highlight the masterful and highly literate interplay of von Schlippenbach, Takase - both performing and recording frequently as a team, their last recording is So Long Eric! - Homage to Eric Dolphy (Intakt, 2014) - and Lovens colliding with DJ Illvibe irreverent ideas that subvert and deconstructs these experienced improvisers attempts to form any notion of common pulse or narrative. Von Schlippenbach, Takase and Lovens respond immediately to the sonic challenges of DJ Illvibe, force him to adapt his wild ideas to a loose texture or narrative. It happens when Lovens charges “Animal Gun” cartoonish soundscape with an ironic rhythm, when DJ Illvibe adapts a poetic child-like sculpting of brass sounds to a gentle piano texture on “Animals Exodus” or when he attempts to push the linear course of the piano duet of von Schlippenbach and Takase backwards with manic alien sounds on “Curved”.
What may sound as a recipe for an anarchic and chaotic stew of eccentric sounds gains its own logic after few pieces. It may be be due to the kindred familiar spirit, the modest genius of von Schlippenbach, Takse and Lovens as well as their resourceful improvisation instincts of all four musicians but these are only speculations. The four improvisers simply create their own common ground, in a true Cageian spirit, where all sounds are beautiful, all sounds find resonance in each other ideas, extending and expanding these colorful ideas.
By now pieces like “Waterrun (Part 1)” shine with its weird quiet beauty, “Robot Attack” with its feverish rhythmic attack and “The Laboratory of Dr. Mabuse” (referencing the mysterious villain in Fritz Lang movies) with its unworldly tension-filled cinematic soundscape, all with arresting form of interplay. You cannot but admire von Schlippenbach, soon 78 years old, Takase, ten years younger, and Lovens, a year younger than Takase, and DJ Illvibe, for their daring spirit to experiment and rebel with and against any form, genre, style or convention.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Harris Eisenstadt - Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Coming from the sonic cohesion of Canada Day IV’s atmospheres and textures, Old Growth Forest is decidedly more diverse. After taking a quick look at the song titles, that’s perhaps to be expected: each piece is named after a particular kind of tree, with one track alluding to a specific national park, “Big Basin.” An “old growth forest” is a forest that has been left untouched, a place that has been allowed to follow its own natural course, without interruption. It’s a fitting analogy for the music here. There’s a lot of variety in this recording, and a sense of unimpeded flow; like a forest with its myriad specimens, this album has parts that swing, parts that groove, parts that confound, and parts that astound.

“Larch” launches us right into the woods, bouncing along on a sunny theme that steadily gets more tangled and knotted. It’s a brief jaunt, however - with the next piece, “Pine,” Roebke’s solid bass work and Jeb Bishop’s gurgling trombone introduce us to a world that is markedly more dim-lit and abstract. The central melody is carried by Roebke, but it intermittently drops out to allow the players to engage in hesitant, stop-and-start exchanges with one another. Eisenstadt is especially crucial for the success of this beguiling tune: he exhibits a careful mastery over the direction of the piece, occasionally settling into a groove, occasionally clattering out shapes that, despite their loose nature, remain incredibly well-structured. The Clean Feed website notes that, for this album, “some written material was prepared only to define a unified identity to the music, and everything else was kept open.” That kind of organized chaos is in ample evidence here, and it’s one of the qualities that makes this group so exciting to listen to.

“Redwood” finds the group bound together in a tight-knit tempo, one that speeds up and slows down in near-imperceptible gradations. Malaby and Bishop sometimes join together in lock-step, and sometimes they wind around each other like two vines crisscrossing their way up the same mottled trunk. “Spruce” is considerably more relaxed; Roebke lays out a pulsing, insistent rhythm, and Eisenstadt buttresses that with his own unhurried cadence.

In “Big Basin,” Bishop and Malaby have the opening word, and they take that opportunity to flitter and whirl around each other in captivating spirals. Listening to these two and their interactions never becomes tiring; like the legendary late-1970’s duo of Anthony Braxton and George Lewis, they maintain a keep rapport with one another - sometimes exact, sometimes queasily (and compellingly) off-center.

This album is an excellent demonstration of “jazz-as-play.” Four musicians, four brains, all working together to find a common ground and produce a unified sound - but they never get stuck in the mire of predictability and predetermination. The structures are not there to constrain the players, but to inspire them and give them “roots.” Like massive redwoods, after the roots have settled in the soil, these four aim for the sky - and, on Old Growth Forest, they largely succeed.

Available from Instant Jazz and Downtown Music Gallery.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Free Jazz on Air returns April 1st! (no joke)

Free Jazz on Air is an hour long conversation (in German) on free jazz. The show is co-hosted by Martin Schray and Julia Neupert and is broadcasting this coming Friday at 11 p.m. on German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

The topic this time is "Free Jazz in Exile" and it will feature music by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Dikeman, Ingrid Laubrock, Karl Berger/Kirk Knuffke and others."

Sounds like it'll be another excellent one of a kind broadcast - check it out online for the week after it runs!

Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day IV (Songlines, 2015) ****

By Derek Stone

Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day group has been active for seven years now, and in that time they’ve managed to release several albums of idiosyncratic, hybridized jazz. Although the pieces are undoubtedly composed, the structures are spacious, and the pace is unhurried - the individual players have ample time to explore the architecture, investigate avenues of interest, and stamp everything with their own singular marks.

Since 2006, the general configuration of the group hasn’t changed much: while one release in 2012 utilized an octet, the plainly-titled Canada Day releases stick with a quintet, consisting of drums, vibraphone, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and bass. Only the last instrument has seen any personnel changes: from Eivind Opsvik on the first two recordings, to Garth Stevenson on the third, to the illustrious Pascal Niggenkemper on this, the fourth. I admit that I was excited to see his name listed in the credits; his work with Joe Herteinstein and Thomas Heberer on the HNH albums (reviewed here and here) is absolutely superb, alternating between free-flowing fluidity and taut, groove-ridden propulsion. As for the other members, there is Chris Dingman on vibraphone, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, and Eisenstadt himself on percussion.

In the opening piece, “After Several Snowstorms,” Niggenkemper doesn’t waste any time in showcasing his bold bass-work. Along with Eisenstadt, he provides the solid ground upon which the other members of the group can carry out their varied excursions. Chris Dingman’s vibraphone tones are airy and enigmatic, lending a near-cinematic quality to the proceedings. Basking in this noirish radiance, saxophonist Matt Bauder and trumpeter Wooley stretch out, get comfortable, and thread their winding, sinuous lines throughout the composition. Wooley is always a pleasure to listen to, with a style rooted in raw physicality and, at times, sheer abrasion. He never goes too far out with this group, however - just enough to keep things fresh and engaging.

“Sometimes It’s Hard to Get Dressed in the Morning” is an ethereal dreamscape, bathed in Dingman’s rich, euphonious phrases. Listening to this piece is akin to squinting at a snow-capped mountain-range, sunlight flooding the scene in indistinct washes; the finer details get submerged, but the overall impression is one of majesty and sublime beauty. “Let’s Say It Comes in Waves” finds Niggenkemper propping everything up with yet another solid groove. Meanwhile, Wooley and Bauder deliver some of their most exploratory lines yet, Wooley moving from dizzying cascades to caustic swathes of sound, and Bauder matching him with his sputtering exhalations.

If I don’t seem to be paying much attention to Eisenstadt, it’s because he’s such an unostentatious leader. He doesn’t draw much attention to himself, opting instead to undergird the compositions with his reliable, unwavering rhythms and textures. Suffice it to say, he’s a versatile percussionist with a great deal of stylistic flexibility - he swings, he billows, he rattles, and he rolls. In many ways, Eisenstadt and Niggenkemper are the anchors of this group, keeping the whole ship afloat while the others explore more uncharted territory.

“Life’s Hurting Passage Onward” is distinguished by an extended solo from Wooley - but this ain’t your grandpa’s trumpet solo. Wooley spits, scratches, and skronks, turning his instrument into something like an extension of his own body; it’s not a tool to be utilized, but an attachment, a limb or tract that is prone to febrile convulsions and inexplicable outbursts. For those familiar with Wooley’s work, it won’t come as a shock, but it’s certainly interesting to hear these kinds of timbres and textures in such a (relatively) subdued context.

“What Can Be Set to the Side” ups the tempo and puts Dingman in the spotlight. Here, he goes a little wild, temporarily doing away with the wide-scale resplendence of the other tracks and producing wild flurries with his vibes. Towards the end of the piece, the other members join in, and what we get is a fun, frenetic romp that livens things up a bit.

The final piece, “Meli Melo,” is a perfect way to wrap up the album: it encapsulates everything this group does well - the solid rhythms, the atmosphere, the textures, the tantalizing hints of’s all there.

All in all, this is a more-than-worthy inclusion in Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day recordings, and it might very well be the best.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Invisible Guy - Knuckle Sandwich (BAG, 2016) ***1/2

By Joel Barela

A word from Ben Goldberg on practice:

"Steve Lacy suggested learning all the notes through a systematized and methodical study of intervals, at first outside of tonal context, then puzzling out the possible tonal contexts.  He said that he developed the idea from writings or comments by Stravinsky.  Joe Lovano suggested taking a chord sequence (for example the blues) and playing it in all twelve keys every day.  Eventually I stumbled upon a rubato approach -- playing in meter but not in tempo -- that allows time to stretch to accommodate my slow mind.  Somewhere along the way Charlie Hunter suggested at a clinic we were doing 'put down the guitar and play drums for a year,' to strengthen the groove.  This led me to try to learn a way of playing drums and clarinet at the same time, so that the groove comes first."

Goldberg doesn't play the drums on this record - the sticks belong to Hamir Atwal here - but the emphasis on the creation of more "fluent melody" in Goldberg's improvisations and especially on groove materialize here in almost "rockish" quantities.  Knuckle Sandwich is certainly a noddable listen, but its title is a tad misleading.  Never as violent or heavy as it might immediately suggest, the record actually contains joyous music that seems joyously made.

Evidence comes immediately, as Goldberg blows out of the gate in 1 Through 8 with an arpeggiated riff repeated with the aforementioned mind to respecting and growing the groove.  Michael Coleman - on keys - fires some dissonant chords that remind me a bit of Ryan Ferreira's textural work on last year's Snake Oil offering, Lost In Reading.  The trio deconstructs the melody and appears to bang around the pieces a bit in short examination before the piece coalesces into a near-rock number, Goldberg's impressive fluidity on full display.  Follow-up, 9 = 2, seems to reveal a bit of Goldberg's musical past - particularly his former ensemble play with Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich, as the track could easily (in both length and style) be a Deerhoof cut.

Hocus Pocus - retroactively named no doubt - sounds like a boardwalk magician's cheap conjurings - for a bit that is.  For all their abruptness, Goldberg's phrases are surprisingly lyrical.  Coleman's stabs again provide some necessary counterpoint.  They're especially effective when mirroring Goldberg's theme.  When they collide more fully toward song's end, the effect is almost psychedelic and one of the record's high points.  Citizen's Arrest finds Coleman at the piano.  The interplay here with Goldberg's clarinet screams of film scores and Gershwin.  However, without the full symphonic support, even the courageous playing falls a tad short of resolution.  Prelude to a Prelude is more interesting in title than in practice.  It stinks of nature, all waterlogged notes and dead keys, a gust of wind, and finally, appropriately, a sunrise.

Travels slogs a tad after Prelude to a Prelude, but Cold Weather and AMR follow with some of the record's most beautiful, inspired playing.  9+5 concludes and delivers the punches hinted at all along (and delivered in spots on Hocus Pocus).  The playing is frenetic and free before Atwal drops into a true plod, a heavy-handed stoner rock pattern.  Coleman and Goldberg follow him out.

Goldberg calling his mind in any way "slow" is almost laughable.  This isn't the most fiery playing I've heard and it's not particularly as furious as I typically prefer my music, but the lyricism and scope of the piece are without question.  The ideas throughout are strong.  I would really like to see the themes created in Hocus Pocus and9+5 examined more fully and expanded, perhaps to a full records.  For now, Coleman and Atwal provide a solid base and Goldberg flies atop, groove ever in his mind.

John Dieterich, Ben Goldberg, Scott Amendola – Short-Sighted Dream Colossus (s/r, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Something striking about clarinetist Ben Goldberg's music is that whatever the setting, his compositions unfold in delightful and unexpected ways. Perhaps unexpected also best describes this trio recording from Goldberg, Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich and frequent Charlie Hunter and Nels Cline collaborator drummer Scott Amendola.

Unexpected in terms of the instrumentation - clarinet, guitar and drums, and in the range of the compositions, and of course, in how the trio jells. The album is a collection of short, tightly composed tunes, that range from light and whimsical (the acoustic guitar supported opener 'Bent Spaces') to abstract and spacious ('Determinate/Indeterminate') to the dense and rockish ('Time for Helmets'). There is always something interesting going on between the often buoyant melodies, propulsive percussion, and visceral guitar.

While this is a 2014 release, and it was recorded in 2010,  it still makes for a nice addition to the other albums by Ben Goldberg reviewed this week.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg – Dialogue (BAG Productions, 2016) ****

By Troy Dostert

For those wanting to hear an expertly crafted, meticulously performed set of intimate improvisations, here you have it.  Pianist Myra Melford and clarinetist Ben Goldberg, who’ve collaborated in the past several years in Melford’s Be Bread ensemble and Goldberg’s Orphic Machine, work together here to produce thirteen remarkably diverse, carefully structured pieces that bear ample testimony to the players’ ability to coalesce in producing a shared musical vision.

Melford has for years distinguished herself as a pianist capable of stunning technical feats on the piano while also offering a sensitive, yearning melodic voice; she can switch instantly from fiery onslaughts to delicate, clarion-like passages.  Here she sticks mostly to a more understated approach, without as many overtly show-stopping gestures, in an effort to seek out points of contact with Goldberg, who is a dynamic and inventive presence on clarinet.  While there seem to be a few freely improvised moments on the record, the overall emphasis is on the players’ compositions.  Five are Goldberg’s, the other eight Melford’s.  It is perhaps a sign of the musicians’ close rapport that the pieces really have the same characteristics: a strong melodic core, with abundant opportunities for Melford and Goldberg to tease out the implications of each tune, but without any wasted notes. There’s no meandering here, waiting for something to emerge; the strong compositions result in pieces that are tightly focused and purposive.

For an album that is so cohesive, there are a number of contrasting stylistic touches.  “Your Life Here” starts with a subtle, almost danceable rhythmic structure just underneath the surface, with Melford’s single-note passages keeping the pulse going throughout and Goldberg offering rhythmic counterpoint, until gradually tapering into a quieter section with Melford’s crystalline arpeggios supporting Goldberg, who develops a beautiful melodic figure to bring the piece to a close.  “The Kitchen” is a more unfettered exploration, displaying Melford’s keyboard scampering and Goldberg’s ability to float above the flurries, in the process getting a chance to develop his own impressive runs.  “Chorale” is a gorgeous, deliberately-paced hymn, showcasing the lyrical side of Melford’s composing.  And for those seeking out examples of each player’s dazzling reach on their instruments, look no further than “City of Illusion,” with razor-sharp upper-register passages from Goldberg and some mighty impressive runs from Melford, with just a bit of that percussive punch that she can offer up whenever she wants to.

For two improvisers who’ve been devoting a lot of their creative energy to group work, this is a potent reminder of the value of scaling things down every once in a while.  There’s much to admire and to savor in this first-rate record.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Albert Ayler – Bells/Prophecy (ESP, 2015)

By Paul Acquaro, with ample help from Martin Schray

Albert Ayler had always been somewhat abstract to me. From my earliest exposure to his music via Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity group to Ayler’s own later albums like New Grass, he was an enigmatic figure. Starting off with his uncompromising and harsh tones - to newbie ears - he presented an extra challenge to grasp.

While over time I have expanded my knowledge of Ayler's discography, it was through Ekkehard Jost's slim but dense treatise Free Jazz (1974), which has a dedicated chapter to examining Ayler's music, that I finally had felt a better grasp on who Ayler was to free jazz. His building block materials: rhythm and blues and spirituals came into stronger focus, as did his career's European beginnings. Interesting too were Jost's thoughts on how Ayler's own reductionist approach to his music - an ever simplification of form and complexity - became a liability later on in his foreshortened career.

Jost's thoughts aside, Bells was recorded at an apogee for both free jazz and Ayler, and it was another visionary, the late ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman, who brought Ayler to the masses in the early 60s. Bells was recorded live at NYC's Town Hall on May 1, 1965. The seminal recording was released as a clear one-sided vinyl because apparently Stollman was so excited that he didn't want to wait for more music to be recorded. The personnel on the date was Ayler on tenor sax, his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet, Charles Tyler on alto sax, Lewis Worrell on bass, and Sonny Murray on drums.

The slingshot-like theme at the beginning is a new version of “Holy Ghost“, Ayler’s contribution to The New Wave in Jazz sampler (Impulse) before a short bass solo by Worrell makes the transition to a new part (the real “Bells“, so to say) which indeed points into the new direction Ayler was to take in the next years. The rhythmic and harmonic material and the structure recur to European and American marches and the composed parts consist of several contrasting segments which separate the reed solos. In general, the solos are relatively short so that the focus shifts to the thematic material. As a result, it’s not individual sound exploration but the collective which is at the heart of the music. To me, the original is pure emotive playing, raw and difficult to new ears but comforting to broken-in ones.

Bells is being re-released along with the live album Prophecy which was first issued in 1975 but taken from a summer 1964 trio gig with Gary Peacock on bass and Sonny Murray on drums, which was recorded by the poet Paul Haines in New York’s Cellar Café. On the second CD the original five tracks of Prophecy are augmented by six more from the same concert, which were released at some point as Albert Smiles with Sonny on various labels. Even if it is not as famous as Spiritual Unity, this earlier trio date is well worth a listen or revisiting. Repertoire and improvisational attitude resemble the “Spiritual Unity“ sessions and there is a real exuberance to the group’s playing on the live tracks. Once again we can witness that it is Gary Peacock who finds the right balance between a sonorous foundation and energy playing with his virtuoso runs in the high register, even if the mix puts him too much in the background. Hardly any other bassist was as good a match for Ayler's music. Sonny Murray adds his typical dense textures, his transparent, light-footed style contrasts Ayler’s muscular solos perfectly. Playing around themes such as “Ghosts“, “Saints“ and “Spirits“ (which make multiple appearances in the sequence) you can hear a group that had grown strong and we're starting to split apart at their musical seams foreshadowing the expanded instrumentation of Bells. Then again, one has to be really careful with the titles. “Wizard“ on this album has nothing to do with “The Wizard“ from Spiritual Unity, in fact, it’s a different version of “Children“ and “Ghosts - Second Variation“ is a second version of “Spirits“. And last but not least, one also has to mention that the additional six live tracks don’t have the same quality as the first five ones.

So, no, no new material, but a solid repackaging of Albert Ayler’s music.

The album is available as a download or as a 2-CD set, this is a re-release worth tracking down. I'd recommend the physical set, it's handsomely packed with current label manager and critic Steve Holtje's liner notes, and will look great on your overflowing shelves.

(I didn't put a star rating on this review, that would be madness)

Listen to “Prophecy“ here:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - a cosmic rhythm with each stroke (ECM, 2016) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Let’s get this out of the way: I know the star-rating is the backbone of album reviewing, and this blog in particular has had a nearly unbroken run of awarding 5 stars to Wadada Leo Smith. In a way, I think that blocks a reviewer (in this case, me) from getting to the heart of what Smith has accomplished in his career that elevates him to this nearly flawless level. In part, it’s his approach to both composition and improvisation, and the evolution of his nearly 50-year-old musical language, Ankhrasmation and his concept of the rhythm unit, where an audible sound is followed by its equivalent in silence. Similarly, Vijay Iyer has combined jazz piano with his background in physics with sonic influences of his Indian heritage. He creates these spaces where his collaborators are equal partners and space and time are constantly in flux. And so I think the challenge in reviewing this album is, how do you rate two masters? If Divine Love, perhaps one of the greatest albums ever, was released tomorrow, how do you rate it on a scale of 5 stars? Is this album equal to Divine Love? No, it isn’t. Few albums in Smith’s own discography are its equal. And regarding Iyer’s discography, his trio has released three gorgeously postmodern masterpieces. So it comes down to the music itself, to this particular record. And my takeaway is, it’s really, really great. I’ve listened to it about half a dozen times already, and I really have only one complaint, which I’ll get to later.

As Troy explained in his Mutations review, the notated passages foreshortened the material somewhat, restricting Iyer’s typically fluid approach. So, it’s refreshing to start up “Passage,” the opener of the album, which begins on a foundational cyclical figure from Iyer, as Smith blows free, languid phrases overtop. At two minutes in, when a signature Smith trumpet blast pierces through, it’s less the dramatic moment it might be on other Smith albums, than a high tide in the waves of sound that define this piece.

The suite that fills 50 minutes of the album and gives it its title, “A cosmic rhythm with each stroke (for Nasreen Mohamedi),” is dedicated to the artist Nasreen Mohamedi (the suite’s titles all come from her diary entries). “All becomes alive” builds slowly, with Smith starting unaccompanied, and Iyer layering in electronic textural details. Towards the end, as the playing crystallizes, Iyer’s piano moves to the forefront, and he finishes the movement with a gentle solo outro. “Labyrinths,” a later movement, is complex and driving, highlighting some brilliant dual improvisation. Smith is muted at the opening of “Uncut emeralds,” while Iyer peppers short, mysterious runs that take full advantage of the piano’s broad range. Sounding almost nothing like Cecil Taylor, I was yet reminded of Taylor’s fine duets, his prompting of both partner and listener.

The final track, “Marian Anderson,” is credited to Smith, but the piano solo near the end is one more reminder of how vital collaboration is to his music. The piece would remain half-finished without Iyer’s contribution, though I’d love to hear a solo recording. It’s been years since Smith has recorded a solo album, and the one thing lacking on this album, if anything, is the range of instruments he brought to Kulture Jazz. Iyer layers electronic elements and switches from piano to Fender Rhodes, but I do miss the extremely broad palette Smith has to paint with.

I’m going to guess the dominant metaphors “master and apprentice” or “teacher and student” will drive responses to this album. Or else a dichotomous “heart and head” or “left/right brain.” Resist these interpretations. With Smith and Iyer’s complementary approaches to collaborative improvisation, there is a real spiritual synergy.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dre Hocevar - Collective Effervescence (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Just last year, the Dre Hocevar Trio released the fantastic Coding of Evidentiality, a record that took the concept of the “piano trio,” analyzed it with a careful eye, and proceeded to deconstruct it, resulting in pieces that were textured, evocative, and inventive. On that outing, the trio were briefly joined by Sam Pluta, who provided electronics - the track in which he appeared, “Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA),” made good use of the additional tonal possibilities, and proved the Trio to be adept at combining the traditional instrumentation of jazz with a wider and more expansive palette of sounds. That particular piece offered a tantalizing taste of what Dre Hocevar’s group could accomplish in the realm of electroacoustics, but it was, alas, only a taste. Luckily, the Trio has been expanded to a Quintet, with Phillip White utilizing electronics and Chris Pitsiokos on saxophone, and that small hint of possibility has grown into a full-fledged reality.

The album opens with the creaking, squeaking, scraping, and roiling “Unknown Unknowns.” With its measured formlessness and close attention to timbre and mood, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the group’s modus operandi - essentially, “embrace the ambiguous and oblique, and never say in one word what can just as well be said over the course of an entire novel, written in hieroglyphics, and etched in invisible ink.” In other words, Dre Hocevar’s Quintet is definitely not interested in making straightforward, easily-digestible jazz, and they make no pretensions towards accessibility. For better or worse (and in this writer’s opinion, it’s the former), Collective Effervescence is the sound of a group forging its own way ahead.

The following piece, “Notifications as a Theory of Consciousness,” brings both pianist Bram de Looze and electronic knob-twiddler Phillip White into the mix. White’s contributions are subtle, but they imbue the track with a striking sense of disquiet: soft gurgles, insectile chirps, and high-pitched beeps that call to mind the still-functioning control-room of some abandoned military bunker. On cello, Lester St. Louis mostly sticks to arco, but he conjures all manner of tones and textures, from the grating to the feather-light. Although he is the group’s nominal “leader,” Dre Hocevar’s percussion-work is surprisingly understated. In these first two pieces, Hocevar’s productions waft and whirl, hanging in the air like crystalline layers of fog. He gently brushes the cymbals, rolls softly over the kit, and is seemingly more interested in establishing tension than occupying a central role. In fact, no one can really be said to have a “central role” here - as the title of the album suggests, this is truly a collective.

On “Imaginary Synthesis Within Sublime Inside,” the tempo increases by a considerable amount, with Bram de Looze offering jaunty chords, Chris Pitsiokos moving from intermittent spurts and sputters to full-bodied outbursts, and Lester St. Louis producing a fervent flood of notes with his cello. As the piece progresses, Bram de Looze tends towards hesitant, searching clusters and nervous runs, providing a much-needed injection of rapidity after the relative languor of the previous tracks.

“1987’s” carries on in a similar vein, with all of the members contributing equally to the wild tempest. Phillip White buzzes and warbles with his electronics, Dre Hocevar pounds the kit with an alacrity that is somewhat surprising, and saxophonist Pitsiokos finally lets loose a little. Likewise, Bram de Looze sends the piece tumbling forward with his mad-dash, exuberant sprints, and Lester St. Louis explores a bold pizzicato attack on the cello.

“Effervescence” can be defined in two ways, according to First, it can be “bubbles in a liquid; fizz.” Next, it is “vivacity and enthusiasm.” I’d suggest that both of these definitions are apt when considering the Quintet that Dre Hocevar has assembled. Like a bottle of cola that has been shaken and prompty opened, there is a distinct sense of pressure, build-up, and eruption on this recording - the players are bubbling over with ideas, with innovative approaches, and one can’t help but be impressed by the abundance of creativity to be found here. As for the second definition, it’s clear that the players are enthusiastic about this music; there’s no ennui, no sense of treading over well-worn ground or propping up tired jazz tropes. The sound the Dre Hocevar Quintet has made here is fresh, vital, and rife with ambition, and I’m genuinely excited to see where they take it next!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

João Camões, Jean-Marc Foussat, Claude Parle - Bien Mental ‎(Fou Records, 2015) ****

By Dan Sorrells

I came across the word “retrofuturism” recently, and it immediately called to mind Jean-Marc Foussat (I’m still digesting Improvising Being’s remarkable four-disc Alternative Oblique retrospective from last year). The word denotes a particular brand of nostalgia, a way of remembering how the past envisioned the future. Needless to say, this “future of the past” is often not what came to be. The EMS synthesizer propped on the table in front of Foussat is retrofuturistic, a dated and dulled cutting edge, at once a continuing promise of new frontiers and a stark reminder of how different the present is from that once-imagined future.

Bien Mental invokes a lot of complex ideas about nostalgia, music-making, and finding a way forward. Foussat’s analogue electronics are joined by João Camões and Claude Parle on viola and accordion. These instruments bring a strong nostalgia of their own, but how the three are blended in the improvisations of Bien Mental becomes the ground for our own ideas about what the music of the future might be.

“À vingt ans” opens with the sounds of a toy laser—sounds that immediately evoked my childhood—which are quickly looped and distorted, merging into a rising violaccordion drone. For three such different instruments, it’s both exhilarating and disorienting how easy it is to follow the thread of one, only to find it leads to another altogether. At times it’s uncanny how well Foussat can tweak some cosmic-sounding oscillation to pulse in time with Camões’ increasingly rapid bowing and Parle’s huffing bellows. Foussat is the rare knob-twiddler who can overcome some of the normal pitfalls of integrating electronics with improvisation: he frequently feeds external source material (including his own heavily-masked voice) into his setup, allowing him to rapidly and organically adapt pitch and rhythm to the vagaries of the other instruments, all while benefiting from the timbres and extensions available only to electronics.

Though Foussat’s electronic arsenal may favor him as the chameleon, it is Parle who is often the most surprising. Another improvising accordionist, Adam Matlock, has noted that the piccolo stop in an accordion produces a “tremendous sound, almost electronic in nature,” a function of its strong overtones. In the density of Bien Mental, the complex partials of Parle’s accordion turn it into a kind of aural Velcro, latching to its neighboring sounds and binding everything that much more tightly.

But where Foussat and Parle are seasoned limit-pushers, the young Camões makes an impressive showing. He already perked many ears last year as part of the Open Field string trio, and on Bien Mental he often adopts a modulated style of bowing that produces a continual, ebbing stream of sound not unlike the pumping of Parle’s accordion bellows. This microtonal spate darts in and around everything, consonant and dissonant at once. His is a sound both refined and unhinged, like the great Barry Guy: the unpredictability of free improvisation coupled with the precision of chamber music.

Bien Mental is a strange and captivating record. It might be true that some day, we’ll load it into our obsolete CD players, and with retrofuturistic nostalgia chuckle: “remember when we thought this is what the music of the future would sound like?” But today, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched—this is something we haven’t heard before.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Charles Gayle, William Parker, Hamid Drake – Live At Jazzwerkstatt Peitz (Jazzwerkstatt, 2015) ***½

By Colin Green

This performance from May 2014 was the opening concert at Jazzwerkstatt 51, given by Charles Gayle (tenor saxophone, piano), William Parker (double bass) and Hamid Drake (drums) in the Stüler Church, Peitz, Germany. The concert was dedicated “In Memoriam Peter Kowald”, the German bassist who died in 2002 and lived in New York for almost the last two decades of his life. Gayle and Parker were among his earliest musical associates in the city, as seen in the film Rising Tones Cross (full of now familiar faces, looking much younger). Gayle and Parker have been well documented together, but as far as I can tell this is the first commercial recording of them with Drake. The liner photo shows that Gayle played as “Streets the Clown” a funny nose and make-up he adopts from time to time as an onstage persona to create a distance from himself (when clowns cry, people take it seriously). For a number of years Gayle played alto saxophone, claiming that while homeless it was easier to put under his coat when sleeping, but the switch back to tenor now seems permanent.

Gayle’s music – with its gospel-tinged, Ayleresque tunes – is rooted in a world in which the Church and music afforded some of the few redemptive moments in lives endured, combining deep sadness with the hope of salvation. Nowadays, his playing tends to be less fuelled by a relentless energy however, as if striving for a place where self is transformed through sound, feeling at times like a musical enactment of Jacob wrestling with the Angel. With the perspective of someone in their seventies – and the inevitable taking stock – Gayle’s playing has become sparser, with an economy of gesture typical of late work, but also no doubt due to the constraints imposed by age. His fiery spirit and sense of sanctity are still there, now more pensive than polemic.

That isn’t always so – much depends on with whom he’s playing. 26.05.15 (Otoruko, 2016) is from London’s Cafe OTO (I was lucky enough to be there) with John Edwards on double bass and Roger Turner on drums, very much a return to the Gayle of earlier days: raucous and heroic in scale, spurred on by churning bass and drums. Shortly before, he’d played with Ksawery Wojcinski (double bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums) in Belgrade, a less turbulent pair and more meditative playing. This performance finds Gayle somewhere between the two.

When they hit their stride, Parker and Drake are a rhythm section like no other, a supple unit made up from two different kinds of rhythmic motion, a weaving together of sometimes distinct pulses which complement and lock perfectly. There’s Drake’s intricate, floating polyrhythms and Parker’s lithe, throbbing bass line, incorporating phrasing and the repetition of notes typical of African string instruments. A perfect balance of lightness and weight, the fluid with metrical precision, and a propulsive power ranging from a swirling tornado down to a rippling stream. As with Gayle, there’s less of the former in this concert, possibly for the same reasons.

Like Ayler, Gayle’s tunes are not only simple but wilfully simple: the ennoblement of the naive, and don’t undergo elaborate development. He uses them as inspirational verse, repeatedly interrogated, inducing a turmoil of exaltation and despair, often in contrasting registers, building into powerful crescendos which hang in suspense, frequently unresolved. On ‘Fearless’, when Gayle visits the tune for a second time with Parker on bowed bass, there’s a rising intensity as he’s compelled to move ever upwards, reaching the point where his saxophone squeals like a trumpet, only concluded by walking away while playing, fading and leaving the stage to Drake’s elegant solo. It is only the simple affirmation of the tune at the end of the piece which provides a release.

Where possible, Gayle now divides his performances more or less evenly between tenor and piano, his first instrument. His pianism has been subject to the charge of too many notes, and sometimes tolerated as an eccentric excursion from his more serious work on saxophone. Gayle is committed however, and has released two albums of piano music: Jazz Solo Piano (Knitting Factory Records, 2001) – possibly a tribute to his days as a bar-room pianist – and Time Zones (Tompkins Square, 2006). He’s also taken further piano lessons. On saxophone, his musical and spiritual forbears are Coltrane and Ayler; as a pianist it’s Tatum and latterly, Monk, whose tunes he covers though snatches can appear elsewhere, as if stumbled on during his musings.

Certainly, when Gayle switches to piano it’s a very different scenario and at first even Parker and Drake are thrown off-kilter, unsure of how to fit into this new space as Gayle carries on his own virtuosic disquisition on jazz piano, with frequent and abrupt changes in tempo and texture, rarely settled. Fascinating, but the kind of thing probably best played solo (Edwards and Turner accommodate this kind of nervous energy more easily). Here, the trio come together gradually however, as Gayle tempers his runs and becomes more focussed so that by ‘Angels’ they meld, finding a tone and pace that suits them all.

Gayle is back on tenor for the encore, celebratory rather than yearning, closing over Parker and Drake’s dancing groove.

Gayle and Parker (but no Drake) from 2012:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Konstrukt and Joe McPhee - If You Have Time (Omlott, 2015) ****

Konstrukt, the Turkish improv ensemble, continues their quality series of parings with veteran jazz musicians, this time with Joe McPhee, on their latest collaboration, If You Have Time.  This is their second album together, the first being Babylon:  The First Meeting of Istanbul, which was a live concert.  If You Have Time was recorded days later, and the music is more direct and focused than the live performance.  

If You Have Time is a brief album by today's standards, comprised of four tracks, the first three blending seamlessly into one continuous track.  It begins with a poem, "Something," spoken by Joe McPhee, asking the listener to focus on the sounds within, in hopes that one may hear "something."  The sounds within are a diverse and exciting mix. "In the Lair of the Dried Rat Dog"  (is it a reference to the 1994 album Dried Rat Dog by Peter Brotzmann and Hamid Drake) is a mixture of ethereal synthesizer, bass, and Joe McPhee's machine gun attack approach on the horn.  Free improv space music.  The music blends right into the next track, "Tell Me, How Long Has 'Trane Been Gone (for James Baldwin)", which recalls John Coltrane's late Impulse! period; blistering, sheets of sound.  The final track, "Frippe's Dream," is a long, powerful piece, deeply spiritual, Ayler like in intensity and in performance.  It is a tribute to Bengt "Frippe" Nordstrom, a Swedish free jazz musician and contemporary of Albert Ayler and Don Cherry.  

If You Have Time is an excellent exotic and spiritual journey; well played and deeply moving.  Recommended.

Konstrukt – Live at Tarcento Jazz (Holidays, 2015)

By JA Besche

Konstrukt have another live record out on the fantastic Italian, experimental/free/improv label Holidays.  This one features the core group, with no appearances by favorite collaborators Joe McPhee or Peter Brotzmann.  As someone that is relatively new to the Turkish quartet, I’ve been listening to as many of their records as I can get my hands on to get an idea of their style.  I think I can now say that their signature style revolves around dynamism.  

Konstrukt are most rooted in free jazz to be certain, but like many of the modern bands in this arena they neither fit neatly into the molds of New York loft jazz, or the offshoots of creative music coming out of Chicago, Europe, etc. shortly thereafter.  They draw a lot of their style from modern experimental music, using a lot of electronics and affected instruments to create droning, ambient textures throughout.  They also touch on psychedelic music quite often, best demonstrated on Sun Ra-esque electric organ boogies over washing sounds of static and dissonance. 

This live set starts with some very free drumming reminiscent of Sunny Murray; all cymbals and snare, no time keeping.  A low grumble of electronic drone remains consistent in the background, slowly shifting guitar tones set the tempo, oscillating and sounding like it’s going through a wah pedal.  The reeds soar over this in ecstatic bursts of lyrical phrasing and short adventures into high register squeaks and skronks in-between.  Korhan Futaci shows that he is definitely a very capable player.

The focus shifts and the guitar and reeds begin to establish some interplay while the ominous droning continues underfoot.  Ozun Usta’s bass starts to pop up more in places and helps to bring things back to the jazz genre at times.  My only complaint would be that we didn’t hear enough of this.

The rest of the album effortlessly moves in and out of style, and some of the players multi-instrumental leanings help with this.  The sections where the guitar is replaced with flute are excellent as well, as it mixes in with the reeds and does everything from providing textural underpinning to lyrical soloing. The rhythm section, too, goes from totally free into a somewhat disjointed fusion funk.  When the guitar takes the lead there are some beautiful/destructive shades of Sonny Sharrock present.  There are also very spacey moments of sparse percussion with introspective flute playing over top of it.

I think what Konstrukt does best is pull together related but different forms of music and improvisation and ties them into a nebulous but purposeful approach.  It doesn’t feel too scattered or unrelated at any point, which is a good thing.  Some of it is definitely reminiscent of older free jazz musicians, but none of it is mindless aping.  They have an effortless ability to flow in and out of styles and moods, but at the heart they have a unique style that is more than just the sum of its parts.

If I had any complaints it would be that maybe they release too many albums (which is really a complaint based on not having enough money to get so many records shipped over from Europe!) and that maybe some of the albums could be edited down.  It’s fantastic that we can hear so much of their playing, especially because free jazz is a genre where we sometimes have limited access to a musician’s recordings, but there is something to say for being very deliberate and selective when it comes to releases.  Regardless, I’m ready for the next one.

Editor's note: Konstrukt – Live at Tarcento Jazz was covered by Colin Green, last year here on the blog as well.